Windham Life and Times – August 6, 2021

Barefoot & Free: Shoeless Summers and Healthy Grounding

Teddy Dooley with mom and brother at my grandfather’s tents. My barefooted Dad and me.

So I was talking over the weekend with Teddy Dooley, somebody who has enjoyed summers on Cobbett’s Pond longer than I have. Out of the blue, the remembrance of the summer sojourn of bare footedness, of our childhood was discussed. He mentioned there was always a bet among his friends about who would be forced to return to shoe footedness first.  You see, for us, the end of school meant the end of shoes! What state of being could be more glorious than having your feet freed from their leather or canvass prisons. Whenever, I am home in the summer, even now, my first act is to ditch the shoes. So as the end of August approaches…the dreaded foot manacles are waiting to return to the well shod feet of both children and adults. Maybe we should reconsider the intuitive sense of children, to live our lives free and for a few moments barefooted.

    Well, it seems that there is more to the story, and that bare footedness, may actually be a very healthy state in which to live. For all of you who are rolling your eyes, none other than the liberal bastion as the Washington Posts supports this very idea in an article published in 2018. Its called “grounding,” and apparently it has positive effects on heath and wellness.

     “I was intrigued when a colleague recently recommended a mutual patient — seeing her for stress management and me for nutritional advice — experiment with walking barefoot in the grass for a short time each day. A few weeks later, I stumbled across an article that gave a name to that practice — grounding. The idea behind grounding, also called earthing, is humans evolved in direct contact with the Earth’s subtle electric charge, but have lost that sustained connection thanks to inventions such as buildings, furniture and shoes with insulated synthetic soles.”

     “Advocates of grounding say this disconnect might be contributing to the chronic diseases that are particularly prevalent in industrialized societies. There is actually some science behind this. Research has shown barefoot contact with the earth can produce nearly instant changes in a variety of physiological measures, helping improve sleep, reduce pain, decrease muscle tension and lower stress.”

    “There are many reasons connecting with nature is good for mind and body, but electricity probably is not one you have considered. If you think back to the last time you took a science class, you may remember that everything, including humans, is made up of atoms. These microscopic particles contain equal numbers of negatively charged electrons, which come in pairs, and positively charged protons, so an atom is neutral — unless it loses an electron. When an atom has an unpaired electron, it becomes a “free radical” with a positive charge, capable of damaging our cells and contributing to chronic inflammation, cancer and other diseases. In this case, ‘positive’ is not a good thing. One reason direct physical contact with the ground might have beneficial physiological effects is the earth’s surface has a negative charge and is constantly generating electrons that could neutralize free radicals, acting as antioxidants. You may think of antioxidants as coming from food, and indeed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other foods that provide beta-carotene, selenium, lutein, lycopene and vitamins A, C and E helps prevent cellular damage from free radicals. Still, it is interesting that we may be able to get them directly from the earth, too. Research also suggests physical contact with the Earth’s surface can help regulate our autonomic nervous system and keep our circadian rhythms — which regulate body temperature, hormone secretion, digestion and blood pressure, among other things — synchronized with the day/night cycle. Desynchronization of our internal clocks has been linked to a number of health problems, as evidenced by research on shift workers. The key may be the impact on the vagus nerve. This is the largest nerve of the autonomic nervous system — extending from the brain to the colon — and plays a key role in heart, lung and digestive function. Strong vagal tone helps you relax faster after experiencing stress, while weak vagal tone is associated with chronic inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, is associated with a number of chronic diseases — including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. Vagal tone is often assessed by measuring the variation in your heart rate when you breathe in and out, and in one study, grounding was shown to improve heart rate variability and thus vagal tone in preterm infants. In another small study of adults, one two-hour session of grounding reduced inflammation and improved blood flow.”

     According to the blog, “The body is composed primarily of water and minerals, making it a great conductor of electricity. When we come into direct contact with the earth—our soles pressed into the soil, bodies pressed against the grass, fingers weaving through particles of sand—the free electrons on the earth’s surface are absorbed into the body. This energy travels through your energy field and chakras, balancing the body. The bottoms of the feet have long been considered maps of the rest of the body, so by grounding through the feet, we are simultaneously allowing currents of rejuvenating charges to power our vital organs and synchronize the systems of the body. Electrons are also likened to antioxidants in their ability to reduce inflammation and stimulate red blood cell circulation. Your body produces and uses electrical energy all the time, but when it receives extra electrons from an outside source (like the earth!), it is able to cleanse, repair, and return to its optimal state more efficiently.”

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