Today more than 50 percent of people live in cities. The majority of people are in constant exposure to urban stressors, and are tasked with trying to stay healthy in close quarters with hundreds of other people while managing ambitious schedules. Whereas our ancestors primarily lived in rural areas, we who dwell in concrete buildings on paved streets need to search for ways to connect our minds, bodies and spirits to the universal life force, Mother Earth. This means connecting to ourselves too.
I'm a community herbalist, and have come up with three rituals for staying grounded in techtropolis of San Francisco, but these strategies can be implemented in any city.
Our culture is centered on the mind, the thought, the esoteric. Stress and anxiety are often due to overthinking, repetitive, or obsessive thoughts. To clear my mind and create a space where we can work, or play, I use a grounding ritual that can be done anywhere.
Herb for grounding: rosemary
An herb known intimately by my Calabrian ancestors, rosemary is well known for flavor in cooking. As medicine, the herb is warming and can support the circulatory system, and is especially helpful for people who “run cold.” Due to this property, the herb is a beautiful complement to other herbs because it can help move them around the body and to the brain. For folks who tend to get headaches, or need a midday pick me up, try five drops of rosemary tincture in a glass of water. The herb can support the nervous system and act as a mild antidepressant on a cloudy day.
Ritual for grounding: mantra
I close my eyes, usually before eating, but often when I’m starting my workday or if I get a feeling of overwhelm. I envision roots growing from my body into the part of the earth where I am sitting or standing. Telling yourself “I am starting to ground” (doesn't have to be out loud, can be a silent voice) is a good way to initiate the ritual. Then, take three deep breaths in and three long breaths out. Keep imagining the roots going deep into the earth. Sometimes following this through can feel really hard. It is not. Allow yourself the time to sink back into your body and heart. Close the ritual by stating, out loud or in your mind's eye, “I am grounded.”
2. Increasing energy
Sometimes we have to remember that we have bodies, we are made of blood, flesh, and bones. Living in a city we must not forget this and disconnect the body from the mind or spirit. A simple and accessible way to do this is by breathing. Sure, we’re breathing all the time, but most often we rely on the autonomic nervous system to get the job done. Intentionally tapping into this natural rhythm can help us become more embodied and destress. Breathe in.
Herb for energy: yarrow
The scientific name for this plant is Achillea, named for the virtually undefeatable Spartan warrior Achilles. Many cultures around the world know this plant to be warrior medicine and yarrow can help you find inner strength, too. Yarrow is helpful for regulating digestion: try taking five drops on the tongue 15 minutes before eating to aid the body in breaking down fats and oils. Using yarrow as the first act upon waking and the last act before sleep can bring us into our warrior strength and personal power. Ritualizing and administering a low dose of tincture, 1-5 drops, with intention, can create significant changes over several weeks or months.
Ritual for energy: mindful breath work
Remember that the air entering your body is oxygen, brought into our lungs and then transported through the blood to cells in our body doing important work. Breathe out. This is the relaxing part; we are disposing of what we no longer serves us. At a desk or during a commute, this exercise can truly be done anywhere and requires nothing but mindfulness for instant results.
3. Shielding your spirit
Buses, metros, cars, bikes, pedestrians. A city can be an overwhelming place for a sensitive spirit. Often there is just too much going on and in order to find tranquility we must find a way to separate ourselves from the constant buzz. By using the practice of shielding, or creating imaginary protective boundaries, we create space to protect ourselves from anything we wish to have distance from.
Herb for shielding: hawthorne
A member of the Rose family this tree is known as heart medicine for the physical and emotional body. Often used as support to the cardiovascular system, Hawthorn is also a beautiful ally for any type of emotional disease of the heart, like grief or heartbreak. The tree is covered in thorns and by taking five drops of the tincture as part of your morning ritual, Hawthorn can help you to have and hold the metaphorical thorns to protect yourselves safe in the bustle of the city.
Ritual for shielding: drawing boundaries
Once you feel grounded and are able to use your breath to be embodied, imagine this harmonious balance contained in a sphere surrounding your body. What color is the sphere? What is it made out of? Depending on the protection you seek, the sphere may change color or size or shape. People’s who’s words or energies who get under your skin have no choice but to bounce off your magical sphere! This sort of hygienic practice will help to keep ourselves safe in a busy world.
Of course, the most important self care is preventative medicine. By taking the time to connect to ourselves, our bodies, our minds and spirit, we are connecting to nature. When we relearn the ancestral connection we have with plants, we are tapping into ancient wisdom and healing ability. We can allow plants, and the practice of mindful embodiment to bring us more fully into our best selves, allowing intuition to thrive and slowly but surely creating a holistic experience where the physical, emotional and spirit body are being nourished towards our deepest desires.