Ode to the Ground

In my sessions and personal practice, my first and last recourse is to something many of us take for granted: the ground. It is one of the best props you could use in your movement practice, and in some cases, may even be the only thing you need to reconnect to your living, breathing, moving self.

We all know intellectually that our bodies exist, grow and move in relation to gravity. But is this a felt experience that we embody? When was the last time you knew gravity as a force in your bones, and not just a scientific concept or measurement?

Perhaps you can recall being on the ground as an infant or young child. You wriggled, stretched, rolled and crawled your way to uprightness and into the body you are inhabiting right now. Through your entire developmental process, the ground was your ally, your teacher, your support. It provided a firm surface on which you started to become aware of your own weight. It was a launching pad for your first forays towards interesting shapes, colours, beings in your world. It was a place you could find rest and be held when you needed it. And although we may have grown up and lost touch with it, it is still all of these things.

Relating to gravity—what we could call ‘ground-ing’—is a forgotten art in this world, where we tend to disconnect from our weighted presence in favour of the airy (and, need I say, weightless) realm of thoughts. For many of us, gravity is an unwelcome enemy against which we must struggle, and in spite of which we must drag our weight through the world. But does it have to be this way?

In Laban Movement, gravity is our ally in weight sensing and shifting. Weight sensing has nothing to do with what you actually weigh in kilograms or pounds. It is concerned with your direct, firsthand sense of the weight of your body. Weight sensing is a qualitative, personal experience. Our ability to sense our weight gives us presence—embodied knowledge of who and where we are. In other words, our sense of self is tied up with our relationship to gravity and how our bodies relate with the ground. Coming back to the earth is a way of building confidence, of finding a sense of stability, something that will hold us up when we can’t do so ourselves.

Having a better sense of our own weight also helps us move more efficiently. Knowing where you are and what ‘you’ feels like gives you more control and more choices over how to move yourself through the world. When we are upright, our bodies often brace and compensate to try to escape the pull of gravity, all the while still moving around in all the ways we need to. When we lie down, we ‘undo’ many of these compensations and unconscious holding patterns that take up so much of our energy. Being on the ground assists in the process of muscular and tissue release, which in turn, improves the flow of breath, energy and circulation through the body. It is literally rejuvenating to ground. And coming up and down off the ground (no mean feat, especially if done hands-free or without support from furniture) is good practice for joints and muscles, helping us age dynamically and stay mobile.

So, my invitation and my case for us: Could we start to feel gravity as a friendly pull back ‘down to earth’ when we’ve lost ourselves in thought? Being on the earth, can we sense its deep and irresistible call from below, its invitation to land in presence? Perhaps as we lie down to meditate or do bodywork, we find within ourselves untapped resources of energy, and hitherto unexplored areas of spaciousness. Like an infant progressing through developmental stages, we drop down to the earth, return to ourselves, release tension, and then, moving, rediscover ease, support, fluidity. The ground could be our invitation to regress and re-experience the world from a more childlike perspective; crawling, creeping and rolling in the sheer delight of being alive. Or we could relate to the ground as our animal friends do: slinking and slithering along it like a snake, bounding fearlessly off it like hares or cats, perching regally on it as the birds do. What would it feel like to embody these ancestors in our movement?

There is something wonderfully decadent, luxurious even, about being on the earth. It brings such richness to our experience; infinite trust and patience in our unfolding. All we have to do is let go of our fixation on verticality, uprightness, all the ways we are going somewhere or doing something—drop down, and see what emerges.

Ideas to get you ground-ing:

Play around with various orientations

  • Front-lying (ie. lying on your tummy) in is wonderfully supportive and recuperative as it brings our organs, the centers of our life force, into direct contact with the Earth’s energy.
  • At other times, we may want to spread out on our backs and feel suspended between earth and sky—supported from below, yet open above.
  • Lying on our sides (as many of us do in sleep) is also a lovely halfway point to balance inner and outer experience. In the fetal curl, we are secure and protected while having the option to move our heads, our spines, and the top half of our body, should we choose to.
  • There are also other supportive lying down positions, such as the constructive rest position (CRP) used in many somatic approaches, which brings incredible and myriad benefits on many levels.

Breathe, relax and move

  • Explore micro-movements of your spine, face, fingers, toes
  • Allow your body its comfort: yawn, stretch, wriggle, hum, roll around
  • Massage areas of contact against the floor. Try rolling your skull, ribs, pelvis and experience the support of the earth on as many surfaces of the body as you can.
  • Play some light music, and enjoy a ‘gravity dance’ as it moves through you
  • If you’re outside, attend to birdsong, the whispers of the trees and the breeze…