A conversation with Sarah Brightwood, President of Rancho La Puerta
Insider’s: Does the president of a world-famous destination spa really run around barefoot?
Sarah Brightwood: Yes. When I can. I am from a long line of barefoot girls. My mother, Deborah Szekely — founder of the Golden Door and Rancho La Puerta — was raised in Tahiti, walking on warm sands. I grew up at Rancho La Puerta when it was rustic and off the grid. One of my greatest pleasures was climbing trees and running barefoot through the vineyards. My daughter grew up sliding down piles of topsoil stockpiled for the countless gardens that I have designed. When she was two years old I called her Emily Barefoot Girl because we couldn’t keep her shoes on, much less her clothing. This sensory hunger, curiosity, and delight is our connection to earth and is not only our birthright; it appears to be a necessity for health and wellbeing.
Insider’s: What’s the science behind this?
SB: One simple truth is that we are bio-electrical beings living on an electrical planet. In 1952, a German physicist named Winfried Schumann discovered electromagnetic waves in the earth’s atmosphere that are now known as the Schumann Resonances. Later his student, Herbert Konig, discovered that the main frequency produced by the Schumann Resonances is very close to the frequency of alpha rhythm brainwaves. Schumann Resonances may act as a tuning fork for the mammalian brain. Being cut off from these natural electrical rhythms may cause headaches, emotional stress and illness.
Insider’s: What about grounding the body or “Earthing?”
SB: The earth has its own electromagnetic frequency. Grounding the human body to the earth simply by taking off your shoes has been shown to have significant healing effects. Grounding or “earthing” can reduce inflammation, improve blood pressure and flow, relieve headaches, speed healing, reduce jet lag, and protect the body against electromagnetic pollution.
Personally, I have never needed research to tell me that when I take my stress and troubles into the garden, within minutes of putting my hands in the soil I come home to myself. The garden is the place where I lose my mind and come to my senses.
Insider’s: Do guests practice Earthing at Rancho La Puerta?
SB: Our guests are typically not barefoot, but the Ranch experience is intimately connected with nature. Our facilities are spread out over 80 acres, within a 2,000-acre nature preserve. Walking is essential to the experience, as are our fine gardens which blend a fragrant and serene Mediterranean landscape with the native chaparral. Our guests rise early in the morning, choosing one of four hikes offered daily, and eat the majority of their meals outdoors. We were one of the first spas anywhere to provide farm-to-table experiences. Our cooking classes at La Cocina Que Canta always begin with harvesting directly from the earth. In the Women’s Health Center courtyard is a reflexology spiral, which combines Earthing with the stimulation of all the meridians based in the feet.
Truthfully, I believe that of the 40 different classes we offer everyday, from yoga to Pilates to weight training to African dance, the most healing of all is simply the experience of walking mindfully to class in a beautiful natural environment among a loving, supportive community of staff and fellow guests.
Insider’s: What would your father, the Professor, think of this?
SB: Although the Ranch evolved a great deal from our rustic origins in 1940, the core principals have remained intact. As my father wrote over fifty years ago, “Modern life is complex and complicated, and the complexity of the technical civilization is negatively affecting the nervous system of mankind. Stress is omnipresent. Stress and its nervous tension and insecurity are the greatest problems facing our civilization.” As an antidote to stress, my father loved to tell the Greek myth of Antaeus, who was the son of Poseidon and Gaia. Antaeus was undefeated in battle as long as he remained in contact with the ground, his mother earth.
Insider’s: What else would you like to tell us?
SB: As we enter the new year, may you find many places to walk barefoot on the earth, to strengthen your connection with her life giving forces … to lose your mind and come to your senses.
Editor at Large Stephen Kiesling was a founding editor of both Spirituality & Health and American Health magazines. He was the youngest member of the 1980 US Olympic Rowing Team and the oldest competitor at the 2008 Olympic Rowing Trials. A Scholar of the House in Philosophy at Yale, Stephen is the author of several books, including The Shell Game, Walking the Plank, and The Nike Cross Training System. He has written for The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and Outside, has been featured in The New York Times and The Boston Globe, and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, including Today and All Things Considered..