Every yogi has heard the cue “ground your foundations”, but there are different schools of thought on what these are, and it can get confusing.
But, simply put, our foundations are what touch the mat in any asana.
When in a seated pose, these would be the ischial tuberosity or the sit bones. When on our backs (supine position) they would be the flats of the hips and the shoulder blades (or the space in between, depending on the pose).
But most often our foundations would be our hands and feet. I like instructing the foundations of the hands and feet in terms of shapes; shapes are simple to understand and visualise.
So, here we go:
For the hands, they're circles.
I recommend the smaller circle for beginners to get that deep awareness of grounding. When you press into the bases (of the fingers) that trace the circle of the hands, you’ll notice a lifting or hollowing of the palms and possibly a lightness in the fingers.
The small, inner circle points: From the index, trace a circular line that touches the bases of the fingers:
Down the blade of the hand,
Curving up along the heels of the hand,
Up the base of the thumb, and;
Back to the base of the index finger.
The bigger, outer circle points: From the pads of the fingers, trace a circular line that touches the outer edges of the palm of the hand.
The bigger circle is more advance as it requires strength from the fingers to catch body weight; which is needed for arm balances.
For the feet, it's a triangle - The base of the big toe, the base of the little toe, and the whole of the heel.
This activation creates a lifting in the arches as the triangle of the feet is pressed in. When lifting the heels in a “tip toe”, always remember to just come up as far as the flats of the toes will allow.
This has a lot of benefits:
It activates the deep core line of the feet,
Lengthens and strengthens the soles of the feet, potentially correcting collapsed arches and all the follow-on injuries from that, and;
Protects from the potential injury of imparting too much weight on the big toe and damaging the joint.
Why is proper, mindful grounding important?
Our bodies are a study in irony; we are both robust and fragile at the same time, hence the importance of placing weight where the transmission of energy and force can go through easily and not collect or jam at odd angles which potentially compromises the joint integrity, resulting in injury.
By-the-way, when I say "energy" and "force" I mean them in terms of physics and not airy-fairy "energy" or emotional "force"...just to be clear. Our body, just like everything, follows the laws of physics.
Using these foundational cues also help the rest of the joints to properly and safely come into alignment as they “click” into place traveling from the grounding of the hands and feet.
Also, while you push through the length of our limbs to activate the grounding of the hands and feet, you are in fact rebounding that movement of energy back up your limb and throughout your body, helping in deep muscle activation. It's a case of "an unstoppable force against an immovable object"; something has to give, and that something is the rest of your body. Physics in everyday life.
This also helps in distributing your weight so that your small joints, which the wrists and ankles are, don't carry all of it, therefore managing the possibility of injury.
For example, a lot of wrist injuries occur at the pinkie corner (of the wrist) which can be avoided if the base of the index finger is grounded, lending for a straighter, more stable wrist. Another example; ankle, knee and hip injuries resulting from badly positioned back legs in Warrior stance can be avoided if the base of the little toe is grounded as well, the common “press the blade of the foot down” cue.
So, next time you’re on the mat, take the time to ground the circles of the hands and the triangles of the feet. Experiment with how it feels and enjoy a safer and grounded practice!