Unless we’re thinking about growing plants, most people seem to view the ground as a hard, dirty place to avoid. Even inside we head straight for the chairs and couches rather than plopping ourselves on the floor. Modern societies have created enticing and ingenious ways to elevate ourselves above good ole Mother Earth. But is that a good thing?
The ground can be a fun, comforting, and comfortable place to be. It can also be challenging, irritating, and even dangerous. It’s a bit like relationships. We need to be alert for hazards like unstable terrain or Lyme Disease, but we also need to remember that most encounters with the floor or the ground will be positive. And like relationships, our perspective matters. If we think of it as filthy and uncomfortable, it is. If we dread getting hurt on it when we fall, we probably will.
Just like our relationships with people, our engagement with the ground usually goes better when we stay flexible and approach it with a positive attitude.
As a Hawaiian, a dancer, and a ninja, I’m comfortable on the ground. I rest on it, play on it, and sometimes—as shown in the photo,—I work on it. We get along well together, and here are a few reasons why.
The ground offers comfort with the space and freedom to sit or lie anyway we please.
Hawaiians love to recline before, during, and after meals, so being on the ground is a good thing! (Try tossing your couch cushions on the floor and set your next meal at the coffee table and see how it feels.) It’s not just mealtimes that lure us to the floor. As with many cultures, Hawaiians enjoy the freedom to change positions, stretch, gain more leverage, or have easier access to our task. This cultural comfort extends to cosmopolitan applications—like typing on a computer! Anytime I enter a room, there’s a 50/50 chance of me choosing a seat on the floor over furniture in just about any casual situation.
The ground connects us to earth energy.
Many people and cultures—including Hawaiians—value the energy of living things, objects of nature, and natural phenomenon. If you are someone who does, you might want to eschew the offered chair and get comfy on the floor. You might be surprised by the energy you feel when you get closer to the ground—even indoors. If you’re already lying on the floor while reading this blog, you know exactly what I mean.
Sitting on the ground keeps us feeling youthful.
Most people think of the ground as a place for kids. That’s where we stick them when we run out of chairs, right? Where else could would they play jacks or build forts? But something happens as we get older. We worry too much about getting dirty. We stop wearing comfortable clothes. We become people who rise above the ground doing lofty adult-type things rather than people who get down and comfy. Once we get out of the habit, it stops feeling natural. We create a self-defeating cycle: the less we sit on the floor, the less comfortable we become, the less we want to sit on the floor. Fortunately, the opposite is also true.
Sitting on the ground promotes agility.
It takes strength and flexibility to lower and raise ourselves to and from the ground. It engages muscles to sit without back support. It stretches our hips and thighs to sit cross-legged, on our heels, or in a squatting position. When we opt to sit on the floor it’s like adding a mini yoga session to our day. Plus, the more we do it, the easier it becomes, creating a self-benefiting cycle.
Higher ground is not always the place of power.
As a society, we elevate people we hold in esteem. We also elevate others—or even ourselves—when we are trying to project power. That’s why we put our heroes and leaders on platforms. Heck, even talk show hosts are seated higher than their guests. But is the higher position always a place of power? I think not. The place of real power is wherever we feel most powerful.
I have unnerved many students, younger adults, men, and folks who perceive me to be farther along whatever path they’re pursuing by planting myself at their feet. It messes with their preconceived notions of power and subservience, and I have to admit, the ninja in me finds that disruption fascinating and amusing. But that’s not why I do it. I simply enjoy being near the ground. I’m also shorter than most people, so for me, it feels natural to be gazing up at someone. There’s also something intimate about the placement that breaks through barriers and increases my connection to the other person. But ultimately it comes down to this: being at an equal or lower altitude feels more natural to me—and doing what is natural feels powerful and self-validating.
We tend to fear the unfamiliar.
As a dancer, I am well acquainted with the floor. Dancers are constantly lying, stretching, spinning, rolling, falling onto, and leaping up from the floor—sometimes in the same count of eight! The ground is not something to be dreaded, it is something to be engaged, like a dance partner.
Ninja feel much the same way. The ground is not an opponent to fight or a harsh entity to avoid. It is something with which to interact—hopefully with skill.
Like any relationship, the more we practice engaging with the ground—getting up and down, rocking, rolling, sitting and lying in agile positions—the better our interactions feel.
When we learn to sink, melt, and mold onto hard surfaces—instead of crashing like a tree—we stop thinking of falling as a bad thing. It becomes more neutral. We can trip, fall, and recover without a sense of something terrible having happened, like wandering down the wrong hallway. It causes a milder disruption for us than it would cause to someone less comfortable with ground engagement.
When we fear something, we resist it, and in resisting, we make the interaction worse.
We’ve all had conversations we dreaded and intimidating people we wanted to avoid. We know how it feels to be forced into that sort of interaction. It’s stressful. But we don’t feel that same anxiety when we’re talking to a neutral person about a neutral topic. It’s no big deal. We don’t even think of it as a noteworthy event.
When falling becomes a neutral event, we stop resisting and go with it.
I have a weak ankle from cranking it badly in a NYC pothole my way to a CATS rehearsal. I’ve re-twisted it so many times over the decades that it takes almost nothing to “fall off” the ankle. What I’ve learned is that when I resist and fight to stay up, gravity works against me, adding body weight to the misalignment and CRUNCH! But when I go with the fall the instant I feel it happening, there’s no resistance to cause a sprain or tear. I simply get up, brush off the dirt, and continue on my merry way. It can look pretty alarming to others—one moment I’m up, the next I’m on the ground in my nice clothes—but I’d rather look foolish to others than spend weeks in recuperation.
Having a neutral perception of the ground—with no stigma of dirt, propriety, or loss of stature—allows us to engage with comfort and positive energy.
Will choosing to rest, play, and work on the ground prevent us from getting hurt? No. But our familiarity with being on the ground and the agility and strength we will acquire as a result will—in most cases—lessen the pain, injury, and embarrassment when we suffer one of those unexpected meetings. The more familiar we are, the more comfortable we will become, and the more we will want to engage the ground. Why not give it a try?