“For me, it’s do less, but do it more focused. Do less, but do it with more intention. Do less, but do it with joy.”
On any typical day, you’re not hard-pressed to find actress, author and activist Mariel Hemingway doing things barefoot. In recent years she’s uncovered the anti-inflammatory effects of “earthing,” also known as “grounding,” the widespread wellness practice of making direct contact with the earth’s surface in order to naturally absorb electromagnetic fields. A relentless advocate for suicide prevention and mental health, Hemingway’s family lineage of depression and suicide has inspired a movement towards true health that began within and grew into a life’s purpose of spreading motifs of mindfulness to others.
Whether on set for blockbuster productions, hiking and biking through the mountainous trails of Sun Valley or simply finding a moment to jump around on a trampoline in her spare time, movement remains a huge part of Hemingway’s everyday life. In a world where going never seems to stop and breaks are few, with the help of her partner Bobby Williams, she wants to share her sense of simplicity and youthfulness with the world. The two are hard at work spreading their message on mental and physical wellness, planning both in-person and digital health centers that offer resources and tips on fostering the mind-body connection.
We recently caught up with Mariel about intentional movement, how motherhood taught her some of life’s most important lessons and why doing less can sometimes be the best way to transform.
On Personal Best
It was amazing. I was 17-years-old and really wanted to be in the movie [Personal Best]. The director Robert Town wasn’t convinced that I was right for the role, but I knew [I was] having grown up in Sun Valley. I was an athlete as a kid. I was a ski racer and we used to do tons of dryland training. Little did I know that track and field was highly different than running through the mountains or skiing, but I got the film. I played a pentathlete so I learned how to high jump, long jump, shot put, run and hurdle. Hurdles were so hard because it was the only thing that you couldn’t fake. You could fake jumping high on the high jump, you could put [the camera] low and film so it looked like you were jumping high, but with hurdles, you can’t lower them and make it look like you’re hopping over. I really had to learn how to hurdle and it was super challenging.
Here’s the other thing about Personal Best that was incredible: I trained for nine months and I had to learn sports which I had never done before. I weight trained and everything. I worked out with Olympic athletes every day. We started filming after nine months and then we got shut down. There was a writer strike, then there was an actor strike, so I kept having to train. I couldn’t stop training because there was always another hurdling event or something so it was three years before the movie even came out.
I always knew that it was important to move your body from that point on. I think that the discipline of having someone there every day and giving you things to do, you learn about your body. You learn what your body can take and you know the signs of when things are too challenging and when you can push yourself more. It was interesting. I really loved learning to have the mentality of an Olympic athlete, even though I was super slow.
On Barefoot Hiking & Grounding
Having grown up in Idaho I did a lot of barefoot stuff and didn’t even realize that I was grounding or earthing. I was just a kid growing up with no shoes on. I used to horseback ride, walk and run around town all the time barefoot. Then I started to realize the real benefits. I used to go maybe five minutes and it would hurt and I would think “Oh, this is horrible,” but then I started researching and understanding the benefits of how grounding and taking in the frequency of the earth was so powerful for getting rid of inflammation in the body. Now, I’ve become dedicated to it. I do at least 30 to 90 minutes of barefoot walking a day. I also sleep grounded. I have a grounded sleep mat that I got from Ground Therapy, a company that I work with, but it’s just so profound in how it changes your life. I mean, it really is an amazing way to connect with the earth, which is something that we’re so detached from because of technology and the world we live in, and we wear rubber-soled shoes so we’re never connected to the earth. When you get barefoot, it changes how you see the world. You think of animals and we think that they have a sixth sense, this is something that Bobby taught me, they’re grounded all the time so they sense the earth. And when you start grounding, you become much more aware and you develop a sixth sense. You know things that are going to happen, it’s an amazing advantage.
One of the reasons why I know some people are terrified is they’re scared they’ll get hurt, and it hurts, but they can all go sit in their backyard and put their feet on the lawn. You know you can actually sit in a chair and put your feet or foot on the grass or even concrete. You can ground on concrete, but you can’t ground on anything blacktop.
And also, when it’s the winter here, who’s going out barefooted? You really can’t in the snow, so that’s why you want to be grounded in your house. There are so many things that we don’t realize are affecting our bodies and brains inflammatory-wise because of technology, we are thrown off balance by the amount of the electromagnetic field we are absorbing without any release.
On True Health
I used to own a yoga studio up here and teach yoga. I didn’t teach regular classes, but I would do workshops, and one of the things I always said is, “Look, you can go to an exercise class, you can go to an aerobics class, you can go out and do some sort of exercise, but if you’re not breathing, then it really is just exercise without any mental connection.” If you do yoga for 20 minutes and breathe, have intention and stay present, that’s when your life, body, mind, your spirit changes. It’s because breathing connects us to the body, connects us to the brain, connects us to the earth. It’s all about frequency and that’s what slows you down and makes you present.
If you don’t do them in concert, you’re just disconnected.
I used to live in New York City and run at Central Park every day. I would see these people with headphones in their ears which, whatever, it’s fine to listen to music, but there was a disconnect. Their bodies never changed because you would see them and they were not happy, they were not connected, they didn’t look like this was giving them joy. They did it because it was habitual. My mantra is to do less, but do it more focused. Do less, but do it with more intention. Do less, but do it with joy. Your body will transform then. Your mind will transform and you’ll become more connected and more healthy, truly healthy.
I think we live in a society where things are moving too fast. There are 15 seconds of learning something and then you go out and you do it. Things were different back then. When you made films back then you spent time. I worked on a movie called Star 80 and I rehearsed it like a play for six weeks. You don’t do that anymore and it’s sad because it’s a gift to have time. We don’t feel we have time because the world is racing so quickly. So, it’s about having the knowledge that pulling back is really important for us, pulling back to a time where it’s not about how much information I can get out there in a day, but it’s the focus of, “Can I put something out there that’s going to last for generations?”
breathing connects us to the body, connects us to the brain, connects us to the earth.
I often say from a spiritual perspective, it’s the simple things you do. It’s washing dishes, it’s taking the trash out and it’s being aware of what you’re doing when you’re doing it. It’s not complicated, it’s not about “Oh, I need to be present when I’m creating genius things.” That’s nice too, but it’s a lot easier to be present when you’re in the zone of work and a lot harder when you’re brushing your teeth, when you’re doing those mundane things. You could have a shitty attitude about it instead of thinking, “You know what? This is my practice.” I see everything I do as part of my practice whether it’s hiking barefoot or it literally is cleaning the kitty-litter box. You have to do it with intention.
It’s the disconnect [of body and mind] that disables anybody from making progress. If you did those simple things like making your bed, crouching down but bending your knees all the way, you wouldn’t have to go to the gym. When I go to the grocery store, I try to park far away so that I take a walk from the car. And in the summer here, I barely drive because it’s such a walking community. I bike everywhere. I have a little basket and I go get the mail. I go get whatever I need from our little health food store and I take it home. It’s a great way to stay conscious of the body-mind connection.
“Can I put something out there that’s going to last for generations?”
On Sun Valley
I grew up here and I didn’t grow up in the easiest of households. There was a lot of addiction, a lot of unhappiness, and depression. My older sister had schizophrenia. I mean, there was a lot of craziness, which of course, growing up I didn’t know that that was not normal, I felt like “Oh, this is my family,” but, what I loved about growing up here is that when things got tough, nature was always there. I walked outside and I could feel the wind on my face. I could get in a cold river and literally chill out. It refreshed me. Life here just, it makes you real if you choose it. You can be here and drink and party or do whatever you want, not that that’s bad once in a while, but it’s a place where you can really grow spiritually because it makes you really connect. I think it’s a healing vortex.
I hike, I bike, I like to do yoga outside. I love cold plunging. I love going into the river.
We laugh a lot. That’s probably one of the best activities. I mean seriously, laughter. He [Bobby] brought that into my life more than I’d ever had in years because I was married for a long time and wasn’t happy. But, bringing laughter back, that’s probably one of the biggest keys to staying young.
There is healthy ego. There was a time in the 80s and 90s where everyone would declare “Oh, the ego is such a bad thing.” No, it’s bad if you don’t check it. If you let it run wild like a hyperactive kid. But if you have it in check, it helps you value yourself.
I think for me it was really challenging because I had low self-esteem for a lot of years, and Bobby’s been really helpful with that. At the beginning of our relationship, he asked, “Why do you apologize for everything?” That’s something I learned as a child you know, please love me, please like me, whatever my insecure stuff was. He would say “You don’t have to apologize.” If he had a problem I’d blame myself and he’d say “Why do you make shit about you?” And it was so good, it was uncomfortable. I didn’t like to hear it at times, but he was right. And now, I stand up and I can say “Hey, I’m a Hemingway, and that comes with a lot of baggage, but it also comes with a shit ton of good.”
I think for any woman that has had a child, you become more humble. It becomes less about you. Being a mom is a way to really see the mirror of yourself. You see your children and they either misbehave or they’re acting out, or they’re hyper or they’re this or they’re that, and they react to things in your life and if you pay attention, they’re mirroring things in you. They’re the greatest teachers you can have.
When they were small, I would meditate with them every night. We would sit there, I would get them all set and we’d sit and meditate you know maybe only 10 minutes. Well apparently, a couple of Mother’s Days ago, the girls were like “Oh mom, you have no idea what we would do when you would be meditating. We would just sit in front of your face and make faces and do raspberries and jump around and all this stuff,” and I was thinking, “My kids are so cool because they’re sitting there in silence and stillness with me.” But the beauty of that is, it’s really not about “Oh, I have to sit there like some Yogi or some guru,” it’s that the intention was there and that’s something that was an example for them. You can only be an example to your kids.
Parenting is such an interesting thing because I think it’s hard to be a parent. We’re not taught how to be a parent, but the best thing you can do is try to be the best person you can be because it’s only your example that they can look by. It’s not what you say, because they simply do not listen, and the truth is, it’s really like, how do I wake up every day and how do I show up for them as a human being? Am I kind? Am I loving? Do I show up happy?
I wasn’t always. I actually was in a fairly unhappy marriage, which was my choice, and so I had to kind of overcome that. But, in the years since I was in that marriage, I’ve told them I did the best that I could do knowing what I knew.
Getting back to the best parenting, it’s really about being your best self.
it’s really about being your best self.
On Current Projects
The health and wellness retreat center that we’re putting together is amazing. It’s not only for physical wellness, but it’s also for mental wellness. I do a lot of speaking around the country for depression, mental illness, suicide and bipolar disorder, so I’m super excited about creating a space where we’re teaching people how to live. I think that a lot of the reason people suffer from depression, anxiety and all these different mental illnesses is that they haven’t been taught how to drink water, or how to breathe, or how to take time to meditate. They don’t know how to live life. I’m not saying it’s a sole solution to everything, but like grounding and getting your feet on the ground is a way that people that suffer from mental health issues can alleviate some of the symptoms. Trust me, I’m no doctor, but I’ve pulled people out of depression just by getting them grounded, having them get some sun in their eyes, drink water and learn how to breathe a little bit. It’s amazing how simple things in our lives can transform us. We’ve become a society that’s constantly running, but we’re not dealing with the simple things in life that make us healthier.
I’m also doing a suicide prevention show with Time Magazine. I’m extremely proud about the show because I know that suicide is a big problem, and the fact that it’s an option is bizarre to me. When I was a kid, people did commit suicide, but kids didn’t commit suicide. It didn’t happen very often.
I’m also producing my grandfather’s book A Moveable Feast into a short-form series. Bobby and I have written books together and I think we’re going to create a curriculum based on some of the work that we talk about: grounding, food, exercise, home, spirituality, relationships, all of those things. We’re going to create a digital platform so that we can teach that and get it out there.