As I’ve been slowly rebuilding my practice after my June injury, I’ve been thinking a lot about mindful grounding. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about toes. For me, grounding and gratefulness are almost interchangeable — and it’s all about toes.
Let me step back for a moment and tell you where I am. I’m in Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley. It’s a verdant idyll of pillowy grass, dollhouse-bright chalets and milk-tea-colored cows, sandwiched fetchingly between opposing two-thousand-foot cliff faces, painted with a background of snowed-over alpine peaks and cotton-candy clouds. It’s heart-stoppingly beautiful. It’s also — on account of the cliffs, you see — one of the world’s classic BASE jumping destinations. I’m living here until October, making several BASE jumps per day (when the cotton-candy clouds aren’t dumping decidedly unyummy rain, that is). Lucky? Oh heck yes.
As I’ve been jumping so much, I’ve been noticing the tiny details of my process. You might not think they would, but my toes have a surprisingly important place in my unique ritual procedure of getting ready for a BASE jump. Standing near the edge of the cliff, after I wiggle into the harness of my parachute rig and pull the chest strap tight across my high ribs, I always look down for a long moment at my feet. (Don’t believe me? There’s video. My helmet camera always captures this moment, a fact I find kinda hilarious.)
When I look down at my sneaker-shod toes at a BASE exit point, the thought that runs through my head is always the same: enjoy this grounded moment. ‘Cause once I run and jump, I cannot know what variables will come into play or what the outcome may be. The fact is simple: my feet may never be pressed to the ground like this again. I’m profoundly grateful for every moment they’ve spent in the treading of this wild, strange planet, and I sure hope they keep it up, but there are no guarantees.
On the mat, the thought is quite the same, especially in the first moments of my practice. Peeking down and dialing in to samasthiti, I organize my toes wide. When the cheerful purple of the mat pops up between my painted toenails, so too blossoms a sense of intense gratitude. After all, I am standing. I am not injured or ill or enervated. At the moment, I am standing in one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen. I am standing in a warm, sunny room, protected from the elements. I am standing in a house with a fridge full of food, and a rack full of clothes, and a constant parade of friendly smiles. I am standing downright emphatically — toes spread, the roots of my energy shooting deep into the earth — so that I may sing this gratefulness into the world around me with my yoga practice.
I am standing.
And I’m wiggling my spread toes with happiness.
Annette Lyn O’Neil