GROUNDED: AN AT-HOME SEQUENCE

Words: Merav Ben Horin // Images: Jill Futter

Life can be stressful and overwhelming at times. In tense moments, we tend to worry and overthink things, and we may feel scattered, disconnected and anxious. Taking the time to slow down and ground our bodies can help us slow down our thought processes and quiet our minds. The following sequence will help you focus less on your speeding thoughts and will increase your connection to your physical foundation. Using grounding pranayama, asana, and meditation, this sequence will help you find your roots, connect with the earth and move into a quieter, more stable emotional and physical state. 

Pranayama (breath control/exercise)

Come to a comfortable seat. Place your hands on your thighs, with your palms face down for a more grounding feeling. Allow your eyes to close from top to bottom.  Take a moment to feel the support of the earth beneath you. Root down evenly through both sit-bones, and release your pelvis, thighs and groin into the ground. Allow the weight of your body to fall into the earth.

Maintain that connection with the ground and lengthen up through the sides of the trunk. Draw the arm bones slightly back, hug the shoulder blades in towards one another and lift your chest up. Soften and relax your facial muscles. Once you've grounded and aligned the body, shift your awareness to your breath. Notice the quality of your breath for a few moments.

Then, slowly shift gears into a deeper, fuller, more even breath. Inhale on a count of 4; exhale on a count of 4. If you breathing comfortably for 4 seconds isn't happening today, you can breathe in and out on a count of 2 or less. Continue like this for a few minutes, breathing evenly though both nostrils, evenly through both lungs, making the inhalations and the exhalations even in length. After a minute or two gradually increase the length of each breath by 1 to 2 seconds. Make sure you experience no strain as each breath lengthens. Keep going, until your exhalation is up to twice the length of the inhalation, but not beyond (if you inhale on a count of 4, for example, exhale on a count of 8, at most). This 1:2 breathing practice relaxes the nervous system and can help reduce insomnia, sleep disturbances, and anxiety. Try to do this for 1 minute. Then finish your pranayama practice with 6-10 natural, relaxed breaths. When you are ready, crack open the eyes, come back to your natural breath, and move on to the asana portion of the practice.

 

8-Step Grounding Asana Sequence

Good to have on hand: a mat, plus an optional blanket and one or two blocks for support where needed

1. Adho Mukha Virasana (Child's Pose)

  • Come on to all fours, bring your big toes to touch, separate your knees slightly and send your sit bones to your heels
  • Extend your trunk and arms forward and let your belly rest on your thighs or on the support of a blanket or a bolster
  • Rest your forehead on the ground, or on a blanket or a block (this can help you feel that you are resting your brain and has a soothing affect on your nervous system)
  • Close your eyes and allow the weight of your body to fall into the earth
  • Hold up to a minute keeping the breath deep and soft

This pose calms your mind as it helps you to withdraw into yourself and away from external stimulation. The fetal position can also give us a profound feeling of being held. It helps lower blood pressure and releases back and neck tension, which is often associated with stress and anxiety.

 

2. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)

  • Lift up onto all fours again, place your palms shoulder width apart, tuck your toes under and send your hips and buttocks up and back
  • Press your palms and feet strongly and evenly down, feeling the support of the earth beneath you
  • Lengthen through the arms and the sides of the trunk, draw the chest towards your thighs and press your thighs back and away from your chest. Draw your heels down towards the floor
  • Release your head down completely, soften your facial muscles and focus your gaze between your feet. Use this focal point to still and soothe your mind. When the body and the gaze are still the mind becomes still
  • Hold up to a minute, keeping the breath long, deep and smooth

This pose grounds the body, while the mild inversion helps increase circulation, improves respiration and calms the mind.

 

3. Utanasana (Forward Bend)

  • From downward-facing dog, walk your hands back towards your feet and find a forward bend
  • Keep your feet hip-width and parallel
  • Let your palms come to the floor, or grab hold of opposite elbows. If you feel tight today, you can keep your knees slightly bent.
  • Feel your feet rooting down evenly and let your torso, neck and head relax completely.
  • Breathe normally for 30 to 60 seconds
  • If you have severe lower back pain, this may exacerbate the pain. You can modify by placing your hands against the wall or on a chair for support, then walking the feet back to stretch to your comfort level

Like other forward bends, this pose is introspective and meditative. It draws your body down and closer to the earth, helping to draw awareness inward while bringing a sense of ease. 

 

4. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

  • From your forward bend, bring your hands to your hips. Leading with your chest, come all the way up on an inhalation
  • Bring your feet and your big toes to touch if possible, otherwise stand with your feet hip-width and parallel
  • Take your thighs slightly back and press your heels down
  • Lift the knee caps up, engaging the quadriceps (the front thigh muscles).
  • Roll your shoulders back and hug the shoulder blades in towards one another
  • Lift your belly up and draw your tailbone slightly down without pushing your thighs forward, maintaining the natural curve in your lower back
  • Extend the arms along side your body with the palms facing your thighs
  • Keep your face quiet and your breath soft
  • Hold for 30 to 60 seconds

This pose will help you bring your awareness to your foundation and make you feel strong, grounded, solid and stable.

 

5. Vrksasana (Tree Pose)

  • Shift your weight to your right foot, externally rotating your left thigh, and bring the left foot to the inner edge of the right thigh or shin (below or above the knee)
  • Press the foot to the thigh and the thigh to the foot while firming the outer hips inward
  • Lengthen through the trunk, find the level of your eyes, and keep your gaze steady and your face relaxed
  • When you feel stable reach the arms around and up
  • Hold for a few deep breaths, then switch legs

This pose, like tadasana (mountain pose), helps you root down and connect with the earth. Standing on one leg brings you to the present moment and helps you build focus and balance.

 

6. Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)

  • From vrksasana (tree pose), come back to a standing position, then take a step back of about 3-4 feet with your left leg. Externally rotate your left foot 45 degrees, and keep your right foot pointed forward.
  • Place your hands on your hips, press your heels down, and lengthen through the spine.
  • On an exhalation come forward leading with your chest bending at the hips.
  • Bring your hands to the ground, to your two blocks or to a chair, and take a few deep breaths. You can also take your palms behind your back into a reverse namaste (prayer).
  • Hold for 30-60 seconds, breathing smoothly, and then switch sides.  

This pose releases stiffness in your neck and shoulders. It also tones your abdomen, calms your mind and helps relieve nervous tension.

 

7. Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose)

  • From parsvottanasana, turn to face one side of your mat. Take a medium straddle and externally rotate both feet 45 degrees out
  • Sit low, keeping your knees directly above the second and third toe of each foot
  • Release your pelvis straight down, and lengthen your tailbone down
  • Externally rotate the thighs and lift your belly in and up, lift you chest up 
  • Keep your hands on your thighs, or take your arms into cactus, creating two 90 degree angles with your hands, palms face forward. You may also want to try eagle arms (pictured)
  • Feel your thighs working, feel your feet grounding, and let the breath come freely in and out
  • Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, and then straighten your knees. If you did eagle arms, switch your arms, and repeat the pose

This pose strengthens the quadriceps and inner thigh muscles. The wide stance and the work in the thigh muscles connects you to the earth, creating a solid, grounded sensation.

 

8. Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold)

  • From Goddess Pose, continue to take a wide standing stance, this time with your feet parallel to the outer edges of your mat, legs straight
  • Place your hands on your hip, press your heels down, and lift your knee caps up
  • Roll the shoulders back, and draw the shoulder blades in toward the back ribs 
  • Take a deep inhalation, lift your chest up, and on an exhalation, fold forward, bending at your hips
  • Bring your palms underneath your shoulders, point the elbows straight back, and bring your head to the ground or to a block
  • Keep your legs solid, strong and engaged as you soften and relax the torso, the head, the neck and the facial muscles completely 
  • Stay for up to one minute. To come out, place your hands on your hips, and come up on an inhalation, leading with your chest

This pose relieves stress and anxiety, increases flexibility in your hamstrings, combats fatigue, and improves circulation in your pelvic area.

 

CALMING MEDITATION

Sit in Virasana (Hero’s Pose) on a blanket or a block. If you feel any discomfort in your knees or shins, add more height or choose a different comfortable seat. You can also just sit on a chair with both feet on the ground. Place your hands on your thighs, palms face down. Close your eyes, and take a moment to notice how you feel inside your container, inside the borders of your skin, after completing your grounding pranayama and asana practice.

Then, imagine a big strong tree in your mind’s eyes. Imagine yourself-sitting in front of the tree, beneath it or even imagine you are the tree: the bottom part of your body; your pelvis, shins and thighs are the root of the tree and the trunk of your body is the trunk of the tree. Find the stillness of the tree within you.

Root down into the earth, feeling anchored, stable and secure. From your roots begin to grow taller. Lengthen through the sides of the trunk, reach up through the spine, make your self longer, creating more space at the top part of your body, more room for your breath to move through. Soften and relax your facial muscles. Let your breath be long, deep and soft, flowing freely in and out. Follow the path of your breath.

As you inhale, feel the flow of energy in your body moving from your roots all the way up to the crown of the head. On the exhalation, feel the energy moving back down to your roots. Use your inhalations to expand the belly, the ribcage and chest, to grow taller through the spine and to invite fresh prana (life-force, energy) into your body and into your mind. Use your exhalations to root down even deeper and to release any tension you may still hold in your body or in your mind. Stay here for a few minutes, meditating on this feeling of being still, grounded, connected to the earth, and present in your body.

When you feel ready to move on to the rest of your day, open your eyes. Stay in touch with that quieter and stable space within you--it is there for you to come back to in the middle of a challenging day or a stressful moment.


ABOUT MERAV BEN HORIN

Merav is a yoga instructor and psychotherapist based in NYC. She was a dancer for over 10 years and began practicing yoga in 2004 in tandem with her studies in psychology. She specializes in alignment-based vinyasa as well as therapeutic yoga for emotional well-being. Born out of her interest in human behavior and movement, Merav recognizes yoga as a tool for personal growth as well as a proven way to develop focus and mind/body awareness.