Bare Feet and Bare Soil

Reconnecting with the earth

Bare Feet and Bare Soil

Until recently, humans spent a great deal of time in contact with the ground. This contact may have served an important purpose. Although it sounds like something from a sci-fi novel, earthing—the act of physically connecting our bodies to the Earth—allows us to reset body's natural electric charge. Research is finally beginning to back up the benefits of earthing on our bodies and emotional well-being.

Wiggling our toes in the summer grass. Sinking our fingers into the rich, crumbly soil in our garden. Watching sea foam wash over our feet as we stroll along a beach. We feel a sense of happiness and well-being when we’re connected to our planet. Scientists are now wondering, why?

Getting grounded

Our bodies are bioelectrical in nature. To simplify an extremely complex process, all of the functions of our cells, nervous system, and more are governed by electric power and pulses of energy. Medical doctors and scientists are building inventions that seem ripped straight out of a science fiction novel, such as computer chips that communicate with the human body’s electrical systems. These are not futuristic proposals or the daydreams of a mad scientist—some of these inventions are already on the market.

Meanwhile, our planet also holds an incredible amount of energy. According to the widely accepted dynamo theory, scientists say that electrons and fluids in the earth’s core generate continuous, powerful magnetic forces, complex energy fields, and radiation. Today, some scientists suspect that the earth’s energy cycles and rhythms play an important role in our own bodies’ electrical rhythms, such as regulating our hormone production and sleep-wake cycles.

“Environmental medicine focuses on interactions between human health and the environment,” researchers report in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health. “Omnipresent throughout the environment is a surprisingly beneficial, yet overlooked global resource for health maintenance, disease prevention, and clinical therapy: the surface of the earth itself.”

If the earth’s energy is linked to our health and wellness, scientists are worried that we may have become too disconnected from these planetary forces. Paved streets, high-rise condos, office jobs, and other elements of our insulated modern lifestyles might be blocking our access to the power of nature, throwing our own bodies’ electrical cycles out of sync. Getting grounded—coming back into contact with the surface of the earth and reconnecting with its energy—may be the answer. This theory is known as earthing.

The groundbreaking science on grounding

“Earthing ranks right up there with the discovery of penicillin,” writes Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, in her endorsement for the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? (Basic Health Publications, 2010) by Clinton Ober; Stephen Sinatra, MD; and Martin Zucker.

This book blew the concept of earthing—also known as grounding—to the forefront of public discussion. It all started when Ober noticed how television cable companies used the earth’s surface to stabilize their electrical signals. If the earth’s surface was so powerful, Ober wondered how it affected our own bodies.

Interest in this scientific theory has continued to grow since the book was first published in 2010. Gary Schwartz, PhD, professor of psychology and medicine at the University of Arizona, also endorsed the book, saying that earthing “may be as fundamental as sunlight, air, water, and nutrients.” A growing body of research is beginning to back up these claims.

Multiple health benefits

Multiple studies have dug into how earthing may help with various major health problems and have found benefits such as relief from chronic pain, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved sleep. For example, research in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reports that being physically connected to the earth “may be the primary factor regulating endocrine and nervous systems.”

That same study specifically noted that earthing affects blood glucose levels and concentrations of magnesium, iron, and other nutrients in our blood. This may play a role in managing or preventing chronic disease such as osteoporosis and diabetes. In yet another journal, researchers report that earthing changes the electrical charge in the human body and “significantly influences” the brain’s activity.

Trevor Malkinson of Vancouver has personally seen this science in action. One summer afternoon, he went to the beach and observed hundreds of people lounging and playing on the grass. Malkinson says he’d just read a book on earthing, and it occurred to him that we’ve intuitively known all this time just how revitalizing being outdoors, in nature, and connected to the earth can be.

“There was some unconscious evolutionary intelligence happening there,” Malkinson recalls, “and now science is discovering what is going on biochemically during that process, and it’s merely confirming what we have already instinctively known.”

Malkinson now makes an effort to get grounded as often as he can, whether it’s through what he calls “forest bathing”—walking through a forest—or just strolling in a park barefooted. “When I take the time to take off my shoes in a park and walk in the grass barefoot, I definitely slow down and become present to my surroundings in a way that can often escape us in our busy culture,” he says.

“I always feel refreshed [and] noticeably better,” says Malkinson. “There’s something great about just communing with the earth. We come from it, we’ve been on it for over a million years, and there’s a connection for us that’s deep and often lost in our urban technological world.”

A dose of vitamin N

Additional research needs to be done on earthing to learn more about how it works, but the general health benefits of being in nature and getting connected to the earth are undebatable. “Nature provides enormous possibilities to improve health because it can have many soothing and healthful effects,” says Gillian Mandich, PhD(c), a health lecturer at Western University in London, Ontario. For her, the health perks of nature are so great that she nicknames it “vitamin N.”

Mandich points to one study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology that compared people who walked in cities to people who walked in nature. Both groups did the same amount of walking, but it was those who were immersed in a forest who saw more positive effects on blood pressure, stress hormones, and more.

The scope of nature’s benefits is wide and varied. For example, a study found that beneficial bacteria in dirt may protect against stress and depression. Another study noted that although all exercise improves our mood, exercising in nature enhances these benefits. Other teams of researchers have found that spending time in nature hiking or camping increases the strength of our immune system, enhances our mental focus, and more.

The power of nature is so strong that just looking at nature may be beneficial. “A 2007 study from the Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research examined job satisfaction and job stress,” says Mandich. “About half of the participants had an office with a window view of trees and the other half did not. Workers with views of trees reported significantly less job stress and significantly more job satisfaction, regardless of age, gender, or job category.”

Our modern lifestyle not only insulates us from the electric fields of the planet, but also prevents us from enjoying the many other benefits of soaking in the beauty of our earth.

Plugging into the planet’s power

When it comes to pristine forests, crystal-clear lakes, and other options to connect with the earth and enjoy its wildernesses, Canada is unparalleled. In fact, we have one of the world’s oldest and most extensive public park systems. Summer is the perfect time to explore our great Canadian outdoors, whether it’s a provincial park or our own backyard.

Starting today, add vitamin N to the list of health supplements and vitamins you usually take. Make it a part of your everyday routine. “Any time outside is better than no time,” says Mandich. “Even a five-minute break outside can be an energizing boost! The health benefits of getting outside are cumulative throughout the day, so finding a few times per day to log five to 10 minutes is very beneficial.”

If you want to go a step further and experiment with earthing and getting grounded with our planet’s surface, it’s easier than you might think. All you need to do is simply sit, walk, or play outdoors for 30 to 40 minutes. “What is most profound about earthing,” says energy-medicine expert James Oschman, PhD, as quoted in Earthing, “is the element of simplicity.”

“I have experienced a multitude of benefits from vitamin N,” says Mandich. “When I feel a block in creativity or find it hard to concentrate when I work, I take a short break and go for a walk. Vitamin N is much more energizing than a cup of coffee, [and it] lightens my mood, relaxes me, [and] improves my physical wellness.”

Earthing resources and accessories

The best way to experience earthing is with bare-skinned contact with the ground. That’s not always feasible, especially for those of us who live and work in urban environments. During his initial research on earthing, Ober experimented with various devices that keep us grounded even when we’re indoors. Since nature offers multiple benefits beyond simply the grounding aspect, these earthing resources should only be a backup plan for when you can’t get outdoors.

Earthing shoes

Using conductive inserts, the footwear mimics the conductive benefits of barefoot walking while still protecting your feet like traditional shoes.

Universal earthing pads

Used as either desk mats or floor mats, the pads plug into the grounded port in a grounded electrical outlet and help you get in touch with the earth even while at home or in the office.

Earthing sheets and mattresses

When plugged into the grounded port in your bedroom’s electrical outlet, these sheets allow you to gain the benefits of grounding while you sleep. One woman told the authors of Earthing that sleeping in an earthing sheet felt like “lying there surrounded by nature.”

Auto seat pads

With the goal of reducing road rage, these auto seat pads connect to your vehicle’s metal frame to provide a semi-Earth grounding.

The Earthing Institute (earthinginstitute.net) offers more information about earthing products and how the products may help, plus additional research and resources about the science of grounding.

Digging into the benefits of gardening

If you have a backyard or access to an urban community garden, exercise your green thumb this summer! In one study, researchers found that just 30 minutes of gardening significantly reduced stress levels in study participants. Another study found that gardening could reduce depression.

The tasty plants highlighted below are easy to grow for gardeners of all skills, don’t take up a lot of room, and give you a delicious way to connect with the earth’s surface. These herbs and vegetables are warm-season crops, making June the perfect time to get started!

  • peppers (Capsicum annuum)
  • chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
  • basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)
  • squash and zucchini (Cucurbita)
  • watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)
  • tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum)
  • eggplant (Solanum melongena)
  • rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • sweet corn (Zea mays)

Grounding ideas

Any contact between our bare skin and the planet’s surface is what scientists theorize helps us to channel and plug into the earth’s energy. The authors of Earthing offer additional tips and ideas for getting grounded.

  • Ground yourself two or three times per day if you can. The effects are cumulative. The more we do it, the better we’ll feel.
  • Use a chair if you have foot injuries, mobility issues, or need support. Simply sit on it with your bare feet planted squarely on the ground.
  • Bring water. Damp soil is more conductive and can accelerate how quickly you notice the benefits of earthing.
  • Concrete is your second-best option if you can’t get to an open, natural space. You could even take advantage of your basement’s concrete floor. To be conductive, the concrete must be unsealed and unpainted. Asphalt, vinyl, or wood surfaces are not conductive and can’t convey the benefits of earthing.
  • Cool off during Canada’s dog days of summer by heading to the beach. Wading or swimming is exceptionally beneficial because the minerals in ocean water are highly conductive. Lakes can be mildly conductive, depending on the mineral content.

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