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Grounding from an Electrical, Postural, Breathing, and Emotional Perspective

By Heather Carr, DPT, NTP, PRC, OCS, MTC

The concept of “being grounded” is becoming a common phrase that is being expressed these days. The connotations associated with “being grounded” are that it is a healthy and beneficial phenomenon. However, what exactly does it mean? The purpose of this article is to explore “grounding” from an electrical, postural, breathing, and emotional perspective.

The human body is constantly generating free radicals via oxidative reactions which if unchecked can contribute to immune and inflammatory stress. Anti-oxidants that serve to neutralize these reactive oxygen species do so by donating electrons. The earth’s surface has a net negative electrical charge characterized by an excess of electrons. Therefore, the earth is a natural repository of electrons to supply our bodies with anti-oxidants thus mitigating oxidative stress. However, this ultimately requires direct contact of our skin to the earth or the use of conductive sheets/pads/wrist bands (Earthing products) that are connected to the grounded component of an outlet.

Modern living subscribes to a plethora of toxins that we ingest and are exposed to through our foods and environment requiring significant anti-oxidant retaliation. Consider this relative to how the natural human electrical discharge mechanism between the ground and our bodies has become mostly obsolete. Until recently, throughout much of our human existence we walked barefoot and slept on the ground. Our shoes, particularly rubber soled, pose a barrier for this electrical conductance pathway. Furthermore, most of us are walking on artificial surfaces. There are many individuals who never or rarely experience barefoot contact on real earth. This is one of the reasons why walking barefoot on the beach is so enjoyable and relaxing for people. Not only are you experiencing wide open space (in contrast to the typical close-up, indoor, focal work we do on screens) and the natural multi-sensory rhythms of the ocean (as opposed to the artificial dissonance created by modern technological devices) but you are also absorbing electrons from the ground to neutralize free radicals in your body.

In the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, Chevalier et al (2012) describe in “Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons” the numerous health benefits of this phenomena. Such effects of “earthing” that have been demonstrated include beneficial changes related to sleep, pain, cortisol level, autonomic nervous system activity, immune function, osteoporosis, heart rate variability, hypercoagulable blood, and glucose regulation. In addition to personally sleeping on an earthing sheet, as a Physical Therapist I commonly recommend them to my patients, particularly those who are experiencing pain, inflammation, and have difficulty sleeping. Thus far, in addition to myself, my family, friends, and patients have reported significant improvements in these areas since incorporating earthing practices.

From a postural perspective, “being grounded” means your body is authentically aware of where the ground is and its positional and gravitational relationship to it. This is the responsibility of our postural system which is primarily comprised of our visual, auditory, vestibular, and sensory-motor systems. Our postural system and essentially all of the systems in our body, work in the realm of patterns. Our brain-body is a dynamic habit centered organism. Furthermore, our neuromuscular system works in patterned “chains.” This means that groups of linked muscles fire together in synergized mechanisms to accomplish our functional needs to be upright against gravity and move. Our primal human essence of movement is walking which is comprised of two polar phases-being on the left leg and being on the right leg. This has an accompanying predictable neuromuscular firing pattern from the foot all the way up to the head including the visual and vestibular systems.  Each side is essentially a conjugate of the other with opposite patterns occurring simultaneously.  When the left leg is on the ground it is in the “grounded” phase when the right leg is in mid-air, and thus ungrounded. The opposite occurs for the right stance phase of gait.

Our postural system is intimately linked with our breathing (respiratory) system. Just like our alternating left/right walking, breathing also exhibits an oscillatory essence characterized by inhalation and exhalation. When we inhale the front of our rib cage elevates into external rotation as the diaphragm contracts and lowers. This is in contrast to exhalation where the front of the rib cage lowers. During exhalation the diaphragm relaxes as it returns to a upward domed position in apposition to the internal surface of the rib cage (referred to as the “zone of apposition”). Authentic and efficient breathing is characterized by being able to alternate between a full inhale when the diaphragm lowers and a full exhale where the diaphragm rises up into apposition with rib cage. This requires synchronized activity between the abdominal and pelvic floor musculature to control pressure and positional relationships throughout the trunk. These same muscular patterns are also involved in managing the process of walking. Therefore, how we breathe effects how we posture and move. Likewise, how we posture and move effects how we breathe.

Let’s take this a “step” further. When we walk our pelvis and rib cage rotate in opposite directions. This means when the pelvis is rotating to the right the rib cage is rotating to the left and vice versa. When the rib cage is rotating to one side it exhibits a twist in which the left and right sides are in opposite phases. For example, when we are on the left leg our rib cage is concurrently rotating to the right. This means that the front right side of the ribs are in an open, elevated, inhaled state while the left front ribs are in a closed, lowered, exhaled state. The best way to understand this is to place your hands on the front of your ribs and feel this opposing motion when you turn your torso to one side or the other. Likewise, when we are on the right leg our thorax is concurrently rotating to the left in conjunction with the left ribs being in a state of inhalation while the right is in exhalation.  This comprises a pattern of whatever leg is “grounded” the corresponding side of the rib cage is in an exhalation state.  This means that exhalation correlates to the postural phase of being “grounded.”

The current trend of postural and breathing dysfunction amongst our modern living society is characterized by being in a chronic state of inhalation. Many of us are functioning in a stressed out mode characterized by excessive sympathetic nervous system activity and holding our breath. Consider what we do when we are startled or experiencing fear-we gasp! This is in contrast to “a sigh of relief” when we exhale into a calm and relaxed state of being. Unfortunately, this inhalation pattern has become a chronic breathing behavioral habit vs an acute transient one (such as if we were startled by a predator as was the case in our paleo times). This means the rib cage is excessively elevated and open in the front, closed in the back, with the diaphragm locked down in a perpetual contracted state, preventing a full exhalation and thus relaxation to occur. This means poor breathing excursion and airflow. It also translates into excessive tension in the psoas, hip flexors, back extensors, and neck musculature as the diaphragm is fascially and functionally connected to these muscle chains. Positionally, this pattern is typically accompanied by an excessive anterior pelvic tilt, lumbar lordosis, protracted scapula, and forward head posture. This is ultimately an “ungrounded” posture.

Now it’s time to connect our emotional system to breathing and posture. A study done out of Northwestern University lead by Dr. Christina Zelano demonstrated that during inhalation people are more likely to learn fear based memories compared to the exhalation phase of breathing. Inhalation was shown to facilitate the amygdala and hippocampus in the brain (involved with emotional processing and memory) to encode and retain stressful events significantly more than during exhalation. This relationship can also work in reverse where emotional patterns incorporating fear and anxiety can impact how we breathe, our posture, and thus our “grounding.” Individuals who experience anxiety related disorders tend to function in an inhaled state of breathing and its correlational postural pattern. Therefore, anxiety and stress states are typically “ungrounded.”

In order to potentiate one’s ability to be “grounded,” one must consider the behavioral, postural, breathing, and emotional dimensions that ultimately create it. Behaviorally, we can increase our electrical contact with the ground either naturally and/or through the use of Earthing products. We can also attempt to reduce our free radical production in that we have some degree of control over the amount of toxins we ingest and are exposed to.  By restoring appropriate postural and breathing patterns one can improve their ability to authentically “ground.” The method of the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) is heavily focused on creating these grounded relationships. An important component to this is to establish a full exhalation to allow the diaphragm to achieve a relaxed domed position in contact with the internal rib cage. Furthermore, because the diaphragm is part of a continuous chain of synergistic muscles from the foot all the way up through the head, a portion of or all of these chains may need to be re-educated to ultimately create this grounded pattern. This typically requires practicing specific postural restoration techniques so that the brain-body can learn a “grounded” pattern. Finally, by addressing fear based emotional patterns one can also influence their breathing, posture, and thus ability to “ground.” Likewise, one can positively influence anxiety and stress via better postural and breathing function. It’s all connected!

Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, Oschman JL, Sokal K, Sokal P. Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. 2012;2012:291541. doi:10.1155/2012/291541.

Postural Restoration Institute: https://www.posturalrestoration.com/

Earthing Products: https://www.earthing.com

Saturdays in October 9:00-10:00am: Tai Chi / Qigong with Cynthia Maltenfort

Join Cynthia Maltenfort as she blends simple, medical Qigong techniques with carefully chosen Tai Chi exercises. This self-care practice can help manage stress and pain, reduce anxiety, improve sleep, mood, balance and stamina. No experience required.

Email sunmooncynthia@gmail.com to sign up
October  13, 20, 27
$45/3 classes or $18/single class.
Cash or check payable to Cynthia Maltenfort when you come to class

5236 Dawes Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22311

 

CPR Classes – September 23 and October 21

 

 

 

 

  • Infant & Child CPR, Choking, and First Aid
  • Class covers use of an AED (defibrillator)
  • Class length is 3.5 hours
  • Price includes manikin rental of 1 per 2 people
  • This class does not offer certification
  • $60/person, $75/couple
  • Private in-home classes are $200

Click here to sign up!

Your Older Baby Class – November 3

 

 

 

 

  • What to expect from 6 months and on
  • Sleep Patterns
  • Teething
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Developmental Milestones
  • Sensory Play
  • Baby Sign Language
  • Introducing Solid foods
  • Baby Led Weaning
  • Baby Proofing
  • Positive Parenting
  • This class is approx 3hrs
  • $50/person, or $75/couple. Light snacks included.

Click here to sign up!

Saturdays in June 9:00-10:00am: Tai Chi / Qigong with Cynthia Maltenfort

Join Cynthia Maltenfort as she blends simple, medical Qigong techniques with carefully chosen Tai Chi exercises. This self-care practice can help manage stress and pain, reduce anxiety, improve sleep, mood, balance and stamina. No experience required.

Email info@one2onephysicaltherapy.com to sign up
June 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
$75/5 classes or $18/single class.
Cash or check payable to Cynthia Maltenfort when you come to class

5236 Dawes Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22311

 

April 28, 11:00-3:00: Alexandria Health Expo

at Resonate Health Center – 5236 Dawes Avenue

Join us for a free, informative event highlighting your favorite Alexandria practitioners and wellness specialists

  • Group Classes (see below and sign up as space is limited)
  • Posture and Injury Screens
  • Chiropractic Consults
  • Acupuncture
  • Brief Massages and Therapy
  • Nutrition Consult & Low Sugar Food Samples
  • Dental Health Screenings
  • Book Signing and Giveaway
  • Group Biofield Tuning

11:00-11:30  Sound Bowls Concert  Cynthia Maltenfort, Sun & Moon Yoga

12:30-1:00 “My Body Don’t Bend That Way” Yoga   Marsha Banks Harold, PIES fitness

2:00-2:30  Tai-Chi Easy  Cynthia Maltenfort, Sun & Moon Yoga

click here to RSVP 

Is your breathing impacting your health?

By Noelle Ekonomou, PT, DPT

The diaphragm is often one of the most underestimated muscles in the body. It has a systemic impact on our health, including our pain perception, autonomic nervous system, lymphatic drainage, digestion, mood, and sleep. I often argue that it is the most important muscle in the body- it is the core of the core. Breathing is a coordinated movement of muscle and visceral contractions. It is a synchronous activity between the upper chest and rib cage, lower rib cage, and abdominal musculature. Our diaphragm not only attaches to the thorax, but it is strongly anchored to our spine and has connections to our deep hip flexor muscles (psoas), obliques, and transversus abdominus. Countless number of research studies have confirmed the relationship between faulty breathing mechanics and poor posture, abnormal scapular movements, low back pain, neck pain, temporomandibular joint pain, and pelvic floor disorders.

Faulty breathing patterns are correlated with hyperventilation. When our normal respiratory rate goes above 12-16 breaths per minute, we are actually “over-breathing” (or rather “over-inhaling”).  This mechanism of over-inhalation can eventually alter our posture, leading to a hyperinflated postural pattern. This means we are holding too much air in our lungs, called “air trapping”.  A cascade of hemodynamic and neurologic changes can then occur. The CO2 levels in our blood lower, which in turn increases the sympathetic or “fight and flight” response system. Your body is then constantly on high alert and in a stressful state. This is a very common breathing pattern for adults with sleep apnea, asthma, COPD, and anxiety- but we also often find this posture in many of our patients. This is because stress is often a large culprit of this breathing pattern.

This hyperinflated breathing pattern is also associated with over dominance of the “accessory” or secondary muscles of respiration in our neck and chest.  These muscles include the sternocleidomastoid, upper trapezius, scalenes, and pectoralis. When these muscles are over-worked to help us breathe, it alters abdominal pressure gradients, and can lead to painful trigger points which cause neck discomfort and headaches. Additionally, several studies including one published in the Journal of Biomechanics have discovered a relationship between the diaphragm and low back pain. Professor Paul Hodges of the University of Queensland (a chief researcher of the diaphragm), found that poor coordination of the diaphragm can result in compromised stability of the lumbar spine, altered motor control, and dysfunctional movement patterns (Hodges et al. 2005).

At One to One Physical Therapy, we use manual techniques and therapeutic exercises to restore breathing patterns, functional movement, and eliminate pain. Because our breathing dysfunction often involves holding our breath and hyperventilating, we place more focus on exhaling in our breathing exercises.  Exhalation promotes relaxation- imagine taking a sigh of relief. We couple exhalation with core activation and postural exercises, which aim to restore rib cage positioning, reduce accessory muscle use, and improve diaphragm coordination.  One way we do this is a specific breathing training technique utilizing a balloon.

We also believe in pairing breathing with mindfulness practices and “visualization” exercises for many of our patients. One major breathing technique we use is called Buteyko breathing. Buteyko breathing teaches you to slow down your breathing which promotes relaxation.

Please see the below videos for examples of our breathing exercises. These techniques are designed to restore your breathing pattern to relax tense muscles, improve your posture, and most of all, promote harmony and health throughout your body.

Bordoni B, Zanier E. Anatomic connections of the diaphragm: influence of respiration on the body system. J Multidisciplinary Healthcare. 2013; 6: 281-291. Doi:  10.2147/JMDH.S45443

Hodges PW, Eriksson AE, Shirley D, et al. Intra‐abdominal pressure increases stiffness of the lumbar spine. J Biomech. 2005; 38(9): 1873–1880[PubMed]

March 6, 7:00-9:00pm: Snoring, Sleep Apnea, and Teeth Grinding Solved While You Sleep

Join us for a FREE workshop by Dr. Felix Liao as he connects the dots on sleep-airway-mouth and the resulting medical-dental-mood symptoms and financial costs.
Topics include:

  • Symptoms resulting from sleeping with a choked airway inside an impaired mouth
  • Building bones with better nutrition, sleep, and lifestyle habits
  • Lower dental sensitivity, healthcare costs and risks for heart disease and Alzheimer’s
  • Red flags signaling an impaired mouth
  • “Life-changing” cases of real-life patients treated with Holistic Mouth Solutions

RSVP info@one2onephysicaltherapy.com

Dr. Liao is a holistic dentist, Weston A. Price Foundation Honorary Board member and the Director of Holistic Mouth Doctors-in-Training seminars for dentists.

He is the author of 2 books: Six-Foot Tiger, Three-Foot Cage: Take Charge of Your Health by Taking Charge of Your Mouth and Early Sirens: Critical Health Warnings and Holistic Mouth Solutions for Snoring, Teeth Grinding, Jaw Clicking, Chronic Pains and Fatigue

February 8, 7:00-8:00pm: Relax Your Back!

Join us for a FREE therapeutic workshop for a healthier back

Allow our Doctor of Physical Therapy experts get you
up to speed on the latest conservative treatments for
low back pain and sciatica through this interactive workshop!
What you will learn:
  • #1 mistake people make which keeps them from healing
  • How to successfully manage conditions such as arthritis, disc herniation, pelvic/sacroiliac joint pain and sciatica
  • What successful treatment and lasting relief looks like without the side effects of medications or surgery
  • Posture retraining, core exercises, flexibility and breathing techniques to heal your back

RSVP info@one2onephysicaltherapy.com

Nov 8, 7-8:30PM: Fighting Inflammation with Healing Foods

  • Reduce inflammation and pain
  • Receive a take-home food guide
  • Try some tasty samples
  • $25/person
  • RSVP by 10/31 to save 20%

Chronic inflammation has many different causes and can lead to various health problems. Join us for a workshop on inflammation and how you can use different foods to help combat it. We’ll discuss what foods to enjoy and to avoid, learn some new recipes and try some anti-inflammatory treats.

Please join Lucy Reutiman, MS, CNS for this tasty and informative evening!

RSVP at www.welcomingnutrition.com or call 571-446-0287

Lucy has a Masters of Science in Nutrition & Integrative Health from the Maryland University of Integrative Health and is a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). She works with clients from a functional perspective which focuses on lifestyle, sleep, environment, stress and relationships in addition to diet. Clients are encouraged to embrace a whole-foods diet as they explore the path to a healthier relationship with food and with themselves.