How can yoga help you feel more grounded in your everyday life?
Each day presents us with incredible opportunities, realizations and transformations in every moment, some of which live inside of us and some outside. Individuals from cultures all around the world are becoming conscious
of their power to adapt themselves in order to help each other find better, more meaningful ways of living. For many of us, this knowledge is born and deepens with our yoga practice. As we practice and continue learning this way
of life, we gain a new understanding of the world, and more importantly, ourselves.
Our mind has an interesting way of dealing with our day to day lives, sometimes driving us into a wild whirlwind of thoughts at the best of times. We perceive some of our experiences as negative as we’re continuously comparing ourselves to others, competing with ourselves and striving for higher levels of greatness. The truth is that most of us don’t know what exactly we’re searching for whether it be in the form of success, happiness or health because there is no ideal definition of either of these. We therefore easily lose our sense of balance to handle all different aspects of our life such as work, relationships, health, wellness and our hobbies. Jack Kornfield mentioned that “when we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another- and ourselves”, leading us to feel as though we’re not grounded or able to live in the present moment.
Sadhana is the grounding effect of having a daily spiritual practice, that allows you to turn inward and perceive life as it truly is. The idea is that this daily ritual could lead to a transformation in your life which affects your perceptions, selfawareness and overall energy. The practice of yoga has become that for many societies, as individuals are taking a more holistic and spiritual approach in life. It’s a mere reflection of our urge to reconnect with ourselves. As the popularity of yoga has grown, and continues to do so worldwide, it’s important for those who practice it to be aware of the nature of yoga and its effects in our lives. To practice yoga not only means to perform physical asanas, but it also encompasses following a set of ethical principles, focussing on your breath, concentration and meditation, which will eventually lead to you reaching a state of pure awareness of our interconnected universe.
When I started studying at university, I wasn’t sure if I had made the right choice in choosing my degree, and kept doubting the path that I was on. I found myself questioning if I was doing the right thing and felt distracted by
my curious mind that was seeking more growth and discovery outside of my studies. I was suffering from anxiety and I didn’t feel I had a strong sense of direction or purpose. The feeling of not being grounded severely impacted my
emotional, mental, psychological and physical health at the time. In a more spiritual sense, I felt I had no strong foundation within myself- I didn’t feel rooted in any beliefs. A couple of months later, I was introduced to yoga for the first time and I remember feeling incredible after my first class. At first I couldn’t pin-point why it felt so good, but then I started to realize that it was helping me to take charge of my negative thoughts and opened up new doors in my spiritual growth. I now work in advertising, which proves to be a high stress environment each day, and yoga has continued to present me with methods to help me cope with this, just as it did when I started practicing in university. We sometimes loose our ability to concentrate, or understand what we feel in certain environments. When situations start to become overwhelming, we start to feel unbalanced and unsure of how to deal with the emotions that come along with it.
Setting an intention for my yoga practices, prioritizing time in my day to do it, moving in a specific manner, breathing a certain way and experimenting with different meditation techniques has made me become more mindful and has created a space for me to carry these traits into my everyday life. Yoga has helped me to be observant of my feelings and reactions in certain situations and has therefore given me inner strength and tools to deal with complexities of my everyday life.
2. WHAT IS YOGA?
Although many people today see it as just a physical exercise, Swami Satyananda Saraswati mentions that yoga is rather a union of the mind, intellect, emotions and body, and spiritually it is a union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness. This union happens through the practice of asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, shatkarma and meditation. Similarly, Patanjali explains in The Yoga Sutras, that one outcome of yoga is your ability to control the mind in order to feel peaceful and happy. He mentions that once the mind is calm, you can establish yourself in your own nature. Yoga is therefore essentially about shaping your life as it works on all aspects of a person whether it be physical, emotional, psychic and spiritual; it is not just something that is there to be performed, it is to be lived.
2.1 THE PURPOSE OF HATHA YOGA
In Hatha yoga, the minimum objective is to create a balance of interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind and energy. When practiced as a way of life it can bring the different bodily functions into perfect coordination so that they work for the good of the whole body.
Practicing hatha yoga balances the flow of the ida (passive, introvert) and pingala (active, extrovert) energy poles that originate from your root chakra. There is a third spiritual channel, called sushumna, which is activated when
your mind is controlled and the ida and pingala nadis are purified and balanced. When the sushumna flows, kundalini awakens and rises through the chakras and uplifting human consciousness. Reaching this point signifies that the mind is stable and balanced. Haha yoga therefore prepares the physical body for raja yoga, which can be explained by the 8 limbs of yoga.
2.2 THE 8 LIMBS OF YOGA
Patanjali describes yoga practice as a systematic formula involving the 8 limbs of yoga, also known as the Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali. He mentions that all beings will greatly increase their clarity and concentration by adhering to these practices as it is the most direct way to still the mind and achieve liberation, truth and understanding, also described as samadhi in The Yoga Sutras.
This eightfold path to awareness and enlightenment is made up of various principles for a particular moral and ethical way of life, making one aware of nature, health and spirituality. Patanjali describes that the physical postures, the asanas, and pranayamas (breathing techniques), prepare the mind and body for concentration, meditation and ultimately spiritual enlightenment. The system is made up of yama, self-restraints, niyama, self-observances, asana,
pranayama, pratyahara, disassociation of consciousness from the outside environment, dharana, concentration, dhyana, meditation and samadhi, identification with pure consciousness. By following this path, you are able to
increase your clarity and concentration, as well as clear blockages of energy in the body. This path to enlightenment eventually helps you to establish a new perception of what is real, what is necessary, and how to become established
in a way of life which embraces inner and outer realities.
As humans, we often tend to blame external factors in life, but it is within us where the problem of negativity lies as we are disconnected from ourselves. When we are awakened to this through yoga, we begin to live more consciously in other areas of our lives. Yoga ultimately gives you a sense of belonging and purpose, making you feel less overwhelmed and more in your own body. In a spiritual sense, it can help you to become more comfortable with yourself, allowing you to be more accepting of the person that you were born into. Having a strong foundation within yourself allows you to feel rooted and well balanced in all aspects of your life. For many, the practice of yoga is a gift that helps you to be more mindful and to create opportunities of peace and understanding within yourself. Both the physical and mental aspect of yoga encourages us to continually discover new ways to focus, practice self love and be present in the here and now.
3. GROUNDING ASANAS TO ACTIVATE YOUR ROOT CHAKRA
In relation to our chakras, the feeling of being grounded stems from our root chakra, the mooladhara. The aim of yoga is to awaken the kundalini in the mooladhara through self-purification and concentration of your mind. When
this base energy centre of your body is activated and flowing freely without blockages, you will feel more connected, secure and integrated with the world around you. To feel more grounded through the practice of your asanas, you
can focus your practice on various postures that activate your root chakra. It is seen as the source of all energy in the universe, whether it’s sexual, emotional, mental, psychic or spiritual. During your yoga practice, you can visualize a red inverted triangle or a yellow square, symbols that represent energy and solidarity, to enhance inner stability and balance in this chakra. Below are a few asanas you can do to help you feel more grounded. For each posture, make
sure you are mentally engaged and focused, which helps to ground you as you become more aware of where the points of your body connect with earth.
1. Tiryaka Tadasana (swaying palm tree pose)
The first asana recommended to help with creating balance is Tiryaka Tadasana. Stand with your feet more than shoulder width apart, and fix your gaze on a point in front of you. Interlock your fingers and turn your palms outwards, and then raise your arms over your head to stretch upwards. Be sure to inhale when raising your arms. Exhale, and bend to the right side from the waist, without twisting your trunk. Hold the posture here for 5 counts, inhale, and then slowly come back to center in the upright position. Repeat this on the left side to complete one full round. Once you have completed the first round, you can repeat 10 times. To end, return to the upright position, release your hands and bring your arms down to the sides.
When doing the asana, your awareness should be on keeping your balance and the stretch along the side of the body. Keep in mind that your body and head need to face forward, without twisting when bending to the sides. Focus on your mooladhara chakra.
Tiryaka Tadasana develops physical and mental balance and helps to clear up congestion of the spinal nerves at the points where they emerge from the spinal column. It is a great asana for stretching the muscles and intestines. The side bending massages, loosens and exercises the sides of the waist.
2. Padmasana (lotus pose)
A second asana that can be practiced is padmasana. While sitting, place your legs straight in front of your body. Bend one leg and place the foot on top of the opposite thigh, making sure that the sole of this foot is facing upward and the heel is close to the pubic bone. When you feel comfortable, bend the other leg and place the foot on top of the opposite thigh. Both knees should be touching the ground, with your head and spine held upright and shoulders relaxed. Place your hands on your knees in jnana mudra. Ensure that your arms are relaxed, elbows are bent and eyes are closed. Adjust your body accordingly, by moving forward or backward, until you achieve perfect alignment and balance.
Padmasana is an ideal posture for energizing the chakras, as it directs flow of prana from the mooladhara to the sahasrara chakra, allowing for a heightened experience of meditation. The asana holds the trunk and the head like a pillar with the legs as a firm foundation. As you steady yourself in this position, the mind becomes calm, allowing for the first step towards meditation.
Despite the benefits of this asana, there are a few precautions that should be noted. Individuals who suffer from sciatica, or weak/injured knees should not perform padmasana. It should not be attempted until you have developed
flexibility in your knees. Additionally, women who are pregnant should also not practice this as it reduces circulation in the legs.
3. Pada Prasar Paschimottanasana (legs spread back stretch pose)
Another asana, that will help you feel grounded, as well as make you aware of your physical connection to the earth, is Pada Prasar Paschimottanasana.
To begin, sit with your legs spread apart as wide as possible and interlock your fingers behind your back. Inhale, turn your trunk to the right and raise your arms up behind the back. Exhale and bend forwards to try and touch your nose
on the right knee. Breathe slowly and deeply while you hold the position for as long as you can. Inhale while you raise your trunk and lower your arms to come back into starting position. Once complete, turn to your left side and repeat.
Your focus during the asana, should be on on your breath and the physical stretch in the legs, back, shoulders and arms. The asana should follow backward bending asanas and should not be attempted by people who suffer from slipped disc, sciatica or a hernia.
This asana benefits the hamstring muscles and increases flexibility in the hip joints. It tones and massages the pelvic region, helps to remove excess weight, stimulates circulation to the nerves and loosens up the legs in preparation for
4. Uttihita Hasta Padangusthasana (raised hand to big toe pose)
A final asana to practice is Uttihita Hasta Padangusthasna. To begin this asana, stand upright with your feet together, relax your whole body and focus your drishti in front of you, or on your third eye. Bend your right knee and place your thigh close to your chest. Once you’ve found your balance, place your right arm around the outside of your bent leg, inhale and grab your big toe. Exhale and bring your right leg is straight out in-front of your body, slowly pull your leg up closer to your body. Raise your left arm to the side for balance and perform chin mudra with this hand. Hold the position for as long as you can while breathing deeply, and then bend the knee, release the toe, exhale and slowly lower your foot to the floor. Repeat these steps with your left knee raised.
During this posture, bring your awareness to the stretch along the back of the leg, on the hips and on maintain your balance by focusing on a fixed point. You can also bring your awareness to the mooladhara chakra.
This asana improves concentration and coordinates muscular and nervous balance. It works to strengthen the hip and leg muscles and to stretch the hamstrings, helping the knee and ankle joints. However, this asana should not be practiced by people with sciatica or hip issues.
3.1 ASANAS FOR YOUR DOSHA
When practicing asanas, one can also take into account their dosha. As humans, we are all made up of elements such as air, fire, water and earth. There are three doshas according to ayurveda; kapha represents water and earth, pitta represents fire and vata represents air. There is a fourth, sannipata, which is a mix of all these elements. There are various ways to tell whether a person is vatta, pitta or kapha, for example by checking their arm, near their wrist bone with three fingers, as well as by their eyes, ears and face.
Depending on whether you are more vatta, pitta or kapha in nature, you will find that there are certain asanas which would be better suited for you to practice that day, in order to bring your system into balance. Once our bodies become stable after performing asanas, our thoughts will follow suit. It is therefore a good idea to check your doshas each morning and take into account the weather and time of day you are practicing as these factors all affect the balance of your doshas. For example, all backward bends increase the kapha dosha, forward bends and twisting asanas deceases kapha and stretching your legs increases vata in your body.
4. PRANAYAMA AND MEDITATION
Pranayama is breath control, where different techniques provide various methods whereby the life force can be activated and regulated in your body. Prana is the foundation and essence of life and flows in everything that exists.
Pranayama utilizes breathing to influence the flow of prana (life force) in the nadis (energy channels) in the body. This focus on breath can be used in our daily lives to help become more focused, calm and steady in any situation.
One pranayama technique which can be used to balance yourself and help to regulate all physical functions, breath and digestion is Nadi Shodhana pranayama, also known as alternate nostril breathing. When practiced regularly, a balance between Ida and Pingala nadis develops, opening up the sushumna nadi. This technique gives you a more pronounced balancing of the breath and brain hemispheres as well helps to calm you. It relieves anxiety, improves concentration and assists with stress-related conditions.
To perform this pranayama, you can follow the below steps:
- Sit in any comfortable meditation posture while keeping the head and spin upright.
- To begin, hold your hands in Nasagra Mudra, also known as the nose tip position.
- . Alternate nostril breathing
- – Hold your fingers of the right hand in front of the face
- – Rest the index and middle fingers gently on the eyebrow centre
- – Your thumb is above the right nostril and the ring finger above the left
- – These two digits control the flow of breath in the nostrils by alternatively pressing on one nostril, blocking the flow of breath in the nostrils by blocking the flow of breath and then the other
- – The little finger is comfortably folded
- Steps for breathing:
- – begin with equal inhalation and exhalations, using the ratio 1:1
- – Close the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril
- – Count ‘1, om 2, om 3 om mentally’ until the inhalation ends comfortably
- – Close the left nostril with the ring finger and release the pressure of the thumb in the right nostril
- – While exhaling through the right nostril Count ‘1, om 2, om 3 om mentally’. With practice, the time for inhalation and exhalation should be equal
- – next, inhale through the right nostril, keeping the same count in the same manner
- – At the end of inhalation, close the right nostril and open the left nostril
- – Exhale through the left nostril, counting as before
- – This counts as one round, repeat 5 to 10 rounds
- – With practice, you can begin increasing the length of inhalation and exhalation by one count, but be sure not to force the breath in any way
Meditation (dhyana) is a precise technique of stilling the thought process and attaining a state of consciousness. It provides the optimum conditions for training the mind to be clear of thought. This stability calms all systems and
gives us more internal awareness. Meditation is best practiced in a quite space where there will be no distractions, and you should remain in a comfortable seated asana for meditation. This upright extension of the spine provides the mental state needed for concentration. Before starting your meditation, bring awareness to your body and breath to slowly ease the tension in the body.
One meditation technique is root chakra meditation, which involved focusing on the specific area of the body where the root chakra is located. Below are the steps to follow to begin your root chakra meditation:
- Find a quiet place, sit straight, close your eyes and breathe deeply as you relax your muscles.
- Focus on your breathing. Inhale as deeply as you can pulling the air up your abdomen, rib cage, and chest and exhaling it out in a downward motion.
- Focus your attention on the area of your root chakra, under the spine. Visualize a red glow emanating from this area and slowing expanding into the entire area. Imagine this red glow extending down your lower body, your legs and the soles of your feet, anchoring you to the earth.
- When ready slowly open your eyes and keep breathing until you are ready to get up and get on with your day.
Every so often, thoughts will float in and out of your mind – let them flow through by observing them and not reacting to them. Meditation can lead to inner stability and balance as it exposes all the non beneficial habits
5. AN ENERGIZING YOGIC DIET
As mentioned previously, various asanas are better suited for you depending on your dosha. This is the case with food, as your dhatu (tissue) is influenced by the elements as energy from the food you eat is transformed to Rasa, and passed through your rakta (blood), mania (muscles), meda (fat), asthi (bones), majja (bone marrow) and virya (semen). The food you eat stays in your body for almost 12 years and ultimately affects your reproductive system. You therefore need to check your dosha and plan your diet from the time you wake up in order to eat the proper foods your body needs.
Your diet can affect the outcome of all aspects of your yoga practice, so you should therefore follow a diet that consists of foods that give you life, strength and energy. Sattvic and rajasic foods are recommended for your yogic lifestyle, as they are pure, clean, wholesome and pleasant to the stomach as well as energising. When choosing your foods, keep in mind that they should be light in nature, easy to digest and it is recommended to freshly prepare all your foods.
A few of these foods are listed below:
- Seasonsal fresh organic fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, apples, bananas, green leafy vegetables, celery
- Whole grains and legumes that have been growing for a long time as it is believed these will give you a long life such as lentils, rice, tofu, oatmeal
- Spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger and tumeric
You should also consider your water intake to ensure you are not dehydrated. Your dosha is also important for this, as depending on your mind-body balance, you may require various amounts of water in your daily diet.
Many turn to yoga to help with an issue they may be facing in life. Hatha yoga helps to improve the mental health, physical health, nature, personality, psychological and psychic framework of a person, preparing them for the 8 fold path of yoga. The yoga philosophy is simply about creating calmness and bliss within ourselves. In order to be content, we need to discover our own true nature which often tends to be masked by our thoughts, emotions and patterns of behavior. Although yoga can be enjoyed as a physical daily practice, its foundation needs to be part of our life to help bring our true self forward. The practice of yoga helps us to stay grounded and allows proper energy to flow through our bodies. As we look deeper within we learn more about ourselves, our foundations, moral principles and perspectives of the world. Yoga helps us to be aware our minds and bodies, bringing us into the present moment.
When we are ultimately comfortable with ourselves and able to observe our thoughts and actions, we bring attention to challenges that we come to face with in our lives.