Last year I read an about the joy of barefoot walking. Instead of writing it off as a new-age peculiarity I chimed in that I used to roam the woods barefoot as a kid by days on end, with dark soles and a light mood. From then on I felt I should give the concept another try. This is an article about the benefits of barefoot walking, and how I put barefoot walking to the test!
I grew up in the city, in a neighborhood that wasn’t suitable for playing outdoors. Luckily my parents found a solution, by driving up to the country every given weekend to our regular camp site. Instead of paved streets we had miles of woods to play in, making the forests, fields and heather our personal playground.
When building treehouses got old (then again, does building treehouses ever get old?) me and my friends decided to play “survival”. We would bring rations like radishes, carrots and cucumber, a pocket knife, and the clothes on our backs. This is all we felt we needed to stay hidden and entertained among the trees for the entire day.
What we didn’t feel we need, were shoes. We felt they would just get in the way when we were climbing trees, jumping puddles and running youthful amok. We ignored our parents’ pleas to wear them, to prevent splinters in our feet. We laughed at people who looked surprised (or even affronted) at our dirty soles.
You could say that we felt pretty darn cool.
By the time I reached a pubescent phase where polishing your toenails became a thing, I was done with running barefoot through the woods. Until I read an article at the Counsellor’s Cafe about barefoot walking. It made me remember how much I enjoyed walking without shoes, and I thought “why not do it again?”.
The benefits of barefoot walking
Barefoot walking has been described to have several benefits for both a healthy mind and physique. Pediatricians say that walking barefoot improves your natural walk or gait, and that it works wonders for our natural balance. It could also increase the range of motion in your feet and ankles, improve your posture, and even provide pain relief.
It has been said that the mental benefits of barefoot walking include feeling more connected to the earth, improving our natural sleeping patterns, and that it even reduces stress and anxiety.
Reason enough to give barefoot walking a try!
Barefoot walking put to the test (again)
I already knew barefoot walking is something to be enjoyed. But I was a little hesitant at first. Would I enjoy it again? Would it fit my current lifestyle – where my toes spend their summers colorfully polished in strappy sandals?
Barefoot walking attempt 1
With my baby daughter being unable to walk long distances yet, I was in dubio about taking long walks. We booted our big stroller – only using a buggy for paved streets. I decided to give our back-carrier another go; a backpack like concoction in which your kid is suspended safely and ergonomically. With a good 12kg on my back, I figured these walks would be a good workout.
Then I remembered my barefoot walking resolution. Without a child on my hand I would be able to focus on where I walked more. Perfect! Instead of putting on my walking shoes I slid my feet in a pair of simple flip-flops while hoisting my daughter on my back. Barefoot walking, we’re on!
When I reached the dirt path through the fields I kicked my flip-flops off. The first challenge was to pick them up again with a 12kg pack on my back. The second was walking in a manner that even mildly passed for relaxing.
The extra weight on my back made me feel heavier and less balanced. In fact, it felt like every little stone and pebble under my feet felt like a complete boulder. Every step felt irksome, and I started to feel jumpy and slightly annoyed.
After a few meters I decided to put on my flip-flops again: This isn’t how barefoot walking is supposed to be. The conclusion:
Note to self: Don’t give barefoot walking a try when you have your 12kg kid in a carrier on your back 😉
— Nathalie / Want for Wellness (@wantforwellness) 11 juli 2018
Barefoot walking attempt 2
This beautiful Saturday morning, I had a couple of hours to myself. The Mister took our daughter to a family visit to grandpa, and I decided on a quiet brunch in a little restaurant that can be reached by walking through the woods and the fields next to our house.
When I finished my food I tucked my book away, kicked off my flip-flops and started the journey home.
I immediately noticed that when I took my shoes off, the concept of walking got an entirely different meaning. Although I was mostly set on travelling home, I immediately appreciated the movement and the exercise more.
The feeling of the foresty ground beneath my soles forced me to slow down, and to take a closer look where I wanted to position my feet. It actually felt rather pleasant to be fully focussed on walking, rather than the chores that still awaited me at home.
I hate to sound too much like a tv-salesman, but the difference from walking with flip-flops was staggering. In a good way.
When I saw a fallen tree reaching over the creek I decided to climb it and dip my toes in the water. Something I love, but usually refrain from doing when I’m wearing any shoes – because dang, there’s little I detest more than wet shoes and socks.
Walking barefoot made my stroll a lot more mindful – forcing me to focus on the moment, rather than whatever keeps my thoughts occupied after a busy week. It was refreshing. And terribly easy: All it took was kicking off my shoes.
When I finally decided to make my journey home a priority, I only decided to put on my flip-flops again when the dirt-path through the fields proved to be too hot underneath my feet. I didn’t want my soles scorched, but admittedly, I didn’t like putting on my flip-flops again much. Immediately I felt the rush of walking home at a higher speed again.
To my surprise, my feet weren’t even that dirty from my little stroll. Bonus!
Barefoot walking attempt 3
In my enthusiasm to make barefoot walks a regular habit, I decided to stop filing away the additional calluses on my feet. Unfortunately this has caused the skin on my heels to crack – even to a point of bleeding. A hard teacher, as it set me back on my barefoot walking endeavors.
After a couple of weeks of regular and careful foot-care I decided to kick my flip-flops off again. This time while I was pushing my infant on a tricycle (a handy one with a pole attached to push her along without ducking – one of my most enjoyable mom-finds to date).
I immediately noticed that watching how to push the tricycle across the forest path diverted me from watching where I could best put my feet. I gave it a good shot, but I soon had to conclude that so far, barefoot walking is most enjoyable to me when I can solely focus on the task at hand.
Again, on with the flip-flops. I wink at my feet while I do so and am inclined to whisper down at them: “Next time, when we’re alone.”
Barefoot walking attempt 4
As you can guess after my last reports I decided to take on the challenge of barefoot walking again when I was completely relaxed, completely chore-free and completely alone. As expected I once again felt the immediate bliss of being slowed down and becoming pleasantly aware of my surroundings – especially the forest floor.
While I slowly, but deliberately made my way back home through the woods after another saturday solo-brunch, I already started making excited plans to make this a weekly habit. Why not make an entire barefoot hike? What route should I take to keep the ground under my feet pleasant and foresty? I gleefully follow the path back home and don’t even think of putting my flip-flops back on.
The benefits of barefoot walking: The conclusion
As you can guess, rekindling my habit of walking barefoot has been successful. I discovered a few personal benefits about barefoot walking, which include:
- It forces you to slow down your pace
- It makes you more aware and mindful of your environment
- It allows you to feel more grounded
- It feels meditative
I would recommend barefoot walking to anyone, as it requires the same effort as regular walking. Mind that people with diabetes should be mindful of walking barefoot outside, as little wounds on the soles of their feet can be especially harmful. It is also recommended to start practicing walking barefoot short distances at first, to train the muscles in your feet after having been supported by shoes for so long.
Also, I personally prefer avoiding paved streets while walking barefoot (I’d hate to be stepping into a piece of glass) and that although a bit of callus is recommended, regular foot care to prevent cracked and dry skin is a must.
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Do you ever go barefoot walking? What are your experiences?