“What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot grasp the fact that a human foot is more noble than the shoe and human skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed.” Michelangelo
So we touched on some of the benefits of barefootin’, in the previous post. The feedback we received from that post was great both in the world of social media(grrr..) and in person(yes!). Many people had personal stories that nailed home the concept of going barefoot not just as “barefoot running” but just going barefoot during other times. Many of the stories sounded like testimonials to some higher power with people improving balance and eliminating pain through the simple act of taking off their shoes.
But where do you begin if you want to start a journey in barefoot exploration? What are the dangers? Benefits and even legalities of doing so? Well, here are some ideas.
1.Start small– For some it just starts with a simple act of taking the shoes off around the house in an area that is very known and relatively controlled. This is a great place to start for folks that aren’t willing to bite off more than they can chew. Your lawn or yard or heck your back deck or hardwood floors can serve as an initiation to the estimated 70,000 nerve endings in each foot. People need to break in their feet incrementally and build up their feet to be able to handle greater terrain challenges.
2. Be regular– Instead of going for a long hike right off the bat, go for shorter regular break in periods giving the feet plenty of time to recover. Feel your feet not only becoming stronger but also possibly the foot and ankle complex which will result in improvements in balance and proprioception, coordination and even joint function among other benefits. But as with everything in our bodies, regular is good but think about varying the intensity of sessions. I can really feel my feet “talking” after a long hike or a full day in the woods barefoot so the next day will time to back off and let them recover and heal so they can come back even stronger and more resilient.
3.Pay attention!-one of the great things about taking off your shoes is that you will start to PAY ATTENTION! You aren’t bumbling along blindly dragging your feet, you really need to look ahead and plan out your steps. This can be an extremely rewarding experience and can turn a simple walk or hike into a real movement adventure. As you go from the break in period to being ready for greater adventures, the need for awareness increases contrary to what you may think. Yes your feet are built up but just like with knives, chainsaw’s and many things in life, it is often when we get too confident and take things for granted, things can fall apart real quick. The dull knife being more dangerous than a sharp one scenario. Just this week, I’ve had some close calls with glass in areas that I assumed were safe and where my attention had lapsed a bit…stay focused!
4. “Know before you go“- Knowing the terrain you will be walking, trekking, etc. in can be a good practice for sure. Beaches for example can be an area that seem like a “no brainer”, but actually can be fairly risky with both man-made hazards such as glass, metal and even needles etc. in addition to sharp shells, rocks and wood. So sometimes it can be good practice to have some footwear on at first until you know an area and once you feel ready and willing to take em’ off, do so.
Yes this world is not as pristine as it once was and as opposed to our ancient forefathers having to dodge large scary animals looking to eat them, we conversely have to mostly watch out for our fellow bipeds.
- Glass, Rusty metal, sharp plastics, wood splinters all pose potential risks and are far greater than those found in nature like rocks, roots and thorns etc. in my opinion.
- Another potential risk these days is the increased talk of people getting MRSA from going barefoot. This is a fairly controversial subject and there are naysayers on both sides of the coin. Seems that bare footing in the hospital would not be a great idea(though I’ve done it plenty when there..)
- Being typecast as a “hippie” or homeless might be more of a risk-Going barefoot can be very intimidating to people who are used to wearing shoes. I get the funniest looks at times at the Post Office, gas station, banks and various businesses along with sidewalks in a busy town/city. A couple of years ago I even entered a fitness/strongman competition barefoot. One of the challenges involved flipping massive tractor tires over and over down an old parking lot then carrying heavy sand bags to and fro. I could hear some smack talk from the sidelines but I just used it as fuel and beat everyone there expect one mid twenties professional mixed martial artist who took the overall title. I believe it actually gave me an advantage and after the event, many folks wanted to hear my feedback. I felt lighter, more agile and grounded, end of discussion! Once you get over the looks and smack talk, the ground is yours for the taking!
- IT IS NOT ILLEGAL TO DRIVE BAREFOOT!!- This seems to be a myth to the point of some police officers even assuming that is a law but it is not! Which isn’t surprising since there are 2 states that allow breastfeeding while driving.
- It is actually rarely illegal to be barefoot anywhere. It is generally up to the owner of a store/facility/business etc. to set a clothing requirement and most often is NOT for unsanitary reasons. Much of the thought process of the act of not having shoes on being unsanitary is ridiculous at best. It is more myth than fact. In fact it is more unsanitary to put a foot in a dark, moist and contained area(shoes). When people’s feet stink, it’s generally from shoes, not being in the open air. Ever get a good whiff of a pair of Vibram Five Fingers or New Balance Minimus? Great shoes but damn those things smell to high heaven.
Get to it!
So it really comes to you and what you want from the experience. Improved musculature in the feet and legs vs. atrophy and weakness. Awakening the numerous nerve endings at the entry point of our connection to the earth. Strengthening the very foundation of our great temples. A tactile connection that has been ingrained in us for most of our existence on earth. Whatever it may be, make it yours and maybe bring even more attention and engagement to your game by kicking off the shoes and getting grounded!