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Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Photo of art by Jenessa Goodman, LMFT, virtual EMDR therapist

Elan Shapiro, longtime contributor to the growth and development of EMDR therapy, created a powerful tool to support stress reduction, grounding, clarity, and calm. If you've worked with me, chances are you're already familiar with a version of this exercise!

1) EARTH - grounding, safety in the present reality

Take a minute or two to “land”... to be here now... place both feet on the ground, feel the chair supporting you, or connect your body to the ground in whatever way works for you....Look around & notice 3 new things...What else do you see.... What do you hear...What do you smell?

[Attention is directed outwards to the reality of safety in the present]

2) AIR - breathing for centering

Breathe in through your nose (for abdominal breathing) as you count 4 seconds, then hold for 2 and then breathe out for 6 seconds. Take about a dozen deeper slower breaths like this. [Attention is directed inwards to your centre]

3) WATER - calm and controlled, switch on the relaxation response

Do you have saliva in your mouth?....Imagine you have a tart lemon in your mouth and make more saliva, until your entire mouth is coated.

When you are anxious or stressed your mouth often dries because part of the stress emergency response (sympathetic NS) is to shut off the digestive system. So when you start making saliva you switch on the digestive system again (parasympathetic NS) & the relaxation response. (That is why people are offered water or tea after a difficult experience- when you make saliva your mind can also optimally control your thoughts & your body).

[Attention is directed to producing saliva & becoming calmer, focused & more in control]

4) FIRE - Light up the path of your imagination

Bring up an image of a CALM PLACE (or some other RESOURCE such as a memory when you felt good or use your imagination to create an image that represents a good or calm place just for you.) What do you feel & where do you feel it in your body? If you have a positive feeling, cross your arms over your heart, like a butterfly, and slowly start to tap your hands back and forth, really slow and soothing, for 4-6 taps total. Stop, take a deep breath and just notice how you feel.

[Attention is directed to the feelings of safety/calm/etc. in your body]

We recommend repeating these steps several times a day while in EMDR therapy, or anytime you are feeling stressed, upset, overwhelmed, nervous, grieving, get the idea. If you are experiencing distress during your day and you need a brief grounding, you can abbreviate this exercise. Some is better than nothing at all. And, if you are struggling with sleep, this is a great exercise to do before bed.


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