Updated: Apr 21, 2019
“The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing.”
As I have grown up, shoes have pretty much been optional. Of course I had to wear them to school or the store and other similar places, but the other majority of time I was barefoot and I loved it. I was barefoot in the house and playing in the garden. I was barefoot feeding chickens and swinging on the playset. I was barefoot skipping across the street with my sister to see if the neighbors could play and running up the hill to look for alligator lizards. In addition, I fell in love with martial arts, which, again, requires bare feet. Needless to say, shoes were (and still are) not high on my priority list.
Because of that, I have developed a love for feeling the dirt under my feet and the blades of grass poke up around my toes. Some people turn up their noses at this idea because it seems unsanitary or just wrong, and that is okay. However, my lifelong barefooted-ness led me to wonder if there was really anything more to ditching the shoes beside it being just plain fun. As it turns out, it has been proven that there actually is something to be said for going wild, barefoot, and free every once in a while, and that it can do wonders for our health as well.
As I began to look into this idea, I first noticed the traditional oral stories and legends handed down from generations of native people around the world that spoke of the benefits of connecting with the earth through the feet. Many of the people in a more moderate climate were barefoot often and believed it was beneficial to their health in more ways than one. For example, Lakota chief Luther Standing Bear explained that,
“It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth.
The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing.
This is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its live giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly; he can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.”
Now, I know that this is definitely not solid evidence for why going without shoes is a good idea, but it does give an idea of how important it was to ancient cultures. And, as we are beginning to understand, those people were a lot more well-versed in ways to stay healthy than we give them credit for.
And for the science side of the discussion, there are actually some studies based on double-blind, controlled experiments which have been published in medical journals that explore the benefits of connecting ourselves to the earth through our feet (otherwise known as “grounding” or “earthing”). And even as hokey as it sounds, they concluded that there is quite a bit of healing that can come from it, as well as a fair amount of maladies which come with keeping ourselves up and away from the ground. In the study Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, the authors even go so far as to say that keeping our distance from the earth is a “major contributor to physical dysfunction and unwellness.”
Before discussing how to stop contributing to “physical dysfunction and unwellness”, we have to understand how we got to this point. The most blatant reason for this chronic disconnection from the ground is that we as a society have become accustomed to wearing shoes most places– shoes made out of manufactured rubber or another thick synthetic material. While we have been trained to believe that this will protect us from harm and the icky things that hide in the dirt, it has been discovered that it actually prevents us from engaging in the natural flow of negatively charged electrons which are readily available from the earth’s surface. This leaves us to live out most of our years in the atmosphere’s positive charge, and leads to a large imbalance within our bodies.
Because imbalances in the body are what lead to many illnesses and injuries, researchers wondered if correcting this particular imbalance (a lack of grounding) might decrease ailments. According to their research, not only were they right, but there were more benefits than they even expected. They found that by connecting to the earth directly we can expect assistance with thyroid health- which in turn aids many other physiological functions, cortisol levels- which regulate stress and a multitude of other not-so-fun stuff, and, most importantly, inflammation in the body. One study stated that “the influx of free electrons absorbed by the body through direct contact with the Earth likely neutralize [free radicals] and thereby reduce acute and chronic inflammation” (Chevalier). This is obviously a big one, as inflammation is behind a plethora of conditions that so many people deal with on a daily basis. Don’t get the wrong idea, however– just because you walk barefoot sometimes doesn’t mean that you are good to go and will never get cancer or arthritis or anything else. It is just something to assist in overall health.
In addition, a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine elaborated on these benefits, explaining that it can also aid in increasing recovery time from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). They stated that “grounding the body to the earth alters measures of immune system activity and pain,” thus leading to a faster recovery from being sore. They did, however, disclaim that “since this is the first intervention that appears to speed recovery from DOMS, the pilot provides a basis for a larger study” (Brown). So while there is evidence stating that grounding may help after a killer workout, there is still more to be learned.
Overall, the moral of the story is that we should all take the time to play in the dirt and dig our toes into the sand. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Ditch the shoes for a while. Decompress from the craziness and get grounded. And remember: a disconnection from the earth is a disconnection from our health.
Chevalier, Gaétan, Stephen T. Sinatra, James L. Oschman, Karol Sokal, and Pawel Sokal. “Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons.” Journal of Environmental and Public Health 2012 (2012): 1-129. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. Web. 29 July 2016.
Brown, Dick, Gaétan Chevalier, and Michael Hill. “Pilot Study on the Effect of Grounding on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Mar. 2010. Web. 29 July 2016.