The benefits of dancing with bare feet.

I once had a friend who was Lakota. We used to talk often about many important things, like respect for the earth and its gifts to us and the connectedness we humans share with it. I remember in particular him telling me that Native American moccasins were soft-skinned and lightweight to protect the earth mother from harsh footfalls, and that they were thin to create the least amount of separation between the earth and the foot itself. He talked of how most Natives – Lakota in particular – always walked and sat and laid directly on the ground to be able to receive the nurturing of the earth back into themselves. It was an old practice, he said. A timeless generational wisdom.

It made me recall my own childhood, when my mother would untie our shoes, strip off our socks, and insist we run barefoot through the coolness of the grass and the soft brown dirt and the wet squishy mud in the backyard after a rain. Whole summers would go by, I remember, and we would put on strappy open white sandals only for Sunday school or birthday parties. I know she believed it was healthier for us to go barefoot, but I don’t know if she knew why it was – either in terms of ancient philosophy or modern science.

From the time I was in about the 3rd grade, and up through my 9th-grade year, we lived in Southern California. It was a good time to be there, a good place for growing up. Everyone went barefoot most of the time. Particularly if you got caught in a seasonal rainstorm walking home from school. We all knew enough to take off our shoes and carry them in a dry place as we waded through torrents of water rushing along the streets and sidewalks. After all, shoes were expensive – feet could be dried off with towels. It also provided much surer footing.

Not so pleasant a memory was my first day of school in the 10th grade. We had moved to a suburb of Chicago. My new school shoes hurt my feet. So, walking home from the bus, I took them off to finish the trip home barefoot. It was the talk of the school by the next day, with much sophisticated snickering and head wagging.

I suspect those memories are responsible at least a bit for the delight I now take in reading so many articles and reports about the rewards of going barefoot. Physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually – the human body is greatly benefitted by baring its feet and touching the earth.

Today, it has a fancy term attached: it’s called “grounding” or “earthing.” It’s even being scientifically proven and measured with edgy methodologies and spiffy equipment. But in the end, it’s simply validating what many of our mothers and mother-nations already knew.

What science is now understanding and quantifying for us is that there are terrific amounts of electrons in the earth, which can keep us “charged” and in sync with itself. The soles of our feet are particularly good at absorbing these negatively charged electrons and delivering them up through the rest of the body.

One respected journal suggests that “earthing” can itself be a potential treatment for chronic degenerative diseases. Additionally, the experts say that going barefoot carries a wide experience of preventive benefits – like easing chronic stress, and poor sleep, even pain. Touching the earth with our bare feet enhances our immune systems, our energy, our sense of well being – every bit as much as the sun itself and even the water we drink.

I think what I find most compelling, however, is that feeling the earth beneath the skin of our feet improves our very movement and sense of self. Our balance, our posture, our walking gait, our proprioception (the sense of where we are in our environment), our awareness, our mindfulness, our focus, are all positively affected. We are less likely to stumble and fall when our feet are bare and free to feel what is around us and sense the solidity of the earth as well as any impediments or movement under us. Perhaps this is why barefoot is the very best way to dance.

Artist Michelangelo once stated that “the foot is more noble than the shoe.” And philosopher Khalil Gibran wrote: “Forget not that the winds long to play with your hair … and the earth delights to feel your bare feet.” So it’s good to know that modern thinking is finally catching up to what many have known all along.

As I write this, I am sitting with my bare toes nestled into the new young grass of spring. Later, out under the stars tonight (while the snakes and the fire ants sleep), perhaps I will even dance.