Sunday, April 22nd is Earth Day. Fun fact! Did you know that when you stand barefoot on natural ground, there is an electron transfer between your body, via the soles of your feet, and the earth?
This scientific phenomena is called “grounding,” sometimes also referred to as “earthing.” Wearing shoes, which are rubber-soled and not conductive, prevents this natural process from occurring as we go about our day. So, for Earth Day, get a little adventurous (or out there) with us and try some grounding!
- Find some natural ground – i.e. not covered in cement or pavement. Grass will work, so will dirt, rocks, logs, etc. You can go to a natural area such as your local park, step out into your backyard, or just find any patch of ground in between the concrete jungle…
- Take off your shoes!
- Stand on the ground. That’s it, you’re grounding!
You could stand there and do nothing for 10 minutes and the process of grounding would take place. According to those who study this phenomena, grounding can improve your mental clarity, your quality of sleep, increase your energy, and for some lessen chronic health condition. However, I’m a movement person, and as much as I love some time outside in my bare feet, I’m probably not going to just stand there for ten whole minutes! So, while you’re out there, here’s some kinesthetically-focused information to think on:
The bottoms of our feet are rick with sensory neurons which, when functioning well, provide feedback to our brains on our environment. Our brains take in this information about our environment and use it to affect our motor control and balance. The way our feet feel the surfaces we stand on affects how we load our knees, hips, and back, and how the muscles which affect our knees, hips, and back engage. Feet which are “sensory deprived” may not give the necessary info up the chain, resulting in poor balance or gait mechanics (how we walk).
In the Pilates studio, we take off our shoes, roll our feet on pinky balls, and balance on spiky domes — all activities which help to “wake up” and stimulate the sensory neurons in our feet. These “awake” feet are then able to better sense the ground underneath them, adapt their shape to the ground, and thus inform the knee, hip, and back how to adapt to keep you safe, balanced and happily walking along, all without you having to stop or consider all the work your feet are doing.
To further appreciate how our brains use sensory information to affect our motor control, let’s consider the hands, an area we’re more used to thinking about in terms of fine motor control. Imagine reaching deep into a bag to find your phone. If you’re like me, you’ve got a lot of stuff other than the phone in there, and your fingers brush against your water bottle, a notebook, a pack of gum, some old receipts, and whatever else. With just a light brush, your fingers are able to determine within milliseconds “not the phone,” and within a few seconds find the object they’ve been searching for.
Now imagine reaching into your bag to find your phone while wearing thick mittens. The mittens would mute your hands’ sensory awareness, and it would probably take much longer to find your phone – or you may have to recruit other senses, such as your eyes. Remember that the process of “feeling the ground beneath you” happens with every step – waking your feet up can help you walk, stand, and balance much more efficiently.
So, as you are standing out there on your patch of natural ground this Earth Day, consider how by taking off your shoes you’ve “unmuted” your feet. They can now feel a lot more than moments before. Check in, and see how your feet feel on the ground. Since muscle tension can also decrease sensation, let’s do some mobility exercises while we’re here. Roll to the pinky toe side of your feet, slightly lifting the big toe side off the ground. Roll to the big toe side of your feet, slightly lifting the pinky toe side off the ground. Repeat several times. Lift the toes off the ground, standing on your heels. Lift the heels off the ground, standing on your toes. Repeat several times. Spread your toes. Are you standing on grass? If so, can you spread your toes wide enough to get grass between them? Enjoy your new awake, happy, grounded feet – and Happy Earth Day!