How long has it been since you last stood barefoot on the earth?
I hadn't taken my shoes off and walked barefoot since last summer. But, a couple of weeks ago the sun was shining, the first signs of spring had emerged and I decided to indulge in being barefoot, my favourite method for bringing mind and body present, so that it is possible to hear the deeper stirrings of the soul.
The moment we remove our shoes and place our feet flat on the ground we become more naturally aware of our breath, and as we start to walk each step we take starts to synchronise with our breathing. The deeper we breathe, the better we feel and the clearer we can think.
Several common modern conditions like anxiety, stress and panic attacks are contributed to by shallow breathing. Walking barefoot and consciously focusing on taking fuller, deeper breaths, can help overcome such conditions and promote improved mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. All of the martial arts and yoga practices I have trained in over the years have given significant focus and attention to the power of the breath.
When we breathe with the diaphragm, just as we did when we were newly born babies, we re-oxygenate all of the cells of the body and there are immediate health benefits because we stimulate the lymphatic system, increase cardiovascular capacity and assist the parasympathetic nervous system in rebalancing the amount stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, present in in the blood stream. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School (January 2015 'Relaxation Techniques') Breath control can help to quell errant stress response.
It is also no co-incidence that most martial arts and all forms of yoga are practiced barefoot. The body's energy is also enhanced not just as we align breath with body movement, but also because being barefoot connects us directly with the natural negative charge of the earth which helps to rebalance ions within the body. Being barefoot also stimulates pressure points in the feet, helping the flow of energy around the body.
The electrical appliances we surround ourselves with daily, from our phones and laptops to our televisions and air conditioners constantly discharge positive ions, which are harmful to our health. Frequent and long-term exposure to them impairs brain function, suppresses the immune system, contributes to feelings of fatigue, low libido, depression, irritability and can cause headaches.
Barefooting is often referred to as 'grounding' or 'earthing' because we directly ground or earth the energy of our body by going barefoot on sand, soil, rock or grass (we can also ground on non-painted and non-sealed concrete and brick in addition to ceramic tile). This is because the Earth carries an abundant negative charge. Negative ions are oxygen atoms charges with an extra electron. When we go barefoot we absorb large quantities of negative electrons through the soles of our feet and rebalance the electrical system of our body. Being in nature supports this because negative ions are naturally abundant in nature, occurring by the effects of water, air, sunlight especially after a thunderstorm. It also brings multiple mental health benefits due to the release of endorphins, which help promote healing on every level of our being.
Several studies published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, have reported health benefits of being barefoot, including regulation of the endocrine and nervous systems and an increase in the surface charge of red blood cells, making them much less likely to clot, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
Being barefoot and setting an intention to release beyond that of harmful ions can also be an opportunity to let go of any emotional build up. In doing so we open ourselves to inner wisdom and inspiration for finding solutions and ways forward in our lives around areas where we feel compelled to bring about positive change.
In my book Burnout to Brilliance: Strategies for Sustainable Success I shared that our best ideas and insights do not come when we are sat behind our desk forcing them to happen, but when we take a shower, meditate or go for a walk or run outside.
Sometimes we simply need a creative 'jump start' to come up with a way of carving out the thinking space that we need. For example, Thomas Edison would take an hour out almost every day and trundle off with his fishing rod to sit alone at the dock and fish. People respected this part of his daily routine because they accepted the fact that he loved to fish. They were, however, curious when he always returned with an empty basket, how someone so keen on fishing could be so very bad at it.
The truth was that Edison never caught any fish because he never used any bait. Because it was his fishing time, his staff didn't disturb him. And because he used no bait, the fish didn't disturb him either. He created the perfect thinking space allowing him time for vision and re-evaluation, powerful moments to generate genius ideas.
In Thrive, Arianna Huffington tells readers that one of her favorite phrases is solvitur ambulando--"It is solved by walking." It refers to the fourth-century-BC Greek philosopher Diogenes's response to the question of whether motion is real. To answer, he got up and walked.
As it turns out, there are many problems for which walking is the solution. In our culture of overwork, burnout, and exhaustion, how to we tap into our creativity, our wisdom, our capacity for wonder? Solvitur ambulando.
I encourage you to take time today to get outside, take a walk and experience being barefoot so that you can rebalance and awaken your body, mind and spirit to your deepest capacity for wonder and gain guidance towards your highest potential.