Aug. 28--Maybe those darn Boulder hippies were onto something. Turns out,
hugging trees is good for your health.
And that's the premise behind an increasingly popular movement called earthing
or grounding. Simply, it means being in direct contact with the earth. For some,
earthing is an extension of the barefoot running movement. Or you could lump it
under the broad category of "being outside."
For years, people have been saying it's good for kids to play outside, and kids
have been tearing off their shoes and splashing in mud puddles since mud
existed. We know that people go to the beach or go camping to unwind, and how
relaxing it can feel to be up to your elbows in soil while gardening. And who
hasn't enjoyed the tickle-y pleasure of walking barefoot across the grass?
Michael Sandler says that sensation of relaxation that you feel when your toes
touch the cool grass is physiological and measurable, and a crucial component of
As Bouldery as it sounds, reputable studies across the country back him up.
Sandler and his wife, who split time between Boulder and Hawaii, teach earthing
101 classes around Boulder and in several hundreds cities across the globe. In
the workshops, they plug participants into a grounding wire under their chairs,
which grounds them to the earth to show them firsthand how it feels. Sandler
also puts a grounding patch on a point of someone's body that is in pain; about
a half an hour later, the pain and inflammation is gone or significantly
reduced, he says.
"We've helped get free radicals unstuck and reduce the positive charge they're
carrying on that part of the body," Sandler says. "They always ask, 'What magic
did you do?' And I say, 'Earthing. You just grounded yourself.'"
It might sound like a magical gimmick, but in fact, studies have show that
grounding the body can "significantly" reduce cortisol levels and inflammation.
The modern lifestyle, with rubber-soled shoes, elevated beds, rubber-tired bikes
and cars, insulated homes and desk jobs indoors, has separated us from direct
contact with the "vast supply of electrons on the surface of the earth,"
according to a study by the Developmental and Cell Biology Department at the
University of California at Irvine.
The university's research suggests that "this disconnect may be a major
contributor to physiological changes and subjective reports of well being."
As Sandler explains it, humans are positively charged, and when we are not
connected to the earth, we experience a buildup of the positive charge in the
air around us, from all of the electrical equipment we use.
"That's why when you work at your computer, by mid-day our brains go crazy on
us," he says. "The cortisol levels have picked up to try to fight that and our
brains are sort of short circuiting."
He says people intuitively get it.
"We've all felt it," he says. "You feel it when you go into a shower, hot tub,
the ocean. You're draining that charge. We all know how good it is. We just
didn't know where it was coming from."
Kai Karah Madrone, of Boulder, is another advocate of earthing. Madrone has been
living barefoot as much as possible (99 percent of the time, weather permitting)
for the past four years. She doesn't wear shoes to work, at an entrepreneurial
startup in downtown Boulder. She knows which stores don't mind her lifestyle;
she owns a pair of thin sandals, just in case.
She also sleeps outside.
Four years ago when Madrone was hiking through a forest on the Oregon coast, she
says she felt an instinctive curiosity about what it would feel like if she took
her shoes off. She has barely put them back on since.
She knows it sounds strange, in today's society that is so insulated from the
earth. But now that she spends so much time barefoot, she says it feels strange
to put on socks and shoes. Earthing (although she only recently learned the
term) just feels so good, she says.
She says the ground feels like it's massaging her feet and legs when she walks.
Her feet feel free. And perhaps due to her different gait, or maybe it's the
electromagnetic interaction with the earth, she says, she now sleeps better, has
better posture, has noticeably improved circulation and has much stronger feet.
"If you would have told me this five years ago, I would have thought you were a
little out there; come on, it's just shoes," Madrone says. "But my experience
has been that this profound sense of letting my feet be naked is a more real and
honest life, this kind of bubbling up of natural joy. You see kids running
around barefoot and they're giddy. I get to feel that way every day."
A long list of studies published by the National Institutes reports the effects
of earthing on our bodies.
The studies have found that contact with the earth significantly reduces blood
viscosity, a major factor in cardiovascular disease; decreases cortisol levels;
delays the onset of muscle soreness; reduces perception of pain; reduces
inflammation and chronic stress; reduces the primary indicators of osteoporosis;
improves glucose regulation; improves immune response; and changes the pulse and
respiratory rates, blood oxygenation and even skin conductance. Emerging
evidence shows that grounding may profoundly affect chronic stress.
In other words, emerging evidence shows that one key to so many of our health
problems and chronic degenerative diseases is right below our feet -- along with
clean air and water, healthy food and exercise.
They call the earth a "global treatment table."
In one study by the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, as published in
the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine, nearly all
participants who grounded while sleeping reported reduced or eliminated sleep
dysfunction, pain and stress.
That might explain the growing popularity of "grounding sheets," cotton bed
sheets woven with a silver thread, which connect to the third port grounding
hole in your electrical outlet. A king-sized grounding sheet from Earthing.com
costs about $210.
You can also buy grounding pads and patches. Look soon for grounding sandals
with copper grommets on the bottom. Or just pick up some traditional Native
American moccasins; they understood this hundreds of years ago, Sandler says.
When the leather gets wet with sweat, it allows the charge to pass through.
Sandler sleeps with grounding sheets, he says. He also flips off the breaker
when he sleeps, to minimize the electricity flowing in the walls behind his
head. Not surprisingly, he keeps his cell phone as far away from his as possible
at all times -- although he does have one.
In fact, he grounded on the grass for 30 minutes before talking on it.
Even in the winter, he says he goes outside and lies on the snow to ground
before starting his day.
"Try it and you'll see a big difference," he says. "It's so humbling, just
connected to the earth."
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