When I was younger, I really liked tennis shoes. I liked the way they looked more than I did they way they felt on my feet, and still do. Then, when I accidentally began a career in the construction industry many (many, many, many) moons ago, I learned to like boots.
I still own a pair of tennis shoes for times when they absolutely must be worn, and I still own a pair of boots for when I’m on one of my jobsites. I also have a pair of flip-flops and a decent pair of very plain slip-ons for when I must be seen in polite company. Oh – I almost forgot – I also own a pair of Merrell water shoes, but they stay tied to my pack FAR more than they find their way onto my feet (in fact, if you look closely at the picture above, you will see them hanging there at my right side).
However, the majority of the time, you will find me without shoes, regardless of what I’m up to. I drive without them, I run around the yard without them, I traverse waterways without them, and as you can see above, I even hike without them.
Why? Well, here are my top 10 reasons …
10. Shoes are frigging expensive.
OMG, I don’t even want to get started on this one … the cost of shoes, especially specialized ones, is positively absurd. How many people could you feed for the cost of a pair of autographed Air Jordans or a pair of Jimmy Choo pumps? Granted, these are extreme examples, but even “everyday” shoes are outrageous, especially when we think we have to have a pair to match every outfit, a pair for basketball, a pair for golf, a pair to wear in the house, a pair to wear in the garden … good lord.
9. As a general rule, shoes serve no practical purpose.
Yes, I know – there are shoes out there for EVERYTHING, and every manufacturer turning them out into the marketplace will tell you EXACTLY why you need this shoe for this activity and that shoe for that activity. Bull. 95% of the things that you do on a daily basis require no shoes. The other 5% of the time, they are required for the sole purpose of protecting your feet under extreme conditions. Climbing a power pole? Wear shoes. Scaling a glacier? Wear shoes. Dumpster diving? Wear shoes. Walking across the yard, hiking, traversing hot sand, strolling on some hot coals … ditch the shoes. Get the picture?
8. In the event that there was a shortage of shoes, you would be prepared.
Nuclear disaster? ELF blast? Walmart goes out of business? Any number of things could occur that would limit the availability of shoes – why not be prepared?
7. Feet are easier to clean than shoes.
Ever stepped in mud with a pair of brand new, white, canvas tennis shoes on? Did you try to clean them? What happened?
By contrast, you can slog through most any substance with bare feet, regardless of whether you consider it repulsive or not, and simply wash it off with a little soap and water. What doesn’t come off immediately will wear off in a short time. Ever had a pair of shoes that got cleaner the more you wore them? Didn’t think so …
6. There’s something vaguely wanton, liberating, and rebellious about having naked feet where they are not expected.
No one is going to bat an eye if you skip along the ocean’s edge or go to bed without shoes and socks on, but stand by the pump putting gas in you car with naked feet or hike in the woods and through the waters without the protection of a pair of expensive and respectable boots or deliberately make a trip into the local convenience store with no shoes on (where the “No Shirt, No Shoes” sign is conspicuously posted) just to see if you’ll get thrown out, and you’d be surprised at the looks you’ll get.
You generally get three basic types of reactions: disgust (usually comes from the type of person who isn’t comfortable in their own skin and/or is germaphobic), incredulity (“Dude – I can’t believe that you’re out here with no friggin’ shoes on!”), or wary acceptance (usually starts with a pointed stare at your feet, a quick glance at your face, and then a shrug that says “Oh well – to each his own”). On occasion, you’ll also be met with enthusiasm (“That’s awesome! I remember going barefoot as a kid – I miss it” … as they begin to remove their shoes). Rarely, you might encounter someone with a foot fetish – in the event that you find yourself in this uncomfortable position, ignore the other person’s behavior unless they are harassing you or actually try to touch you. Then all bets are off …
5. Instant cooling availability
Regardless of whether it’s a little or a lot, everyone sweats through the sole of their feet. It’s a natural cooling mechanism, and one that is severely thwarted when our feet are stuck in a pair of shoes. Going shoeless increases our ability to cool the body in hot weather. Want to REALLY cool down? Fill a container with enough cool water to cover your feet and step in it for a few minutes when you get overheated – you’d be amazed at how quickly your core temperature will come down. No container available? No problem – take the hose and set the sprayer to a gentle mist or stream. Lay it on the ground and stand beside it. The combination of the water misting up over the tops of your feet and running under the bottoms will cool you down quickly. Of course, you could always go stand in the river … that’s our personal favorite.
4. Balance and agility
Shoes are marvels of engineering – manufacturers spend countless dollars to figure out how to get just the right support for the arch or how to add some spring to the step or how to cradle the heel just right … the list goes on and on, and all of those efforts are made in order to give the wearer comfort, support, agility, and balance.
You can throw the first two – comfort and support – out of the equation, as they are a direct function of sticking your foot into a shoe to begin with. If you weren’t shoving your foot into an unnatural container, the question of comfort and support provided by that container would be moot.
The other two – agility and balance – are pertinent. Sure, shoes are engineered to provide your feet with enough movement and flexibility to ensure that you don’t fall over every time that you take a step or make a turn, but they are an artificial (and VERY poor) substitute for the inherent traits that become available to you when you contact the ground with bare feet. It takes a little practice, but traversing your environment with unshod feet puts you in a position of receiving the tactile and energetic signals that are normally squelched by the soles of your shoes. You will learn to “read” the ground under you, and adjust your center of gravity, weight dispersion, muscle tension, and line of sight to “fit” the topography over which you are moving. With practice, you can move smoothly and gracefully over terrain that would prove to be difficult even for folks with shoes on. This strengthens your core, teaches proper weight dispersion to achieve balance, improves flexibility, and keeps your entire body in motion. Want an example? Take your shoes off and walk across something other than soft grass. Choose an uneven terrain, such as gravel, a wooded area, or something similar. To begin with, you’ll probably be all over the place, swinging your arms about, your upper body thrusting forward, then backward, in order to stay balanced enough that you don’t take a tumble – this is normal, and serves to prove my point: taking a stroll without shoes on requires the use of your ENTIRE body at all times, which means that your ENTIRE body is gaining benefit from doing it. Granted, with practice, these movements will become much more graceful and a LOT less exaggerated, but they will still be there in subtle form – you will constantly be adjusting, ever so slightly, to maintain balance and awareness, which has tremendous benefit over walking on a flat surface with a pair of expensive shoes on (I really want to get started about treadmills at this point, but I’ll refrain …)
3. Uncovered feet = healthy feet.
Feet are not meant to be subjected to the dark, solitary confinement of shoes. They are meant to have fresh air and sunshine, and they are also meant to have enough room to spread out comfortably. Imprisoning them in shoes means that they are destined in be in an airless, warm, and moist environment, which is a great place for all manner of nasty conditions to take hold. It also means that they are continually protected from being exposed to the type of environment that would allow for the “wearing away” of the outer layers of skin. The skin on our feet is thicker for a reason – it’s that way so that they can carry us through life without incurring undue amounts of damage. When they are continually shielded, they still produce the thicker skin that they are programmed to have, but they are not exposed to anything that would naturally wear that away. Hence, the skin often gets thicker and thicker, resulting in cracking, peeling, and other unpleasant conditions. We then run to the drugstore or to the podiatrist in an effort to correct this “condition”, which is absurd if we just apply a little common sense – lose the shoes! And here’s another tip for you: ditch the chemical laden creams and costly gadgets that are advertised to remove thickened skin – instead, go to the hardware store and buy a pack of sandpaper, preferably one with a variety of grits. Use 80 grit to get rid of the bulk of whatever’s bothering you, and finish up with 120 grit to smooth and soften. Sand just enough to take off the uppermost layer of overly thickened skin, and then make a habit of going barefoot as much as possible, especially outside, to keep the condition in check. Sand lightly once in a while, if needed, especially along the side of your feet, where they don’t normally come into contact with the ground. If you also have issues with fungal problems, there are plenty of natural ways to combat that, as well. Tea Tree oil, sea salt treatments, and a variety of other chemical-free options are available to you. We’ll be covering this in more detail in an upcoming post.
2. Going barefoot forces you to slow down.
I think this is probably my favorite reason for not wearing shoes. It didn’t make it to #1 because it’s not the most important reason, but it’s still my favorite reason. Regardless of how toughened your feet are or how good your balance and agility, you still have to be aware of the environment under your feet, especially if your goal is to keep them healthy enough to continue to utilize them sans protection. This means that you can’t mindlessly plow along with your mind on other things – you have to pay attention, and with that attention comes awareness – awareness of things that you would have just stomped over and never noticed if you had been wearing shoes. Bugs, mushrooms, cool mossy carpets, squishy mud, tiny flowers, beautiful rocks, and all manner of things come into focus when you are forced to be mindful of where you’re stepping. Hopefully, when you become aware of these things, your next move would be to stop and examine them closely, appreciating their uniqueness, their color, their tactile output … which takes us to the #1 reason for going barefoot …
1. Going barefoot puts you in touch.
Most shoes feature a synthetic sole, especially today, and most of the time, that material is some variation of rubberized composition. When you were a kid and you were in the car with an adult during a thunderstorm, if you were frightened, what did they tell you? They probably said not to worry – you were safe because the tires on the car were rubber, and rubber did not conduct electricity (at least my adults did). The same thing goes for your shoes … the thing that animates you, that gives you life, is your bioelectric energy system. You are a part of the natural world, whether you realize it or not, and in order to thrive, you need to be connected to the energies around you, which are prevalent in the ground beneath your feet. You can’t make that connection if there is an insulating layer of rubber between you and the earth. One of the simplest and most effective ways to remedy this is to remove your shoes. The next step would then be to pay close attention to the environment under your fee (as outlined in #2) in order to deepen that connection.
As a side note … traditionally, visitors to a wide variety of sacred places, such as meditation centers, temples, churches, and the like were required to remove their shoes prior to crossing the threshold. This still holds true for most worship and meditation centers rooted in the eastern traditions. I have never looked up the “official” reason for this, but I have my own theory … a lot of folks that I know assume that you are to remove your shoes in order to keep the space clean and as a symbolic reference to leaving the dirt and debris associated with the outside world on the other side of the temple wall. I don’t disagree with this, but I think the ORIGINAL reason for removal of one’s footwear was to facilitate the connection to the natural, divine energies that become available when our feet some into contact with the ground. When you consider that worship is normally a communal activity that takes place in the same location repeatedly, this translates into an increased energy level that is often maintained over long periods of time even when no active worship is taking place within the space. The simplest and most effective way to obtain the best connection to that raised level of energy, as well as to contribute to it during worship/meditation would be to remove one’s shoes …