To become wholeheartedly human and to truly take a step towards holistic living, we need to take a look at the way we use our bodies, starting from the ground up.
A holistic point of view
The first thing to remember is that our bodies are designed to work best in their natural state. A lot of fashion is not aligned with this fact.
Let’s start with our feet. They are literally the foundations of our body and we know that all structures need strong foundations in order to be resilient in all kinds of conditions.
Our feet are advanced pieces of engineering, for thousands of years, humans have been walking and running without much on them. So why do we squash them into uncomfortable shoes all the time these days?
The problem with modern shoes
While shoes are very helpful for protection from weather and sharp objects, on the whole, they don’t need to be very complicated. Yet many of the shoes on the market radically change, restrict and affect the way we walk or run. It is no surprise that we experience problems of the feet, hips or back pain.
When wearing shoes with heels or arch support, our posture is affected and shifts the weight loading, which puts stress on parts of our body that are not designed for it. This is most obvious with high heels. Wearing high heels pushes the hips into an awkward tilt, it curves the spine unnaturally and sometimes painfully (called lordosis) and it puts a lot of extra weight forward onto the toes which is not only painful but can damage the nerves. The whole body has to compensate for this unnatural posture which introduces all kinds of tension and aches even in the upper body.
Weak foot muscles
When the feet are restricted or given “extra support” and cushioning in a conventional shoe, the muscles of the feet are not put to work and they become weak. This means that the feet are more vulnerable to injuries or issues such as flat feet and fascia plantitis.
Loss of sensory data from the feet
Modern shoes also stop the feet from sensing the ground properly in order to coordinate movement. The thicker the sole, the less in touch we are with our senses and the ground beneath us.
Unnatural running technique and injuries
The result of modern running shoes with thick soles is that most people run on their heels which is the most unnatural way to run – it jolts the knees and can damage them and cause all kinds of other injuries. It also requires more effort to run this way because as you land you are braking your own movement and you need extra energy to push off the ground to keep moving forward.
When we are barefoot, we are more inclined to run on our toes or mid-foot as we are supposed to, which is kinder on the knees and body because they act like suspension and less effort is required. It’s a much more efficient way to move.
What are barefoot shoes?
Barefoot shoes (also called minimal shoes) are simply shoes that have no arch support and no raised heel. The soles are completely flat and have very little cushioning. They are designed to give your feet the freedom to move naturally as though you are barefoot – which includes giving your toes enough space so they can spread and support you.
What you should know about wearing barefoot shoes for the first time
It takes time to get used to barefoot shoes. It will work best to start introducing them gradually for increasing periods over time. Just like when you start exercising for the first time after a long period of inactivity, your feet and calf muscles are going to be feeling the workout until they build up strength.
Likewise, you will have to get used to actually feeling sensations in your feet again because you will notice how it feels when your feet/shoe touches the ground – more so than with conventional shoes. This can be slightly weird at first until you get used to it, so go gently with yourself.
You may notice that your feet become slightly wider as the bones and ligaments finally have space to be. This is normal and how your feet are supposed to be.
Where can you buy barefoot shoes?
Barefoot shoes are still pretty niche and not many companies make them, so you may need to order them online, although sometimes you may find them at specialist shoes stores. My two favourite brands are:
Where can you learn more about feet and shoes?
I recommend listening to the Freakonomics Podcast Ep 296 “These Shoes Are Killing Me” in which professors and podiatrists explain all of this in greater detail. It was a real eye opener for me.