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 favour 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 agonising 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.
“You learn a lot when you're barefoot. The first thing is every step you take is different.” - Michael Franti
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 Pallasmaa
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 overcomplicated what we need to be truly fulfilled. The answers to our fulfilment 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.