Grounding: A Foundation of Bioenergetic Therapy

“One of the most fundamental exercises in Bioenergetics is also the easiest and simplest. We use it to start the vibrations in the legs and to help the person sense them…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.’” 

 – Alexander Lowen, M.D., from The Way to Vibrant Health: A Manual of Bioenergetic Exercises

Alexander Lowen, who started Bioenergetic Therapy in the 1950s, developed exercises to use along with analysis to help people work through emotional problems and to express themselves more fully. He is partially known for getting people off the couch (from the traditional psychoanalytic position) and getting them onto their feet. The bioenergetic grounding exercise forms a basis for helping people work through a variety of issues. We could discuss grounding as a concept but actually having people practice it as an exercise accesses a direct experience.

In bioenergetic analysis, grounding refers to a set of specific exercises. These exercises have a few specific goals. They help people to: 

  1. Connect with gravity downward through the earth rather than pulling up away from contact with the ground. Contemporary western culture tends to value thinking over feeling. This leads to people’s attention being focused in their heads rather than on their bodies. Too much attention in the head leads to anxiety and disconnection from the ground, which generally increases awareness of the present moment and brings calm. 
  2. Release tensions in the feet and the legs, especially the souls of the feet and the hamstrings. People are often unaware of the significant tension they hold in their feet and legs. While holding helps prevent distressing sensations and expression of emotions when not appropriate, tension held chronically limits all sensations and emotions. Further, chronic tension requires the body’s energy, which could be used in other, more satisfying ways. Constrictions prevent people from feeling alive, including feeling the pleasurable vibrations that Alexander Lowen describes.  
  3. Develop a foundation of strength within themselves, rather than only focusing outward for validation, encouragement, or support. Through contact with oneself, starting with the feet and legs, a person can develop or increase a solid foundation. This allows a person to stay focused on their own needs, desires and wants in their relationships with others. It forms the basis for making choices from an integrated sense of self, connected to one’s body, intuition, and truth.
  4. Allow energy and emotions to move freely through the body. Like electrical outlets, where one wire holds the charge and the other wire grounds the energy, the more a person is free of tension in their feet and legs and connected to the ground, the more charge they can safely tolerate. The charge relates to energy – for tolerating strong emotions of all types, enjoying sexuality, asserting one’s needs and wants, and experiencing pleasure in life. 
  5. Focus on being in reality and the present rather than living in fantasy or thoughts about the future or the past. We use the expression “having one’s feet on the ground,” meaning a person is solidly rooted in the present and in their sense of themselves rather than being “spaced out” or out of touch with reality by having their head in the clouds.  Doing the exercise, rather than simply talking about the concept, can help people learn to shift their focus. 

Grounding is an effective exercise for everyone. It is especially valuable for addressing common issues such as anxiety, depression, and recovery from trauma.  Many people who come to therapy complain of issues such as worrying, racing mind, or perseverating. They often struggle with negative thoughts, low self-esteem, and concern about what others think of them. In focusing on the ground, through physical exercises, to increase contact with their legs and feet, rather than focusing upwards with attention on the head, these exercises help people focus less on their mind and more on their body. Grounding exercises help shift the focus to contact with the earth. Grounding exercises also form the basis for setting boundary limits and reaching out for support in relationships. 

I use the grounding exercise frequently in sessions with clients. I use it to help clients connect with their body rather than their head and with what they feel rather than what they think. For example, I suggest they do a grounding exercise when exploring their feelings about an issue that concerns them. I also encourage clients to do a grounding exercise after an exercise to open their breathing (such as leaning backward over a ball) or after a strong exercise (such as expressing anger). Further, with clients who dissociate, I regularly suggest they do the grounding exercise before leaving my office. 

For myself, I practice the bend-over grounding exercise almost every night before going to bed. It helps to release any tension I have developed throughout the day. As a result, I sleep better and rarely suffer from leg cramps. I set the timer on my phone for 5 minutes. I suggest to my clients that they do this as well. I tell them that doing it for 5 minutes may seem like a long time, but you can get used to it!

Basic Bioenergetic grounding exercises:  

1) Standing up grounding: 

Stand with your feet hip-width apart (approximately 8” – 10”). Place your feet parallel to each other, with your toes going forward. Slowly bend and slowly straighten your legs. When you straighten your legs, be sure not to lock your knees, as this cuts off your connection to the ground. Roll your knees out over your second toes. Notice your breathing and aim for slow deep breaths. Slowly bend and slowly straighten your legs several times. Imagine that you have roots in the bottoms of your feet that, like a tree, draw energy up from the ground and give you solidness as you press down. If you stay with the bending and straightening, you may feel some shaking in your legs. Allow it – this means your legs are not too tense and that you are alive! 

2) Bend over grounding:

Stand with your feet hip-width apart (approximately 8” – 10”). Place your feet parallel to each other, with your toes going forward. Bend your upper body forward and let your arms dangle. Rest your fingers on the floor to help with balance but without weight on them. Let your head go. This may take some practice as your head may initially resist letting go. Keep your weight slightly forward over the arches of your feet. Gradually bend and straighten your knees several times (without locking your knees). Breathe fully and deeply. Breathe in as you bend your knees and breathe out as you straighten them. 

If you encounter any pain or discomfort as you stretch, letting out sounds will help to release the pain. Unless you have a knee injury, the pain generally relates to areas of tension. If you have a knee injury, be gentle with the pressure on your knee. If you experience shaking or vibrations in your legs, let them go through you. This is energy moving in the stretch as you are stressing the muscles.  As you get used to shaking, most people find it pleasurable. 

Stay in the bent-over position for several minutes. You can modify the stretch by rocking forward and back and from side to side on your feet. You can also experiment with straightening your legs as much as you can without locking them to increase the vibrations. Keep checking that your head is letting go and that you aren’t holding tension in your neck. When you are ready to end, come up slowly and keep pressing down on your feet as you come up. Notice how you feel and what you experience. If you experience any dizziness or lightheadedness, stamping your feet down a few times usually shifts this. 

3) Chair grounding:

While sitting, put both feet flat on the floor. As you breathe in, gently press your feet into the floor and your butt into the chair. As you breathe out, focus on relaxing on the chair and the floor. Feel the chair supporting you and holding you. Feel the solidness of the ground beneath you. Notice any sensations that arise in your body. Notice if any areas of your body specifically call your attention. Notice your breathing. 


Guest, D, Parker, J. Grounding, 2021. A Guide to Becoming Grounded: For Somatic Therapists and Individuals. Independently published. 

Lowen, A., Lowen, L. 1977. The Way to Vibrant Health: A Manual of Bioenergetic Exercises. The International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis. New York: NY. 

Bioenergetic grounding exercises in a group class

Exploring Your Body’s Messages: Working with the body in psychotherapy – the bioenergetic approach

Modern psychotherapy generally occurs with the therapist and client sitting on chairs or on a couch. The client(s) talks about their problems, the therapist listens, asks questions and offers insights. While bioenergetic therapy starts in this way, it doesn’t end there. Bioenergetic therapists incorporate movement as part of the therapy. The movement includes exercises to be more connected to the ground, to open restricted breathing patterns, to practice asserting personal boundaries and to express sometimes unpleasant or repressed emotions, safely and appropriately.

Rooted in awareness of the fundamental connection between mind and body, modern bioenergetic therapy offers an integrated approach to mental health. While this therapy was developed in the 1950s, contemporary scientific advances support the value of working with the body in psychotherapy. Neuroscientists and other researchers emphasize the important role of the body in common conditions such as depression, anxiety and traumatic stress. Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, in her book How Emotions Are Made, for example, links the body and emotions stating: “your body and your mind are deeply interconnected…the most important thing you can do to master your emotions, in fact, is to keep your body budget in good shape.” (Barrett, 2017) Bioenergetics addresses this through active participation of both body and mind in therapy for maximum effectiveness.  

As a bioenergetic therapist, I begin most sessions by checking in with my client (or clients when working with a couple) about their current experience. As in any other psychotherapy approach, listening attentively provides a starting point. Developing a trusting therapeutic relationship, where the client feels safe, valued and respected, builds a necessary foundation for our work. 

As the client talks, along with listening, I observe my client’s body language. I pay attention to their spontaneous movements, to the sound of their voice, to the quality of their breathing and to their overall posture. I look for clues from what their body expresses, which may be out of their awareness.

In a break in the conversation, I often ask my client: What are you aware of sensing in your body as you are talking? Their responses vary widely. Some clients look at me confused and state they don’t feel anything or they don’t know what they feel. In this situation we need to dig deeper and I may offer suggestions about what to explore. I encourage them to scan their body looking for areas that call their attention. I suggest they observe if they feel tense or in pain. I tell them to notice their breathing patterns, their level or hunger or thirst, heat or cold, and tiredness or energy. 

Many times, clients offer a clear response to my question about what they notice in their body. Their hand goes to their heart, for example. Or they identify a specific area of tension – such as their shoulders, neck or solar plexus. They may say “I feel exhausted.” or “I feel hungry.” With a focus on connecting their body, their mind and their emotions, this is important information. Their responses often provide a useful place to begin further exploration. 

Bioenergetic therapy is an intuitive method, focused on what the client needs moment to moment, rather than on a specified set of instructions. This allows for creativity and flexibility to meet the client where they are and guide them towards their desired goals. Bioenergetic therapists are trained in techniques – both physical and mental – to address a variety of issues. We assess what our client needs and offer suggestions for using the techniques to their benefit. 

Based on the client’s story, along with information gained from their body awareness, a direction for the session emerges. In a recent session, for instance, my client identified feeling tense in a particular spot in her upper back. I encouraged her to bring her awareness there and invited her to put a hand on the area. I suggested that she start with exaggerating the tension. I explained that this is counterintuitive as the tension was uncomfortable, but invited her to see it as an exploration of a message from her body. 

As she exaggerated the tension, she described feeling disgust. I encouraged her to stand so she could move more freely with this emotion. We worked with a grounding exercise of simply bending and straightening her legs while pressing her feet down on the floor. She spontaneously began to shake out her arms and her head. I encouraged her to allow this movement and to continue with the shaking. She then talked about memories of times from her childhood when her father violated her boundaries (such as walking in when she was in the shower as a young teenager). 

In listening to her describe these memories, I felt anger rising in my body – which I identify as a natural response to this type of violation. Sympathetic responses are common. Some of you might put your hand to your own heart when you hear someone else’s bad news, or you may feel angry when hearing about someone being hurt or violated. 

I know this client well as we have worked together weekly for a few years. She has been through significant difficulties in the time she has been coming to therapy and has a solid sense of herself. She has expressed her anger many times previously in her therapy sessions. From this, I assessed that she would benefit from working actively with her anger. I felt clear that she could integrate these feelings while staying grounded in herself. 

With a client I did not know as well or who did not have this level of ego strength, I would have moved more slowly. I would have likely suggested more grounding exercises and would have explored their feelings, offering empathy and compassion for the painful memories. I would introduce movement and encourage expression more gradually. 

With this client, I invited her to get a towel (we were working on tele health) and to start by twisting it. I encouraged her to express to her father what she couldn’t say when she was a child, with both words and sounds. I suggested she bend and straighten her legs a few times to stay solidly grounded. If she had said she did not feel angry, we would have explored what she felt instead. But this direction resonated for her. She expressed her anger at her father – saying, “Get out!” and “Go away!” She made sounds which expressed her anger and frustration as well. After a few minutes of doing this, her expression slowed. She spontaneously shook out her arms, releasing the emotion and the memory. 

I encouraged her to continue bending and straightening her legs to emphasize grounding, as the emotion moved through her and she integrated the experience. I also encouraged her to put her arms out in front of her with her palms facing outward to affirm her right to her boundaries and her ability to assert them in the present. After doing this for a few minutes she reported feeling better. She was calmer and the tension in her upper back had released.

Working with her body provided a safe way for the memories and emotions from the past to move through her. Through grounding in her body, she could identify that what happened was not acceptable and that she has the strength as an adult (which she could not have as a child) to protect her boundaries. She was able to learn from the message of her body (the tension in her back). As she processed the painful memories and related emotions, the tension released. More tension will likely appear for her as there may be more difficult memories to uncover, but she has the experience to know she can work through it and come out feeling better than she did before. 

In other situations, I use an exercise ball or a bioenergetic stool (which looks like a step ladder with a rolled up blanket on top) to help clients release tensions which constrict their breathing. I instruct clients to slowly lower their body backwards over the ball or the stool, with their hands supporting their head, gently stretching it back to rest on the ball or stool. Some people need a pillow behind their head to support their neck. I tell them that their balance is in their legs so remind them to keep one foot on the floor at all times. 

In this position I encourage my clients to notice what they sense in their body. I suggest they breathe into any areas of tension, even putting a hand on those areas for support. I let them experience this stretch. I observe what happens in their body, especially with their breathing, in the process. I often invite them to focus their mind on what’s happening in their body. I suggest they give in to the support of the ball or stool, letting it hold them. 

This exercise elicits a variety of responses. Sometimes an emotion arises, such as sadness, anger or fear. Often my clients observe changes in their breathing. At other times, a memory emerges or they note various sensations in their body. We work with whatever emerges and follow with appropriate movements. If sadness arises, for example, I encourage them to allow it to move through, which may include tears. Some movements lead to pleasurable sensations, which we aim to allow and even to increase. Making sounds can help with releasing tensions and expressing emotions. Most people experience this as awkward or uncomfortable initially. But over time, as they do it repeatedly, they observe that it feels good and helps to let go of stress. Dr. Stephen Porges, originator of the Polyvagal Theory, confirms this in his descriptions of how singing and vocalizing help to calm the vagus nerve. (Porges, 2017).

These are some of the ways that bioenergetic therapists integrate work with the body in psychotherapy. Bioenergetic therapists explore their client’s story, including both present issues and childhood experiences. We integrate work with a person’s mind, body, spirit, emotions and relationships to offer an opportunity for maximum effectiveness. This method is not quick or easy, but can offer hope in addressing some of the most challenging conditions such as trauma, loss, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, addictions, etc. Bioenergetics focuses on helping people have more vitality and capacity to enjoy their life. I have witnessed many clients grow enormously. Many have stated in the course of therapy: “Bioenergetic therapy has saved my life!” I have personally experienced deep, life-changing transformation through this approach. 


Feldman Barrett, L. 2017. How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 176

Porges, S. 2017. The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co. 185 – 186

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