Just Don’t Tell Me To Grow Roots
Reflections on grounding, first published in the Journal of the Biodynamic Massage Therapists Summer 2019 ISDN 1461-3743
How the vasomotoric cycle, the inner-seasons and the pelvis helped me to ground myself
Bloody grounding. I’ve struggled with it all my life: falling over, shaky-kneed, over-excited, too much, too heady. I feel I am highly qualified to write about grounding because it’s not been an easy journey. Just the invitation to ground myself through my feet sends me off, shooting up to my head and ungrounding me.
Grounding is out of fashion
Looking at mainstream culture, it seems that grounding is out of fashion. The connectivity of technology, the pace, the desire to consume more stuff, to be other, to be elsewhere, to escape our existential pain all contribute to a lack of groundedness. The general tide of our culture sweeps us along to look for distractions and excitement. How should we respond when our acquaintances greet us with,
“How’re you doing? Busy?”
When a negative response holds with it a whiff of failing.
After many years, I have grounded in my own fashion and this is the story of how. I hope that by sharing my experiences, it might give you hope for your more excitable clients.
My definition of grounding, or rather how I know that I am grounded, is that:
- I can feel myself and at the same time feel the energy of another if I choose to
- I am not lost in my thoughts
- I am present to the phenomena in my body
- I can choose how and when I connect with others
- I can feel my emotions without overwhelm
I am an excitable person, I love ideas and the creative places they can take me. I love to be moved to be touched by others experience. Like many therapists I am sensitive, meaning that stress affects me more than most, this includes both excitement and ‘negative’ stress. I am both visually sensitive so that my nervous system goes further into parasympathetic by looking at things and touch-sensitive, I need more downtime more alone time than most. I would put money on most Biodynamic therapists being highly sensitive, it what draws us in and makes us good at what we do.
The process of grounding goes hand in hand with the management of my sensitivity. You can learn more about managing sensitivities in Elain N Aron’s book ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’.
Grounding & the vasomotoric cycle
In terms of the vasomotoric cycle*, my favourite place to hang out is in the first half of the cycle, in the charging and action phases. In this side of the cycle, the energy is building and rising up the body towards the head as ideas, emotion or impulses. For someone who struggles with stimulation, it’s easy to see how the energy draws upwards to the upper half of the body and away from the pelvis, legs and feet; it’s a way of controlling the charge.
Naturally as a client, my dear, patient therapists spent many years trying to support the downward side of the cycle. Though when touch is super-stimulating, just lying down on the table was charged, and needless to say, it took a while for me to find the other side of the cycle in therapy.
It took many more years to find downward flow in my everyday life. After all, it’s one thing to go to a soothing therapist who can allow us to release and recuperate, but an altogether more complicated thing to integrate this into our own everyday lives.
*The Biodynamic vasomotoric cycle is another way of thinking about the stress cycles of fight/flight/freeze, you can read more about it here.
To be brutally honest, I really only paid lip-service to this until I started my menopause process. I knew it, I wanted to heal it, I tried, but I was still repeatedly getting stuck in the first half of the cycle.
Here’s the low-down on how menopause works as a transformational process. Menopause is a powerful transformational force that forces us to stop living life for the outside world and dive inwards to heal and ground us before re-emerging more whole into the second spring of post-menopause. It is, if you chose to engage with it, natures own therapy process. In my observation, the same process happens for men too, but it is less intense because men do not have the hormonal shift driving it as strongly.
Integrating inner-seasons and the vasomotoric
There is a marked correlation between the vasomotoric cycle and the seasons of a woman cycle. The first half (spring/summer or charge/action) moves energy up as we look outward into the world, the second half (autumn/winter or rest/digest) grounds us as we slow down and move inwards.
Inner-seasons of a woman’s life
In my work with Medicine Circles, I use a seasonal model and Menopause is seen as an autumnal and wintery process. Here’s an overview:
Spring – Maiden, from menarche through 20s
Summer – Mother of projects and/or babies 30s-40s
Autumn – Perimenopause 40s-50s
Winter – Menopause
Second spring – postmenopausal cycle
You can see from the image below how the two cycles integrate.
It makes sense then that my biggest learning in the rest and digest half of the vasomotoric cycle should be at the autumn/winter of the seasons of a woman cycle; menopause process.
If you aren’t lucky enough to be in a menopausal process yourself right now, you can look for the inward, autumn/winter phase in:
- Your menstrual cycle
- The afternoon of the daily cycle (take that nap, people!)
- The out-breath
- The editing part of the creative cycle
- And of course the endless emotional cycles we embark on
You know you’re entering the autumnal phase when your internal needs begin to speak more loudly, in Alexandra Pope’s words,
“The internal lights are blazing.”
‘Wild Power’ will give you everything you need to know about the inner seasons. Archetypal qualities of autumn, where we begin to say yes to ourselves are:
- Ordering, editing
- Meeting the inner critic
- The tension between our inner needs and outer demands
Archetypal qualities of winter are:
- Dreams and higher consciousness
‘All’ it requires is for us to stay connected to our body felt sensation and notice how our needs change at these times. Simple!
So what worked for me?
The primary manifestation of my over-stimulation was in sleep issues and adrenal fatigue which while extremely inconvenient also gave a handy feedback monitor of what was working for me.
Having lost the natural impulse to complete the cycle, I decided to impose a gentle structure of rest and digestion in my daily life. For example:
- A 2.30pm nap date went into my diary, blocking out 30-mins every day. The entry read ‘Bugger all’.
- Spacing out my activity in my diary with more time in between them.
- Re-instating the circadian rhythm in my days: going outside in the morning, regular meal times, bed and rising times, and consciously powering down from lunchtime onwards.
Exploring the pelvic bowl
Inhabiting my pelvis consciously helped me to ground properly and I was able to start to tolerate more stimulation. Lucky for me that I took a journey into the pelvic bowl through abdominal, fertility massage and Womb Yoga trainings. It’s interesting that in Yogic terms the pelvis is the place where the water and the earth meet to create nourishing mud where we can grow our roots. The following techniques and practices helped me to align and support energy flow to the earth.
In physical terms, the pelvis sits at the centre of two opposing forces; the reverberation from the earth as we strike the ground with our feet and also the weight of our giant brain and torso that we carried around. We all have asymmetricality in our pelvises to some degree, but the greater the misalignment, the less grounded we will be.
Deep massage to the pelvis
Working over a sheet it’s possible to work deeply into the sacrum, (named from the Latin for sacred bone), sacroiliac joints, coccyx and the glutes. It would be possible to use a deep draining style but I find this is often over-stimulating for clients and hold areas of tension and inviting the client to breathe into them. Periost massage around the pelvis can be very interesting for clients who feel stuck in some way, though it requires careful regulation for sensitive clients.
I first encountered tummy massage at the Boyesen Centre when Heiner Eisenbarth taught us colonic massage. My more recent training has shown me more of the restorative and grounding possibilities available in this often neglected part of the body. For an area of the body that we listen to so carefully with peristalsis, isn’t it odd that it’s so seldom touched by Biodynamic therapists?
Taking the practice off the table by giving myself the self-care tummy massage brought big changes in grounding. Starting to touch myself lovingly, to connect to my resistance and tension with sweetness, being my own therapist, began to lower my levels of stimulation and allow my energy to drop into my lower body.
The massage to the womb also began an energetic enquiry into what it is for me to be a woman. The femaleness that had always felt like an externally driven requirement started to reveal herself as a process of creativity and regeneration.
The Girdle vessel
The Girdle vessel, one of the Extraordinary Vessels in Shiatsu, has been particularly useful for creating a sense of containment and grounding. Suzanne Yates describes the girdle vessel as being like a giant pair of pants which hold us from kidneys to the thigh, creating holding but also flexibility. We can nourish the energy of the girdle vessel by holding or palming in this area. The Girdle vessel can also be stimulated by its regulating point GB41, between the 4th and 5th metatarsal bones, it’s helpful to feel into what this point needs and how it responds to our touch. More information on using the Extraordinary Vessels can be found in Suzanne’s book ‘Pregnancy and Childbirth’.
All kinds of pleasurable pelvic rocking and rolling exercises, dancing and wriggling around will support the energy of the girdle vessel and grounding. In Biodynamic work, we have the delicious Butterfly Exercise; lying semi-supine, we position the feet a distance from the body that allows the legs to find a tremble, creating subtle streams of energy to move through the pelvis and legs.
Acceptance is the magic pill of any healing process and once I became aware of my high sensitivity as a ‘thing’ just the way I am wired, rather than a neurosis requiring fixing, I started to accept it. The acceptance, naturally reduced the charge, allowing my energy to drop down.
In the acceptance, I was able to take these practices above ‘off the table’ and be my own therapist. This enabled me to manage my environment so that my nevous system was not triggered so often and my energy could settle down and ground, down towards my pelvis, feet and legs.
Another way to affirm the containing and grounding quality of the pelvis is to wrap it up tighly in fabric. This practice originates as the postnatal ‘Closing the Bones’ ceremony using a Rebozo shawl, but it can also be used to great effect to re-enforce energetic containing and closure too. Depending on the intention you’re holding for a session, it can evoke feelings of being held in utero, as a baby or ‘just’ a deep peace. Some clients find it easier to let go and drop their energy without the relational aspect of hand on skin touch.
As Biodynamic therapists, we’re well equipped with many grounding techniques to chose from, both with and without touch. Beyond using the rich heritage we have inherited from Gerda, we must empower our clients to find their own ways of resting, digesting and restoring their nervous systems in their own lives. We can initiate the process, but the next step is to hand the inner child back to the inner mother and support the process of self-enquiry into grounding in everyday life.
It’s just more complicated than visualising roots growing from our feet.
Aron, E. N. (1999) The Highly Sensitive Person. London: HarperCollins
Pope, A. E. & Hugo-Wurlitzer, S. (2017) Wild Power. London: Hay HouseYates, S. (2010) Pregnancy and Childbirth. London: Elsevier