Grounding is a powerful tool in the trauma healing toolkit because it generally reduces states of activation, sometimes quickly and significantly. Experiencing an almost total reduction in activation just through grounding can be surprising, since grounding is very simple.
Definition: Grounding is the act of connecting more deeply and completely to the body, strengthening the feeling of being inside the body and connected to the ground or earth. Many grounding exercises help deepen our connection to anything that is supporting the weight of the body. Other grounding exercises help deepen our connection to our 5 senses, using them to connect us with our body in general.
When grounding by connecting to the ground or objects that support our body, we may tune into the following kinds of feelings in the body:
1. What it feels like to be physically supported
2. The feeling of having a definite physical location
3. The feeling of the solidity and stability of the physical objects that are supporting our body
When the body receives these messages about support, location and solidity, it naturally feels comfort, relief and relaxation. These natural bodily responses can contain, diffuse and diminish, to some degree, states of activation of the nervous system, e.g. panic, upset, anxiety or intense emotion. Grounding is a type of Resourcing because these bodily senses act as resources for the state of activation.
Grounding can also be used to detach or distract from activation, in order to experience a brief time of relief. It can also be used as brain training – focusing on grounding can break us out of mental and emotional habit patterns, eventually retraining the neural pathways of the brain to respond in a new way to environmental triggers.
Grounding that uses tactile sensations, like playing with beanbags, squishing and shaping putty, or rubbing an ice cube on the skin, uses unique, interesting or impactful sets of sensations to pull our attention into the body and away from the mental and emotional upset.
I imagine that over time, grounding could lead to feeling more empowered. Whenever we have a first hand, embodied experience of transforming the state of the nervous system, this can help us feel less helpless and more in control. Also, practicing grounding regularly may gradually shift us out of the grips of constant activation patterns and into present time.
Grounding Helps with Trauma Goals:
Goal 1. Danger to Safety – The body feels safer when sensing the support provided by the earth.
Goal 2. Activation to Calm Alert / Self-Regulation – Grounding can reduce activation states to some degree most of the time.
Goal 3. Dissociation to Groundedness / Into The Body – Grounding helps counter dissociation.
Goal 4. Overwhelm to Simplicity – Grounding helps focus the mind on one thing for a while, reducing mental overwhelm and chaos.
Goal 8. Using the Five Senses – There are grounding exercises that use different senses, such as touch and hearing.
Supports: The kinds of supports – materials and objects – we can connect to while grounding include: chair, couch, bed, floor, lawn, dirt path, concrete, sand, etc.
Multiple Ways to Connect: There are many ways to connect more with the earth, including:
1. Sensation – using awareness and attention to tune into sensations in the body that result from gravity pressing us onto the supportive material/object.
2. Visualization – using active imagination or guided meditation to encourage the body/mind system to become more connected to the idea and feeling of being supported by the earth, floor, chair etc.
3. Movement – touching the floor or earth with one’s hands or body, doing yoga, dancing, jogging etc. while consciously feeling the connection to the ground.
4. Tactile Sensations – touching textures, temperatures (ice, cold or hot water), objects (putty, beanbag).
5. Sound – listening to sound and feeling the sound vibration – particularly low sounds like Tibetan monks chanting, listening to nature sounds, creating or listening to rhythm (drumming).
In Therapy: Grounding is often used multiple times during a somatic therapy session as a key technique for helping the person recovering from trauma begin to regulate their nervous system. Grounding is one of the main tools used by Trauma Resiliency Model therapists.
In the next few posts I will be going over some Grounding Exercises for PTSD.
Heidi Hanson is an artist and writer in Asheville, North Carolina currently working on an illustrated book chronicling her journey healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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