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An Inch of Rubber Away from Nirvana: An Excerpt from Barefoot Running

by Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee

Author and barefoot running expert Michael Sandler, with Jessica Lee, discuss our connection to nature—or lack thereof—and the need to reconnect and plug ourselves back in to the earth, literally.

We all yearn to reconnect with nature. This is visible in our art, entertainment, language, and prayers. In almost all that we do, on some level, we yearn to plug back in.

Throughout the history of mankind, for as long as there’ve been paintings, drawings, and petroglyphs, humans have been fascinated with nature. We desire to live in the mountains or down by the sea. We put lakes and parks in our cities and bring nature into our homes with aquariums and plants. We use flowers to express love. We paint landscapes, we shoot panoramas, and baseball, our national pastime, takes place on a “field of dreams.”

As kids, we yearned to be outdoors. Sadly, there’s an epidemic of kids disconnected from nature. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, says today’s children have what he calls “nature deficit disorder.” They’ve been cut off from nature and lost their chance to play outdoors and to connect or plug in with the world around them.

It’s why we’re found at the beach on weekends, or in the country, or skiing on the slopes, or craving almost any other activity you can think of. In fact, even when we’re indoors watching a movie, chances are nature or a beautiful backdrop is featured prominently throughout the film.

For many, connecting with nature is what draws you to running. You yearn to breathe fresh air, quiet the mind, and to be outside—laughing, playing, and enjoying nature as you once did as a child.

We’ve almost all become unplugged today. Too much work, too many computers, cell phones, and too many people crammed into high rises and out on the streets. We’re slaves to our lives, jobs, and furnishings. It seems there’s no end to the commitments, no time to breathe, and no time to be ourselves. And even when we do get outside, we often still feel disconnected—as if there’s something missing. It’s why we run with our iPods, or our cell phones, or any other distraction we can get our hands on.

Something’s missing. Something vital.

Recently, I saw a painting in a coffee shop, titled Sensual Stroll. It was a picture of a woman dancing barefoot through the grass. Why is it sensual? Because of the feelings and emotions evoked from being barefoot in the grass.

On the beach, we let our feet squish through the sand and feel the water lap our toes. In the parks, if we’re lucky, we take off our shoes and also dance through the grass.

These sensual experiences hearken back to simpler times, to time as a child when we ran free without our shoes, until our parents made us put them on. Maybe learning to tie our shoes wasn’t such a good thing after all. It meant we had to wear them. Or, as Danny Dreyer, author of ChiRunning, describes in his Foreword to this book, putting on shoes signaled the end of summer’s carefree barefoot days, a pair of squeaky new tie-shoes, and the beginning of another year of grade school.

What’s missing today is a physical connection to the earth. We’re spending too much time indoors, and, even when we’re outside for a run, we’re separated by an inch of rubber, which is a fantastic resistor to electricity.

This brings us to the physics of getting grounded—how we’re truly connected to the earth and vibrate at the same frequency of the earth, what that means to our health, and how barefoot running can help: sensually, physically, and spiritually.

On a spiritual level, we’re no longer connected to the ground from where we evolved. On a physical level, we’re no longer connected to the earth’s magnetic fields and particle charges. On a mental level, we see ourselves as distinctly separate from nature and other living beings.

Since the beginning, we’ve been in nature, not just foraging for food, not just to survive, but for our enjoyment and spiritual experiences as well. Organized religions give us scenes of Jesus in nature throughout the Bible and images of Buddha on his travels and path toward enlightenment. I contend we’ve forgotten who we are spiritually.

Though in many ways we’re more advanced than at any other time, we’re also the most unplugged. We all feel a desire to connect, to feel the earth and get grounded again. We just have a hard time finding the way or letting ourselves do it.

Perhaps what’s missing is that we’re no longer touching the ground—literally this time. It’s considered dirty, taboo, or even dangerous. As an advanced society, we’re told we no longer touch the earth in that way, and we’ve developed devices (shoes) to keep us above the ground.

At our barefoot running clinics, it’s nothing but ear-to-ear grins once participants shed their shoes and frolic in the grass. It’s not just physical; it’s soothing on an emotional and spiritual level.

Michael Sandler is a best-selling author, and internationally recognized barefoot running and walking coach who teaches thousands of runners, walkers, and hikers of all abilities. He has coached athletes professionally for nearly 20 years. Michael and coauthor Jessica Lee teach people how to rediscover the bliss of pain-free running.

Jessica Lee is the president and cofounder of RunBare and the founder of the Barefoot Running Club in Boulder, Colorado, the first in the nation. An assistant barefoot running coach to Michael Sandler, she is a former track and field athlete and an avid cyclist.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.