The beautiful benefits of being barefoot

Having considered where and how we move and how this affects our running, and then the natural springs all over the place in our body, our brilliant breath, and then all of the trunk talk from last week, we’re finishing up the Running Movement Series at the bottom! Not the bottom, but at the bottom of our body…at our fabulous feet.

We’re considering all aspects of our feet, and not just the basics of being barefoot – but these too as I can’t help myself! There’s such incredible power in connecting our physical body to the natural world… Our feet are remarkable gateways to connect us to the ground beneath them as well as to the rest of our body above them.

Remarkably responsive, ever adapting pieces of phenomenal architecture, with extraordinary mechanisms of propulsion…surely it’s worth kicking off your shoes just to celebrate that!?

 

Our peripheries

Sometimes I wonder at our feet and hands. As in, in a sense of wonder… I wonder about how our digits are perfect ‘wrappings up’ of the ends of our (physical) body. It is of no wonder, though, that our peripheries end with swirls and whorls…(nature loves the spiral-like movement and shape, right?!)

My wonder extends to the concept of the ends of our body being synonymous with the ends of our nerves, and how, if we were to trace these ending back to their source, we would find them all internally connected to our organs and glands and musculature. Our ‘reflexes’ reflecting back a marvellous map of your body, on your peripheries.

In this wonderous world of magical interconnections and supreme design features (which never seems to leave a thread not perfectly and completely sewn up, nor fail to delight the wide-eyed seeker!), I find it hard to imagine that our feet might not perfectly serve the function of walking and running…just as they are – unshod and bare.

It strikes me as funny that ‘we’ might consider our chunky-rubber soled pumps a design superior to our bare feet. Funny, in a ‘really?’ kind of way. Funny in a ‘we think we outwitted nature!?’ kind of way… And of  course, this isn’t ‘we, the masses’ who have suddenly sprung upon this idea – we’ve been fed it.

To a large extent, the history of the training shoe has been an evolution of – ‘oh, let’s perhaps try this….’ to, ‘this is how it (running, and its paraphernalia) should be’.

The trainers industry is a perfect example of how we’ve been sold a story. And as consumers in this material-driven world fuelled by comparison (and led by profit margins!), we’ve been had, hook, line and sinker.

All of us. I’m not ruling myself out of this equation by the way!

However at some point, several years ago now, after weighing up all of the rationale, I chose a different route. And of course it’s not the only route!

For the record, I wear minimalist shoes on the road and my bare soles on sand and grass – and at any other possible opportunity!

But here are the reasons for considering to ditch the ‘pumps’ convention for your good old-fashioned feet:

 

  • Foot freedom and muscle strength

Housed in solid, unforgiving footwear our feet are restricted from moving. At least, moving in their fullest ranges of movement – as they don’t need to when stuck in shoes.

As a consequence, the joints in our feet become used to moving only within the mid-ranges of motion. This is fine, until you ask the foot and rest of the leg to respond to, say, a divet in the path, or a bump in the road…then it doesn’t know how to handle that extreme of normal, natural movement., because it isn’t practised in it. Hello ankle sprain, you say?!

When our feet are used to, and encouraged to move to their fullest, it just helps the body be prepared with the extremes…and then to cope happily!

What’s more, when housed in shoes all of the time, our feet don’t benefit from the tension relief that moving to the end ranges of movement provides (ie. think of being barefoot as yoga for the feet!).

And when our feet are wrapped up in shoes they’re not doing as much work as they could…and they’re certainly not using their inherent musculature to the fullest.

 

  • Better alignment and more responsiveness

When the body is barefoot, it’s given a window of opportunity for the entire body to align itself better than when in shoes.

Shoes with a heel (even the smallest of small heels…chaps?!) tip you forward. When you’re wearing heels, your new normal is slightly, subtly ‘off-centre’. And when you’re off-centre your tissues and joints will load in slightly inadvertent ways.

Whereas, if happily aligned, our whole body starts to respond differently. It will transmit the ‘reaction forces’ from the ground more beneficially from each step that you take.

These ‘ground reaction forces’ are the equal and opposite force coming up to meet you, every time you put down your foot (think, school physics lessons) – and this happens a lot when we’re running!

Being barefoot will enable your major joints – your ankles, knees and hips – to react more appropriately and fluidly. Experience shows that moving at speed over uncertain terrain becomes a smoother process. There’s a softening into the lumps and bumps as the body responds better to the forces that it’s subjected to.

 

  • Increased sensory information

Can you bring your attention back to arriving at the beach for the first time in a while on a warm, sunny day…and then imagine taking off your shoes and taking those initial steps on the sand.

Mm-mmm. Feels heavenly. You notice that feeling throughout your entire body (and I assure you that your shoulders will drop as they start to relax, and you’ll take a nice little extra exhalation of releasing tension…). Our feet are a gateway to experiencing a sensory understanding of the world – of the ground beneath us.

Then bring your attention to the pebbly bit, that you have to walk over to get to the sea, laced with shells and sharp bits right in your path! Sorry to burst that bliss bubble, but ouch! Your entire body tenses and moves awkwardly as you edge precariously over the ‘sharp’ stones…(Those sharp stones which have been washed over by a tide twice a day, day in and day out! Ie. They’re not actually that sharp!)

All of our tender spots in our feet are rudely awakened to those blessed pebbles and shells! It’s those sluggish ‘reflex points’ in our feet which feel so tender when negotiating the rocky route to the salty swimming delight beyond.

When we spend more time barefoot, experiencing different surfaces and travelling over different terrains, our feet both become more awakened gateways to sensory input (essential for powerful communication – and our all-important balance and proprioception) and they also become less tender to the slightest stone. Walking (running) regularly over different terrains also acts as a natural foot massage! Teasing out the tender points and stimulating the internal organs as a reflexology-related consequence!

 

  • Anti-inflammatory effect

Actively spending time in direct contact with the ground creates an anti-inflammatory response in the body.

Look it up: ‘grounding’, ‘earthing’… Don’t take just my word on this here – there’s growing ‘evidence’ from research, and there are some phenomenally respected advocates of natural medicine who extoll the benefits of regularly connecting to the earth…and they’re doing so from the rooftops! (If that’s not an oxymoron!? ; )

In a nutshell, direct contact with the ground enables us to tap into the natural mechanisms of the energetic world that we can’t always see (and therefore, don’t always actively believe in, in our hard-science based, physically-oriented society!).

We’re all energetic beings. All beings are energetic…we all operate with the same basic operating system.

When we, as shoe-sporting humans – insulate ourselves from an on-the-ground connection to the earth’s electromagnetic field with our sports shoes, we miss out on a natural flow of negatively-charged particles into our (also electromagnetically-charged) system.

So what?!

So, that free-flow of negative ‘ions’ has the capacity to stabilise the ’free radicals’ in your body. As you may be aware, free radicals (positively charged, unstable cells) are produced as a natural by-product of activity (cell respiration, essentially – which also happens a lot when we’re running!). If free radicals build up in the body over time, low-grade inflammation results – which may potentially expressing itself as disease, ultimately.

Nature has numerous marvellous means to rectify the situation. Natural food substances – ‘anti-oxidants’ – can re-stabilise the free radicals, laughter and the flowing of our happy hormones will have a similar effect, and so too will the earth’s generous supply of freely flowing negatively charged ions – some good negativity, you might say!?

Why spend your entire wages on a super-expensive array of superfoods for their anti-oxidant properties…when there’s a free, unlimited source of inflammatory healing right under your nose (feet!)?

I mean, yes, buy your blueberries (or better still, grow your own!) but maybe think about a bit of barefoot too?!

 

Usually unshod…

Obviously, we were born without shoes. (Granted we were born without clothing too, but…) The development of our structure and musculature from the feet up depends upon, in the larger part, to the activities that we do habitually, and have always done. But even if, as adults, we shift to being barefoot and running barefoot more of the time, this will allow us to access the subtle shifts that will positively ripple their ramifications through the entire body.

But what’s more fundamental is that connecting directly to the ground enables us to forge a natural relationship with nature. Foster a culture of working with natural means, and the body will respond in its most positive way.

Is being barefoot a fad or not? Is ‘minimalist’ running mightier than all the cushioning in the world?!

These aren’t questions that have yes or no answers, but as ever, informing ourselves, adding in some awareness and trying out some things, we can just all make up our own minds…

 

Your task this week

No surprises that you are charged with the invitation to try out a little bit of barefoot this week! Even just a short run in the garden will start you off! And see how it feels

If you’d like more guidance with this, and with a score more wonderful, supportive, running health practices, the doors to the 21 Day Holistic Running Health Immersion are now open!

Starting very soon on Monday 20th May – check out the link here for all of the info!

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I hope that you’ve enjoyed this Running Movement Series, and that it’s helped bring some heightened awareness to your running…

We’d love to see you ‘in the Immersion’, so until then, enjoy a little bit of barefoot!

 

With very warm wishes

Dawn

 

Living Green Health

Run Breathe Live Green