Healthy Perspective by Colin Kirts

Why go barefoot?   Part 1

A potentially presumptuous and unnecessary disclaimer:

...this is not an attempt to convince anyone to start walking or running with or without a particular shoe, not even a toe-shoe. We have created far too many arguably unnatural surfaces, upon which, physiologically, it makes little sense to do much of anything, least of all run. The most similar surfaces we can find—simply courtesy of natural processes—are comprised of many rocks, big and small, rough and smooth, short and long, and they exist in such a way that we can rarely, if ever, run on them. Our best bet, often, is to walk, hop or even crawl.

No, don't just take off your shoes and go. Trust me, it's not necessary; I've tried.

This is an attempt, though, to evaluate why we put shoes on in the first place. To point out the obvious, we aren't born with them. We used to move without them, often on our knees, free of discomfort. Many children grow up moving around quite well, if not flawlessly (that is to say, there's arguably no need to improve the method), without shoes. If not told to protect, cover, improve their feet, it's unclear as to whether or not they would even think to do so. The broader question is then, it would seem, do we wear shoes simply because we think we need to do so?

This is a knowingly loaded question, one that we shall intentionally not answer in this piece. Nevertheless, respecting the context with which we are most familiar, let's consider some of the effects of conventional footwear. Most of us are born with a toe-box, so to speak, that is as wide if not wider than the rest of the foot. This natural width is simply a reflection of what's needed in order to allow for ideal growth. In other words, a barefoot is, on a purely skeletomuscular level, best for full-body support from the ground up. The width of the toes shows how much the muscular of the toes could grow.

Shoes, often too tight and often unnaturally soft, can limit or hinder this development. Imagine wearing a mitten from an early age, one that kept your fingers compressed together and made it difficult, if not impossible, for you to experience texture. You would have narrow, essentially useless hands.

What's more, we are born with a curve in our feet. Rarely are people born with a curve that does not match their phenotype. If the foot is able to grow and develop at the same rate as the rest of the body, we ought to expect harmony.

When we add a raised heel (in addition to the unnatural tension and static texture), however, a few developmental consequences take place. Within the arch, certain areas overdevelop, while others under-develop. Hypertension and weakness result, and not just in the foot. The ankle starts to become uniquely immobile. One starts to lose the innate ability to sit with ones hip close to floor (aka, squat); until dealt with, we are dependent upon a raised heel in order to reconnect with this natural position. What's more, an unintentional lean forward begins to form in our torso; instinctively, to find some sort of equilibrium, the musculature in the hip begins to over engage, while the lumbar curve increases to an unfortunate depth. The conventional shoe, in short, with this unnatural height in the heel, causes the body to try to recreate homeostasis as best it can with the result of unnecessary limitations.

There is a wealth of information to consider when it comes to the question of bare feet. The compression of the toe, the monopoly on sensation and the unfortunate postural consequences are only three simple effects of most footwear. To touch upon these basic skeletomuscular details is incredibly limited, and it is a starting point.

To intentionally limit the conversation, for now, let's reconsider the question about surfaces. If we are open to questioning the value of shoes simply because of how they can affect the body, what is, then, the ideal relationship to have with the environment around us? As I said in the beginning, I do not recommend running around on concrete in your bare feet. At least, not yet... Quite simply, there is more information we must consider. There is a significant piece to understand, and we shall discuss it next time. Complete or not, though, please consider the possibility that your feet need some bare time. However you create these moments, whether in a yoga class, in the dojo, or even in your garden, respect it, cherish it, seek it out... you are likely doing yourself a great service.

Learn more about Colin

[ Back to News & Events ]