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Jan 17 2015

Grounding for Trauma Healing – Two Ways to Ground Using Pressure

Two Ways to Ground Using Pressure

I love using pressure for grounding.

In the above illustration, I show the way pressure can sometimes help to dissipate intense activation in the nervous system. The red lines in the picture represent “activation” – upset, distress, fear, panic, terror, or other kinds of chaos and overwhelm. The activation can be provoked by a memory, flashback, trigger, or stressful life circumstance. In the person not doing grounding, at the top of the page, the activation is concentrated in a hot tangled mass in their chest. In the two people doing grounding, however,  the nervous system has released most of the red lines and only a small red circle remains.

Putting pressure on the physical body focuses one’s mind directly on the experience of being anchored in the material world. Pressure helps the body to feel more contained and connected to the support of the ground/earth. Pressure increases the actual connection to the ground and makes it easier to sense and tune into all the varied sensations related to grounding. This helps remedy activation and dissociation that commonly occur after traumatic life events. Many times, as soon as the nervous system senses the pressure, it relaxes somewhat, and breathing may slow and deepen spontaneously. After grounding, it’s easier to go back and look at the issue that caused the upset, and work on it little piece by little piece.

After the initial grounding, a good way to address the original activating issue is to go back and forth, or pendulate, between talking about one small bit of the issue and then, when it begins to feel overwhelming, go back to grounding again. Then when the system feels more stable, go back and talk a little bit more about the issue. Repeat as long as it feels beneficial and healing; stop when you feel your system has had enough and needs to rest.

Interestingly, when I was painting the above illustration, I entered into pendulation naturally. I would paint the person for a tiny bit, and then go and paint the plants for a little bit, then return to the person. Painting the plants was grounding and calming, because plants are a neutral subject matter, unrelated to trauma. Plants also offer repetition or rhythm in that the leaves repeat the same shape over and over. Pattern, repetition and rhythm are grounding to the nervous system, this is why Zentangling is so relaxing (zentangling is drawing repetitive patterns – look it up in Google, the designs are really beautiful – I will talk about pattern and rhythm a bit later). So, when painting, I found that I naturally pendulated – or went back and forth – between grounding – painting the plants – and something a little bit activating to me – painting someone who is experiencing the effects of trauma.

I think that the nervous system naturally gravitates towards this kind of back and forth. When activated, it naturally seeks out some way to dissipate and calm the activation, it’s just that we are not trained to listen to it, and many times don’t have any resources on hand to give to it. The two following exercises are resources to give your nervous system when you feel activated. Listen to your body, and sense when it is experiencing too much overwhelm. Then gently give it what it needs.

Grounding Exercise — Feet on Feet (Application of Deep Touch Pressure)

Instructions:

This exercise requires a partner – therapist, friend, partner

First Do Grounding Exercise – Feet, Seat and Back for a few minutes. Quiet yourself and sense your feet, seat and back and their relationship to the ground/earth.

Then have the person doing the exercise with you put their feet on your feet and exert steady, gentle pressure.  Coach them to the correct level of pressure. For example, tell them “less” and “more” until the sensation of pressure feels like it’s the most grounding and positive to your system.  It should not hurt.

Notice the sensations in your entire body.

Describe what you are feeling. For example, do you feel, in different areas:

Tension?

Relaxation?

Stillness?

Motion?

Lightness?

Heaviness?

Solidity, compactness?

Diffusion, airiness?

Clarity?

Muddiness?

Spend a few minutes allowing your nervous system to shift in any ways it needs to.

When you feel complete, name any ways you feel different now then when you began the exercise.

Grounding Exercise — Therapy Pillow (Application of Pressure)

Instructions:

Obtain a therapy pillow, aka grounding pillow. You can buy a buckwheat hull pillow from various online retailers. Buckwheat hull pillows are very good for grounding, they are VERY heavy, more than you might expect from something called a “buckwheat hull.” We just got one from Cozypure –  we got the standard size. Buckwheat pillows are also available at other stores and you can find buckwheat hulls by themselves as well. You can also make your own grounding pillow using beans, rice, sand, or any kind of heavy filling you would like (instructions are in the next post for making the Awesome Lentil Therapy Pillow).

First Do Grounding Exercise – Feet, Seat and Back for a few minutes. Quiet yourself and sense your feet, seat and back.

Then place the pillow onto your lap.

You may also experiment with placing the pillow on your feet or shoulders. If laying down you may place it on your chest, back, stomach, head – anywhere you feel could help bring calmness to your body.

Pay attention to your body.

Notice if you feel a shift in the sensations in your body.

Describe what you are feeling. For example, do you feel:

Tension?

Relaxation?

Stillness?

Motion?

Lightness?

Heaviness?

Solidity, compactness?

Diffusion, airiness?

Clarity?

Muddiness?

Spend a few minutes allowing your nervous system to shift in any ways it needs to.

When you feel complete, name any ways you feel different now then when you began the exercise.

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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.