4 Quick Ways to Ground in Awareness

How can Patanjali, Ayurveda and Polyvagal Theory interact to make an effective shift in patterns?

Here’s 4 Quick Ways to Ground in Awareness, which make healthy shifts a lot easier. Both Ayurveda and Polyvagal Theory use simple techniques to bring our awareness into the present moment, thereby reducing stress and suffering. Here’s how you can apply them in your own life to change or sidestep painful patterns with Patanjali’s wisdom.

Give your nervous system a break. Step away, get out of the triggering scene if you can. The Wisdom of Patanjali (see graphic below) can manifest as a creative spiral if we ground and become aware. Yet it also describes our habitual less conscious loops: we do this, and this not-so-great experience results.

While I often use the concept of Patanjali’s Spiral to make positive nourishment changes, a non-edible example of this first quick way to ground in awareness recently arose in my own life. I came in ready to write the first blog in this series. I went on social media. An Ayurvedic colleague had posted a colorful, well-received post. Normally I’d just rejoice, “like” it and go on. Yet the demon of Comparison reared its head in my mind. “Why is this not happening for me in this moment?” I thought plaintively. My warped desire to succeed was ready to loop into a whole spiral of self-recriminating mental scenarios that would do me no good. We can spiral upward, yet we can also spiral downward. I knew if I sat there and kept looking at social media, I’d go down. I dragged myself off my chair (rajas in action) dragged myself outside (rajas again, thank you rajas) and met the sun on my face for a few minutes. Maybe a few deep breaths. I don’t remember. I went back those few minutes later and headed straight for the blog. Just moving out of the triggering scene was enough to help my mind.

There is a great eating pattern variation on this Step away response that I’ve mentioned before, the Mid-Meal Meander from The Psychologists’ Eat Anything Diet. In the midst of a group feeding frenzy (think upcoming holiday feasts), you excuse yourself from the table, and go some where more peaceful. Step out. Check in with your physical sensations. How are you feeling? Bring awareness to your present reality. You could use Marma touch or breath or just stop and notice how you feel.

This is a way to cut through the trance state that can arise in these situations. If you look at it from the perspective of Patanjali’s Spiral, in this numbed out state (tamas) you can unconsciously move from desire to action with no thought at all. The Mid-Meal Meander is a great quick way to ground in awareness in a variety of triggering situations: cigarette drenched curtains, drinking friends, the clink of ice, an eating scene that doesn’t work for you. Take a break. Give yourself a chance to enter Patanjali’s spiral from a fresh perspective.

Sometimes you need to stay and deal with whatever is happening, stand your ground. (See the second technique coming up.) Yet sometimes removing yourself from the triggering conditions and environment is just what’s needed.

Pause and Check In. This is the second of the 4 Quick Ways to Ground in Awareness. It’s from my colleague and friend Andrea Lites Perry. As a Svaroopa yoga and meditation teacher, she has worked with these issues lifelong. She writes,  For me, Pausing is a prerequisite that triggers me to check in with myself (and) ask, “In this present moment what are you aware of; what/how are you feeling; and/or what do you notice?”  (When) using Patanjali’s Spiral it includes pausing and checking in with yourself to determine where you are on the cycle.  

From evaluating my experiences yesterday in terms of Patanjali’s Spiral, Pausing and Checking in with myself is the significant action at both choice points.  In one incident, the pausing and checking-in, and becoming aware, followed the vrittis stage. It resulted in the choice of a healthier action. 

In the other incident my pausing and checking in was none to little. It resulted in an old-patterned, full-blown, automated desire followed by an old-patterned, automated response of choosing a less healthy choice.

Pausing dissolves the automatic nature of the automatic response of old patterns by providing space and time for me to make a more “intelligent” decision. It increases the opportunity to make a healthy versus an unhealthy choice.  Even if I choose the “unhealthier” choice I have additional information that I can use in the future, which increases the likelihood of my making a healthier choice in the future, and to not be immobilized by guilt and negative self-judgment.

Slow down your breath, especially lengthen the exhale. This is the third of the 4 Quick Ways to Ground in Awareness. It enhances parasympathetic nervous system function and sattva (clarity). Referring to the Wisdom of Patanjali diagram, starting with Latent Impressions, open to the sensations in your body. Then, notice any thoughts you might have. See if any desires arise. What do you want? Hold with this for a moment. Consciously take a few moments to deepen your in breath and lengthen your out breath. Bring your awareness to this present choice point and any sensations that arise. What actions could you take in response to what you want? Keep breathing, slowly.

Here we’re bringing awareness to the choice point between desire and action. We’re creating a bit of a pause to stay awake, to not go numb. This comes from a place of sattva, supporting our Window of Tolerance. Some one using this process recently made the choice to buy a small chocolate instead of a good-sized bag of sour gummy bears. They knew they needed some sugar, yet not that much. It was an okay choice; they were at peace with it. The day went on.

Deepen your inhale, lengthen your exhale, and place your Right hand on the center of your chest, your Left hand on the belly: Marma Therapy. This is the fourth of the 4 Quick Ways to Ground in Awareness. Relax, take three breaths as you hold these two places on your body. Notice how they feel – Warm? Cool? Slow? Jumpy? If you like, send loving kindness through your hands to your body. Do these two places feel connected in any way? As I feel these two marma points for myself right now, they both feel pretty settled. They know dinner is on the way, and I’ve already put the sweet potatoes in the oven. The story for me right now is, keep on keeping on. I feel pretty grounded in the moment, especially with the touch. How are you feeling?

Consider the Alternatives

These are very simple tools. Too simple, maybe you are thinking. Yet consider the alternatives. Someone yelling at you to change. (rajas) Someone giving you the cold shoulder because of your behaviors. (tamas) Someone acting holier than thou. (faux sattva) These are actions we often would not tolerate from someone else, yet we may dish them out to ourselves freely. Or, we can try one of these 4 quick ways to ground in awareness.

My upcoming workshop Mood and Food shows you how to use Ayurveda marma points, journaling and Polyvagal Theory to support the Nervous system and shift emotional patterns that interfere with your efforts for positive change.

If you are looking for effective, easy-to-use and learn tools to transform your mind from foe to friend, register now for Mood and Food.  Registration closes October 29th and 30st. Click on the link to register.

Amadea Morningstar is the co-author of The Ayurvedic Cookbook with Urmila Desai. She has worked with Ayurveda for 40 years, using an integrated approach of Ayurvedic Nutrition, Marma Therapy, Polarity Therapy, Reflective Listening and awareness. She is a Certified Grief Counselor, with a MA in counseling, and RPE, RYT.

Graphic images thanks to Marina Athanasiadi