The Grounding Exercise That Starts My Day on the Best Note

Health & Wellness

The Grounding Exercise That Starts My Day on the Best Note | Wit & Delight
Photo by Nicole Feest at NYLONSADDLE Photography

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift.” – Bil Keane

I’m writing this essay two days before my youngest turns three. She is the living embodiment of how fleeting each day can be. Sometimes she grows over naptime, or wakes up with an entirely new vocabulary and teenage facial expressions. 

Yet, more often than not, instead of noting these small changes in my journal, or marveling at how incredible these little humans can be, I’ve found myself more focused on my worries of the day.

I’m worried about the full dishwasher that needs to be emptied. I’m freaking out over paint swatches. I’m wondering how I can get everything done before the end of the day. I’ve got one foot in the past, the other in the future. That was until 2020 rolled into town and put the breaks on literally everything.

Throughout the course of this year, it has become very clear how often we go out of our way to be anywhere but where we feel most at home: in our bodies, in the present moment. 

Throughout the course of this year, it has become very clear how often we go out of our way to be anywhere but where we feel most at home: in our bodies, in the present moment. I’ve thought a lot about why it feels so good to be anywhere but here. I started looking into meditations on the topic so I could get a little help feeling more comfortable snapping back into the present, for the sake of not only myself but also my family. And as I looked, the same thing kept repeatedly coming up as the first step to coming home to the present: the process of “grounding.” 

What is grounding?

Well, it’s the practice of coming back into your body. Through breath, through meditation, through some sort of change of scenery or sensation. When I was seeking out how to incorporate this practice into my own life, I tried a few suggested exercises that at first seemed too simple to be effective. That was until after just the first try, when I instantly felt like I had snapped back into place, like a rubber band that needed relief from constant tension. 

And that’s what being grounded has felt like for me. It brings relief. Peace. Calm. 

I’m going to share one of my favorite simple grounding exercises with you today. You may have heard of it before, but I’d be willing to take a guess most of you haven’t yet incorporated it into your regular routines. I’m sharing it in the hopes it will help you feel a bit more comfortable with being in the present moment. As cliché as it may sound, it’s really comforting to know we can always come home to ourselves, no matter how wild the world around us might be. 

The Exercise

I first heard about this on Tara Brach’s podcast in August. It’s called the 4-7-8 breathing exercise, which means you breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, and breath out for 8 counts. This technique creates just enough of a deliberate change in breath that you’re focused solely on the counting and on how it feels to restrict or withstand an exhale.

Holding your breath for 7 seconds isn’t exactly comfortable, but the slow and deliberate nature of the exercise feels amazing in practice, and it’s difficult to focus on anything but the present moment while you’re doing it. 

How I Practice It in My Life

I usually practice this first thing in the morning. I’ll wake up, look outside, and and try to come back to the present moment before the wories of the day take hold.

I’ll take a few moments to ground myself in my surroundings, focusing on all of the sights I see—the trees, the sky, the plant next to my bed. I’ll take just a minute to notice my breath, which is almost always very shallow. Then, I’ll ask myself to get comfortable. When I feel comfortable and calm (still in bed), I’ll do the 4-7-8 exercise. It takes only two or three rounds of 4-7-8 breathing to instantly feel centered.

Then I get out of bed. 

Most days I’ll only need to repeat this exercise on the rare occasions when I feel my heart starting to race, or when I begin to worry things are out of my control. 

Some days, I’ll come back to this breathing pattern every hour, repeating another two or three rounds each time. Those are the bad days, the ones where I’m feeling really anxious. Those are the days when I know I’m not only in need of grounding but also more intentional care, like taking a nap, taking something OFF my plate, or focusing on completing the one thing I’ve been avoiding. 

What this technique has taught me, at the very least, is that I have another option other than worrying. And it requires nothing except my willingness to breathe with intention. 

What this technique has taught me, at the very least, is that I have another option other than worrying. And it requires nothing except my willingness to breathe with intention. 

The Benefits the Exercise Offers

In times of uncertainty, when we feel like we don’t have much control over the future, one of the best things we can do is simply come back to the present—it’s the only thing that’s really, truly tangible for us.

In a way, coming back to the breath in this manner is a more intentional form of meditation, for folks who don’t love meditating. It can be a lot to ask of people to focus solely on mediation; the practice can profoundly change your life but it can take time to get into the habit. One way to begin to move toward a meditation practice is through this simple breathing exercise—through starting to simply tune into your body and to the present moment.

While I’m certainly not a medical professional and would always recommend talking to a healthcare professional if you’re looking for further help with anxiety, in my own life I’ve found that this breathing exercise is an incredibly useful tool to have on hand for times when anxiety presents itself throughout the day. Along with first thing in the morning, it’s useful before (or during) a big meeting or presentation, when a difficult conversation arises, at the end of a stressful day, or when you’re trying to drift off to sleep at night.

My son, August, has been beginning to show early signs of anxiety and it’s amazing how helpful this and other simple practices have been for him too. We’ll work on this breathing technique together or we’ll practice tightening every muscle in our bodies and then fully relaxing them, and both methods always help him calm down.

Grounding practices are something that even your kids can understand intuitively. When you see that, you realize how far away our adult brains can take us from being connected with ourselves.

Sometimes, to get ourselves out of an anxiety spiral, all we need to do is come back to what’s right in front of us in the moment, in a really intentional way—to focus on our breath, what we see out the window, or the minute sensations in our bodies.

I encourage you to try this technique out for yourselves and to also intentionally reflect on what other things would help start your day on the best note. I’ve found that being curious about the things that feel off in our lives is the best way to find a solution for them.

Here’s to calmer, more grounded mornings for us all.

I’d love to know, what are the grounding techniques you use to feel more centered and present in your lives? I’m all ears down below in the comments.

BY Kate Arends - December 7, 2020

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Corinne Fisher
December 8, 2020 9:54 am

Very inspiring! I felt stinging in my eyes as I read your words of how far our adult brains take us from the present. It is so very true & how wonderful it would be to find the child inside- that never left, just forgotten about.

December 8, 2020 11:15 am

Nice! Dr. Weil also practices and recommends the 4-7-8 breath. I love the Wim Hof Method as well (including the cold showers!). It brings me back in to my body and strengthens the immune system too.

December 9, 2020 5:45 pm

The 4-7-8 breath and a variation (4-4-8) were recommended to me by my health psychologist for chronic pain 🙂

December 10, 2020 4:14 pm

I just want to represent and encourage those of us with trauma, especially complex and/or childhood trauma, in my following comment: For many, many years I thought I was “failing” at meditation and mindfulness and somehow fundamentally flawed because it brought me MORE discomfort and outright agony. It’s taken over 15 years of various therapies to finally see it it was unresolved childhood and compounded, adult trauma. Meditation and grounding is different for us. We have an added hurdle of overcoming the deeply ingrained belief that we are not safe in our bodies. Anywhere. Ever. EVER. (Again, especially if the… Read more »

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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.

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