• Dr. Patricia Gianotti

What Grounds You?

Updated: Nov 9, 2019

What do you do to ground yourself in ways that you can be truly present – in the present moment? What are the practices, the rituals, the support networks that help you relax and attend to yourself and those around you in ways that are gentle, kind, connected, and intentional?

So much of the time people seem to be racing around, trying to juggle multiple responsibilities that over-fill their plates. Taking too much on is somehow viewed as a positive. A good number of my patients and colleagues tell me that they feel “pressure” to make sure they don’t let anything fall through the cracks, or they seem driven to prove self-worth in ways that are dictated by cultural expectations of upward mobility, which often result in setting unrealistic, perfectionistic standards on themselves.

Psychologically speaking, this drive to prove self-worth is based on having an “external locus of control”, which is actually unsustainable because it is defensively driven. The opposite, having an “internal locus of control”, is based on listening to one’s own internal voice, a voice that encourages engagement in life in ways that actually energize the psyche and feed the soul.

Being driven by “external shoulds” inevitably creates a situation of ungroundedness. When one is ungrounded, a certain type of reactivity or pressure is created that impinges on one’s body, mind, and psyche. Not only is it exhausting, it also increases stress, and it is insidious because the cost of this driven-ness often sneaks up on us.

At first, this imbalance may take the form of being distracted or preoccupied. Gradually, it may turn into irritability, impatience, or neglect of physical self-care. If left unattended, symptoms of depression, anxiety, or physical ailments may begin to emerge. Often, people begin to lose track of time, or they become less productive with their use of time.

What is amazing is that often it takes someone else – a partner, a spouse, a co-worker to point this ungrounded imbalance out. It’s as if the person who is over-driven becomes enveloped inside some sort of bubble, becoming so lost in self-absorption that meaningful connection with others is lost.

So, how is that someone is able to break this trance? And what is the value of becoming more grounded?

First, breaking the “trance” of over-driven self-absorption can be done by introducing simple exercises or rituals that help bring the body, mind, and brain back into balance. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist and researcher at Mass General and Harvard Medical School conducted studies on the efficacy and effects of meditation and yoga on brain health. She found that both of these disciplines decrease stress, depression, and anxiety, as well as reducing pain and insomnia, and increase the quality of overall well-being. Long-term meditators, she states, have increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, specifically showing increases in the auditory and sensory cortex as well as the insula. These are areas of the brain that can help us slow down and become more focused in the present moment. In addition, they assist us to better attend to our physical sensations such as breathing and increase mental faculties, such as focusing and concentration.

Even more important researchers found that anywhere from 5 – 50 minutes of yoga breathing or meditation a day increases the gray matter in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain that is linked to decision-making, judgment, and working memory. While most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year old meditators had the same gray matter as people half their age! In addition, the brains of new meditators saw shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain that neuroscientists say is associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression.

So, what is the value of finding rituals that help ground us? When we initiate practices that allow us to stay focused in the present moment, we are more likely not to be triggered by old patterns of fear, or lapse into habituated patterns where we try to do too much to prove our worth. Furthermore, when we are grounded in the present, we are more able to actually plan for the future. Because we are less reactive, our pre-frontal cortexes allow us greater access to our intentionality, creativity, and a more balanced, relationally connected perspective.   

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