Have you ever finished doing something and realized that while it normally takes you twenty minutes, today it took you two hours? For some reason you could not stay focused on the task; you ended up getting sidetracked about ten times for no particular reason. Perhaps you feel like the world has started spinning faster and you might fly off? Maybe you have so much going on each day that when you get into bed you need to check the calendar to make sure it’s the same day. Or you might have just travelled for several hours, and while you arrived at your destination an hour ago, your brain and body still think they are travelling. These are all instances where you may be, or become, ungrounded and uncentered.
How do you know you are ungrounded and uncentered? One of the easiest indications is how easy it is for you to focus on a task. If you find that your mind wanders and you get sidetracked easily, there is a good possibility you are ungrounded. However, having a lot on your mind, juggling many tasks at one time, focusing for long periods, or travelling can all knock you off center.
Being uncentered and ungrounded is associated with the air element, vata, in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. For whatever reason, vata is easily unbalanced. You know your vata is out of balance if you start to feel unfocused and spacey-headed. All of the above scenarios can throw your vata out.
How do we come back to center, though? Does it take something crazy like dancing in the rain under the light of the moon on the third Tuesday of the fifth month of a leap year? As amusing as that scenario may be, grounding yourself and coming back to center is much easier than that.
1. Your fuel source
One of the first places to check if you are feeling unbalanced is the food you eat. How much processed, packaged food are you eating? (And this includes tinned food, pre-made mixes, and of course fast food.) Like gasoline for a car, food is fuel for you body. If you put sub-standard, adulterated gasoline in your car, what happens? It doesn’t run very well. The same holds true for your body; if you fill your body up with processed food high in sugar, salt or an assortment of dubious chemicals and preservatives, it won’t run very well.
Processed food is quick and convenient, but it is lacking in vital Life energy which has been sapped out during the processing. This Life energy is essential for physical, emotional and mental well-being (This has long been recognized by schools of traditional medicine around the world, but forgotten in our modern “scientific” age). The key to getting as much Life energy from your food as possible is to consume natural, whole (preferably organic) foods.
While it does take a little more time to cut up vegetables than open a can, the benefits you reap are worth the extra effort. If you’re really struggling with time, using a pressure cooker will help speed up the cooking wonderfully. Another convenient option is a slow cooker: prep it the night before, pop it in in the morning and you have a home-made dinner ready that night.
Consuming a natural, wholesome diet is one of the key factors in keeping yourself balanced and centered. So, are there any specific foods that you may look for when you get knocked out of balance?
2. Food to bring you back to center
Since vata is usually out of balance when you are feeling ungrounded or uncentered, eating food to balance vata can help. Think along the lines of warm, cooked, moderately spiced food. You can try lentil soups with oil or replacing your regular potatoes with sweet potatoes (good just by themselves!). Spices like ginger, cumin, and basil are good. (We’ll talk more about Ayurvedic diets in a future issue.)
One of the most delightful things I discovered was that dark (preferably organic) chocolate, with a cacao content of 70% or higher, can help you to come back to center. If you are not a fan of dark chocolate, don’t worry. You usually don’t need to eat very much to ground yourself. A square or two will sometimes be all you need.
Another food that is incredibly helpful to eat is called kitcharee (pronounced khich-ree). This is a South Asian dish, but don’t worry, it’s not spicy at all, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make. There are many different recipes for kitcharee from all over the different parts of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Apart from eating the right foods, there are other steps that can be taken to bring you back to a centered state of mind.
3. Alternate nostril breathing
Alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana, is a great way to bring your mind back to center. It will take you about 5-7 minutes to do, and you can do it anytime of the day or even multiple times a day, if necessary.
Start by sitting with your back straight, in a chair or on the floor. Take a deep breath in and let it out. Put your right thumb on the outside of your right nostril, blocking the nostril. Breathe in through your left nostril. Hold the breath in momentarily while you press your right ring finger to the outside of your left nostril and release your right thumb. Breath out through your right nostril. Now, take a breath in through your right nostril, hold it momentarily while you press your right thumb to the outside of your right nostril, release your ring finger from your left nostril, and breathe out through your left nostril. You have completed one round. Do ten rounds in total.
Counting breaths will help you keep track of how many rounds you’ve done. Each round consists of two breaths in and two breaths out. So, on the first breath in through the left nostril say, “In one.” Then on the breath out of the right nostril say, “Out one.” Then “In one” again as you breathe in through the right nostril, and finally “Out one” for the final breath out of the left nostril. The next round would be “In two”s and “Out two”s and so on through three to ten.
When you finish the ten rounds, take two or three deep breaths and feel the calm and peace in your body. This is a great practice to do every morning before you start your day.
4. All work and no play?
Whether it is school work, painting the next Mona Lisa, or designing the next space shuttle, too much work will knock you off center. If you ever want to see a large group of uncentered people, stroll through a university at exam time. You’ll see the result of people who are focusing intently for long periods of time without taking a break. A balanced lifestyle of work and play are crucial to keep you centered and grounded. Try to introduce relaxation time into your daily schedule. This should be reserved especially for you to do anything you really enjoy or that helps you relax. And stick to it as faithfully as you would to your “work” schedule; try not to fall for the trap of thinking that it’s just relaxation and you should continue with your work and be more productive. Paradoxically, you’ll find that your productivity actually increases as you give your mind the relaxation time it needs to rest and get back to center.
5. Meditate for 5-9 minutes
Years ago I was talking about meditation with a friend of mine. I had established a daily practice of meditating for nine minutes in the morning and nine minutes at night. She wanted to start meditating, but insisted she didn’t even have two minutes out of the entire day to spare for it. If this sounds like your response to meditation, then two things come to mind: you may be uncentered and really in need of the centring that meditation can offer, and you might have a substantial unbalance of work and play in your life.
There is a misconception in the West that only people wearing loincloths with dreads who can contort themselves into pretzels and deprive themselves of creature comforts can meditate. While I’ve achieved some pretzel-like poses in yoga, I’ve never found the need to do the others for meditation. If you are called to, however, then run with it.
To start meditating, simply sit quietly (in a chair or cross-legged on the floor or bed), breath through your nose, and focus on your breathing. Focus on watching your breath go in and out of your body. If you find your mind starts following a train of thought, just let the thought go and come back to your breath. As you practice meditating, you’ll find it easier to stay focused on your breath and not get distracted by your thoughts. It is important to meditate daily, even for five minutes. This will help you immensely in staying centered.
(And yes, there is a whole lot more to meditation, but that is for another day.)
6. Back to nature
One of my favourite ways to center myself involves a trip to the park (or any patch of grass I can find). Take off your shoes and socks, lay back in the grass, and let the earth support your body. As you lay there, wiggle your toes in the grass and feel the stresses of daily life seeping into the earth. How long do you need to lay in the grass? That is something only you can answer, but you’ll feel when it has been long enough. For me, I find a minimum of ten minutes is best, as often as possible.
If you have kids and finding ten minutes alone to go the park seems impossible, take your kids with you. While you are watching them play, take off your shoes and sit on the grass. You’ll feel refreshed by the time you need to go home.
Laying in the grass is a key way to help yourself center after you’ve been travelling. I find that especially after airplane travel laying in the grass somewhere helps me to adjust the most quickly. Sometimes after a long flight you can actually feel your body ‘land’ while you lay in the park.
If you cannot find grass, then get as close to the earth as possible. Try walking barefoot in the sand or dirt. In the winter, take a walk through the park and breath in the cold air. Stop and listen to the sound of the snow falling. When I lived in Osaka, Japan (where even a patch of dirt was hard to come by), I found standing barefoot in my third floor apartment and visualizing myself connecting to the earth could work wonders. The only limit is in your mind.
Whether you have been neglecting your diet, working long hours, travelling, or don’t know exactly how you became uncentered and ungrounded, the techniques outlined above will help you get back in line. When you start introducing them, remember that small steps lead to big results. So, choose one or two to start with and then slowly go through trying them all, until you find which ones work best for you.