Remember the sensate joys of playing barefoot in a field of grass? Or skipping along a stream bed? Or sleeping out at night under the stars? These were among the pleasures of a childhood spent outdoors, sometimes lost to an adulthood spent almost entirely in homes, cars, shops, gyms and offices.
Health professionals say our indoor-dominant lives are costing us, and are prescribing time in contact with natural elements to offset this deficit. “The power of nature is being used widely in the integrative medicine community both through activity, diet, surroundings as well as herbal medicine,” observes associate professor of clinical medicine and fellowship director Ann Marie Chiasson with the University of Arizona’s Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine.
One emerging approach to reconnecting with nature is called grounding (or earthing) and involves physical contact between skin and natural elements, often, but not exclusively, grass or soil. In her book on the subject, Barefoot Wisdom: Better Health Through Grounding, Chiasson and co-author Sharon Whiteley describe the concept this way: “Grounding means tapping into the Earth’s freely available, always accessible, and ever-powerful natural energy to rebalance your body and restore your health.”
Wellness Benefits of Grounding
This is an under-studied area, Chiasson points out. Small-scale tests have looked at the potential for decreasing inflammation and pain, shortening time for muscle recovery after exercising and improving mood, she reports. In these various limited studies, no negative side effects showed up, she adds, except potential contact with stings, sunburn, lyme, fire ants or similar hazards common to outdoor activities.
“I use it personally as I have always gone barefoot,” Chiasson adds. “I had chronic pain for years (it has since resolved) and I used to go out and lay on the ground and it would decrease.” It’s not a primary modality of treatment the doctor currently employs but she encourages it for patients. ”Being in nature and grounding are adjuncts to a whole plan for healing (based on the diagnosis).”
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Adding Grounding Space to Your Life and Property
If your home has a grassy yard free of hazards, it’s already set up for grounding time, but many properties in urban or even suburban environments lack this space. Landscape architect Siobhan Hussey, senior project manager at Urban Arena’s Oakland, California office, looks at bringing nature into projects like senior housing, memory care, assisted living, private homes, transit communities and master planned developments.
“In landscape architecture we have a term we use called ‘genius loci,’ otherwise known as spirit of place,” she explains. In order to access that spirit, Hussey focuses on the natural elements of the site. For your property, that can mean incorporating the various senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste and the elements of nature, including earth, water, fire and air, Hussey says.
That can include natural materials like stone, water features like fountains or ponds, wind chimes, plants, flowers and herbs and a quiet area away from electronics to savor nature. “I would recommend finding a space to create a relaxation/meditation zone that one can sit in silence, energetically ground into the earth and connect with the genius loci,” she suggests.
That can be harder to achieve in the city, the landscape architect notes, and the outdoor natural elements might be shared with other residents. “In outdoor urban residential community spaces, such as within multi-family transit-oriented developments, I have incorporated labyrinths, perennial gardens, meditation and yoga zones, social spaces with fire-pit or BBQ, water features, and open lawn spaces,” she shares.
Adding Grounding Potential to Your Life
If you’re an urbanite without any private or semi-private outdoor space, but you live close to a lake, river, bay or beach where it’s safe to rest on the shore or immerse yourself in the water, you have access to a viable grounding alternative, writes Healthline.com, a medically-reviewed consumer website. Busy schedules, parking hassles and family responsibilities may make those visits impractical on a regular basis.
There are also rods, mats, sheets, blankets, bands, patches and socks sold as grounding resources online. “I know there are many products out on the market. I know they have a small bit of research. I am not an expert on the products,” Chiasson says. “ I am a fan of grounding naturally, feet on ground, body on earth.”