Four Elements Grounding Exercise
When we feel stressed, angry, sad, frustrated, confused, or experience some other challenging emotion, in the moment it can feel nearly impossible to find any way to calm ourselves or to see things differently. When we enter these emotional states, our nervous system may enter Fight or Flight mode.
In Fight or Flight mode, we perceive that we are being threatened, and therefore respond in whatever way we see necessary for survival. Fight or Flight is our body’s defense mechanism to keep us alive; however we often perceive something to be a threat that is not really a threat. When we are in those situations, we can use techniques such as the 4 Elements Exercise* to calm ourselves. Taking a few moments to practice this exercise will take us out of Fight or Flight, and allow us to make decisions from a more rational, logical perspective.
Because we lose our ability to think logically when we are in Fight or Flight, it is important to practice grounding exercises during the times in which we feel more calm and stable. This allows the practice to feel more natural to us, and to therefore be more accessible in the moments when we are highly stressed.
The 4 Elements consist of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.
If you feel comfortable doing so, close your eyes while practicing the 4 Elements. If you do not feel comfortable, or are not in a position in which you can safely close your eyes, your eyes can be kept open.
Earth = Grounding, Reality of Safety in the Present Moment
Take a few moments to “land” where you are. Feel your feet on the floor. Feel the support of whatever is beneath you. Feel the contact that your skin makes with whatever it is touching. Open your eyes and look around the room to notice 3 things that you have not noticed before. Notice any sounds, smells, or tastes that might be present.
Water = Turn on Relaxation Response
Make saliva in your mouth and swallow a few times. If you have trouble doing this, you can take a sip of water or suck on a hard candy. When we enter Fight or Flight mode, the systems in our body that are not necessary for our immediate survival slow down. This includes the digestive system. Creating saliva turns on your digestive system, which in turn activates your body’s relaxation response.
Air = Breathing for Centering
With your eyes closed, place your hands on you belly. Imagine you have a balloon in your belly. When you breathe in, feel that balloon fill up with air. When you breathe out, feel the air in that balloon deflate. Try breathing in for the count of 4, holding your breath for the count of 6, and breathing out for the count of 8. Feel free to adjust these counts as needed, to something that is manageable, but slightly outside of your comfort zone.
Fire = Imagination
Bring to mind a place or an activity where you feel safe, calm, and relaxed, or where you feel good about yourself. Bring all of your senses into this experience, so notice what you see, what you hear, what you taste, what you smell, and what you feel. Also notice what emotions you feel being in this safe, calm space.
Now open your eyes and come back to the present moment. Notice the state of your mind. Notice your breath. Notice how you are feeling.
*4 Elements adapted from Elan Shapiro, 2012