As someone with a high-key, high-stress demeanor, I find that my brain often escalates into chaos mode at a moment’s notice. When it’s operating in my favor, this tendency allows me to be super agile. (Last-minute task? I’m already five steps ahead, creating a solution and firing off emails.) But sometimes, my proclivity toward action puts me in overdrive unnecessarily, making me feel like I’m just… *gestures wildly.* Through my reporting on mental health, I’ve come to learn that what I often lack is the feeling of being grounded—that is, being aware of the present moment and in control over my emotional self. I’ve also learned, surprisingly, that I may be able to access that feeling by...literally getting on the ground.
That’s right: Therapists (especially those who specialize in treating trauma) recommend lying on the floor for grounding because the practice can help ground your emotional state, much like it does your physical being. “Naturally wanting to lie on the ground for comfort in a crisis is actually the origin of the whole therapeutic concept we call ‘grounding,’” says trauma therapist and social worker Shannon Moroney, RSW, author of Heal for Real. If you’ve practiced savasana or corpse pose in a yoga class, you may already know the grounding power of lying on the floor for a few minutes and letting your legs and arms extend outward. As it turns out, doing this outside of yoga can bring the same therapeutic calm. “In this position, it’s easier to physically let tension and worries go for a few minutes,” says Moroney.
“[Lying on the floor], it’s easier to physically let tension and worries go for a few minutes.” —Shannon Moroney, RSW, trauma therapist
The reason why has to do with the connection between the brain and the body, and specifically, the ways in which the latter can store the mental and emotional baggage of the former. When you’re in a state of stress or even momentary tension, your autonomic nervous system (aka fight, flight, or freeze response) can become activated, which then has downstream effects on your somatic system or muscles, says trauma-informed therapist Gina Moffa, LCSW. As a result, somatic exercises, like lying on the floor, can actually be used to help identify and release trauma: “You’re tapping into the way that the body handles tension and stress directly.”
How lying on the floor for a few minutes each day can work as a grounding practice
The act of actually getting onto the floor and moving into a horizontal position essentially “forces you to be present with your body and get to know what’s happening within it,” says Moffa. That’s largely because of how different this position is from the ones in which you likely spend the most time (like sitting in a chair or on a couch, or lying on a bed). The sheer novelty of lying on the floor and being able to feel where your body makes contact with the floor (and where it doesn’t) has the effect of drawing your focus to it, she says.
With that awareness, it’s easier to tap into how your body is functioning, which lies at the heart of feeling grounded. “When you’re on the floor, and you can’t help but feel the state of your body, you become more aware of how fast your heart is beating, and whether you might be in fight-or-flight mode, as well as where you hold tension, based on the body parts that don’t settle easily into the floor, like your shoulders or hips,” says Moffa. This somatic cue then invites natural feedback from your brain: You may only need to become physically aware that you’re gripping a certain muscle in order to release that hold with a few deep breaths, she says.
“When you’re on the floor, you become more aware of how fast your heart is beating...[and] where you hold tension, based on the body parts that don’t settle easily.” —Gina Moffa, LCSW, trauma-informed therapist
Because the floor is also the lowest place you have accessible to you at any given moment, lying down on it can feel like an even greater surrender to gravity than lying on a bed or couch. And the visual perspective of being all the way down there can bring about an even more profound grounding sensation, according to Moroney. “When I do this, I like to also think about making myself very heavy, even picturing sinking into the floor a bit,” she says. “Breathing into the belly and exhaling slowly deepens the soothing experience.”
Physiologically, a supine position may also help your body regain its natural posture, allowing you to breathe more easily (especially if you tend to spend most of your day hunched over a laptop). “Without having to contend with gravity or with the subconscious compensation patterns of your body, your brain can learn true cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral alignment,” says anesthesiologist Aimee Kamat, MD, chief medical officer at pain-management platform Vitruvia.
Being able to take deep, diaphragmatic breaths while horizontal can add to the position’s grounding power, says Dr. Kamat, allowing you to turn off that fight-or-flight autonomic nervous system and switch on your “rest-and-digest” parasympathetic nervous system. The result? A slower pulse and a more relaxed state of being.
Below, I share my reflections on lying on the floor for grounding for 10 minutes a day—plus the reasons you might just need to, well, get on my level.
What happened when I tried lying on the floor every day for a workweek to feel more grounded
I found it difficult to get comfortable and to keep my head and neck still while I settled into my first few minutes on the ground. To my surprise, I could almost immediately feel my pulse beating through the bottom of my left heel, where it touched the ground. This functioned as an alert that I was, indeed, having a heart-racing kind of morning.
I closed my eyes and decided to fill the time with a simple body-scan meditation, which is what Moffa recommended doing if I got down there and found my thoughts flitting to things like the work still left on my agenda or what I was going to do that night. This practice involved mentally addressing each part of my body (starting at my head and moving downward) by considering how it felt and whether I could sense any tension within it. This called my attention to the fact that my chest and upper back was so tense, it was puffed up from the floor, which cued me to take a deep breath and let those muscles go.
By the time the alarm buzzed, I did feel somewhat more at peace than I did when I initially got down there.
Admittedly, I felt anxious about having to remain on the floor for a few minutes longer once my body scan was over, before my alarm beeped to signal the end of the 10 minutes. But by the time it buzzed, I did feel somewhat more at peace than I did when I initially got down there.
Today, I closed my eyes and decided to focus on the quality of my breath for the duration of the 10 minutes at Moroney's suggestion. I placed one hand on my stomach and one on my heart, so that I could clue myself in to the kind of deep belly breathing that I’d learned was possible in this position, while also sensing whether I might slow down my pulse as a result.
Unfortunately, I struggled for a few minutes to keep my focus on my breath and couldn’t stop my mind from wandering to thoughts of work. This was annoying to me until I remembered something I've heard many a meditation teacher say about racing thoughts: not to fight them, but to let them pass through your mind like clouds in the sky. With this in mind, I gave myself the freedom to get distracted. Incidentally, being physically distanced from my computer (and freed from a daunting blank page) gave me a few ideas for how I might tackle the intro of my next piece, which was a welcome surprise.
By the final few minutes, I had to put my hands over my eyes to keep from opening them and checking my phone to see how long was left. I was mostly antsy to get into writing once I got up from the floor.
Lying on the floor for grounding was beginning to feel a little more ritualistic at this point, and I felt more at ease getting into it today, too. I kept my eyes open for a change and loosely focused them on a spot on the ceiling, which felt surprisingly grounding in comparison to the abyss of closed-eye darkness. Glancing upward from the floor also seemed to have the effect of reminding me how insignificant I am in the scope of the space I occupy and of the world at large.
I also found myself yawning much more than on previous days, which could be due to the fact that I wasn’t specifically focused on my breathing or on my body during my horizontal session. Or it could be due to sleep deprivation, which, I should note, would not jibe super well with this practice, particularly if you’re someone who can fall asleep easily in new places. (Thankfully, I am not, so this was not an issue for me despite the yawning.)
Though I was sleepy upon standing back up, I did feel notably calm. I also then remembered to fill my water bottle, get a snack, and go to the bathroom, all of which left me feeling more comfortable in my body when I returned to work.
I went back to doing the body scan today because I knew I’d struggle with making it through the 10 minutes otherwise; my work schedule was jam-packed, and I nearly forgot to lie down (can you imagine!) in light of back-to-back calls on my calendar. I’m glad I remembered, though, because it’s on days like this that I feel most in need of some grounding.
As I scanned my body, I found the same tension in my chest and the quick pulse-beating in my left heel. For the remaining time, I focused on breathing into these tense areas and found it easier to release some tension than I did on the first day. The time also passed much more quickly, leaving me wondering if I might be able to stay down there for 20 minutes (a number that had seemed far too high when Moffa had initially suggested a 10- to 20-minute range).
Overall, today's session felt much more in alignment, both literally and figuratively. I have surprisingly little to report, which is… maybe the point? I found myself doing less philosophizing, perhaps because I really spent the time just breathing and being.
I lay down much earlier in the day than typical because today was the day I was going to write this piece. Before doing so, I wanted to give myself some time to contextualize how I felt about the experience from a holistic point of view.
There must have been more traffic than usual buzzing below my apartment because I felt more distracted by the sounds of car horns and sirens than in days past. Much like my day three experience, this had the profound effect of reminding me of just how tiny and insignificant I am in the scope of things, and how little my day-to-day really matters. Not to diminish my work, but it doesn't have life-or-death implications, and my stress levels could better reflect that.
I felt less worried about what I needed to do next and about the passing of time, and more comfortable just being there, on the floor.
This realization was calming, leaving me less worried about what I needed to do next and about the passing of time, and more comfortable just being there, on the floor. About halfway through, tears started to run from my closed eyes—unfortunately because I was congested from a head cold and not because I was so moved by the experience (though the dramatist in me couldn’t help but appreciate the timing).
Though it was tough, at first, to get in the meditative spirit of lying on the floor for grounding and simply breathing for 10 minutes, it almost always left me feeling more at ease when I got back up than I had beforehand. The exercise also drew my attention to how much stress I store in my chest and the relaxing power of breathing into that tension and focusing on letting it go.
But perhaps my biggest takeaway is how much simply setting aside 10 minutes to lie on the floor changed my realtime perspective on what matters. On the final day of the experiment, I felt lucky to just be breathing on the floor (for my job, no less) and deeply reminded of the fact that almost nothing in my life is pressing or a real emergency in the way that it is for so many other people at any given moment.
In much the same vein, I had the realization that finding 10 minutes (maybe even 20) to do something random just for myself is, in fact, possible, despite being someone who often feels busy and stressed. Which is all to say, I think the experience helped tether me a little more tightly to reality. Though that perspective didn’t necessarily stick with me throughout the rest of each day, I have to imagine a few minutes of calm and grounding is far better than none.
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