Going Barefoot Realigns your Body’s Energy System

Going Barefoot Realigns your Body’s Energy System

getting-your-feet-dirty

As adults we seldom find ourselves barefoot in nature. Shoes are no longer simply used for utility, but now a fashion statement to be worn everywhere and to be shown off. As a result, most of us can’t walk very far barefoot before it begins to hurt. In other words our feet have become accustomed to being locked up inside a silent padded cushioned room.

This insanity continues to our children, where often their feet are constantly locked up in shoe jail. It’s sad to see so many kids not being allowed to immerse in the simple joy of splashing barefoot in the mud. Although for another article, their are negative consequences to kids wearing shoes all of the time. Toddlers for instance tend to keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot. As such, they rely on the feedback from the floor and with less looking down at their feet (as they typically would with shoes on), they are less off balance, and don’t fall as often. In addition walking barefoot strengthens the muscles and ligaments of the foot, increasing the strength of the foot’s arch, while improving proprioception (the awareness of where our body is in space), as well as contributing to overall good posture.

Getting Back to Earth

But even if you not a fan of walking barefoot everywhere, the simply act of spending 20-minutes a day with your shoes off connected to natural ground (i.e., outside in your garden, on a beach, even rocks) can be hugely beneficial to your health. Before I get to that, let me tell you how I began taking my shoes off regularly and spending some part of each day walking bare feet connected to the natural world.

In early 2020 I ruptured my Achilles tendon. I think it had been coming on for some time as I had felt it from time to time on the mat whilst practicing jiu-jitsu. But as we often do, I ignored the warning signals from my body in favor of performance. Guess how it finally decided to give way? Running to the gate to catch a flight I was sure I would miss. At least if I gained my injury on the jiu-jitsu mat I could have claimed it as a battle scare. But nevertheless, as a result of my Achilles rupture I found it difficult to walk, run, climb stairs or stand on tiptoes for months. I was in agonizing pain.



As I tried different rehab options, the simple act of walking barefoot in nature seemed to have the most benefit. Part of this was that with no shoes I had to be extra aware of how I was placing that next step. Rather than walking simply as routine as we often do, going barefoot ensures you make every step intentional. As I was reading around why walking barefoot had been so beneficial to my recovery, I came across the concept known as ‘earthing’. Earthing is when you intentionally come into direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth. The best way to achieve this is to get off manmade surfaces, go off into nature, and you guessed it: take your shoes off.

Backed By Research

At first I thought this was a little ‘blue light’. But as I began to dig deeper into the topic, I found that there was increasing number of studies showing how earthing or sometimes known as ‘grounding’ is beneficial to the human animal. As Chevalier et al. (2012) notes:

“Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems.”



Further, and crucial to the health of my Achilles, by earthing to the primordial flow of Earth’s electrons it improved both my body’s immune and inflammatory responses. In addition it also helped me sleep better. All of which have been shown to be natural benefits of spending time barefoot connected to the natural world. You don’t always have to be barefoot though, you can also achieve the same results by lying on the ground, submersed in water like the ocean, or through various grounding equipment now available on the market. For example: I have a grounding sheet that I sleep on at night.

“Gravity is measured by the bottom of the foot; we trace the density and texture of the ground through our soles. Standing barefoot on a smooth glacial rock by the sea at sunset, and sensing the warmth of the sun-heated stone through one’s soles, is an extraordinarily healing experience, making one part of the eternal cycle of nature. One senses the slow breathing of the earth.”

– Juhani Pallasma

Obviously earthing isn’t the cure to all ailments, but as I have learned, one needs to add it to other natural healing protocols. For example, outside of earthing daily, I also ensure that I walk in woodlands among trees a few times a week (I wrote about the health benefits of spending time with trees HERE). 



What excites me most about improving my health, mindset and emotional wellbeing in nature is that there are no side effects as I would encounter when taking medication. It’s also free and it’s simple. These simple methods of improving human flourishing is what I am most passionate about. I personally feel we have widely over complicated what we need to be truly fulfilled. The answers to our fulfillment has always been there if we take the time to look, and often our hunter gatherer ancestors already knew the best ways to achieve optimal flourishing. This is why I am an advocate of going back and unlocking what I call our ‘Instinct Code’. It’s time to return, as best we can to the wisdom of the natural world and to rewild the human animal.

Going barefoot is the gentlest way of walking and can symbolise a way of living – being authentic, vulnerable, sensitive to our surroundings. It’s the feeling of enjoying warm sand beneath our toes, or carefully making our way over sharp rocks in the darkness. It’s a way of living that has the lightest impact, removing the barrier between us and nature.

— Adele Coombs, Barefoot Dreaming

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Why Hugging a Tree is Good for Your Health

Why Hugging a Tree is Good for Your Health

tree-huggers
The official definition of a ‘Tree Hugger’ is that of an environmental campaigner and the practice of embracing a tree in an attempt to prevent it from being felled. But more generally it is often used as a derogatory slang term to ridicule anyone who seeks fulfillment outside of the modern, civilized world. You know, those Hippies! Well, I will confess I am an unashamed Hippie in the making. But before I get to why we have the whole ‘Tree Hugging’ idea completely wrong, I want to briefly tell you how I got to hugging trees myself. It all begins with surviving one of the worst storms of my life.

Surviving Being Shipwrecked

You see, at the end of 2018 after suffering years of depression, along with the fall out and struggles I had been having with cervical degenerative disc disease (the Cervicogenic headaches are the worst) I was at my wits end. After being honest with myself that I wasn’t winning the battle against my depression — in fact just finally acknowledging that I was depressed to begin with — I began my healing journey. First this took the shape of the typical approach to getting better, seeking out the right medical professionals and therapists. By mid 2019 and thanks to the right medication I was able to function somewhat better. Even though things were better it was a little to late in respect to my marriage. Even though we now knew why I had been struggling for the past several years, the damage was done, and my now ex-wife asked for a divorce. I was devastated. A two decade relationship, with two amazing boys had come to an end. However, I wasn’t going to let this bump in the road derail my journey back to health, so I made the most difficult decision of my life: I had to leave my boys in South Africa and go in search for a way back to myself. I also realised that if I wanted to keep the lifestyle my boys had become accustomed too, I needed to head out to greener pastures. You see, my boys have had a life so different to my own childhood. My kids live in a great neighbourhood in Johannesburg, and go to private schools. I on the other hand barely survived government housing, near poverty, bullying, gangs on the street, and an abusive alcoholic Mother. I vowed when I had my boys I would do what ever I could to ensure they never had to endure the trauma I had as a child.

New Wind in My Sails

So off I went. First to Thailand, where my good friend and owner of Tree Roots Retreat Aaron graciously offered me a place to stay during my healing journey. This was the first stage of embodying my inner Hippie. For the first time in the longest time, I found myself consistently embedded in the natural world. Tree Roots Retreat is in Rayong, a couple of hours drive from Bangkok, nestled in a small fishing village. The retreats borders are surrounded by wild jungles, and it’s within walking distance to the beach. The whole experience of being there is so far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. As each week went by, I walked everywhere barefoot, taking in the natural world through all my senses, and was feeling better for it.

Sailing into a New Port

In the beginning of 2020 I was back on the road again teaching martial arts. The bills had to be paid after all. I then found myself on the Isle of Man during some down time visiting my partner. Out of nowhere Covid hit, and I was stranded on the island, unable to travel and get back to Thailand. The Isle of Man is yet another beautiful part of the world, surrounded by natural wonders. High cliffs, beautiful glens, rolling green sheep filled hills and shingle beaches. Again, and in part because of my partners love of nature, and that I didn’t have much else to do, we found ourselves mostly outdoors. It was summer too, which made going out even more accessible. We went to every corner of the island, visiting Celtic and Viking ruins, walking in the country side, snorkeling in the sea, and absorbing every aspect of the beautiful glens. As each day passed, I felt my anxiety, something I had been overtaken by for the longest time slowly melt away. Mentally I continued to feel better too.

As the consummate researcher that I am, I began to delve into what science had to say about the natural world and its connection to improving the health of the human animal. I have always known intuitively that being in nature is good for you, and as most of us report, I have always felt better for my time outdoors. In fact, it was the only time I ever felt happy as a kid, spending school holidays at my Aunt’s small holding in the African bush. I was surprised to find that over the past while science had caught up to those intuitions. Rather than it simply being ‘old wives tales’ now research was convincingly showing how incredibly important it was for each of us to reconnect with our ancient roots, the natural world. As I noted in a previous article on this blog, Grounding the Embodied Warrior experience, if we measured all of the recorded history of planet Earth on a timeline of a year, what we consider the modern world accounts for 1-second. For the rest of our time as human animals on this planet we lived and were deeply connected to the natural world.

Back To Hugging Trees

Let’s return to those tree huggers. It turns out that we have a symbiotic relationship with trees, much like we do with the rest of the natural world. For example when you are walking among trees in a forest you are literally bathing and breathing in terpenes which they release. Terpenes which are the largest group of phytochemicals is bioactive plant matter found in forest air. Researchers have now found that terpenes strengthen important aspects of the human immune system. For example a day spent in the woods results in 40 percent increase in natural killer cells responsible for rendering viruses in the body harmless in a person’s blood.

It turns out that the limbic system in our brain also decodes and responds to terpenes, and in turn releases neurotransmitters and hormones that benefit our health. Terpenes also promote the formation of endogenous substances that protect the heart. In addition a walk in a forest leads to a significant increase in a substance called dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). DHEA has shown to be therapeutically effective against the severe form of depression called major depressive disorder. Time in nature has also shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is part of our autonomic nervous system designed to help us find internal balance, calming us down, and key to surviving unhealthy stress.

Here’s another interesting fact: tree bark is actually one of the richest sources of terpenes. So maybe those ‘Tree Huggers’ are not so nuts after all.

We Are The World

What fascinates me about all of this is that tree terpenes, as are many other plant substances not new to our bodies. In other words our bodies know what to do with them. It is clear then that we have as human animals not evolved separate to this planet, but along with it in such a way that we are able to interact with the network of life. As such we are co-evolved. It’s no surprise then that my time in nature had such a profound positive effect on my entire body and my overall health. I had in a real sense come home. I had rewilded myself, while allowing my instinct code to unlock once more. These experiences, along with my movement practice, breath work, inner state training, psychological work, and mindfulness practice forms an integral part of the Human Animal Retreat I have created. 


Looking for Fulfillment in the Wrong Place


Its become clear to me that often our hopes for fulfillment and flourishing is left as prayers on the alter of modernity. We now have people speaking about merging our selves with machines and artificial intelligence. The age of the cyborg is no longer a fantasy. I am of the belief that no amount of more technology in any of its guises and uses will ever answer our constant desire to be happy. Its clear from those around us that more affluence, comfort, technology, advances in medicine and the psychological sciences outside of making life somewhat easier, hasn’t become the gods of happiness we once thought they would. People seem more unhappier than ever and there is a meaning crisis all around us.

Maybe we have been looking for the answers to our happiness in all the wrong places. Maybe its right in front of us, right there all along and our ancestors were privy to this knowledge. While its not possible for most of us in the modern world to live like our ancestors once did, we can purposively reengage with the world as they once did, and in doing so open the door unlocking our instinct code. We need to rewild ourselves in the ways of our ancestors.

To this end I am taking on a new research and academic journey where I will be studying how we can bring the natural world back into our modern lives in such a way that we can all find the fulfillment we so desperately seek. And yes this includes hugging an occasional tree.

Interested in joining me?

Find out more about my The Human Animal Retreat  in Thailand.

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