Psychotherapist and nature-wellbeing guide Claire de Boursac discusses how going barefoot can relieve chronic pain, PMS and stress and bring you a brighter complexion and a better night’s sleep.
If you’ve raised a sceptical eyebrow at the subheading, I understand. It sounds a bit too good to be true doesn’t it? But there’s a mountain of research, hard science and heartfelt testimonials to back these claims. It also kind of makes sense on an intuitive level doesn’t it? Afterall, that is what we were designed to do.
What is earthing?
In essence, ‘earthing’ or ‘grounding’ means to have our bare skin in direct contact with the surface of the earth. You may be aware that the earth has a natural capacity to absorb electric charges – that’s why our appliances such as fridges, TVs and even power plants are ‘earthed’. It keeps things safe. Our bodies are conductive, they hold electrical charge too and when we make contact with the earth, this charge is neutralised – more about this below.
Why is earthing good for us?
In modern life we are being bombarded with electrical charges all day. This creates a build-up of excess free radicals, which can cause damage to our cells. Free radicals need a negative electron in order to neutralise. Luckily, the Earth has an endless supply of these and we can absorb them effortlessly through our skin. When we are earthed, the electrons move freely between the earth and our body discharging these rogue free radicals.
Ask your favourite search engine about earthing and you’ll likely tumble down a rabbit hole of case studies and testimonials of people who have ended decades of chronic pain, cured their husband’s deafening snoring overnight and conquered depression. You may even find a video of a man in Alaska so desperate to heal his painful joints that he stripped naked in minus 20 degrees and crawled under his veranda to make contact with the only earth not covered by several meters of snow. This same man was so impressed with the power of earthing that he experimented with earthing rods in vases of flowers and, you guessed it, the earthed ones thrived for much longer.
What does the science say?
Our bio-electrical connection is observable and measurable. Over the last decade, scientists have used the latest technology, sophisticated imaging and double-blind studies to research the impact on our body of grounding. The results align with the anecdotes above. Using thermography, scientists have been able to see inflammation in the body reduce dramatically when a patient is grounded for as little as an hour. Prolonged and repeated grounding can eliminate the chronic pain that accompanies it. Given that inflammation is now believed to play a key role in many diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes, these are important discoveries.
Grounding also influences our parasympathetic nervous system, soothing and balancing the left and right sides of our brain helping us to feel calm and relaxed. In addition, hormone levels can re-balance reducing stress, anxiety, depression and even PMS.
Other studies showed a reduction in blood viscosity through grounding. There are several conditions for which this is highly beneficial and might reduce or eliminate the need for long-term drug use for some people. Because of the impact on blood viscosity, if you are taking medication to regulate your blood or thyroid function it’s best to check with your GP before enthusiastically embracing earthing.
Just half an hour grounding has been shown (through thermography again) to improve facial blood flow, encouraging a healthy complexion. In my forest bathing sessions I offer the ‘invitation’ (it’s always optional) to be barefoot for our two hour mindful meander among the trees. I often notice that people look glowing and radiant at the end. I recently received an email from someone who said she saw her partner several hours after the session they said she looked ‘shiny’ – in a good way!
Despite the ever-present supply of these health-giving electrons, the trappings of modern life insulate us from the earth and cut us off from these benefits. Plastic and rubber are both non-conductive materials. Cast your mind over your shoe collection. Are any of the soles plastic / rubber- free? Probably not.
Barefoot is best
Although contact between the earth and skin anywhere on our body will allow earthing, being barefoot is not only the most practical but also the most effective way. The soles of our feet have the highest number of conductive nerve endings in our body. We also have sweat glands on our feet and moisture improves conductivity – walking on damp ground is better than dry.
In my psychotherapy work, I’ve noticed that when clients are highly stressed or anxious, guiding their attention far away from their mind is helpful. Our feet are as far as we can get while still having our attention on ourselves and feeling the sensation of the ground beneath our feet helps us do just that.
It’s tempting to think it’s too good to be true isn’t it? I’m a firm believer in nature as an incredible teacher and healer and that there is much we can receive in our connection with her. It is only relatively recently that we’ve created our lives away from her, after all. For over 99% of the time humans have lived on this earth we walked, sat and slept on the ground or with only conductive materials such as animal skins between us. We are designed to be in contact with nature so it shouldn’t be surprising that it is so good for us when we are. Our recent trend in disconnecting from nature is not only harmful to our planet, but to our own wellbeing.
How to bring earthing into your life
Clint Ober, a retired cable TV engineer is largely responsible for opening up this field of earthing. He also pioneered some products which allow you to be ‘earthed’ while inside. These range from mats to place under your feet, to earthed sheets so you can take advantage of the benefits while getting your 8 hours. However, I’m always going to opt for getting up close and personal with mother nature.
Although, as with most health-giving practices, the more the merrier, research shows that as little as half an hour earthed can make a difference so it’s really doable and you can even incorporate the practice into your lunch hour. In my workplace wellbeing programmes, I teach specific nature-connection exercises designed to maximise those lunch hour opportunities but simply finding a way to have your feet on the earth while you eat your sandwich is a great start. We can also ground through concrete and paving stones (but not tarmac) so if you can’t access grass but have a concrete courtyard that will work too.
I’m also a big fan of making a ‘transition time’ between work and home at the end of the day- a chance to let go of thoughts, tensions and stresses so you can relax and enjoy your evening. Spending 20 minutes grounded is an excellent way to do this.
While you’re enjoying your barefoot connection, it’s best to be paying mindful attention to the nature around you to really maximise wellbeing benefits – perhaps lying on your back and watching the clouds roll by, or listening to the sounds of the birds and rustle of leaves in the wind. But you can also multitask to maximise the time you spend earthed – so, get barefoot while enjoying your morning coffee, reading, walking the dog or catching up with a friend.
The Earth is waiting to energise and heal you, why not kick off your shoes and step barefoot into her embrace?
Learn more about why it is important to connect with nature for our wellbeing.
Read about our editor Kelly Green‘s experience of forest bathing with Claire in Highgate.
Discover why it’s important for children to spend time in nature.