In the late 1990s, a former cable guy named Clint Ober was sitting on a park bench in Sedona, Arizona, when he had a revelation. Early in life Ober had installed poles, wires, and cable boxes on his way to becoming a successful executive. He knew that one secret of a static-free TV is to make sure all the electrical equipment is protected from electromagnetic interference, and the simple solution is to connect the system by a wire to an iron pole stuck into a single, six-sextillion-ton battery that is constantly charged by solar radiation, lightning, and heat from its molten core. That giant battery, of course, is Mother Earth. The connection is known as grounding.
Ober was on that bench in Sedona because he had recently almost died of a liver disease. Once he had healed, he decided to start a new life: He sold his cable company, gave away his possessions, and took to the road. He had time and resources and was wondering what to do next as he watched the tourists amble by in their expensive footwear. As he writes, “It occurred to me rather innocently that all these people—me included—were insulated from the ground, the electrical surface charge of the earth beneath our feet.”
Intrigued, Ober went home and created a simple grounding mechanism by attaching a wire to a grounded metal rod out his living room window. With a voltmeter and the wire in hand, he walked around his apartment measuring the voltage on his body. He writes, “When I walked toward a lamp, the voltage would go up. When I stepped back, the voltage went down. The only appliances that did not create electromagnetic field (EMF) voltage on my body were the refrigerator and my computer tower. They were grounded. Next I went to the bedroom, lay down on my bed, and registered the highest level of EMF voltage. The bedroom was the most ‘electrically active’ area of the apartment. The bed was up against a wall full of hidden electrical wires.”
The next day, Ober built himself a crude sleeping pad out of metalized duct tape, which he then grounded out his bedroom window. He speculated that his chronic sleeping problems might be caused by the electric fields in the room. When he lay down on the pad, the voltmeter showed that his bed was now equivalent to the ground outside. “I was lying there fooling around with the voltmeter,” Ober says, “and the next thing I knew it was morning. I had fallen asleep with the voltmeter on my chest. I had slept soundly for the first time in years, and I had hardly moved at all during the night.”
After a few days of sleeping restfully on the pad, Ober also noticed that his severe back pain had vastly improved. In fact, he was feeling better than he had in years. “I came to the conclusion that I may have made a great discovery,” he says.
Over the following months Ober created more makeshift grids for the beds of half a dozen or so people, who reported that they too experienced benefits. Meanwhile, he scoured the Internet and visited Arizona’s top medical libraries, searching for anything he could find on grounding and health, but all he found were a few Native American stories. Electronic specialists confirmed that there was no risk from the grounding pads—or from standing barefoot on the earth, for that matter—but no one had seriously investigated whether or not our bodies depend on grounding energy to maintain health. When Ober took the question to prominent sleep researchers in California, they laughed him out the door.
Ignored by mainstream researchers, Ober went on to conduct the first study of what he now called “Earthing.” He procured some conductive fiber material bonded with wool-lined sleeping pads attached to grounding wire, then rounded up 60 volunteers. The 38 women and 22 men all complained of sleep problems and various forms of joint and muscle pain. He split the volunteers into two groups: 30 slept on pads that were properly grounded, and the other 30 on pads with a hidden disconnect. Only Ober knew who was actually grounded for the month-long study.
The results were astonishing: 85 percent of the grounded sleepers fell asleep sooner; 93 percent slept better; 100 percent were more rested upon waking; 82 percent “experienced significant reduction in muscle stiffness”; 74 percent “experienced elimination or reduction of chronic back and joint pain”; and 78 percent reported “improved general health,” Ober says. Furthermore, many participants reported “unexpected but significant relief from asthmatic and respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension (high blood pressure), sleep apnea, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). There were also reports of fewer hot flashes.”
in the spring of 2010, Ober, Stephen Sinatra, and Martin Zucker published a fascinating account of Ober’s adventures in the book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? The three are part of the Earthing Institute, a group that is doing more research and selling Earthing-related products. So far the institute has not garnered much attention, publishing only a few small studies in obscure journals. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Earthing is the silence surrounding it.
But the stakes may be high. Over the past 10 years, a variety of mainstream medical scientists have reached the conclusion that many diseases—from heart disease to diabetes to arthritis—are ultimately signs of chronic inflammation, in which the body’s natural defenses have been turned against itself. The problem seems to be an overabundance of positively-charged “free radicals.” A variety of expensive supplements and dietary regimens are designed to provide electrons to neutralize the free radicals and lessen their damage.
Practitioners of Earthing believe that those electrons are freely available right outside your door. “The land and seas of planet Earth are alive with an endless supply of electrons,” Ober writes. “By making direct contact with the surface of the planet—the skin of our bodies touching the skin of the earth—our conductive bodies naturally equalize with the earth. Figuratively speaking, we refill the electron level in our tank that has become low. Just like standard electronic equipment that needs a stable ground to function well, so, too, the body needs stable grounding to also function well.”
One irony of all this is the billions of people worldwide who dream of the day when they will have good shoes to protect their feet and when they won’t have to sleep on the ground. For them, the energy of the earth can be all too close. Another irony is that folks like us are so well insulated that we need a series of scientific reports to get us to go outside, kick off our shoes, and let our tens of thousands of nerves plug back in to Mother Earth. Maybe for us, Earthing is like the practice of gratitude: always accessible, always healing, and so easy to forget.
Excerpted from Spirituality & Health (March/April 2011), a bimonthly that offers resources for wellness and the spiritual journey; author Matt Sutherland is managing editor. www.spiritualityhealth.com
Have something to say? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the July-August 2011 issue of Utne Reader.