In my early days, in the mountains, I found myself drawn to traveling barefoot. It became somewhat of an obsession. I went through an entire winter barefoot in Seattle. I did approaches to climbs barefoot, including those on snow. Never did much climbing barefoot, although I did climb the Grand Teton’s Exum route barefoot—parking lot, to summit, to parking lot (with the exception of the Friction Pitch, where my feet started sweating profusely, and I had to put shoes on to finish the pitch).
One morning in the early ‘70s, in Wyoming’s Cirque of the Towers, I watched my climbing buddies take off for a climb. I had decided to take the day off. Relaxing in the morning sun after breakfast, I sipped tea and browsed Orrin Bonney’s field book of the Wind River Range. I discovered a one page map, showing a string of trails that took shape in my head as a nice loop out of the Cirque, past Mt. Hooker, around Grave Lake and back to the Cirque via Lizard Head Pass. By 10:30 I was starting to feel restless, tossed a few things in a pack, and headed off barefoot for unknown terrain, represented by some lines on a page.
Boulder-hopping beneath Pingora’s east face, I headed north, climbed out of the Cirque over New York Pass, a steep little snow-covered col just north of Bollinger Peak, and dropped into the Washakie Creek drainage, passing Billy’s Lake and Shadow Lake. Turned north again at the trail junction heading to Pyramid Lake, and headed up over Hailey Pass beneath the dark, imposing face of Mt. Hooker. Some of these sections were run, but mostly just cruised in high gear. Circling around Grave Lake, I got a little carried away. Running through a particularly inspiring section of trail, I swung a little too close to a hunk of granite which almost removed my little toe.
Miles later, the sun was setting as I started up the wide granite expanse that led to Lizard Head Pass. The sky’s lilting colors were sublime, matching perfectly the altered state of my glucose and B-vitamin exhausted brain. What a day! By the time I dropped back down to the Popo Agie River, flowing out of Lonesome Lake, it was completely dark. I had no light. We didn’t have headlamps in those days, and I tended to scoff at flashlights. No moon. To reduce insult to my abused feet, I put my shoes on, and came stumbling into camp around 11 p.m. After twenty-four miles, crossing three passes over 11,000’ in about twelve hours, bliss, wonder, and ecstasy were finally superseded by exhaustion.
All this to say, I love going barefoot! I love the freedom. The connection with the earth is intensely satisfying. The experience of traveling over its surface is so much richer when we feel the change of its temperature, the infinite variety of textures cushioning, massaging, or super-stimulating our feet. Interestingly, the most unpleasant surfaces I’ve encountered—from high mountain talus to hot desert sands—are man-made. The ubiquitous ‘gravel road’ is the very worst. But through it all, physical stimulation has been the attraction for me.
I’m sixty-eight years old (sixty-eight and a half!). I don’t push myself the way I used to. My preferred backcountry footwear is a weightless suggestion of protecting the feet. A sticky, but very thin sole with about 4mm of lift at the heel. It’s very close to going barefoot. And yet it’s not close enough. Yes, the bones, connective tissue, and muscles of the foot get a workout, and ‘feel’ for the terrain is very good. The very thin rubber allows me to move over terrain in a less attentive way, more quickly than if I were actually barefoot. But what about those treasured sensations referenced before? They, and more, are now missing.
Let’s switch gears a bit and take a closer look at other aspects of life after 68 years of living with the unavoidable effects of being alive in the world today. On the one hand, I’ve taken extremely good care of myself in this lifetime. I’ve been walking the talk of my medical practice since long before becoming a doctor of Oriental medicine.
On the other hand, my opening story should suggest to you that I’ve been an over-the-top lunatic seeker for much of my adult life. Adventures such as what I just shared take an unavoidable physical toll. And I could tell you dozens. Although fairly moderate now, I’ve overtrained and overdone for the majority of my adulthood. And I still engage in activities I might be wiser to avoid. For example, I’m in the middle of a substantial rock project. I love how it’s unfolding and where it may be going. But it involves lifting and moving very large rocks, often repeatedly. Sometimes for ridiculous distances.
Just a couple of weeks ago, during a spell of mild weather, I attempted to carry a rock that was a little out of my league. Thinking I was getting to my feet, I fell straight over backward, attached to the rock, onto other rocks, having no idea where my head was ‘heading’. Typical of the uncanny protection I’ve experienced all my life, I came away with a tweaked ankle.
That night, the pain in the ankle prevented sleep. This was not a typical eversion sprain, but something damaged deep within the bony complex of the ankle joint itself. The pain was an extreme dull, pulsing ache, reminiscent of gout. In other words, really painful. Sue came out and suggested some YunNanBaiYao topical liquid. Then she came out with an Earthing patch. She’s been a fan of sleeping on an Earthing sheet for a year and a half, but I had not seen these patches—and she had not used them. I attached the adhesive patch where I thought it would be most effective, and she found a grounded outlet to connect the patch to.
The premise of Earthing products is connecting our bodies directly to the earth—grounding. Nothing new. Humans have been taking advantage of this principle for millennia. It does marvelous things for our bodies. Going barefoot is a way of accessing the earth’s charge. But who does that? And who sleeps on the ground? We’re now very insulated from the earth and its nurturing charge.
I felt a faint, barely noticeable shift in pain level with the application of each modality—when I applied the YunNanBaiYao, and when the patch was connected to the ground. Subtle, but recognizable. Sue went back to bed, and I continued my vigil by the fire. It was very hard to tell, but soon I was pretty sure I was perceiving a gradual reduction in pain. Then it became obvious that the pulsing cycles were further apart. In about 90 minutes I was falling asleep. Went to bed, taking the ground with me to plug my ankle in in the bedroom. When I awoke the next morning, there was no sign of pain. I gingerly stood on the ankle, moved around. Nothing. It was as if nothing had happened.
Long story short, I received an Earthing kit for Christmas—a few days early. A half sheet for sleeping on, a mat to place bare feet on while working at a desk or place under a laptop, and all the tools and connections to set these things up properly and make sure they’re working. Less than a week later, thinking of clients who need to be using this principle has become unavoidable. The reduction in so many manifestations of inflammation is… well, actually, it’s a little hard to believe.
But there it is. Each morning, awakening from a night on the Earthing sheet, I’m given new observations and recognitions of changing conditions in my body. My sleep prior to now has been great. I would never have said there was anything wrong with my sleep. But the quality of sleep now is magnitudes deeper. And without changing my fluid intake, I do not awaken to urinate. Haven’t once since I started sleeping on the grounded sheet. Prior to that, it was a nightly occurrence. Not a problem, but a clear change, nonetheless. My subjective body temperature seems to be improving. Energy is better.
I’m not going to take you further down my personal laundry list, but there’s plenty more. And none of this was anticipated. The clear overview of my experience is fairly broad, but has huge implications for specificity. Inflammation is at the heart of nearly all chronic health issues. Our culture and our environment are inadvertently irritating the hell out of our bodies. About a month ago I had some blood drawn to keep track of that perspective on my health. The results are not something I can wisely ignore. Given the subjective changes experienced since sleeping with the Earthing sheet, I’m now very curious to see the next round of bloodwork, which I’ll do in a couple of months.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that my experience is fairly typical. Reduction of inflammatory conditions, remarkable relief of pain (this is likely to vary widely), deeper sleep accompanied by elevated energy levels. And conditions involving heart health and blood condition seem to commonly improve, as well.
It should go without saying, autoimmune disorders of any kind are just waiting for this kind of additional assistance.
As I contemplate sharing this information on a professional level, I face an unfamiliar challenge. Most of the promotional materials accompanying the kit are downright embarrassing. I’m not going to let this outcreate my personal experience, but, to me, it is an obstacle when recommending the experience to clients. It stretches my credibility—and I already have my hands full in that department, just explaining Oriental medicine’s principles to most Americans.
Lest I be misunderstood, I am not promoting Earthing products as a panacea. I practice a precise and principled medicine whose initial intent is a finely tuned diagnosis identifying the causative factors of a client’s complaints. Inherent within such a diagnosis lies effective, sharply focused treatment to correct those imbalances. In no way am I suggesting that maintaining a grounded connection with the earth serves as a simple replacement of such an evolved medicine. What I am suggesting is adding to such a specifically directed course of treatment, a broad and powerful element enjoyed by humanity for most of its existence, but which we’ve gradually denied ourselves in just the past century. Wouldn’t it be remarkable to have such an ally silently supporting us again, in a general way, as we sleep throughout the night?
My advice is to try these products with an open mind and heart if you get the nudge they may affect a health issue which falls within the above parameters. Don’t even look at the promotional materials—and definitely do not watch the DVD! Just use the products, as instructed, and record your experiences. If you’re anything like me, they’ll be so numerous, you’ll quickly forget many of them. Have fun, and don’t look back!
I’d love to hear your feedback.
Shortly after publishing this morning’s contemplation (without breakfast, I might add, as a supremely feeble, empty excuse), I recognized an obvious oversight. There is scant recognition or appreciation for the part played by Sue or the guidance which brought me to the above experience. Neither Sue, nor the ‘guidance’ said a word about this oversight, but rather, they each lovingly sat back and waited for me to see it for myself. Without sincere thanks and recognition of such gifts, they tend to dry up and blow away with the first wind.
Thank you, Sue, for your compassion and insight—lovely reflections of their source. How blessed we are!