By Angus Nicol
Remember that the shape of our shoes, alongside all the added cushion and support, alter
our normal walking pattern. Well guess what? Walking barefoot can help return them back to
normal (in time). When you walk barefoot, more of your foot makes direct contact with the
ground. This means that more proprioceptors (the nerve endings responsible for knowing a
body parts “position in space”) are stimulated - leading to improvements in body awareness
and balance, and reducing pain. It also means that you’ll be more weary and have more
control when your foot strikes the ground. The freedom and lack of rigidity associated with
barefoot walking means that all the joints are free to move through their full range of motion,
and over time the muscles in your legs and your feet will get stronger. Consequently, you will
gain a more stable arch and improved foot mechanics; and have a flow on effect of
potentially reducing the chance of injury and decreasing pain further up the chain in the
knees, hips and low back. All of these changes lead to restoration of a normal walking (gait)
cycle, happy soles… and some research suggests happy souls too (read on!).
I bet that sparked your interest, how could walking barefoot make my soul happy?
That sounds a bit far fetched, and yes… I might be exaggerating a bit, but it sounds good, right?
And it’s pretty accurate! Outside of the biomechanical advantages of barefoot walking, the
process of “grounding” or “earthing” is another understated advantage of stomping around
on Mother Earth - the greatest healer. We humans, like all other living creatures, are bioelectric beings. I won’t dive too deep on the sciencey stuff… all you need to know is that the human body carries a slightly positive charge, and the earth carries a slightly negative charge with an abundance of free electrons (who doesn’t like free stuff?!). Direct contact with the earth allows transference of these electrons and expulsion of excess electricity in the body. There is currently limited research in this area, however the available research isshowing some incredible findings!
Firstly, the transference of electrons from the earth to the body may help to neutralise free radicals (unpaired electrons) in the body, similarly to antioxidants, and relieve oxidative stress, thereby supporting healthy immune function. Grounding has been reported to increase energy and decrease fatigue, decrease cortisol (a slow release, long term stress hormone), decrease inflammation, increase circulation, decrease blood pressure, improve sleep and mood, lessen depression/anxiety, and lead to faster injury and wound healing times. Although further research is needed, emerging evidence is promising and risk free! In addition to barefoot walking, other ways to practice grounding are by laying on the ground (think star or cloud gazing, picnics, sun bathing etc), immersing yourself in natural bodies of water (beaches, lakes, rivers etc). Grounding indoors is a little more challenging, however there are now products available such as grounding mats, blankets, socks and patches that give you more access to these benefits.
Now, sticking to a more energetic approach, barefoot walking may also provide benefits
working within a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) paradigm. Have you ever heard of, or
experienced, foot reflexology? It works on the premise that particular areas of the foot
correlate with specific areas of the body. When pressure is applied to these areas, they are
stimulated and vital energy (or “Qi”) flows to the corresponding area of the body, helping
return the body back to balance and allowing the body to self heal. The scientific evidence
supporting foot reflexology is weak and not significant, however it is reported to share similar benefits to those of grounding. When you stand barefoot (especially on uneven surfaces) for an extended period you will apply pressure to different parts of the foot, thus initiating the Qi cascade to the corresponding area of the body.
Whether it be biomechanical, through grounding/earthing, or via TCM foot reflexology
principles, there is no doubt that barefoot walking has a plethora of far reaching benefits
throughout many areas and systems of the body. Please see Part III of this blog to see how
you can safely start your barefoot journey!
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