“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I’ve always loved being barefoot, whether running laps after football practice, exploring a beach, or even just walking around the park. There’s something magical and sensual about the feeling of the Earth against bare skin. It always puts me in a better mood and helps me refreshed and alive.
It turns out there’s a scientific explanation why being barefoot feels so good. It has to do with the electrical nature of our bodies, and our connection to the Earth. The field is relatively under-researched, but the studies that have been completed are promising, and the underlying theory is sound. Known as Grounding, or Earthing, the basic idea is that by connecting to the ground we gain an electrical baseline to operate from, and at the same time we replenish the fundamental building blocks of our cells.
If that’s all the convincing you need to spend more time outside with your shoes off – awesome! For more information on the science, and how to get the benefits even when you’re indoors, read on.
Grounding & Jet Lag
Before diving into the details, I wanted to quickly touch on how I was introduced to grounding – as a cure for jet lag. Kristen and I travel a fair amount, and I’ve had severe cases of jet lag in the past. (The first time it happened I thought I’d contracted bird flu…). When we were traveling to Israel, she told me that she’d heard of a way to help: walking barefoot on the natural ground.
Jet lag results from our bodies’ internal clocks being out of sync with local rhythms. By grounding, we connect our cycles to the Earth’s, whose surface energy fluctuates with the sun. Making the physical connection helps to bring the two clocks back in sync.
On the night we arrived in Israel, Kristen and I did 15-20 minutes of yoga in the grass garden of the hotel. We slept well that night, and woke up at sunrise the next morning, energized and ready to start the day. It was amazing how quickly we adjusted to the local time, and we’ve been grounding every trip since!
I had to learn more.
Our Electrical Bodies
Our bodies‘ internal workings are based on bioelectric processes. The physical component of a thought is an electric pulse exchanged between neurons, muscles contract through electric signals, and pathways in cells open and close based on the electrical environment.
Our internal processes work best with a well-established baseline, and there is no greater baseline than the Earth itself. The electrical level of the Earth is what all electric charges are compared against. When something is connected electrically to the Earth, it’s grounded. This grounding creates a change in electrical voltage that can be scientifically measured, including in our bodies.
“The human body is by far the most complex piece of ‘equipment’ on the planet,” writes Dr. Gatean Chevalier, Ph.D. “Its internal processes are just like electronic circuits, [and] need a defined ground to operate well. The body, being so complex, has developed internal mechanisms to help it cope with a temporary disconnect from the Earth, but in the long run, the lack of connection takes its toll. Eventually, the body will lose its reference point (even the one that it made for itself temporarily). This results in internal functions becoming increasingly out of sync not only with the Earth but also with each other.”
When we’re physically disconnected from the Earth, we suffer, because our bodies lose their reference points for operating. But when we reconnect, we regain our natural abilities and power. As Clinton Ober, Stephen T. Sinatra M.D, and Martin Zucker explain in their provocatively titled book, Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?:
“Connecting to the Earth – either by being barefooted outside or in contact with a grounded device inside – doesn’t cure you of any disease or condition. What it does is to reunite you with the natural electrical signals from the Earth that govern all organism dwelling upon it. [The Earth’s electrical energy maintains the order of our own bodily frequencies just as a conductor controls the coherence and cadence of an orchestra.] It restores your body’s natural internal electrical stability and rhythms, which in turn promote normal functioning of body systems, including the cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, and immune systems. […] By reconnecting, you enable your body to return to its normal electrical state, better able to self-regulate and self-heal.”
By extending the connection to the Earth into the night through the use of grounded sheets, our bodies can continue to sync more deeply with natural rhythms, resulting in higher quality sleep. “Sleeping grounded gives me sound uninterrupted sleep,” remarks supermodel Miranda Kerr. “I awake feeling refreshed, even with all my traveling.” Actor Orlando Bloom agrees: “It’s the best sleep.”1
Replenishing Molecular Building Blocks
In addition to establishing an electrical baseline and syncing with natural rhythms, proponents of Grounding suggest another mechanism through which we benefit from connecting to the Earth: free electrons.
You may remember from high-school science courses that molecules are made up of a nucleus, surrounded by orbiting electrons. When properly balanced, the molecule is stable. When missing one or more electrons, the molecule becomes unstable.
Our immune systems exploit this process to help defend the body through the use of free radicals. Although they often get a bad rep, free radicals are actually a good thing – in the right quantities. As the authors of Earthing explain:
“[Free radicals] are positive-charged molecules (short of one or more electrons) that search for free electrons to become stable. Normally, these free radicals obtain their missing electrons by stripping electrons away from pathogens and damaged tissue. This activity kills the bad bugs you want out of your body and breaks down damaged cells for removal. As the remedial work winds down, excess free radicals produced during the immune response are neutralized by antioxidants or free electrons in the body. […] Problems arise when the process fails to wind down completely after the job is done. The good guys become bad guys on a rampage, ripping up innocent, healthy cells.”
In the age of over-stimulated stress responses and increased alertness of the immune system, our bodies are often dealing with excess amounts of free-radicals, creating an electron deficiency among healthy cells. By making contact with the Earth, we build a bridge that allows free electrons in the ground to travel into the body, filling in the gaps.
“The land and seas of planet Earth are alive with an endless and constantly replenished supply of electrons. By making direct contact with the surface of the planet – the skin of our bodies touching the skin of the Earth – our conductive bodies naturally equalize with the Earth. Figuratively speaking, we refill the electron tank that has become low.”
The result? A better functioning immune system, decreased inflammation, and lower levels of stress.
How To Practice Grounding or Earthing
The great news about this practice is that it can be done for free, anywhere there’s a patch of Earth. Simply take off your shoes and sit or stand on the ground. It’s something that I enjoyed long before I ever heard about grounding and will continue to enjoy whenever I get the opportunity.
Alternatively, go for a swim in the ocean. The salt in the water makes it electrically conductive, thereby conferring the same benefits.
As with any practice, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is whether or not it works for you. So experiment, and decide for yourself.
Personally, it’s been an incredible tool for us when we travel, and I try to spend more time grounded during my normal day-to-day. I have special sandals for the times when going barefoot might not the best option, but because the outlets in our bedroom aren’t grounded, I haven’t slept with those grounded sheets yet.
“Flying starts from the ground. The more grounded you are, the higher you fly.” – J.R. Rim
To learn more about Grounding / Earthing, check out some books on the topic or watch the 2014 documentary titled “Grounded” – trailer below.
- Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? by Clinton Ober, Stephen T. Sinatra M.D, and Martin Zucker [↩]