Up until my late twenties, I had a relatively superficial relationship with the outdoors. Sure I could enjoy views from a beautiful mountaintop, or bask in a pristine beach. But I’d certainly call BS hearing woo-woo new-agers talk about the healing properties of forest bathing, or the benefits of hugging a tree.
Yet over the past several years, I’ve had a number of experiences that radically changed my relationship with the Earth. I’ve received healing from plant medicines such as ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms. I’ve had famous herbalists like Stephen Harrod Buhner explain to me just how conscious plants are – how they have a sense of awareness, an ability to communicate, and long-term memory. I’ve also lived in the beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia surrounded by lush rice paddies and stunning beaches.
I’ve come away from these experiences realizing our culture may have accumulated a mountain of knowledge around the science of nature, but lack a great deal of wisdom around its healing power. One topic I’ve been particularly interested in as of late is that of Earthing (also referred to as grounding), which is the practice of connecting with the energy of the Earth to improve the functioning of your mind, body and spirit.
Had I heard that last sentence just a few years ago, I would have thought Earthing was simply hippie-dippie talk. Yet cultures such as the Lakota Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota have thousands of years of tradition tapping into the healing power of the Earth. The writer, educator, and Lakota tribal leader Ota Kte (famously known as Luther Standing Bear) once wrote about his elderly tribesman’s relationship to the ground:
“The old people came literally to love the soil. They sat on the ground with the feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the Earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with their bare feet on the sacred Earth. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing.”
Over the past 15 years, there’s been a growing body of studies that are beginning to confirm this ancient wisdom. We’re finding that Earthing can lead to:
- Reduced inflammation
- Better sleep
- Better mood
- Pain reduction
- More energy
- A better functioning immune system
- Calming an overstressed nervous system
These studies have lead to high-performance organizations such as the US Tour de France team turning to Earthing to accelerate healing and recovery during competition.
In this article, we’re going to explore the science and practice of Earthing. I’m going to share key findings I’ve discovered over the past few weeks obsessing over the practice, and insights I’ve received from Energy healers and grounding experts. After reading this article, you may realize that there’s more natural healing power in the ground beneath your feet than you may have realized.
The Major Benefit of Earthing: Reduced Inflammation
The major benefit you’ll read about Grounding is its uncanny ability to reduce inflammation, what many believe is at the root of many of our diseases – from Cardiovascular diseases, to Cancer, to Alzheimer’s, and more. To set a foundation, let’s briefly talk about what is inflammation, how it relates to diseases, and how grounding reduces it.
Inflammation (which comes from the Latin word inflammatio, meaning to set on fire), is a product of the immune system in an attempt to protect the body from damaged cells, irritants, and pathogens, and regenerate tissue. When your body detects a problem, white blood cells are sent to the site. Some of these white blood cells release a host of free radicals, which help to break down harmful microorganisms and damaged tissue.
Free radicals love electrons. In fact, they need one more to maintain their structure. They normally get these electrons from the pathogens and damaged tissue they are trying to destroy. In healthy bodies, excess free radicals are eventually neutralized by electrons and antioxidants in the body.
But what if the body doesn’t have enough electrons? These free radicals begin to encroach surrounding areas of the body, take electrons from them, and destroy the healthy cells in the process. The body begins to work against itself, and disease such as Cancer start to form.
In the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever!, its author paint an unnerving picture of how chronic inflammation affects us today. Inflammation is linked to more than eighty chronic illnesses (more than half of Americans suffer from one or more of them). Chronic inflammation cost the US economy more than $1 trillion annually. By the middle of the century, this number is set to reach $6 trillion.
If chronic inflammation is the common thread amongst most of our health (and economic) problems, wouldn’t it make sense to focus our attention on reducing it? Earthing is one of the few tools that’s been proven to do just that. How does this happen?
When rays from the sun approach the Earth’s atmosphere, they split into positive and negative ions which make up the Earth’s ionosphere (which is roughly 50 – 600 miles above the Earth’s atmosphere).
These negative ions are eventually transferred to the Earth through lightning. Negative ions flow through the earth, while positive ions stay in the Ionosphere. It’s in this way that many view Earth as a literal battery.
When we walk barefoot, free electrons are transferred from the Earth’s surface to our feet. These much-needed electrons begin to neutralize free radicals, which in turn reduces inflammation. And it all starts with connecting with the Earth:
“The Earth itself is the original anti-inflammatory. And the planet itself is the biggest electron donor on the planet.
What does this mean to you?
Just imagine a mighty unseen cavalry of free electrons, galloping up through your body from the Earth and mopping up outnumbered forces of inflammatory free radicals. Electron deficiency, created by a lack of grounding, is eliminated and a healing process unfolds.
The inflammation, sickness, and pain in your body are but a manifestation – in large part or small – of an electron deficiency.
The remedy is as close as the Earth you live on.” 1
These findings aren’t coming from the new-age, woo-woo community either. There’s a growing body of scientific evidence verifying the benefits of Earthing. Down below you can read some of the biggest findings the scientific community has discovered over the past two decades.
Other Evidence-Backed Benefits of Earthing
Lowered Cortisol Levels – The first pilot study on earthing recruited twelve subjects all suffering from sleep dysfunction, pain, and stress. For an eight week trial, participants slept on a bed with a conductive mattress pad. Daily cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone) were measured before and three quarters into the study. Results showed the grounding reduced night time levels of cortisol and resynchronizes cortisol secretion better aligned with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. 2
Better Sleep – In the study just mentioned participants’ melatonin levels (a hormone that helps regulate sleep) were also tracked. Eight out of the twelve participants showed an increase in melatonin levels (ranging from 2 to 16%).
Faster Recovery – Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is common after physically exerting the body past its normal limits. A 2010 study wanted to see if grounding could affect recovery of DOMS and acute inflammation. Eight subjects were asked to carry out an intense exercise that would cause DOMS in both legs. Those that were grounded reported feeling less pain, less muscle soreness, and showed significantly higher levels of white blood cell count. 3
Greater Nervous System Function – A 2003 study by Gaétan Chevalier and Kazuhito Mori at the California Institute for Human Science investigated the effects of grounding on nervous system function. The randomized, double-blind study recruited 58 healthy adults. Half of the participants were placed conductive adhesive electrode patches on their feet connected to a ground rod (the other half received a sham). The grounded group showed a decrease in brainwave frequencies (especially on the left hemisphere associated with thinking). The grounded group also showed normalized levels of muscle tension. 4
Energizing of Major Acupuncture Points – In ancient Chinese medicine, there is a well-known acupuncture point on the foot called kidney 1 (K1). When our feet touch the Earth, this K1 point becomes a major entryway for the absorption of what the Chinese traditionally refer to as Qi (or vital energy). This K1 channel connects with an important point called the urinary bladder (UB) meridian, which connects to the body’s major organs such as the liver, diaphragm, lungs, and brain. The same 2003 study just mentioned placed grounded electrodes in this K1 point. Results found that grounding showed reduced inflammation and energized internal organs.
Reduction in Blood Viscosity (a predictor of cardiovascular disease) – Blood viscosity measures the thickness and stickiness of an individual’s blood. Elevated levels of blood viscosity is an early predictor of cardiovascular disease. A 2013 study recruited 10 adults, placing grounded conductive patches on their feet and hands. The results showed that grounding reduces blood viscosity. Researchers concluded, “Grounding appears to be one of the simplest and yet most profound interventions for helping reduce cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular events.” 5
Increased Vagal Tone – The vagus nerve powers our body’s parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for our “rest and digest response” and calming our body down). Low vagal tone is associated with high levels of stress and increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in preterm infants. Researchers found that connecting infants to an electrical ground increased vagal tone by 67%, concluding that grounding may improve resilience to stress. 6
Immediate Effects – Dr. Gaetan Chevalier, the Research Director at Psy-Tek Laboratories, conducted a study to measure the speed at which grounding can positively affect the body. Twenty-seven healthy adults were grounded with electrode patches on their feet and hands. Within seconds, participants had an immediate reduction in skin conductance (which is an indicator of the parasympathetic calming response). Within about twenty minutes, they showed an increase in respiration rate and stabilization of blood oxygenation. 7 Another study conducted in 2015 by Dr. Chevalier found that one-hour contact with the Earth’s surface improves inflammation and blood flow. 8
Why We’re Disconnected From The Earth
If the simple act of placing our feet on the ground can prevent inflammation and lead to all the benefits you just read about, then why are diseases like Cancer and cardiovascular disease at an all-time high?
In no other point in history, are humans more disconnected from the planet. From a cultural sense, we’ve been on a trajectory away from nature since the 1950’s. An interesting 2017 study by The University of California Berkeley chose 186 nature-related words (e.g. cloud, lack, moonlight, humminbird, willow) and checked for their frequency in books, songs, and movies from anywhere from 1901 until 2014. They found that nature-related words have been on a steady decline since the 1950s. 9
The explosion of the athletic shoe industry is another culprit for our growing disconnect with nature. The soles of the foot are made up of 1,300 nerve endings per square inch, all ready to soak up electrons from the ground. That’s more than any other area of the body with a comparable size.
Pre World-War II, leather soled shoes were the norm, which acted as an excellent conductor of electricity. Around the 1950’s and 60’s, materials like rubber, plastic, and synthetic soles entered the shoe market. As we began enjoying the comforts of the modern sneaker, we began isolating ourselves from any of the Earth’s vital energy.
Earthing, The Most Important Health Discovery Ever! shows an interesting connection between the growth of the synthetic-show industry and Diabetes:
As you can see from the diagram, not only are shoes possible culprits of our disconnection to nature, technology like computers, internet, and television increasingly keep most indoors. According to a survey by National Trust, children spend only have as much time playing outside as their parents did as kids. A survey by the marketing firm DJ Case and Associates found that over half of American adults spend 5 hours or fewer in nature each week. Over three-quarters spend 10 hours or fewer. With emerging technology such as Virtual Reality and Artificial Reality on the cusp of worldwide adoption, these numbers may continue to worsen.
How To Connect With The Earth
So how do you break away from society’s growing indoor living trend and connect with the Earth?
Walk Barefoot On The Earth
The best and easiest method is simply standing (or walking) barefoot on the Earth as much as you can – whether that’s taking your shoes off when you walk your dog at the park, eating more meals sitting outdoors, or even standing barefoot on your front yard for a few minutes each day.
After living in Bali for the past several years, I’ve made a point to spend a good hour or two walking barefoot on the beach. Coming from the cold, indoor-dominated city of Chicago, I can wholeheartedly say I’ve now seen clear benefits like better sleep, more energy, and better mood.
If you live in a big city, it may be difficult to find pockets of time to connect with nature. If that’s the case, your next best alternative is to use Earthing products such as grounded bed mats, or body bands. These products are connected by a wire to a ground rod placed directly into the Earth.
Alternatively, these products can also be plugged directly into a grounded electrical outlet indoors. These products are excellent conductors of the Earth’s energy and offer the same benefits you’d get standing directly on the ground outdoors.
I recommend going with the products from Earthing.com. I have their Universal Mat Kit (which comes with a 1 foot by 3-foot grounding mat). I generally place the mat underneath my desk to allow my feet to get grounded while I work.
If the Earthing mat isn’t your jam, the company offers other Earthing products including:
- Plush pads
- Sleep pads
- Body bands
If you’d like to have more of an intentional grounding experience, you can practice certain grounding meditation. Shamini Jain has an excellent grounding meditation you can find here. I recently sat down with energy healer Marci Baron who shared a beautiful grounding meditation:
“I go outside. I put my feet on the Earth and just breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. I call up the energy through my feet, so that I’m connecting with this energy and bringing it up. As I take a deep inhale, I’m bringing the energy from the Earth all the way up to my crown [chakra], and I envision my crown opening up. Then I send the energy back on the exhale out through my feet. It becomes a mindful meditation through the Earth’s energy. It’s breathing in this beautiful healing energy, which is available to all of us.”
- Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever!
- Down To Earth (documentary)
- Grounded (documentary)
- Grounding Meditation by Shamini Jain, PhD
- Society for Barefoot Living FB Group
- Ober, Clinton, et al. Earthing: the Most Important Health Discovery Ever? Read How You Want, 2014.
- Ghaly, Maurice, and Dale Teplitz. “The biologic effects of grounding the human body during sleep as measured by cortisol levels and subjective reporting of sleep, pain, and stress.” Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine10.5 (2004): 767-776.
- Brown, Dick, Gaétan Chevalier, and Michael Hill. “Pilot study on the effect of grounding on delayed-onset muscle soreness.” The Journal of Alternative and complementary Medicine 16.3 (2010): 265-273.
- Chevalier, Gaétan, Kazuhito Mori, and James L. Oschman. “The effect of earthing (grounding) on human physiology.” European Biology and Bioelectromagnetics 2.1 (2006): 600-621.
- Chevalier, Gaétan, et al. “Earthing (grounding) the human body reduces blood viscosity—a major factor in cardiovascular disease.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 19.2 (2013): 102-110.
- Passi, Rohit, et al. “Electrical grounding improves vagal tone in preterm infants.” Neonatology 112.2 (2017): 187-192.
- Sokal, Karol, and Pawel Sokal. “Earthing the human body influences physiologic processes.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 17.4 (2011): 301-308.
- Chevalier, Gaétan, Gregory Melvin, and Tiffany Barsotti. “One-hour contact with the Earth’s surface (grounding) improves inflammation and blood flow—A randomized, double-blind, pilot study.” Health 7.08 (2015): 1022.
- Kesebir, Selin, and Pelin Kesebir. “A growing disconnection from nature is evident in cultural products.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 12.2 (2017): 258-269.