It’s easy to balk at many modern “wellness” trends. If they’re not too expensive, they’re elitist, time-intensive, or just plain absurd.
But if being well is simply about feeling good in our bodies and using them as they are designed to be used, then there’s an emerging wellness trend that’s worth checking out, a practice that requires neither aspiration nor great motivation: lying on the ground outside.
There’s even a name for it. The “earthing” or “grounding” movement believes that “direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth” results in positive health outcomes, including reducing inflammation, cortisol levels, and improving sleep patterns. The scientific literature on these claims is far from conclusive: Some studies have found health benefits, but the most commonly cited studies have too small a sample size to be considered widely convincing.
There have been calls for more exploration, but in the meantime, look: It can’t hurt to go lie outside on the grass for a bit. As the northern hemisphere greets the summer solstice this week, there’s never been a better time to grab a book and head to your local park to indulge in the laziest form of wellness.
It makes intuitive sense, at least, that this is an activity worth rediscovering. There’s a growing consensus that the primordial human practices of squatting and sitting cross-legged have been largely neglected in the era of office chairs and seat-toilets, and that re-learning those stances has great joint-lubricating and other benefits. Similarly, the pre-modern human certainly spent a lot more time in contact with the earth via their feet, backs, or bums, than today’s urbanite.
In modern cities, “insulating footwear, high-rise buildings, and elevated beds separate most humans from direct skin connection with the Earth’s surface,” as researchers put it. Indeed, in a concrete-covered city with a harsh winter, it’s not inconceivable that a human could go six, eight, or 10 months without going outside barefoot, lying on the grass, or sitting on soil, sand, rock, or grass. In urban environments with little access to green space, some humans never truly touch the ground outside.
Grounding ourselves physically is something that is not only good for our bodies but also for our minds, as a counterbalance to our screen-dominated lives, the London-based osteopath Avni Trivedi told me last year: “Being on the ground helps you physically be grounded in yourself.”
And, as anyone who has done it lately can attest, lying on the ground simply feels good. The benefits multiply if you turn your phone’s ringer off, add a dose of vitamin D (with sun block), and indulge in the mindful contemplation of rustling leaves. Sitting on a blanket or beach towel still counts. Sip a beer for extra credit. You don’t even have to lie down, either—an hour or two of gardening outside in your bare feet works wonders to ground you, too.
As with any wellness trend, the internet is full of related accessories and products to buy—including earthing mats to put on your mattress and patches to put on your body. These promise that you can bring the benefits of your grounding practice indoors and upstairs. But even apart from the fact those claims cry out for better science, these products miss the best part of the practice: Taking time to slow down and be outside.
Try it. Even if the documentable health benefits turn out to be minimal, so is the effort involved.