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Earthing, or grounding, involves walking barefoot outside, and helps you sleep better, relieves relief, reduces inflammation and prevents heart disease, say practitioners. Photo: Shutterstock

What is earthing or grounding? How going barefoot could give you health benefits, from less inflammation to a healthier heart

  • On TikTok, the hashtag #earthing has more than 66 million views and #grounding has 199 million; here’s why going barefoot is grabbing attention
  • Rooted in Native American lore, earthing is said to reduce inflammation, improve sleep, relieve stress, prevent heart disease and improve mental health boost

Jeannie Sindicic remembers being just four or five years old when she would feel a sense of calm and belonging by simply planting her bare feet on the earth.

“I loved being barefoot. Anytime I was barefoot – walking on soil, walking on grass – it made me personally feel at a very young age very connected to Mother Earth,” she says.

She recalls how her grandmother would tell her anytime you’re barefoot on the ground you’re “vibrating with the natural frequency of the earth and the benefits of what that was”.

It wasn’t until much later that Sindicic, now an intuitive life coach based in the Midwest, learned the name for this practice: earthing. “We would call it grounding,” she says, another term people use for it today. And she is far from alone.

Earthing or grounding is based on the belief that the body absorbs electrons from the earth. Photo: Shutterstock

Earthing, or grounding, has likely existed in certain communities for generations even if there wasn’t an exact label for it. Now, thanks to an interest in natural healing and further discoveries in this area, the practice is gaining more attention.

On social media platforms like TikTok, the hashtag #earthing has more than 66 million views and #grounding has 199 million. The 2019 documentary The Earthing Movie: The Remarkable Science of Grounding has 4.6 million views on YouTube.

What exactly is ‘earthing’?

Clint Ober, author of Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?, says earthing has to do with the planet’s slight negative charge and abundance of free electrons.

“Anything that is conductive (like a ground rod, metal, a human body, an animal) that touches the earth, the body absorbs electrons from the earth and equalises with the earth.” These electrons are thought to be used by the body to help improve function and reduce inflammation, leading to myriad claims of health benefits.
Clint Ober, author of Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? and earthing expert, says earthing has to do with the Earth’s slight negative charge and abundance of free electrons. Photo: Clint Ober

While Ober is credited with “discovering” earthing and bringing it to the masses through his work, he acknowledges the act of connecting to the ground in this way is not something he necessarily invented.

Instead, he was inspired by his knowledge of electrical stability in the communications industry as a pioneer of the American cable TV industry and his childhood growing up near Native American communities.

He recalls one time being at the home of a Native American friend whose mother told them to take off their shoes.

“They’ll make you sick,” he recalls her saying, a concept that stuck with him as he later began thinking about the potential consequences of people no longer being naturally grounded to the Earth with the invention and use of rubber or synthetic soled shoes.

The cover of Clint Ober’s book.

According to an article shared on the American Academy of Arts and Sciences website, Sicangu and Oglala Lakota author and educator Luther Standing Bear, writing in the 1930s, noted: “The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a 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 bare feet on the sacred earth … The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing.”

What benefits can ‘earthing’ provide?

Once Ober started playing around with the idea of electrical charges in the home, body and ground, he started to note the “very apparent” effects he found, including improved sleep and reduced body pain.

Now 78, he says he stays grounded about 80 to 90 per cent of the time, through both outdoor grounding as well as tools he’s helped develop that allow people to ground from indoors through grounding rods, and says he doesn’t suffer from any inflammation-related health disorders.

What is barefoot running and why are people doing it?

There is plenty of research on the benefits nature can have on someone’s mental health, but less on earthing specifically, especially in terms of physical health.

In a study published in 2012, researchers found “emerging evidence shows that contact with the earth – whether being outside barefoot or indoors connected to grounded conductive systems – may be a simple, natural and yet profoundly effective environmental strategy against chronic stress, ANS [autonomic nervous system] dysfunction, inflammation, pain, poor sleep, disturbed HRV [heart rate variability], hypercoagulable blood, and many common health disorders, including cardiovascular disease”.

Critics argue there are too few studies and insufficient evidence to support these claims, pointing to a potential placebo effect that makes it difficult to validate from a scientific point of view.

Dr Michael Daignault, a doctor based in Los Angeles and medical columnist, says there is a lack of evidence, but that doesn’t disprove the earthing theory. Photo: Dr Michael Daignault

“Unfortunately, we probably won’t have the type of robust randomised-control trials on earthing that we would have for other medical and wellness interventions, but that doesn’t mean there’s no benefit,” says Dr Michael Daignault, an accident and emergency doctor based in Los Angeles and a medical columnist.

But for those like Sindicic who practise earthing, she tells sceptics to look at what the soil can provide for proof.

“Even vegetables are created in soil. Trees are created in soil, flowers, food, fruits … it’s important to recognise the power of soil, the power of connecting to nature and Earth.”

Trouble sleeping? In pain? Why walking barefoot on grass could help

Sindicic says she’s also experienced physical health benefits from grounding.

“Any of the electrons that come from Mother Earth are very healing, and it’s a really beautiful experience,” she says, adding she’s seen a reduction in swelling in her feet and ankles while earthing.

The metaphysical and spiritual effects, she says, are “through the roof”, and earthing was part of her own meditative emotional healing journey when she was younger.

Now it’s become embedded in her daily routine and helps with her mental health.

Just walk outdoors, take your shoes off and put your bare feet on the ground. And if you’re older … grab a chair and sit it in the backyard or even on the concrete patio
Clint Ober, author of Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?

“When I wake up in the morning … I’ll go outside with my dogs and I will walk on the grass. That’s how I begin my day,” she says.

“It may sound corny … (but) that’s a form of meditation to me. I can feel beneath my feet, the vibration of the earth and I feel very sound, I feel grounded. I feel like I can really start my day.”

Daignault says any time spent in nature will “pay dividends on your mental and physical health. There’s something inherently wellness-boosting about being outside.”

There’s nothing new about walking barefoot, but it wasn’t called ‘earthing’ or ‘grounding’ until recently. Photo: Shutterstock

Tips on giving ‘earthing’ a try

If you’re interested in exploring earthing, Sindicic suggests these simple steps:

  • Take your socks off.

  • Walk outside, even if it’s just on some soil or grass in your backyard.

  • Stand there for a moment and be quiet for three to 10 seconds.

  • Take three deep breaths from your solar plexus chakra, which is about five centimetres [two inches] above your belly button.

Detox at dawn: sunrise breathwork exercise group meets on Hong Kong hill

Sindicic also suggests earthing as a form of meditation or a launching pad for those who find it difficult to meditate.

Ober adds that it’s easy and free to give it a try, no matter who you are or how much time you have; he suggests at least 30 minutes a day.

“Just walk outdoors, take your shoes off and put your bare feet on the ground. And if you’re older and you have to sit, grab a chair and sit it in the backyard or even on the concrete patio,” he says. “You will notice all of that tension in your body release.”

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