10+ Best Grounding Techniques and Exercises to Strengthen Your Mindfulness Practice Today

best grounding techniquesIn this post we will be…

oh… are you still here?

Did your thoughts drift?

Are you thinking of something else?

Or are your thoughts hopping from one idea to the next? Well, if you answered yes to any of these questions, then this is the right post to be reading: In this post, we’ll learn more about grounding.

For many good reasons, mindfulness has received significant attention. Maybe you, someone you know, or even a client have begun a journey to developing mindfulness.

One of the most powerful arguments for practicing mindfulness is how easy it is to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life.

But despite the ease of starting and the benefits of mindfulness, it can be challenging to practice the mindfulness exercises: One of the primary difficulties is the act of ‘staying focussed’ during your mindfulness activities. This experience of sustained focus is known as ‘grounding,’ and in this post, I will give you tips on how to stay grounded during your mindfulness exercises.

What is Grounding in Mindfulness?

Within the field of mindfulness, ‘grounding’ refers to the ability to return to the present moment with sustained attention. To better illustrate, consider the following experience: While practicing mindfulness meditation, you focus only on your breathing while seated for approximately 10-30 minutes.

 

Common Difficulties When Practicing Mindfulness

However, if you have ever tried a meditation session, then you have probably experienced one or many of these common experiences: a wandering mind, boredom, and in more extreme scenarios, the monkey mind. In all of these experiences, your thoughts are no longer directed towards the task of mindfulness but focussed elsewhere instead.

Yates, Immergut, and Graves (2015) provide the following comparison of the monkey mind and the wandering mind:

‘Monkey mind’ describes an especially agitated state where attention jumps rapidly from one thing to the next, like an excited monkey. This is quite different from mind-wandering, which happens at a slower pace.

(Yates, Immergut, & Graves, 2015, pp.89)

Even if you haven’t experienced the monkey mind while meditating, you might have experienced something similar during periods of extreme stress or anxiety where you feel like your thoughts are racing, and you can’t concentrate. Similarly, you might have experienced a wandering mind while performing other tasks, such as reading or driving.

 

Keep the (Monkey) Mind Grounded

One of the most useful tools in the practitioner’s toolbox, grounding techniques is effective at combating difficulties experienced while practicing mindfulness. You can use these techniques to help you to stay in the moment and focus on the current situation while practicing your mindfulness activities.

In some therapeutic fields grounding techniques are so effective that they can be implemented in situations where people dissociate due to extreme trauma or stress (Zerubavel & Messman-Moore, 2013). Grounding techniques are beneficial for focused attention meditation practices where the mindful practitioner intentionally directed their attention towards an item of focus (Fan, McCandliss, Sommer, Raz, & Posner, 2002).

 

Four Basic Grounding Techniques

Become aware of drifting thoughtsSeveral grounding techniques can be used during mindfulness activities.

The most basic techniques, which form the foundation of your mindfulness toolbox, include (1) intentionally choosing an object to direct your attention towards, which can be (2) a body scan, (3) focusing on your breath, or (4) becoming aware of external stimuli.

 

Being Aware of Drifting Thoughts

There is one other technique that supersedes the four techniques in importance; this technique is being aware of what your mind is doing. What is meant by this is that if you are not aware that your mind is drifting or that you are lost in a train of thought, then you will not be able to implement the four basic grounding techniques listed above.

When you find that you are distracted and that your mind was wandering, do the following:

  1. Observe that your thoughts were drifting.
  2. Do not judge or evaluate that your thoughts were drifting – this does not mean that you are ‘bad’ at mindfulness.
  3. Perform one of the four techniques below to help ground you during your mindfulness practice.

 

Direct Your Attention Towards an Object of Focus

To help you stay grounded during your mindful exercises, it helps to choose an object to direct your attention towards intentionally. This object doesn’t necessarily have to be external, but it can be anything that you find useful in that moment.

Examples of such objects include your breath, your body, or an external stimulus. Your choice of stimuli depends on the environment where you are practicing your mindful activities, as well as the type of activity you are performing. The next three techniques that we describe below are three useful grounding techniques that include an object of focus.

 

Do a Body Scan

During a body scan, you intentionally focus on different parts of your body. For example, if you are seated, then you might focus on what parts of your body make contact with the ground or the chair. You will then shift your attention to other parts of your body – this can be done in a systematic way such as scanning your body from your toes to head, or you could scan your body by following the sensations that you experience.

 

Focus on Your Breath

In this technique, you will intentionally focus on your breathing. Your aim is to maintain your focus on controlled inhalation and exhalation and to count your breaths. This technique sounds easy, but it is surprisingly tricky!

Begin this technique by shifting your focus towards your breath, inhale for three seconds, and then exhale for three seconds.

Yates et al. (2015) reframe this technique slightly and re-label it as ‘following the breath.’ They further divide up this task into the following challenges:

  • Try to find the exact moment at which your inhalation begins and ends.
  • Try to find the exact moment at which your exhalation begins and ends.
  • Continuously track these start and endpoints with equal concentration and attention.

 

Becoming Aware of External Stimuli

This technique is especially useful in situations where you are focusing on objects in the environment. For example, when you can feel that your mind is dancing around or you are struggling to focus, you can intentionally shift your focus to something external in your environment.

The example I keep returning to is imagining that you have a small stone in your hand: You can run your fingers over the stone and concentrate on:

  • the texture of the stone (is it smooth or rough?),
  • the temperature of the stone (does it feel cold or is it slightly warm?), and
  • the shape of the stone (is it round, or does it have jagged edges?)

There are, of course, more applied examples of focusing on external perceptions that could be useful. For example:

  • when eating mindfully, you might concentrate on the taste and the texture of the food;
  • when listening to music, you can concentrate on the notes and the instruments;
  • when exercising mindfully, you can focus on the smells and sounds around you.

 

Four Useful Worksheets and PDFs

Mental, Physical, and Soothing Grounding Techniques

The Winona State University constructed a useful grounding techniques PDF that was compiled from the information provided in Najavits (2002). There are three types of grounding techniques offered here:

  • Mental grounding techniques
  • Physical grounding techniques
  • Soothing grounding techniques

These three types of techniques rely on different mechanisms, and there are a variety of exercises described for each of the three techniques:

  • Mental grounding techniques use methods that are primarily of a psychological and cognitive nature. For example, counting slowly, or reimagining a previous experience in great detail.

  • Physical grounding techniques use methods focussed on external stimuli, such as sensations and perceptions related to information that exists in the external environment; for example, exercises such as stretching or yoga, concentrating on tactile sensations such as putting your hands under running water or rubbing your fingers across different fabrics.

  • Soothing grounding techniques describe methods that use kindness and positive sentiment to help induce a sense of calm and relaxation. Examples include thinking of people whom you love or repeating a positive statement to yourself.

 

Further Examples of Physical and Mental Grounding Techniques

One useful PDF is provided by the Training Institute for Youth Workers. In their PDF, the authors provide a helpful distinction between physical and mental grounding techniques.

Below are some extracts from the PDF:

Physical Grounding techniques Mental Grounding techniques
Dig your heels into the floor. Remind yourself that you are connected to the ground. Play a category game. Try to think of “TV shows,” “songs,” “ice cream flavors”…
Clench and release your fists. Remember the words to an inspiring song, mindfulness quote, prayer, or poem.
Eat or drink something. Describe the flavors or notice the temperature in detail. Visualize a place that is calming and safe

 

General Grounding Techniques

If you are looking for a variety of different types of grounding techniques that you can implement in your personal life, your classroom, or your clinical practice, then we recommend the following three PDFs.

The first PDF contains six exercises compiled by the University of Lethbridge. In the second PDF, James Madison University provides a list of general grounding techniques. These techniques are not grouped into different domains, such as mental, physical, or soothing (although it seems that all of these exercises seem to be physical).

Overall, there are 27 exercises, and these can be used in various environments. Finally, the Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at the University of Sydney compiled a list of more than ten exercises that can be used for grounding. We will pick our favorite practices and describe them in the next section.

 

Top 3 Grounding Exercises

Technique for groundingBased on a variety of resources, we provide a list of our favorite grounding exercises based on how easy they are to implement and whether they are recommended by more than one source.

 

Exercise 1: Press your feet into the ground

One of the most straightforward grounding techniques to implement is pressing your heels into the ground and feel your feet connect to the ground.

While pressing your feet into the ground, splay your toes and press – with equal pressure from your big toe to your baby toe, from the front of your foot to the back of your heel – and feel how your foot connect to the ground and how the ground exerts a constant pressure back towards your foot.

This exercise can be easily implemented in a classroom, clinical practice, or at home/work.

 

Exercise 2: Concentrate on your breath

Another easy grounding exercise is to concentrate on your breathing.

Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and slowly inhale through your nose for three seconds. While inhaling, try to inhale in an even controlled manner. While doing this, feel the air enter your nose, and try to identify when your inhalation begins and when it ends.

Next, exhale in a controlled manner for three seconds through your mouth and feel your breath exit your lungs and escape through your lips. While doing this exercise, try to identify when your exhalation begins and ends.

Only concentrate on your breaths during this exercise and count your breaths; during this exercise, try not to let your thoughts drift elsewhere. Try to perform this exercise for three minutes. Like the previous exercise, this exercise can be used at home/work, in a classroom or clinical practice.

 

Exercise 3: Re-orientation

During this exercise, the aim is to re-orient yourself in your environment. Keep still and take your time to do the following:

  • Look around and observe your environment. Notice the light, the colors, the smells, and what you can hear.

  • Now, do the following exercise: name five items that you can see, five things that you can hear, and five things you can feel.

  • Repeat the exercise by naming a further four items that you can see, four items that you can hear, and four items you can feel.

  • Continue to this exercise for an additional three, two, and then one item that you can see, hear and feel in your environment.

Although this exercise can be used in the same scenarios as the previous exercises, we think that this exercise is beneficial in a classroom, because it is less abstract than the previous exercises.

 

Techniques for Managing Anxiety

Grounding techniques can be handy for dealing with general anxiety, or episodes where you experience intense anxiety such as before an exam or when encountering a phobia.

The symptoms of anxiety vary significantly between people. Still, in general, anxiety presents typically with a feeling of restlessness, becoming tired quite quickly, struggling to concentrate, feeling irritable, feeling tense, and having sleep disturbances (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Some of the grounding techniques that are especially effective include:

  1. Breathing exercises like the ones described above. Mindful exercises with a breathing component are effective at reducing anxiety in phobic situations (Hooper, Davies, Davies, & McHugh, 2011) as well as stress and anxiety associated with medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (Stefanaki et al., 2015).

  2. When you are not feeling anxiety, make a list of positive affirmations (e.g., ‘You are strong,’ or ‘You can breathe’). Keep this list on your person or in your bag so that when you are feeling especially anxious, you can read this list and focus on the statements and what they mean (Rape Crisis Information Pathfinder, n.d.).

  3. Another effective grounding technique is one that helps you to remain oriented in your surroundings. Use the Re-orientation exercise described above to help maintain your focus and awareness of your surroundings.

  4. There is some evidence that coloring-in activities are effective at managing anxiety among university students (Curry & Kasser, 2005) and children (Carsley, Heath & Fajnerova, 2015). These techniques could be implemented before test-taking or other stressful events (e.g., giving an oral, performing on stage, or participating in a sports activity).

 

Five Ways to Manage Panic Attacks

For people who suffer from panic attacks, the experience can be terrifying. During a panic attack, commonly reported symptoms include feeling like one cannot breathe, heart palpitations, dizziness, and sweating. Panic attacks can be extremely distressing experiences.

Mindfulness, and especially grounding techniques, are useful behaviors for people who experience panic attacks.

Some of the grounding techniques, which are often used in conjunction with mindful activities, can be extremely useful for managing anxiety and panic attacks (Kim et al., 2016). The reason for this is that grounding techniques result in heightened attention and focus, rather than the anxiety feedback loop that occurs with anxiety.

Anxiety Feedback Loop

Anxiety Feedback Loop

 

In more extreme situations where panic attacks appear alongside comorbid heart disease, mindfulness, and grounding techniques are extremely powerful.

For example, Tully, Sardinha, and Nardi (2017) describe a novel action plan targeted toward patients who suffer from both panic attacks, as well as comorbid heart disease. In their action plan, they recommend that patients do the following when experiencing chest pain:

  1. Stop and rest.
  2. Tell someone how you feel.
  3. Acknowledge the symptoms.
  4. Start mindfulness-based stress reduction exercise.
  5. After a predetermined time limit, decide whether to phone an ambulance.

The benefits of the mindfulness exercises at Step 4 are two-fold: First, it helps patients differentiate between threatening and no-threatening chest pains. Second, if the chest pains are threatening, then patients have started a stress reduction exercise that may help them manage their anxiety.

Alongside the recommendations given by Tully et al. (2017), Kissen, Kendall, Lozano, and Ioffe (2020) also make the following suggestion for people who experience panic attacks.: Patients should make a note of the signs that a panic attack is imminent and should make a small note next to each grounding technique when it should be used.

For example, if the patient finds that the breathing technique is most useful to reduce the severity of a panic attack, then Kissen et al. suggest that patients could write something along the lines of “Use when starting feel symptoms of a panic attack.” By doing this, the patient can easily rely on the task as opposed to trying to decide between tasks when there is limited time to spare.

 

Techniques and Exercises for Children

nature grounding techniquesSome of the grounding techniques that we have described so far can be easily adapted in the classroom.

For example, teachers and therapists can use coloring-in exercises to help with grounding, especially a stressful event like a test, an oral, or even a sporting event.

Not all coloring-in exercises are equally effective: Carsley et al. (2015) found that boys were more relaxed after a freeform coloring-in exercise, whereas girls responded better to structured coloring-in activities such as mandalas.

Other useful techniques include:

  1. A version of the Re-orientation game called the 5-4-3-2-1 Senses Game where children must find five objects in their environment that they can see, then four items they hear, three items that can smell, two that they can touch, and one item that they can taste.
    1. These games can be modified so that they’re easier or more difficult, depending on the age of the child. For example, smaller children might perform better with a game that focuses on only items/colors/shapes/textures/people/animals that they can see. At each step (e.g., 5 – 4- 3- 2- 1), children can be asked to identify a different type of item (e.g., five colors, four shapes, and so forth).

  2. Physical exercises such as imitating a tree can be useful. Children are encouraged to mimic a tree: Their legs can be planted firmly on the ground, their backs straights, and the arms stretched out wide. Children can be asked to pretend to be a tree swaying in the wind or a strong tree that doesn’t move. The physical act of drawing awareness towards their bodies can be effective at focusing their attention.

  3. A second useful physical exercise can be one where children practice slow, careful breathing. Children could be given a simple template where inhalations and exhalations are indicated by puffs of clouds and raindrops respectively, and must follow the path to help with their breathing.

Anxiety Management Droplets

 

Two Grounding Exercises Scripts

Sometimes it is difficult to implement grounding techniques without guidance. Knowing this, we have provided a few grounding scripts for you to use. These grounding scripts can be easily adapted, and where possible, I have indicated where you could make the necessary changes.

 

Meditation Grounding Script

This script was adapted from one developed by Haseman (2018).

  1. Begin by instructing the patient to close their eyes.

  2. Instruct the patient to inhale and exhale for a set number of counts (e.g., inhale for six counts, exhale for six counts). For younger children, the number of counts should be fewer.

  3. Direct the patient’s attention to their body. Help the patient to scan their body from top to bottom, looking for signs of stress or tension. If they find any tension, have them direct their attention towards this body part, pause, and through the act of exhalation, they must also release the tension.

  4. Move the patient’s attention towards their weight and how it is distributed through the body, and where their body connects with the ground.

  5. Draw their attention back to the breath and follow the counts. Let the patient continue breathing on their own.

  6. At various intervals, direct the patient’s attention to their limbs, fingers, toes, and back to their breath, slowly guiding them.

  7. After a few minutes, slowly guide the patient back by redirecting their attention away from internal awareness to the external sounds in their environment.

 

Meditation Grounding Script for Children

This grounding script is more useful for children, especially before tests. I’ve provided two versions of a grounding script, one for older children and a modified version for younger children. Both scripts can be used to guide children through meditation. For both types of children, begin the meditation with them seated on the ground, and their eyes are closed.

 

Grounding Exercises for Trauma and PTSD

grounding techniques for PTSDSurvivors of trauma who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may benefit from grounding exercises used in mindfulness exercises.

Vujanovic, Niles, Pietrefesa, Schmertz, & Potter (2013) posit a convincing argument that the people with PTSD are:

  1. better able to engage with therapy when they are also able to engage with the present moment.
  2. Better able to manage psychological anxiety, arousal, and stress.
  3. Grounding exercises help patients decide if they need to shift their attention away from their internal thoughts and feelings towards another, different item of focus.

In their chapter, Acceptance and Mindfulness-based approaches to the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder, Batten, Orsillo, and Walser (2005) provide the following useful exercises for people who suffer from trauma and PTSD:

  1. Mindful breathing exercises (like those described previously)
  2. Techniques of self-soothing using the five senses (similar to the Re-orientation game)

These techniques help patients to redirect their attention away from events and thoughts that are triggering their symptoms towards a ‘safer’ space where they react in a more meaningful, controlled manner. At later stages in patients’ therapeutic journeys, these techniques can be combined with other effective strategies.

Patients who suffer from trauma and PTSD can also use the techniques and exercises outlined for those who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. The techniques in those sections can be beneficial for acute experiences of trauma.

 

Mindfulness Exercises and Mindfulness X©

At PositivePsychology.com, we have many tools that can help you with grounding techniques:

  • The Three Minute Breathing Space is a guided exercise that will show you or your client how to redirect their attention towards the present moment by focussing on their breath.

  • The Body Scan Meditation tool is a meditation exercise that takes between 15 and 30 minutes. Guided meditation, such as this, can be extremely useful if you find that your thoughts wander. In this exercise, you will be guided through various parts of your body as well as your breath. Once you have practiced the Body Scan Meditation tool a few times, you can advance to the Sitting Meditation tool.

  • More advanced mindfulness practitioners will enjoy the Mindfulness Meditation Troubleshooting Guide, where the various challenges that are experienced in mindfulness exercises are addressed.

Finally, you can also invest your time in attending the online Mindfulness X© Masterclass. Not only will you obtain science-based training templates to use in your practice to teach mindfulness, but you will gain in-depth training and knowledge to become a Mindfulness Trainer, coach, or practitioner.

 

A Take-Home Message

From this post, you have learned about numerous useful, easy-to-use grounding techniques that you can implement in your home, classroom, or practice.

If you struggle to decide which technique to use, remember this: Through the act of grounding, the individual intentionally directs their attention to the present moment by focussing on an item, feeling, sensation, or thought.

With this simple definition in mind, you can easily adapt any of the techniques and exercises that we have described here so that they are better suited towards your lifestyle, your time, your classroom, or your therapeutic style.

Grounding techniques are compelling and work well to counteract the intense, negative sensations of anxiety, panic, trauma, and stress.

 

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
  • Carsley, D., Heath, N. L., & Fajnerova, S. (2015). Effectiveness of a classroom mindfulness coloring activity for test anxiety in children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 31(3), 239-255.
  • Batten, S. V., Orsillo, S. M., & Walser, R. D. (2005). Acceptance and mindfulness-based approaches to the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. In Acceptance and mindfulness-based approaches to anxiety (pp. 241-269). Springer, Boston, MA.
  • Curry, N. A., & Kasser, T. (2005). Can coloring mandalas reduce anxiety? Art Therapy, 22(2), 81-85.
  • Fan, J., McCandliss, B. D., Sommer, T., Raz, A., & Posner, M. I. (2002). Testing the efficiency and independence of attentional networks. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 14(3), 340-347.
  • Haseman, M. (2018). Sky & Earth: grounding meditation. Accessed on 10 June 2020 from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57dc9d2bd1758eccab16078f/t/5c900ec915fcc05609e96cfd/1552944843067/Sky+and+Earth+Grounding+Meditation+Script.pdf.
  • Hooper, N., Davies, N., Davies, L., & McHugh, L. (2011). Comparing thought suppression and mindfulness as coping techniques for spider fear. Consciousness and Cognition, 20(4), 1824-1830.
  • Kim, M. K., Lee, K. S., Kim, B., Choi, T. K., & Lee, S. H. (2016). Impact of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on intolerance of uncertainty in patients with panic disorder. Psychiatry Investigation, 13(2), 196.
  • Kissen, D., Kendall, A. D., Lozano, M., & Ioffe, M. (2020). Rewire Your Anxious Brain for Teens: Using CBT, Neuroscience, and Mindfulness to Help You End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry. New Harbinger Publications.
  • Najavits, L. M. (2007). Seeking safety: An evidence-based model for substance abuse and trauma/PTSD. In K. A. Witkiewitz & G. A. Marlatt (Eds.), Practical resources for the mental health professional. Therapist’s guide to evidence-based relapse prevention (p. 141–167). Elsevier Academic Press
  • Stefanaki, C., Bacopoulou, F., Livadas, S., Kandaraki, A., Karachalios, A., Chrousos, G. P., & Diamanti-Kandarakis, E. (2015). Impact of a mindfulness stress management program on stress, anxiety, depression, and quality of life in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Stress, 18(1), 57-66.
  • Tully, P. J., Sardinha, A., & Nardi, A. E. (2017). A new CBT model of panic attack treatment in comorbid heart diseases (PATCHD): how to calm an anxious heart and mind. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 24(3), 329-341.
  • Vujanovic, A. A., Niles, B., Pietrefesa, A., Schmertz, S. K., & Potter, C. M. (2013). Mindfulness in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder among military veterans.
  • Yates, J., Immergut, M., & Graves, J. (2017). The mind illuminated: A complete meditation guide integrating Buddhist wisdom and brain science for greater mindfulness. Simon and Schuster.
  • Zerubavel, N., & Messman-Moore, T. L. (2015). Staying present: Incorporating mindfulness into therapy for dissociation. Mindfulness, 6(2), 303-314.

About the Author

Alicia Nortje, Ph.D. is a research fellow at the University of Cape Town, where she is involved in multiple projects investigating eyewitness memory and face recognition. She’s highly skilled in research design, data analysis, and critical thinking. When she’s not working, she indulges in running on the road or the trails, and enjoys cooking.

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