Spending time outside in nature has innumerable benefits—it's relaxing and energizing, and it helps clear your mind and alleviate symptoms of depression as well as ADHD in children and teens. Despite the impressive structures and habitats we've created to live in, work in, and identify with (homes, schools, cities), our DNA says that we belong in the animal kingdom. For most of us who may have spent a significant portion of our lives indoors or on manmade surfaces, walking around barefoot can feel painful, dirty and culturally unacceptable.
Consider for a moment the various surfaces you walk on throughout the day—hardwood, tile, concrete—they are uniform and seem to sprawl everywhere, ad infinitum. The truth is, our feet are equipped with all the parts needed for locomotion, and by constantly wearing shoes, especially those with elevated heels and/or arch support, we inhibit the natural movements and functions of many of the muscles and joints in our feet. What's more, there are nerve endings in the soles of your feet that correspond to every organ and system in your body; so whatever pokes and prods the bottoms of your feet is, in a sense, 'massaging' or stimulating your liver, pancreas, nervous system, etc. By wearing shoes and smoothing over naturally uneven surfaces, we've severed a vital physical connection to the earth and detrimentally limited the capabilities of our feet.
Walking barefoot on natural surfaces, sometimes called “earthing,” is a simple practice with profound mind-body benefits: go to a natural surface (i.e., grass, sand, dirt), take off your shoes and walk. That's it. So why is it so good for you?
Walking barefoot makes you slow down, inducing a mindful and meditative state of mind. If you haven't spent much time barefoot outside your feet will be quite sensitive, and that's ok! By directing your awareness to the sensations in your feet you are practicing mindfulness.
Earthing helps balance your energy—more specifically, your ions. The surface of the earth is considered to have a negative ionic charge, while the atmosphere, our bodies, and invisible waves emitted by cell phones and wifi possess mostly positive charges. Too many positive ions can cause irritability, sleeplessness, tension and migraines. Nature aims for balance, so the positive and negative ions transfer from your feet to the ground and vice versa, helping you relieve stress and sleep better at night.
Walking is a simple and often overlooked form of exercise, and being barefoot and outside is exponentially more beneficial to your overall health than logging miles on a treadmill. The barefoot component allows all the small muscles and joints in your feet to flex, compress, and stretch in many directions, such that you may feel sore after your first session(s). Most shoes are designed with heel elevation, so removing that factor allows your calves and Achilles tendons to stretch with each stride. Plus, being outside means breathing fresher air and, weather permitting, getting some energy and vitamin D from the sun.
Being barefoot is no longer an attribute of the hippie generation; they were actually ahead of their time in that sense. If you want to sleep better, experience less stress, and slow down rapid thoughts, earthing is the most simple and effective way to improve your overall well-being. It's especially beneficial for kids and teens who typically spend most time indoors around screens, and can invoke a spirit of play and curiosity about the world. All you need is a natural surface, your bare feet, and an open mind.