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Hippies are known for being happy and chill, and for running around barefoot. Emerging research suggests they’re onto something, too (no, not on something).
Turns out, kicking off your shoes and literally connecting with Mother Earth has health benefits, such as boosting immunity, regulating sleep, and reducing stress. Far out!
Grounding, also known as earthing, is when humans make an electrical connection to the earth’s energies. The simplest form involves walking barefoot in the grass, dirt, or sand.
Some people take a more technical approach using grounding matts and other devices. More on that in a second.
As radical as it seems, grounding is simple science. Humans are bioelectrical beings that carry a positive charge, which can build up in our bodies.
Earth has a negative charge. When we make contact through grounding, we discharge our excess energy, producing a healing effect at the cellular level. Duuude.
So put on your flower crown and let’s dig a little deeper…
There isn’t a huge vault of studies on grounding (yet), but the research that exists shows a measurable improvement in blood chemistry, pain, immune response, and inflammation after short periods of skin-to-earth connection.
One research review suggests the earth is a living matrix with a central connection to all living cells.
This matrix is held together by electrical conductivity, which acts as an immune system defense (sort of like antioxidants). The body restores its natural defenses by connecting to the matrix through grounding.
In another smaller study exploring how grounding affects heart health, 10 healthy volunteers had grounding patches placed on their hands and feet. Blood measurements were taken before and after grounding to detect changes in red blood cell fluidity.
The conclusion showed a major decrease in blood cell clumping after grounding, which indicates the practice is beneficial to heart health.
Grounding has also been studied for its pain-relieving abilities. One study used grounding patches and mats to understand how grounding affects post-exercise muscle damage.
Researchers measured creatine kinase, white blood cell counts, and pain levels, before and after grounding. The resulting blood analysis demonstrated that grounding reduced muscle damage and pain, indicating it had an influence on the body’s ability to heal.
Another more recent study further examined the pain relief and mood boosting properties of grounding. This study looked at 16 massage therapists who rotated between periods of grounding and no grounding.
Due to their physically demanding jobs, they’d all complained of chronic pain and physical and emotional stress. After receiving grounding therapy, all participants reported a decrease in pain, stress, depression, and fatigue.
Many of these studies are small and rely on anecdotal evidence, although many also include measurable blood markers. More research is needed overall, but the results look very promising.
And there’s really no downside to connecting with Mother Earth. (Just watch out for broken glass underfoot!)
Choose your own adventure when it comes to connecting with the Earth. Here are some popular approaches to consider.
When was the last time you laid on the ground? If the last time was in childhood, it’s time to get back to your roots.
Get that skin-to-earth connection by laying in a wide space like a picnic area at a park or in the sand at the beach. Or, next time you’re doing yoga, try going outside and including a little savasana on the earth rather than on your mat.
Walking barefoot is the easiest way to have a skin-to-earth connection and wake up your senses. Savor the feeling of soft grass tickling your feet. Find a patch of dry, sun-warmed dirt and enjoy the sensation.
If you’re near a beach, dig your toes in the sand. Keep in mind, If you aren’t used to walking barefoot, your feet may be tender. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for stray rocks (or bees, if you’ve had that unpleasant childhood experience).
Embrace your inner mermaid
If you’re more of a beach babe, this one’s for you. Swimming in oceans, lakes, or rivers (safe ones sans rapids, obviously) are perfect ways to ground yourself. Feel the cool water, soft sand, and even slimy rocks or smooth river stones to feel more connected to the Earth.
Equipment for rainy days
While snow or rain wouldn’t phase a die-hard hippie, most of us save our earth child urges for good weather.
When the ground is frozen or muddy, there are indoor alternatives to consider like grounding mats, sheets, blankets, bands, patches, and even cozy socks that are designed to allow you to ground from the cozy comfort of your couch or the convenience of your office.
Aside from the general risk of stubbing your toe or swimming in murky waters, grounding naturally is a very safe and enjoyable activity.
Using a grounding device poses a small risk of electrical shock if used incorrectly. Make sure to read your device instructions and follow them carefully.
Mental health therapies often include grounding techniques to calm distressing thoughts. Here are some hands-on approaches to emotional grounding by engaging your senses.
- Dish it out. Convert the never-ending task of dishwashing into a grounding exercise and finally answer the age-old question: is water wet? Focus on the temperature of the water. Do all parts of your hand feel the same degree of warmth? Notice the contrast of the cold rinse water. Think of all the ways water purifies and heals the body and soul.
- Touchy feely. Hold and touch items near you and challenge yourself to think deeply about their texture, weight, and temperature. Take a pencil and roll it between pinched fingertips. Tap into your inner thesaurus and find words to describe the sensations, being very specific. Is the pencil dainty? Does it feel slick? Is the eraser buoyant?
- Breathe, baby breathe. For an instant dose of calm, bring your attention to your breath, noticing your regular breathing pattern. Then inhale deeply, filling your belly and lungs. Hold for a few seconds, then let it out.
Try these mental grounding exercises to ease distressing thoughts and feelings.
- Memories. Look at a picture or piece of artwork. Close your eyes and try to remember as much detail as you can about it.
- Categories. Like the drinking game but without the “think fast” mentality. Pick a category like “dog breeds,” “Leonardo DiCaprio movies,” or “avocado recipes” and try to name as many things in that category as you can.
- Math. You’re never too old to practice your times table. Recalling basic math facts is a simple way to ease anxious thoughts and exercise your brain. Bonus points if you’re bad at math due to the need for even slower concentration. Other ways to use math include counting down from 100 or choosing a number and thinking of 5 ways to make that number. For example 12 + 7 = 19, 24 – 5 = 19, 8 + 11 = 19, 9 + 10 = 19, 100 – 81=19.
- Sing-a-longs. Do you still know all the words to your favorite song from Disney’s “Aladdin”? Do you have a specific Harry Potter quote or passage memorized? Or does your toddler sing “Baby Shark” over and over again? (that may be a counterproductive one.) Reciting a song, poem, or passage is a great way to ground yourself in the current moment.
- Laugh. A fit of giggles, a full-on belly laugh, or just a chuckle are all great mood boosters. Read some dad jokes, watch a baby-eating-a-lemon video, or whatever makes you smile. Find joy in the little things.
- What’s your mantra? In action movies there’s often a character who summarizes their life in a succinct way, like… “My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. I live in District 12.” It’s a storytelling strategy to ground that character from the anxiety of their situation. You can do it for yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Feeling overwhelmed? Try these exercises if you’re in need of comfort.
- Who do you love? Imagine someone positive in your life or even someone you admire. Picture their face and hear their voice telling you that although this moment is challenging, you will get through it.
- Love yo’ self. What would you say to a friend who was feeling the same way you are now? Try saying the same phrases, like “you’re strong,” “you can get through this,” and “I believe in you.” Say it like you mean it! We also love this guided meditation on writing a letter of self-compassion to yourself, led by Elizabeth Gilbert.
- Pet your pet. There’s a reason why we have emotional therapy dogs! Animals don’t judge you for being sad or moody. Give them a cuddle, a belly rub or just a knowing pat on the head. They got you.
- These are a few of my favorite things. Make a mental or journaled list of your favorite things. What are your favorite foods and why? Flowers? Songs? Animals? Books? People?
- Your happy place. Use all of your senses to visualize the feeling of being in your favorite place. Maybe a childhood fort, your kitchen, or a foreign city you love to visit. Imagine the colors, sounds, and sensations. Bring it to life in your mind.
- Get a grip. Touching something that feels good can bring you a sense of comfort and security. Put on something soft and snuggly, like a favorite sweater, scarf, or cozy socks. Let the softness of the fabric bring you a sense of safety and comfort.
- Listen to music. Put on your favorite song, but pretend you’re listening to it for the first time. Focus on the melody and lyrics. Does the song give you chills or create any other physical sensations? Pay attention to the parts that stand out most to you. Feel the music move you. Let emotions come up and out, don’t stuff them in.
- Mindful meals. Many of us are in the habit of shoveling food in our mouth while staring at our phones or other screen. To start, put down your phone, your to-do list, and your busy thoughts, and simply focus on your food. Before digging in, take a nice whiff to embrace all the amazing smells. Then take a small bite, put your fork down, and allow yourself to chew thoroughly, noticing all the textures and flavors. Repeat.
- Step-by-step: Feel how the earth is there to meet you at each step, notice how your foot feels on the ground and how it peels up off of it. Notice the rhythm of your steps, maybe even count how many you take.
Grounding yourself through centering is subtle therapy. Unlike a prescription med, it takes time and consistency. However, the results are organic and empowering with no side effects, so don’t give up after the first try. Keep those self-empowering mantras close (You can do it! You got this!)
It’s kind of amazing that simply walking the earth barefoot can have so many health benefits. In years past, our ancestors did this out of necessity. These days we have to make a concentrated effort (thanks, shoes).
Kick off those shoes, take a deep breath, and repeat: “I have the power!