To begin with healing and vitalization for the foot, it’s important to feel a sense of support in your bones. Without skeletal support, the muscles and tendons get overworked. Bunions, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, arthritis, foot pain and other problems may arise.
Where do you carry your weight while standing? On your heels or the balls of your feet? If you answered “ball,” you may have been working extra hard with your
tendons in your foot for balance. As the largest bone in the foot, the heel (calcaneous bone) is the primary support in standing. The toe bones provide additional support but serve to balance and steer the heel, much the way feathers or fins stabilize and direct the movement of a bird or fish. People in our culture tend to walk with a strong heel strike and roll off the toes. This is only possible because we wear heavy shoes and have conditioned ourselves on flat floors and roads. If we walked barefoot with this heel-strike gait on a rugged path, we would probably bruise our heel bones in short order. It just takes a small stone in your pathway and there you are. Ouch. A bone bruise.
Instead, to walk barefoot on a trail or rough terrain requires a softer, more skillful landing. The toes may navigate or even push away stones or sharp debris until the full weight of the body touches down and rests into the heel. Our toes, like our fingers, flex and extend, rotate and spread sideways to adapt to uneven ground, sticks, pebbles and holes.
However, shoes reduce the demand of toes to function independently. The more rigid the sole of the shoe, the less the feet need to function. As a result, people who soley(!) wear shoes have unconsciously trained their feet to become less supple and flexible. The bare skin of our feet register temperature, texture, movement and shape. Imagine shaking someone’s hand with stiff, rubber mittens instead of bare skin? Our feet have lost this sensory connection with the ground. There is much speculation as what effect this has on our nervous system and “grounding.”
While it seems like going barefoot is an answer to foot problems, it is not quite so simple. There is difference between barefoot on a rug indoors and barefoot on the live, bumpy moist ground that can wake up our nervous systems. I find going barefoot on trails and the bare ground much more stimulating and therapeutic than walking barefoot in my house, on sidewalks, roads and floors. The more your feet can feel and have a refined job to do for balance and movement, the more your feet will begin to function again.
Barefoot Lesson: You can start with walking on your lawn or in a park. (Make sure it is an unpaved area– a small patch of grass, woods trails, bare dirt is fine.) If you initially need walking sticks to help with balance, please use them – even if you use a walker, you can begin slowly to do this lesson. Check the area outdoors first to beware of glass, sharp sticks and animal deposits. Over time, you can find activities you can incorporate barefooted to integrate the following lesson– whether it be walking to get your newspaper, light yard work or walking on an outdoor trail. It may take you a little bit longer to get there initially, but well worth it!
-Pause and stand. Close your eyes and sense your bones: your heels, the ball of each foot and each toe. Sense them as clearly as if you were drawing the bones on paper.
-How wide are your toes spread? Can you shift your weight over each toe? Around your heel? Play with a small movement to explore the weight going over these areas.
-Take a few slow breaths in one place and relax your feet. Sense the contact of your skin with the ground and notice as many details about the texture, temperature, hardness/softness and moisture that you can.
-Lift one foot as if you were peeling it off the ground and feel how the toes of the other foot help you balance. Move slowly a few steps and walk as quietly and relaxed as you can. Stop to relax whenever you need. Make sure you can breath easily. Pay attention to the contact of each toe, the way your weight spreads through your foot. In a standing rest, if your feet were to grow a taproot, where would that be located? As you walk, imagine pulling your foot off the earth, the way you might pull a plant out of the ground– sense every “root” (heel and each toe) pulling off as you step.
This is a very different way to walk than with shoes. The more uneven the terrain, the more you body is challenged to sense and balance. Be sure to practice with awareness. Let me know how this works for you.
Interesting site on barefoot walking and running:
http://barefootprof.blogspot.com/2012/07/top-10-reasons-why-you-must-wear-shoes.html#comment-form – Daniel Howell, PhD, “The Barefoot Professor” author of the Barefoot Book
©Annie Thoe, GCFP; www.sensingvitality.com 2012 – words on Feldenkrais, Healing & Nature