How often do you see people walking barefoot these days? In places of worship you may say. If you saw someone walking barefoot, you may even think he is an eccentric! True that ! But, allow me to take you on the ‘barefoot in the park’ track, unravelling its numerous benefits. Kick off your footwear for a while and allow your feet to feel the ground.
My experiment with walking barefoot started randomly on an impulse. While I sat reading a book with my home footwear on, I felt unusually warm in the soles of my feet. Still immersed in my book, I slipped my feet instinctively out of the slip-ons and sat with my feet bare, for the rest of my reading. A lovely feeling of coolness coursed through my feet and into the rest of me. I felt refreshed; I put the book down and sat wondering where the goodness of it all came from. The sensation triggered a something in me and I walked out barefoot in my compound for a stroll to test it out. Into my 100th step, I sensed that it was that connectivity to the earth that had rejuvenated me. I am not exaggerating. Don’t take my word, try it out yourself. So here is more on the advantages of walking barefoot, a result of my research and experience. It has now become a part of my ‘keep-healthy’ habits.
Born barefoot, we leave this earth barefoot too (except in some faiths), but most of what we experience between the two destined points, we cover our feet up with protective footwear. To understand how important being barefoot is, lets travel back in time to our infant days when our first tottering steps felt the ground. Isnt that how we all learnt to get a grip on our feet and balance ourselves? The muscles of our feet oriented themselves when we first commanded them to hold us up. But in a few months our parents got us ‘soft baby footwear’ and being barefoot became a rarity.
Have you ever wondered why pains and aches were almost non-existent in our childhood? Because we played barefoot and walked barefoot too sometimes. As we grew into our teens and adolescence, we donned more footwear and walked less barefoot, thereby inhibiting the senses in our feet and allowing the tiny muscles to weaken.
Amy Mathews, a movement analyst has this to say, “Shoes can make the feet passive and unconscious because they do all the work for us.” The arches of our feet are crucial to providing support and balance to our bodies. The more we allow our feet muscles to weaken, more the number of pains and aches in our legs and lower back. Barefoot training can help us keep our feet muscles conditioned, and in some cases even reverse some amount of damage done.
Get In Touch With Your Feet : Reconnect with the various muscles and senses in your feet and you may ward off future injuries. There are 26 joints that make up our toes and feet and along with them are the supporting muscles, ligaments and tendons. Lets learn to pay attention to them and see how we feel. Flex the feet, curl them up, wiggle the toes, stand on toes and heels alternatively (take support if you need), touch and tap the tops and bottoms of your toes. Wake up their sensory awareness and make them agile.
Being Earthed : Another fascinating dimension to barefoot walking is the ‘earthing’. Scientific research and early studies have shown several health benefits of kicking off shoes and treading the ground barefoot. We have a connection with the Earth and its magnetic field. Earth’s electrons have their own charge, the negative ions. When we come in direct contact with earth, our bodies gain from it tremendously, reducing inflammation, increasing antioxidants and improving sleep. Earthing research and observations describe Earth as a ‘global treatment table’. A great book to read to learn more about this is Earthing by Clinton Ober.
We live in a strange yet miraculous world. For a change, we are going to be asking for something negative !! Before your eyebrows shoot up, let me tell you that we are talking about positive and negative ions. Modern life and technology have made our lives easier through gadgets and electronics, yet there is a price attached to it and if that price involves our health, we need to sit up and take notice.
Ions affect our health. Positive ions are not a blessing, negative ions are. If you wish to know more about ions, click here
There is a proliferation of positive ions in cities or any place where electronics and electro-magnetic frequencies are used. We are surrounded by smart phones, laptops, televisions, microwaves and cell phone towers, which emit abundant pro-inflammatory positive ions. These flood our bodies, thereby giving birth to several inflammation issues. Barefoot walking allows us to absorb Earth’s negative ions which in turn balances the positive and negative charges within us. Many health issues get sorted out nature’s way thereby (4).
‘Earthing’ is the first and quite influential benefit of walking barefoot, but there are many other benefits of walking barefoot as well. Such as:
Health Benefits Of Walking Barefoot
Yogis and spiritual heads in most parts of Asia still sleep on the floor to get connected with Mother Earth better.
- In a review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public health, patients with chronic pain who slept on grounded carbon fiber mattresses saw a reduction in their pain, and slept better (1).
- Earthing changes the electrical activity in the brain. It also helps skin conductivity, moderates glucose regulation, reduces stress and boosts immunity (2).
- Barefoot walking or ‘earthing’ increases the surface charge of red blood cells, thereby avoiding clumping and the resultant heart diseases. It may also help regulate the endocrine and nervous systems (2).
- Nature walks’ open up our minds amidst the greenery. Walking creates physical and emotional rhythms. Even a light stroll helps release endorphins.
Improves Sleep Quality
Remember our ancestors slept on the ground with minimal bed linen? Have you gone swimming in a lake or the ocean sometime and slept better that night? In both of the above, ‘earthing’ happens naturally, replacing positive ions of the body with the negative ions of the earth, thereby removing tension from the body. Walking barefoot is also supposed to enhance the circadian rhythm if done on a regular basis.
Keeps Us Alert
Exercise systems like Yoga, Tai Chi and martial arts are all performed barefoot, but do you know why? Masters in those sciences claim that being barefoot wires our brain and helps keep us alert at all times. Doing squats and lifting weights barefoot is gaining popularity as natural resistance is the best resistance from which the body benefits immensely.
We all are aware that our bodies are 70% water. When we walk barefoot, that water becomes more conductive and alert. An ionic balance is achieved within our cells and tissues, resulting in better health and keeping inflammation at bay.
Enhances The Senses
Our cavemen ancestors walked on sand, grass, wood and pebbles and had strong legs. They enjoyed better health because the nerves and pressure points in their feet got better stimulated, and allowed more chi energy to flow to different areas of the body associated with those pressure points. By wearing footwear all the time, we are shutting out many sensory experiences and letting those nerve endings remain unstimulated.
When we walk barefoot, we need to watch where we are walking. We need to be in the present moment. Walking is a primal pattern and a sub-conscious activity for the homo-sapiens. When we allow our feet to come in contact with the ground barefoot, we let ourselves be drawn into a more conscious state.
Improves Overall Posture
Reiterating a fact mentioned earlier in the blog – we were made to walk barefoot, but one of the prices we have had to pay in return for civilisation and industrialisation is our dependency on footwear. Constant use of footwear weakens certain muscles of our feet, legs and abdomen.. We then rely on other muscles to compensate, leading to bad posture, pains and aches. When we walk, jog, run or play barefoot, we gift ourselves health. Those muscles that remained shielded from adequate use are now being put to work and have gained strength, giving us better stability, balance and posture. India’s Milind Soman who completed the Ironman Challenge in 15 hours, 19 minutes and 29 seconds in his first try runs barefoot most of the time. Milind Soman is an Indian supermodel, actor, film producer and fitness promoter. He along with Reema Sanghavi founded Pinkathon, India’s Biggest Women’s run created with the objective of spreading awareness about women’s health related issues, breast cancer in particular.
How To Walk Barefoot
Start Slowly : Set aside footwear for a while. Walk barefoot for at least 5-10 minutes a day to begin with. Are your soles complaining of hard surfaces? Did they feel poked and pricked? Are they really so tender or have we brought them to it? Time then to make a start and get them accustomed. Start walking barefoot at home for a day or two. Then step out and walk on bare ground, your feet may take it better. “It’s better to practice for 10 minutes a day than an hour once a week”, says Matthews.
Focus On Your Feet : Most often, as we take a step forward and roll the foot from heel to toe, our weight travels from the heel to the big toe. Walk around a bit and see for yourself. The little toe hardly touches the ground. The bones in the outer foot are the strongest and designed to support our bodies. The arch of the foot largely depends on how our feet roll. But, when the body weight travels directly from the heel to the toe, the arch tends to become weaker and collapse. Hence, try to shift your weight from the heel to the outer bones and from thereon to the little toe. This can immensely help people with flat feet. For the rest of us, it can help strengthen our knees, pelvic floor and muscles of the abdomen, when practiced over a period of time.The human body is a marvel, isn’t it ?
Where To Walk Barefoot : Start walking around barefoot at home. Then step out to try the natural ground. Walking on grass or sand is ideal and fun, but how many of us are so lucky? You have the option of visiting a park or the beach for a few minutes everyday. But, if your feet can take it and if you have no other choice, you may walk on the gravel or tiled pathways in your compounds. If your surroundings permit you in terms of safety and hygiene, try walking on the mud patches lining the streets. It’s really no big deal, just a matter of training your feet and that should take you a couple of days at the most.
Take care if you have broken skin or open wounds. Do remember to wash your feet under running water after ‘walking barefoot in the park’ !
Europe has provided over 100 shoe-free parks and paths to its citizens, with specially designed paths laid with either grass, logs, smooth stones, water and mud. In India, we do not have public spaces for such walking, but a few gyms and sports rehab centers have equipped their floors with indoor and outdoor walking tracks.
When To Watch Out
As with any exercise or new activity, we need to tread cautiously. Too much too soon can end up in some kind of an injury. Avoid walking barefoot if you experience any pain in your feet or legs. Give it a break and start again after resting them adequately. But do try it out and start a healthy habit. Walk, jog or dance barefoot, you will reap the benefits for sure. Consult your doctor if you have any health issues that may interfere with walking as a fitness activity per se. All general physicians may not be aware of the benefits of barefoot walking, they are neither trained nor aligned in recourse to nature. However, sports medicine doctors and fitness professionals are sure to be in the know-how and should be able to help you in case of doubts or advice. As we turn more and more towards naturopathy, make barefoot walking a part of your life, for at least five minutes a day.