The following is an excerpt from The Way to Vibrant Health by Alexander and Leslie Lowen:
“You may have noticed if you did the exercise from the preceding [section] that the vibrations in your legs occur when you feel your feet pressing on the ground. The feeling contact between the feet and the ground is known in bioenergetics as grounding. This denotes a flow of excitation through the legs into the feet and ground. One is then connected to the ground, not “up in the air”’ or “hung-up.” There are, of course, different degrees of feeling contact with the ground depending upon how fully the feet “touch” the ground. People vary widely in this.
To be grounded is another way of saying that a person has his feet on the ground. It can also be extended to mean that a person knows where he stands and therefore that he knows who he is. Being grounded, a person has “standing,” that is, he is “somebody.” In a broader sense grounding represents an individual’s contact with the basic realities of his existence. He (or she) is rooted in the earth, identified with his body, aware of his sexuality, and oriented toward pleasure. These qualities are lacking in the person who is “up in the air” or in his head instead of in his feet.
Grounding involves getting a person to “let down,” to lower his center of gravity, to feel closer to the earth. The immediate result is to increase his sense of security. He feels the ground under him and his feet resting on it. When a person becomes highly charged or excited, he tends to go upward, to fly, or to fly off. In this condition, despite a sense of excitation, or elation, there is always an element of anxiety and danger, namely, the danger of falling. This is equally true where one is off the ground as in an airplane. It is resolved when the person is back safe on the ground, physically or emotionally.
The direction downward is the way to the pleasure of release or discharge. It is the way to sexual satisfaction. Persons who are afraid to let down are blocked in their ability to surrender fully to the sexual discharge and fail to experience full orgastic satisfaction. Letting go means letting down, for we are unconsciously holding ourselves up all the time. We are afraid to fall, afraid to fail, and therefore afraid to let go and give in to our feelings.
Mabel Elsworth Todd in her book The Thinking Body, first published in 1937, made this observation: “Man has become absorbed with the upper portions of the body in intellectual pursuits and in the development of skills of hand and speech. This, in addition to false notions regarding appearances or health, has transferred his sense of power from the base to the top of his structure. In thus using the upper part of the body for power reactions he has reversed the animal usage and has to a great extent lost both the fine sensory capacity of the animal and its control of power centered in the lower spinal and pelvic muscles.”2
In a broad sense, grounding aims at helping a person become more fully identified with his animal nature, which, of course, includes his sexuality. The lower half of the body is much more animal-like in its functions (locomotion, defecation, and sexuality) than the upper half (thinking, speaking, and manipulating the environment). These functions are more instinctive and less subject to conscious control. But it is in our animal nature that the qualities of rhythm and grace reside. Any movement that flows freely from the lower part of the body has these qualities. When we pull ourselves up and away from the lower half of the body, we lose much of our natural rhythmicity and grace.
This upward displacement can be reversed through the bioenergetic grounding exercises. As the body’s center of gravity drops into the pelvis with the feet serving as energetic supports, one can sense the self centered in the lower abdomen.
The importance of being centered in the lower abdomen or belly is recognized by most Orientals. The Japanese, for example, have a word, hara, which means the belly and also the quality of being a person who is centered in this region. The exact point, according to Durckheim, is 2" below the navel. If a person is centered at this point he is said to have hara, that is, he is balanced both psychologically and physically. The balanced person is calm and at ease; all his movements are effortless yet masterful. Durckheim writes: “When a man possesses fully developed Hara he has the strength and precision to perform actions which otherwise he could never achieve even with the most perfect technique, the closest attention or the strongest will-power. ‘Only what is done with Hara succeeds completely.’”3 The disciplines of Zen archery, flower arranging, and the tea ceremony are designed to help a person attain hara.
Most Westerners are centered in the upper part of the body, mainly in the head. We recognize the head as the focus of the ego, the center of consciousness and deliberate behavior. In contrast, the lower or pelvic center where hara resides is the center for the unconscious or instinctive life. Let us say that it is man’s animal center, as Todd suggests. When we realize that no more than 10 percent of our movements are consciously directed and that 90 percent are unconscious, the importance of this center becomes evident.
An analogy will make this clear. Think of a horse and rider. The rider with his conscious control of direction and speed functions, like the ego; the horse provides the lower center, the power, and surefootedness to carry the rider where he wants to go. Should the rider become unconscious, the horse would in most cases bring him safely home. But should the horse break down, the rider would be virtually helpless. The best he might do is walk to his destination.
The belly is literally the seat of life. The body sits in the pelvic basket. Through the pelvis, one has contact with the sexual organs and the legs. It is also in the belly that the individual is conceived, and from the belly he emerges downward into the light of day. The loss of contact with this vital center imbalances a person and leads to anxiety and insecurity.
There are two commandments that, if observed, help you become and stay grounded. The first is to keep your knees slightly flexed at all times. Locking the knees when standing turns the whole lower part of the body from the hips down into a rigid structure, which then functions as a mechanical support or a mechanical means of locomotion. It prevents one from flowing into and identifying with the lower part of the body.
The knees are the shock absorbers of the body. When pressure is exerted on a person the knees flex, allowing the force to be transmitted through the body and into the ground. If the knees are locked the force is trapped in the lower back, producing a stress condition that will result in lower back trouble. We are always advised to keep our knees bent when lifting heavy objects. We fail to realize that psychological pressures are the equivalent of physical weights to the body. If we attempt to support these pressures with locked knees, we take their force in our lower back.
Excerpt from Lowen & Lowen, The Way to Vibrant Health (1977)