Barefooting


At the beginning of 2017, as I became increasingly immersed in MovNat, I began to implement a more conscious practice of 'barefooting' in my day to day life. I grew up playing barefoot outside in my parent's backyard, and I spent a great deal of my ballet training barefoot or in light ballet slippers. In recent years I even enjoyed going barefoot at the gym during my kettle bell workouts, and at home I always kicked off my shoes as soon as I walked in the front door. But despite these barefoot opportunities, I began to realize that I spent quite a bit of my time in a collection of very cute, very stylish, but also very bio-mechanically constrictive to the human foot boots and shoes.

As I began to spend increasingly more time outdoors, moving freely, expanding my Natural Movement repretoir and adapting my new movement skills to varying environmental challenges (climbing over boulders, balancing on fallen trees, navigating across streams, jumping from rock to rock), I was suddenly acutely aware of how un adaptable my footwear was feeling. No shoe gave me quite enough grip or traction, no boot offered the kind of "ankle support" that convinced me I was truly supported. In fact, all those hiking boots, even the minimal ones, rendered my ankles and foot joints so motionless and immobile that I sometimes traversed through nature feeling like a bumbling, uncoordinated Yetti. Perhaps an over statement. But still. I was less than satisfied with my footwear options, and it was slowing down the newfound strength and fluidity of my movement training.

So began my own, uncharted transition from a fashionable boot collection, to a minimal hiking boot, to some minimal sneakers, to a barefoot sandal, and finally to simply going barefoot in nearly any and all conditions.

But it wasn't immediate. And here is where the real work (and joy in the process) came in.

Based on my own body intuition, and a my training in the theory that "slow and small yields the biggest results", I approached bare-footing incrementally, excited, but cautious about the rate and intensity into which I transitioned into a shoe-less mover. Initially, I simply spent time at the park moving through the luxury of fresh green grass. In the beginning, there were days when the park was a perfect temperature, the grass soft and sunbathed and the texture beneath my feet was was a cushy, sweet delight. Some days, the grass had been freshly mowed, and each little green shoot was stiff and prickly and stuck uncomfortably between my toes. Other days I arrived just as the grass was being watered, and my feet squashed around in swampy, cold, unpleasant green slosh.

Despite the variables, more often that not the sensory feedback beneath my feet was fascinating and indulgent, and I found that the pleasant sensations in my feet carried on in to my day, even after I had put my shoes back on.

So I began to incrementally explore new textures and surfaces. Sometimes it was bark, other times rocks, stones and pebbles. In the beginning I had a low tolerance for uneven and hard surfaces, and could only manage a few minutes at a time. During hikes, I looked for parts of the trail with finer, smoother dirt and relished in the duration of time where I was able to kick my shoes off and walk across the forest floor, gathering up new sensations about the difference between mud and moss, coarse sand and drying pine needles. Sometimes the forest floor was hard and filled with the stubborn and fluctuating veins of tree roots. Other times the earth was a spongey pile of decomposing organic matter that made it's stepping surface softer than a feather down blanket. I discovered that stepping through the mud was cool, squishy, dirty, and equated to the glorious experience of a personalized foot massage, and walking through icy run off and streams sent zinging refreshment through my entire system and had the ability to clear my head and give me a second wind.

As you can tell, I was deeply curious about the changing sensations beneath my feet as I expanded my barefoot repretoir. Beyond walking and hiking, I was also beginning to run barefoot, and my feet were now able to adapt to nearly any given surface - concrete, asphalt, beach sand.

While the soles of my feet toughened and adapted to sharp and uneven surfaces (I once stepped on the raw edge of a broken piece of glass, and it didn't even pierce my skin), I also found that the soles of my feet remained soft and supple. While I watched and sensed the musculature of my feet widen and strengthen, I felt the incredible effects of the not only stronger, but the more fluid and adaptable base of support my feet now provided.

Through the process, I have come to treasure my time spent barefoot in varying terrain. It fuels my body as much as it does my soul. It has become one of my daily non-negotible sources of nourishment. In my experience, happy, fluid feet make for happiness and fluidity of mind. The freedom in my feet directly relates to the freedom of my mind.

And while at this point I'd simply love to be barefoot all the time, I realize at this present day there are certain perameters and even laws about going barefoot (no shirt, no shoes, no service). For these occasions, I have discovered the next best thing to barefoot in my trusty Earth Runner Minimalist Sandals. They provide a Vibram sole, a hemp footbed, and a conductive copper piece on the underside that attaches to conductive laces that wrap gently around your feet. Secure yet allowing the foot to feel free, this shoe is a little gem, and I wear it everywhere that I am not barefoot. It takes me through hikes when bare-footing is not an option, and it looks and feels amazing with jeans or a summer dress. It's non slip, my toes have the space to spread and my joints the freedom to move with me through my day. I cannot recommend them enough, especially if you are considering a transition to a more minimal or barefoot approach.

Whatever shoes you currently stand in, I gently encourage you to consider consciously spending a little time outside of them in your day to day routine. Maybe that's just 10 minutes in the morning when you first get out of bed, or perhaps you have a backyard where a little barefoot moving and gardening feels safe and approachable. Start small. Go slow. Know there is no one way, and the gradual process is part of the joy in liberating those toes and ankles and all 26 foot bones from their current habitation inside your shoes.

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Copyright © 2017 Ashley Rowe | Discover Ease in Movement. All Rights Reserved. The following are registered service marks, trademarks, collective marks or certification marks of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America: Feldenkrais®, Feldenkrais Method®, Awareness Through Movement®, ATM®, Functional Integration®, FI®, & The Feldenkrais Guild®.  Some photos by Rosalie O'Connor and International Feldenkrais® Federation Archive, Robert Golden.