Experts In This Article
- Rajesh Thazhe Thatathil, Master of Yoga from International Sivannda Yoga Vedenta Centre, in India, and master practitioner at Banyan Tree Veya Phuket
- Tracy Latz, MD, integrative psychiatrist
I already know what you’re thinking: You went to a wellness resort in Thailand, and your most profound experience was taking off your shoes outside. Okay, yes, it sounds like too basic of an activity to have any real wellness benefit, much less one that’s stuck with me months later. But hear me out: Banyan Tree Veya’s “conscious grounding” activity—which involves a simple barefoot walk in a grassy field, followed by the same walk done with eyes closed—is a prime example of earthing (a fancy term for touching skin directly to the Earth’s surface), which some science shows can improve your physiological state of being.
Experiencing the benefits of earthing (aka grounding) at Banyan Tree Veya
While the conscious grounding activity at Banyan Tree Veya is, indeed, a barefoot walk in the grass, it comes with the benefit of some gentle guidance from one of the resort’s well-being experts, Rajesh Thazhe Thatathil, who holds a Master of Yoga from International Sivannda Yoga Vedenta Centre, in India.
On my third (and second-to-last) day at Veya, I found myself standing in a large tree-lined swath of dewy grass in the early morning sun, alongside the other few journalists on the trip. Thatathil encouraged us to feel our center of gravity by shifting our weight forward and back, side to side. From there, we started to walk forward slowly, envisioning that center of gravity in motion as we navigated the soft terrain beneath our toes and paid special attention to our surroundings: the palm fronds swaying overhead, the birds chirping, the cool breeze on our skin, the scent of wet grass. Then, we backtracked and did the whole thing again with our eyes closed (moving slowly and under Thatathil’s gaze to prevent any collisions).
As a wellness editor, I try stress-relieving activities all the time. But I felt calmer and more at peace taking these walks and connecting with the cool ground than I could remember feeling in months. How is it that something so simple could be so restorative? I needed to understand.
On a practical level, the exercise was designed to improve balance and posture by requiring us to walk on an uneven surface, says Thatathil, especially without the help of our vision in round two. “When you can’t see what’s happening around you, the other senses also become heightened,” he says. “You automatically tune into your senses of smell, hearing, and touch, considering whether the ground is soft or hard, the feeling of sunlight on your body, the sounds around you, as you try to walk in a straight line.” In that way, the closed-eyes walk also pushed us into a more mindful and aware state of being, much like a movement meditation might.
There was also a certain feeling of groundedness that came from the quiet, meditative vibe of the experience. (Just consider the benefits of TikTok’s “silent walks,” with the added sensory upside of feeling your toes in cool grass.) “In our modern, fast-paced lifestyle, we tend to walk quickly and fail to really notice what’s around us,” says Thatathil. “Just walking more slowly, connecting with nature, and focusing on your surroundings can relax the nervous system.”
But as I would later learn, there was also an even more subliminal benefit at play from “earthing,” or getting that physical connection between our bare feet and the wet grass. The Earth’s electrical charge is thought to help neutralize or stabilize our own electrical charge, which can have wide-ranging effects on the body and mind.
“When we connect directly with the Earth, we become conductors of the Earth’s negative ions, which are then attracted to positive areas of inflammation, creating an anti-inflammatory effect.” —Tracy Latz, MD, integrative psychiatrist
“We know that the surface of the Earth is negatively charged, and that areas of inflammation in the body are positively charged,” explains integrative psychiatrist Tracy Latz, MD, who studies earthing. (For proof of the negative charge at the Earth’s surface, consider the presence of lightning, which occurs due to opposite charges in clouds and on the ground.) “When we connect directly with the Earth, we become conductors of the Earth’s negative ions, which are then attracted to positive areas of inflammation, creating an anti-inflammatory effect.”
Physically, that could mean earthing may relieve some pain associated with inflammation-based conditions (which include several types of cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disease, and arthritis). By a different token, accessing greater electrical balance through contact with the Earth has also been shown in a few small studies to have a de-stressing or mood-boosting effect, with research demonstrating that it may stabilize levels of cortisol (a hormone that drives the “fight-or-flight” autonomic nervous system) and relatedly, improve sleep quality.
You may raise your eyebrows at the idea of getting all of these potential benefits just from touching the Earth. And sure, more research needs to be done to further validate and understand these benefits. But it’s also not entirely surprising that direct contact with the Earth would be beneficial to both mind and body, given how disconnected from it we’ve become. “It’s only in recent years that we’ve evolved to the point where we no longer touch the Earth or walk barefoot on the ground, and we wear shoes with rubber soles and live in homes several feet above the Earth’s surface, all of which prevents any electrical transfer or connection,” says Dr. Latz.
Earthing, then, may be a way for us to restore our natural electrical balance, says Dr. Latz, by quite literally bringing us back to our roots. Regardless of the mechanism at play, it’s hard to deny the intrinsically calming—you could say, grounding—vibe of toes in the sand or feet in the grass or any other part of your body reconnecting with the Earth.
How to reap the benefits of earthing, wherever you are
The “conscious grounding” activity at Banyan Tree Veya is a microcosm for the broader experience at the resort, which is all about simple, actionable approaches to well-being that you can weave into your everyday life at home—hence the name “Veya,” which means “to weave” or “to be woven” in Sanskrit. Indeed, you certainly don’t have to be at a wellness resort to practice earthing and experience its physiological benefits (though the lush Phuket setting and pristine grassy field certainly didn’t hurt).
The best way to practice earthing yourself is to walk barefoot on a damp surface outside, according to Dr. Latz. “Water helps the flow of electrons on the Earth’s surface, so damp sand or wet grass is best,” she says.
If you can take your walk in a quiet outdoor space with an array of natural scenery—like a park, beach, or wooded area near your home—that’s even better for providing you with the added calming benefits of immersing yourself in nature and disconnecting from technology. “If you struggle with sitting still during meditation, taking a walk in a natural area and really focusing on your surroundings can also be meditative,” says Thatathil. “The more you pay attention to your sensory experience, the more you train your mind to be present in the moment.”
If there’s nowhere near your home where you feel comfortable walking barefoot (hello, fellow New York City dwellers), Thatathil suggests finding a place to sit where you can just put your feet on the ground—for example, sitting on a park bench or on a towel in a field, and taking off your shoes to put your feet in the grass. This will connect you to the Earth’s negative charge all the same.
And if there’s nowhere that you can put your bare feet on the ground at all, or if your schedule is so packed that you can’t get outside often enough to do so, Dr. Latz suggests purchasing an earthing mat or earthing sheets, which come with a cord that you connect to the ground port of a home outlet. This way, electrons from the Earth’s surface can flow through the wire and into the conductive mat or sheets in your home; and by touching your body to either item, you’re essentially getting the same electrical balancing effect as you would connecting directly with the Earth.
Even so, there’s still no replacing the overall effect of actual earthing in nature. Beyond reaping the stabilizing benefits of bare skin on the Earth’s surface, you’ll also open yourself up to the mood-lifting powers of fresh air, sunlight, and immersion in nature more generally. Call that grounding in every sense of the word.
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