Saturday, March 6, 2021
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Kick Off Your Shoes and Get Grounded

Over the years I’ve written in this column about our family’s tendency to live on the edge of the bell curve. As recently as two weeks ago I mentioned co-sleeping, homeschooling and other less-traveled-by choices that have been part of our family’s lifestyle. I’ve referenced Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken, “as well as this Henry David Thoreau quotation: 

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

But as our two wonderful offspring have grown into adulthood I thought – or assumed – that our opportunities for less-traveled-by choices would dwindle, and my wife and I would somehow slowly step into more mainstream adult activities as we grew older. Perhaps pickleball? 

Well, I was wrong!

Since late October I fear our neighbors have been wondering if we’ve gone off the deep end. Looking out the windows of their houses they will see solitary figures standing or sitting stoically on the grass in our backyard, sometimes during the day, but often at night. Those figures – my wife and I – will be there for 10 or 15 minutes. And if the neighbors looked closer they would notice we are barefoot, which might not be odd in and of itself if this were the summer, but when the outside temperatures are below freezing it could certainly be considered questionable behavior. And when there is 12 inches of snow on the ground? Yes, perhaps we have gone off the deep end.

What we are doing is called grounding. Some people also call it earthing, but I think when things or processes are obscure their adherents ought to minimize outside confusion and choose one name, so I’ll just refer to it as grounding.

Grounding is the process of putting your skin in direct contact with the surface of the Earth, most commonly with your bare feet or hands. The reason to do this is that it supposedly enhances health and provides feelings of well-being.

I should mention, and give credit where credit is due, that in our 30-plus years together it is usually my wife who has been the initiator of our edge-of-the-bell-curve activities. As the partner-in-crime I have gratefully gone along for the ride because the experiences have always been enjoyable, interesting, enlightening and life-enriching. With results like that, why say no? The only activity I have ever set my proverbial foot down on was jazzercise. It was fun seeing my wife perform in a Citrus Bowl halftime show, but there are plenty of less embarrassing ways for me to get aerobic exercise. 

Which brings us back to grounding.

A few months ago my wife read an article about grounding and then found a documentary that went into the subject in more detail. After watching the documentary she was excited in that way that made me think, “I know where this is going.” 

She started doing her due diligence, researching grounding and talking with medical and training friends. Satisfied that what she found qualified as non-quackery, she brought it to me, said she was going to try it and would I be interested in trying it as well? 

As I said, my previous off-the-wall experiences have all returned positive results, so why not. Plus, it was about 10 years ago when we started wearing Vibram FiveFingers shoes – which get your feet as close to the ground as possible to simulate being barefoot – and that had gone well for both of us. 

The primary reason I had been willing to go along with that choice was that our annual Memorial Day beach week on the Outer Banks was fun for me for many reasons, one of which was that it gave me an opportunity to run barefoot on the beach. Invariably I would find myself running at a faster pace that week, only to come home and immediately drop back to my old pace. At first I rationalized this to running on hills versus flat ground, but even running flat surfaces locally didn’t replicate the performance. 

I tried the FiveFingers, immediately improved, and then my choice was later reinforced. One inclement winter day I was running in my FiveFingers inside the Multi-Sport Facility on Penn State’s campus (back when the public was allowed access) and I ran by Harry Groves, the legendary Penn State track and field and cross country coach. As I went by he said (as I recall), “Only took ‘em 40 years to figure out that’s how to do it.” With that kind of endorsement I felt I was in good company.

Since I already had physical experience that getting more “in-touch” with the Earth could be beneficial, then why not just stand still on it? So for the last few months my wife and I have ventured out in our backyard and grounded once or twice a day. If snow is in the forecast we place a large plastic storage bin lid on the grass directly off our back porch, and remove it as needed to give us access to the green grass.  

I know, odd. It sounds as odd for me to be typing it as it does for you to read it. For those of you who are rightfully skeptical of this activity

I offer the “Summary of findings to date” and the “Conclusion” from a study on the National Institutes of Health website that was originally published in the Journal of Inflammation Research in 2015. 

Grounding appears to improve sleep, normalize the day–night cortisol rhythm, reduce pain, reduce stress, shift the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic toward parasympathetic activation, increase heart rate variability, speed wound healing, and reduce blood viscosity.

Accumulating experiences and research on earthing, or grounding, point to the emergence of a simple, natural, and accessible health strategy against chronic inflammation, warranting the serious attention of clinicians and researchers. The living matrix (or ground regulation or tissue tensegrity-matrix system), the very fabric of the body, appears to serve as one of our primary antioxidant defense systems. As this report explains, it is a system requiring occasional recharging by conductive contact with the Earth’s surface – the “battery” for all planetary life – to be optimally effective.

So…  if you happen to see my wife and I standing or sitting in our backyard when the temperature is 20 degrees with a 10 degree wind chill, you know what we’re doing. And you’re all invited to, as the Beverly Hillbillies said, “Set a spell. Take your shoes off. Y’all come back now, y’hear?!”