There are so many benefits to restoring natural foot function, especially through the process of minimizing shoes and spending time barefoot. Below you'll find my brief overview of the human foot, how shoes shape us, and why going barefoot matters. A great article called "Born to Walk Barefoot" came out in the New York Times this summer, and you can read this pertinent piece here.
Humans are born with the capacity to develop strong, resilient, and pain-free feet. For most of human history, our ancestors walked barefoot, or in minimal, soft soled shoes. It is only in recent times that we have lost our ability, and our opportunity, to walk and move shoe-free.
In modern day culture, young children and their growing, adaptable feet are put into a variety of closed toe, narrow, stiff and rubber soled shoes. If you take a look at these shoes, more often than not they look nothing like the natural, wide, toe-spread foot of a baby.
From childhood to adulthood, we spend a majority of our lives in iterations of these not so functional, not so foot-shaped shoes.
We base our footwear on style. Or we're told we need insoles, inserts, and thicker, padded, “more supportive” shoes to keep our feet safe and out of pain. And yet people continue to experience a plethora of foot problems and injuries. Bunions, collapsed arches and planter fasciietis are on the rise, and yet the inserts, "supportive" shoes and surgeries do little to address the root cause.
When you next think of it, take a moment to grab a pair of your own shoes, turn them over, and take a look at the sole. Now compare this to the underside of your own foot. Do the shapes match? Chances are your shoe is far narrower, pointer or altogether differently shaped as compared to the actual structure of your foot, even if your foot has been narrowed and re-formed by wearing shoes most of your life.
Take 3 minutes to try this: Stand barefoot on a flat surface. Tune into the the sensation of the soles of your feet on the floor. Notice your weight - does it go into your toes, the middle of your foot, your heel? Can you sense your big toe? What about your little toe? Can you feel the temperature and the texture of the surface your feet are standing on? How stable do you feel in standing?
Now, put on your socks and shoes, and stand in the same spot. Notice how you feel your feet now. What kind of sensations do you experience in the soles of your feet? Can you sense where your weight goes - your toes, middle of your feet, heels? Can you sense your big toe? And your little toe? What do you feel of the texture and temperature beneath your feet? What kind of stability do you sense now?
Chances are you have a less clear, less discript experience of your feet in this second scenario. We generally don't take the time - or are never given the opportunity - to think about this in our day to day lives. And yet the shoes we wear, or don't wear, have a huge impact on the shape of our feet and how they function and feel.
Imagine for a moment that instead of having use of your your hands as you do right now, that you were instead required to put on a pair of mittens each morning before leaving the house, and then proceed through your day with these mittens on yours hands. Can you imagine just how difficult it would be to feel, pick up, interact with and use your hands for the many requirements of daily life? And you can imagine, over time, how this would affect the natural ability and dexterity of your fingers and hands?
In much the same way, this is what shoes are doing to our feet. But shoes are so much a “normal” part of our modern day life that we have adapted to and quite literally been shaped by our footwear.
The very good news is that the human structure is quite adaptable. It shapes to and is shaped by the way you use yourself and interact with your environment. Just as the foot narrows and conforms to the shape of modern day shoes, it also spreads out and re-establishes itself when given the space and freedom (i.e. going barefoot or in minimal shoes) to do so.
Through gradual and safe barefoot progressions, I’ve watched many a foot (my own ballet injured feet included) re-shape, spread out, regain resiliency and restore pain-free function. As bipedal humans, we organize nearly all our movement in relationship to our feet on the ground. Restoring foot function can have an enormous, and profound effect on not just our feet, but also on the rest of our our musculature, joints, and bones.
In my own life, barefoot movement has restored my narrow, ballet injured feet that were stuffed into point shoes at a very young age. My feet are now wide, spacious between the toes, pain-free and continue to feel better, stronger and more dextrous through barefoot movement practices and minimal shoe wear. Spending time outside barefoot has become something of a meditation and a deeply nourishing practice for me - it immediately brings me to the present, fully in tune with my myself and the environment beneath my soles and around me. I crave this shoe-less time, and I am continually astounded by the effect it has had on my wellbeing.
If you’re interested in exploring natural, healthy foot function in more depth, with specific tools, resources, and techniques to safely guide your process, please get in touch. Restoring natural and barefoot function is one of my specialties and something I spend much time addressing with private clients, and in my classes and workshops.
Stay tuned for a follow up post about my favorite, trusted shoe brands that support natural foot function.