The week of March 8 came as a godsend to Boston College students. The sun was shining and temperatures were high during one of the many dreaded midterm weeks. Students flocked outside, filling the quads and outdoor spaces to revel in an anomaly: a week above fifty degrees in Boston in mid-March.
My mental health reaped great benefits from spending most of my time outside that week, and my roommates said theirs did too. We all saw a positive effect on our mood and concluded that, overall, being outside in the pleasant weather rendered us happier through the otherwise daunting and laborious work week.
There are indeed well-documented health benefits to being outside. Notably, the effect of the sun spurs production of Vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D is known to enhance bone health, promote cell growth, and reduce inflammation. Surely, though, there must be other benefits to spending time in nature that are favorable to physical—and even mental—health. One possibility that has recently gained the attention of scientific communities is the benefit of having a physical connection with the earth, whether that be walking barefoot outside or sitting directly on the ground. Certain cultural practices have actually, for ages, pointed to walking barefoot as a means for improving physical and mental health. The practice has recently been coined “earthing” or “grounding.”
I first heard of earthing during a yoga class when I was in high school. It theorizes that there is some healing power that comes from direct physical contact between skin and earth. I initially dismissed the idea as a pseudoscience—I mean come on, let’s be real here. Are we really saying the earth could magically heal our body just through touch?
In short, yes.
Further research has revealed that there is actually great merit in the practice of grounding. Grounding is still not a widely-researched topic, but in light of recent studies, some are calling for grounding to be included among alternative medical practices.
The basic belief of grounding is that the electrical connection made between a human body and the earth through physical contact has healing properties. These properties can be likened to the way that acupuncture remedies ailments.
This research has proven that the electrical charges from the earth produce sustained benefits to human health. And, even better, the mechanism of healing via the electrical charge can be explained by physics and science. The current leading theory is that the Earth’s free electrons (cue flashbacks to chemistry classes) are released from the ground and absorbed into the body, where they can be utilized for their antioxidant properties. The application of electrons in healing and in medicine is not new either—physical therapy facilities use electrical stimulation pads for the same purpose. Once these electrons enter the body, they stabilize the body’s frequency, which can manifest itself in reduction of inflammation, anxiety, stress, or in improvements in circulation and sleep.
While the scientific language we use to discuss grounding is relatively new, grounding is not a novel idea. In the past, cultures have acknowledged and respected the physical connection between our human flesh and the earth as well as the healing effects that connection can produce. In Chinese culture, qi is the energy that comes from the universe and composes the inside of the earth. India’s Vedic culture has a similar concept known as prana, and can be translated as the vital force of the world. Furthermore, Native American culture highly values the soil as having healing and cleansing features. Grounding has had a global presence for ages, and is now finally being backed by modern science.
Grounding surely still remains under-researched, but the research done so far highlights its possible application in medicine. Clinical trials and case studies have produced promising results with consistent and sustained benefits to the human form, and because there is no harm in spending quality time outside and just sitting on the ground, we can utilize those positive effects. Many of us have already done so unknowingly, especially during the week of March 8. So, whether you never think of grounding again or you intentionally walk barefoot across the Quad (I’d personally advise against it, that would be weird) the Earth’s energy will still be with you.
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau/ Heights Editor