The Case for Going Barefoot (and Stepping Off Your Yoga Mat)


As I wait for my kids’ school bus in our residential neighborhood, I slip off my sandals and let my bare feet sink into the lush grass of the lawn alongside the sidewalk. It’s a warm spring day, and I revel in the feel of the grass on my skin and the soil beneath my toes.

I get a few strange looks from the other parents who are waiting at the bus stop. But going barefoot is so much more natural to me than encasing my feet in synthetic, rigid materials—or worse, high heels.

So I slip off my sandals every chance I get, allowing myself to benefit from the touch of the earth. This is a process known as earthing.

What Is Earthing?

Earthing, also known as grounding, refers to the process of making direct skin contact with the earth. The purpose is to optimize physical, mental, and emotional health and can be done by connecting with grass, sand, or rocks. 

I learned about earthing during my Yin Yoga teacher training, and it seemed to confirm what I had instinctively known: that it feels good physically, mentally, and emotionally to be directly connected to the natural world. There is energy in the earth that we can use to optimize our own energy pathways, whether we call them nadis or meridians, as well as generally to de-stress, reconnect with the natural world, and gain a sense of calm relaxation. While there are products for sale that claim to conduct the earth’s grounding properties (such as earthing yoga mats, earthing wrist bands, and earthing body bands), this article will only address the natural process of earthing.

How to Ground

Earthing is an easy and low-cost way to increase feelings of wellbeing. Here are five ways to connect with the earth in order to bring relaxation and renewal to the body, mind, and heart.

The benefits of an outdoor, off-the-mat practice are numerous. Connecting your hands and feet with the grass, dirt, or sand while supporting your body in yoga poses is a great way to optimize earthing. You are in direct contact with the earth, rather than separated from it by a mat, floor, and the entire building infrastructure beneath your yoga space. Talk about going to the source! It’s also a wonderful way to explore the different shifts required to practice asana without a mat. Different muscles are needed to stabilize the body when there is no non-slip surface to rely on. Also, awareness of grounding is needed in order to stabilize and balance oneself on a surface that is less even than the typical yoga space we’re accustomed to. The numerous outdoor distractions—from the buzzing fly to the sweet breeze—will make mindfulness all the more important.

Pranayama and meditation will also become subtly enhanced when practiced in a natural environment. When you are surrounded by the energy of the natural world, the flow of prana may feel more intense, with less pull and drain from artificial materials and structures. Meditation may be deeper, particularly if you are one who is moved, comforted, and calmed by nature.

At the very least, doing yoga outside offers a change from the ordinary. It invites the practice of non-attachment to familiarity, as it’s very hard to claim “your spot” in a meadow.

This is just about the best advice ever, right? Walking barefoot—whether on the beach, through a meadow, or on a forest trail with soft soil or ground cover—is one of life’s great pleasures. The key is direct contact between your skin and the natural ground. Pay attention to the flow of energy moving from the earth up into the feet and throughout the body. Key into physical sensations. Notice if the body begins to feel more active and awakened. And enjoy the scenery!

Take the yoga off the mat and into the dirt! Garden without gloves, being mindful of the feel of the soil on the hands. Imagine the earth’s energy flowing up from the soil through the body.

If you’re a parent, take the opportunity to get your kids involved, and have everyone dive into the messy joy of making mud pies. Encourage them to notice the different textures of the materials used: the soil, sand, grass, flowers, and rocks. Cast aside any concern about the dirt, and instead revel in the experience. Your kids will likely remember it forever.

Maybe going barefoot through the forest or yard isn’t feasible—it could be too rough, too cold, or just not possible. Take the time to reach out and touch a tree trunk instead. Practice mindful meditation by noticing the feel of the bark under your fingers and palms, the temperature of the wood, and the color of the tree. Imagine all the days, weeks, and years of harvested and stored sun and earth energy contained in the tree you are touching. Pay attention to the numerous natural processes occurring beneath your fingertips. There is photosynthesis and the laying down of growth rings, and the tree perseveres, sustaining life with the help of the earth, rain, sun, and wind.

Think about the timeless nature of the rocks, and imagine all the ways in which they could have come to rest where they are now.

Rocks have a neat kind of ancient energy. Another meditative practice can be to perch on a rock, hold a stone in each hand, or walk with bare feet on smooth river rocks. Notice the feel and texture of the stones, describing them to yourself as an internal mantra—for example, repeating to yourself, “smooth and cool, smooth and cool,” or perhaps “steadfast and strong, steadfast and strong.”

Think about the timeless nature of the rocks, and imagine all the ways in which they could have come to rest where they are now. If you’re holding a stone in your hands, feel its weight, and notice whether or not it helps you to feel grounded, energetically tied to the earth and its energy.

You could also bring beach stones or river rocks into your yoga space to assist with grounding (this is especially good for vata types). An option is to hold a rock in each hand during meditation, or to place rocks on the forehead, palms, or front of the shoulders during savasana. If you’re a teacher, remind your students of their connection with the earth’s energy and the natural world, and allow their awareness to emerge and grow around these solid representations of nature.

Earthing is an intriguing and powerful way to use natural energy to help ground, balance, and revitalize our bodies and minds. Others may look askance at me at the bus stop. But there’s no way I’d miss the opportunity to sink my feet into the earth for a little energy bath while waiting for the bus.

About the Teacher

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Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt first discovered yoga as a child in the 70s, watching her mother flip through a yoga book... Read more