Poised between Earth Day and Mothers Day, my heart is full of gratitude to the Earth, the ultimate Mother. There is no end to the blessings we receive from our precious blue-green home. Perfectly positioned in Space, our Goldilocks planet is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right for the three phases of that magical substance H2O (ice, water and vapour) to occur naturally. And this makes possible the water cycle, that huge planetary process that draws on the power of the sun to turn sea water into fresh water, drive climate systems, bring rain and mild temperatures, and allow life to flourish.
So far, we’re the only place we know of in the Universe where life just happened to happen. As gifts from Mother Earth go, Life is one pretty profound reason to give thanks. Each individual cell is a miracle of complexity, in which exquisitely delicate organelles carry out all the functions of the body as a whole, from providing structure, to communicating, absorbing food, burning fuel, voiding wastes, and maintaining an environment conducive to life. And then trillions of these cells get together and interact in countless ways to create a body that might score in the Olympics, dance the tango, plot sedition, and give – or even take – the gift of life.
However miraculous human life may be, I’m submitting an application to be a plant in my next incarnation. I’m in awe of plants. For one thing, they’re seldom in a hurry. Just to spend time with plants (especially trees) is calming. Imagine standing for 5,000 years in contemplation as a bristlecone pine! More than their presence though, it is the magic trick of photosynthesis to which I aspire. How delicious is the design that allows one to be nourished by basking in the sun! And how elegant is the chemistry that combines almost intangible air, with a dilute solution of minerals in water, to create a being as substantial as a giant redwood tree, or as delicate as a maidenhair fern. Unlike our chemical industries that manufacture products by subjecting raw materials to huge temperatures and pressures, plants produce wood, fibre, food and beauty at the temperatures and atmospheric pressures of everyday life. And instead of producing noxious by-products that pollute and sicken, as a by-product of producing food, plants spew out life-giving oxygen!
Bristlecone pines – the oldest living species on Earth
Our position in Space, the water cycle, photosynthesis – what magical and miraculous tales! I know these stories well, but far from becoming blasé about them, the more I contemplate the significance of these and other gifts of the Earth, the more I experience awe.
I also love to learn something new! So it was with great delight this past month that I heard about one of Earth’s gifts that I had not known about before. This gift is known as Earthing [see http://earthinginstitute.net/ and http://www.earthing.com/], and authors of the book by this name suggest that it could be one of the most important health discoveries ever.
Before explaining more about Earthing, I need to mention that over the past couple of years, I have become aware of the critical role that stress and inflammation play in the onset of chronic disease conditions in the body. We all know that prolonged stress is bad for our health – but it was only recently that I learnt why this is. Simply put, poorly managed stress leads to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn causes inflammation in the body; it is inflammation that promotes chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune diseases). In addition to chronic stress, inflammation is also caused by injuries, allergens and pathogens like viruses or bacteria.
Acute inflammation is an important stage in the healing process: we all recognise the swelling, redness, pain and heat caused by the body’s immune system responding to an infection or a cut. Part of this immune response involves molecules called free radicals, which are responsible for destroying invading pathogens and dead cells. Once they have done their work, free radicals need to be neutralised by anti-oxidants (e.g. Vitamins A, C and E). In the absence of sufficient anti-oxidants, however, free radicals run amok, causing a chain reaction of oxidation which destroys healthy tissue.
So if chronic inflammation is such a problem, what can we do to reduce it? Two things have helped me. Firstly, a regular mindfulness practice has enabled me to shift my default emotional state from chronic stress to a state of ease. My cortisol levels are no longer unnaturally elevated, so that takes care of one potential source of inflammation. Secondly, I have changed my diet to eliminate foods to which I am sensitive. I no longer suffer from inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract – a condition I have lived with for most of my life.
Now, back to this thing called Earthing …
Just as our electrical appliances need to be earthed, so do we! Earthing occurs when we make direct contact with the Earth by walking barefoot, sitting, or lying on the ground – and it puts us in touch with the biggest anti-oxidant source there is – Mother Earth herself. You see, the Earth’s surface has an overall negative charge, which means there is an excess of electrons. And these electrons are just what our bodies need to neutralise the oxidative stress caused by free radicals, and thus to reduce inflammation and our chances of falling prey to chronic diseases.
I found this two-part YouTube video fascinating: it shows how the Voltage of the body is influenced by being indoors or outdoors, upstairs or downstairs, or in contact with electrical fields. It also shows how earthing, either by direct contact with the Earth or via an earthed conductor, reduces this voltage to a more neutral state: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnZjY_q2WQk; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVDSzu9M9hw.
In the past, most people walked barefoot or in shoes with leather soles, and were therefore in direct electrical contact with the Earth’s surface. Today most shoes have plastic or rubber soles – and these effectively insulate us from the Earth and her healing gift of electrons. Similarly, many people used to sleep on the ground on simple grass sleeping mats. All night long they would be in contact with the Earth, and during this time they could literally ‘de-fuse’ their oxidative stress into the Earth. Today we spend most of our lives indoors, insulated from a healing connection to the Earth by plastic furniture, synthetic carpets, and multi-storeyed building design. And with our ever-increasing dependence on electrical and electronic appliances, we are exposed without respite to electro-magnetic frequencies, which also have an electrical impact on our bodies.
So, how do we receive this free gift of healing from the Earth? The simplest is to make time each day to sit with your bare feet in contact with grass, earth or concrete paving (not asphalt), and to walk barefoot, or swim in the sea (salt water being an effective conductor). And while it is probably not practical to move your office or bedroom outside, Earthing pads and sheets are available [www.earthing.com] – although not easily sourced in South Africa – to ground you while you work and sleep. For the practically-inclined, you can find step-by-step instructions to earth your bed on the internet [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wPqh4DNfwg].
In his book The Prophet, Khalil Gibran writes: “And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” So, let’s kick off our shoes, lie on the grass, and snuggle up to Mother Earth. The feeling of delight is mutual.
Ober, C., Sinatra, S.T. & Zucker, M. 2010. Earthing: the most important health discovery ever? Basic Health Publications, Laguna Beach.