As a nation, we’ve become completely disconnected from the world around us. We chug to our offices every day in machinery that recirculates “conditioned” air, walk across hard-packed gravel or pavement parking lots to our job, and then sit inside sterile, artificial environments all day long.
Someone who occasionally gets out on weekends and goes hiking in the forest or mountains is considered “outdoorsy,” despite the fact that they’re probably only spending about one percent of their lives actually in nature. With this increasing dissociation from the natural world, we’ve begun to see ourselves as separate — why else would we need to create terms like “nature” or “the environment?” Whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, most of us don’t even think of ourselves as animals.
But when it comes down to it, that’s all we really are. Sure, we may be capable of conscious thought and experience emotions well beyond most other animals, but we still rely on the world around us to nurture us. It’s certainly no coincidence that the rates of chronic disease have been skyrocketing in recent decades, as we continue to distance ourselves from the natural world.
But as the health statistics continue to worsen, many people are starting to turn back to a simpler way of life. One of the easiest and most beneficial ways to do this is simply to ditch the shoes every now and then. Shoes are the embodiment of our disconnection with the world around us, stopping us from feeling the planet under our feet and from balancing our energy with it. Barefoot therapy, otherwise known as earthing, has gone from a marginalized practice limited to only the wackiest, hippy-esque people in town, to a scientifically-proven method of improving our health.
It’s important to remember, however, that these benefits are only experienced on natural surfaces. Barefoot therapy advocates walking only on soil, vegetated surfaces (like grass) and sand. Anything else is likely to bruise your heel, cut the bottom of your foot, or have you stepping in something you really don’t want to be stepping in!
Here are five amazing benefits of barefoot therapy.
1. Balance your charge
When you walk barefoot on a natural surface, you’re literally grounding yourself on the earth. Because our bodies are comprised of almost two-thirds water, they’re excellent electrical conductors. Walking barefoot, then, invites all of the health-giving negative ions in the soil, sand and vegetation into our bodies. Because many traditional forms of medicine maintain that an overall positive charge in the body equates to a higher risk of disease and infection, exposing the soles of your feet to a bit of the earth’s negative ions can only be a good thing.
2. Sleep better
There’s actually been a lot of research that shows, without a shadow of a doubt, the importance of being grounded to getting a good night’s sleep. A 2004 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine chose 12 subjects who were suffering from sleep dysfunction, pain and stress and had them sleep on an earth-conductive mattress pad. Over eight weeks, researchers measured cortisol levels during their sleep, and also collected subjective information on symptoms of sleep dysfunction, pain and stress.
The results speak for themselves, really: “Measurable improvements in diurnal cortisol profiles were observed, with cortisol levels significantly reduced during night-time sleep. Subjects’ 24-hour circadian cortisol profiles showed a trend toward normalization. Subjectively reported symptoms, including sleep dysfunction, pain and stress, were reduced or eliminated in nearly all subjects.”
A study conducted in 2006 sought to build on these preliminary findings and produced a similar result in 58 healthy adults. This time, they attached an earthing cord to the soles of the volunteers’ feet during sleep, with the other end firmly driven into the earth outside. Researchers noted dramatic and immediate changes in brainwaves as soon as they attached the earthing cords and the sleep patterns that followed markedly improved. The study proponents concluded that the simple act of reconnecting these people to the earth while sleeping had a positive effect on stress levels, tension and autonomic balance.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really relish the thought of sleeping on the ground outside every night to get that earthing benefit or attaching a long electric cord to my feet and running it out the window. There is, however, undoubtedly a residual benefit on sleeping from barefoot therapy during the day. Because walking barefoot balances your electrical charge and eases stress and anxiety, you’re more than likely to sleep much better at night.
3. Reduce inflammation, boost immunity and prevent disease
That’s more like three benefits of barefoot therapy, all rolled into one! A study published two years ago in the Journal of Inflammation Research sought to confirm those very benefits by examining existing research on the subject. The study found that daily grounding (barefoot therapy) of individuals resulted in increased white cell counts, thereby boosting their immunity, along with significant reductions in pain and inflammation.
This means that, if you’re constantly getting a cold or the flu, have low-level chronic pain, or suffer from inflamed joints or muscles, simply stripping off your socks and walking on the ground every day may be just the thing.
4. Banish foot problems
Many of the most common foot injuries and disorders today can trace their roots back to the shoe. Shoes completely change the way we walk, with many of the stiffer varieties preventing proper toe flexion and causing the foot to undergo negative morphological changes.
Walking barefoot as much as possible can help your feet return to their healthy, natural state. This means that your toes will once more spread out, your gait will become smoother, and you’ll probably start to see any physical foot issues you had start to drift away on the summer breeze. Whenever there’s a nice day, I always ensure my workout routine involves exercising on the grass — that might be sprinting, jumping, doing bodyweight exercises, or taking a turn with the battle rope. I find that when I ditch the shoes, I can jump higher, sprint faster and feel so much better afterward.
5. Reconnect with nature
For me, this is easily the most important benefit of barefoot therapy. When I’m feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, I simply take off my shoes and stroll out onto the lawn. The effect is instantaneous. There’s just something about having your bare feet firmly planted on the ground that makes you feel more connected with the world, and it’s hard to feel worried or stressed when you become part of something far bigger than yourself.
— Liivi Hess