I was lucky enough to spend the first few years of my life in Queensland, a large state of Australia nicknamed "The Sunshine State." I would spend countless hours running around outside, whether it was in my backyard, down by the river or at the beach. The vast majority of these hours, I would be barefoot, just like any free-flowing child of the earth desires to be.
However, when it came time to go to school, I was dressed up in my uniform, socks pulled high and of course feet strapped into shoes to conform to society's acceptable dress code. That didn't stop the multitude of hours of me running around, but this time it was on the hard concrete and asphalt school surfaces. I must have torn through a pair of shoes every two or three months during these years.
It's always felt natural for me to be barefoot. It's not until I went to chiropractic school that I started to think about why that may be. The answer is simple - it IS natural to be barefoot. We have been humans for around 200,000 years, running around our respective habitats hunting and gathering, until recently without shoes at all. The earliest shoes ever found are only around 13,000 years old. They were straightforward, just a thin layer of sagebrush bark to cover the feet, and would have had minimal impact on the wearer's gait.
Fast forward to now, and many modern shoes are designed with thick soles, ankle support, padded internal lining, foam insoles or even high heels. If a heel is only a few millimetres high, it still drastically changes the human foot's natural movement. It's only logical that in turn, this impacts the function of the rest of the leg and also the spine. I'm not saying that shoes don't serve a purpose, but we do have to be aware of the ramifications of today's long term use of modern footwear.
The most important reason I choose to go barefoot is to ensure my brain receives proper neurological input from my feet. Proprioception is a vital form of input the brain needs to know what is happening in your body. If you close your eyes and can still touch your nose with your finger, it's because your proprioceptors are sending information to your brain to help you do this.
Ninety per cent of proprioception in your body comes from your spine, which is why, as a chiropractor, I help improve your brain's health by working with your spine. You also have many receptors in your hands and feet, giving valuable feedback to the brain. When we wear shoes, the neurological input to the brain is altered and results in the abnormal firing of the feedback mechanisms we need to regulate our overall health.
When this essential feedback flows freely from my feet through my body to my brain, I slow down and feel more connected to the present moment. I don't feel like I need to be hurrying to get anywhere or complete tasks just for the sake of being productive. When I am in my practice, I love to adjust my clients while I am barefoot because it further helps me tune in to where they may be experiencing any tension in their nervous system, and contributes to me being the best chiropractor I can be.
The Earth we walk has an energy of its own. Freely circulating, negatively-charged electrons are in abundance and are screaming out for your bare feet. As humans in this day and age, we tend to be big walking bundles of overstimulated, positively-charged energy. So when any part of our bare skin touches the natural surface of the earth, be it soil, sand, grass or other plant material, we absorb the negative electrons to create a balanced internal bioelectrical environment. We call this technique earthing.
When my bare feet hit the Earth, I feel calm, relaxed, connected and clear. I notice that my breathing slows and I am more aware of all my senses. When I am in a highly-strung state, I rely on my vision to tell me the most about my surroundings. When I am calm and grounded, I hear more acutely. I feel the air brushing against my face and can literally stop and smell the roses.
There is emerging scientific research supporting the concept that the Earth's electrons induce multiple physiological changes of clinical significance, including reduced pain, better sleep, a shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system, and a blood-thinning effect (1). Earthing helps bring the circadian rhythm of our body in balance, taking us out of our stress state and into a state of ease where we can better express our true selves.
Research suggests up to thirty per cent of Americans have flat feet. Along with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, stroke and many other lifestyle diseases, flat feet were practically unheard of when our human ancestors lived in harmony with their natural environments. The prolonged wearing of shoes has led to this dramatic increase in the prevalence of flat feet.
Other issues come from clodding our feet for extended periods of time. Shortening of the calf muscles and the inability to squat are also direct consequences. Most adults in the Western World cannot sit comfortably in a deep squat like our counterparts in Asia. That becomes painstakingly clear when first confronted with a squatting toilet while travelling there. But if you have young children, you will see that they often pop into a perfect deep squat while playing at the park or to pick up an object from the ground. So what happened in those years between?
Well, we spent too long in shoes. Squatting is a completely natural human movement, as explained in one of my previous posts you can read here. It is the posture of choice for cleaning, resting, cooking and many other hunter-gatherer tasks. These days, sitting is the most prevalent way for humans to rest. Unfortunately, it is a completely unnatural posture that leads to back pain, neck pain, and headaches and is also directly correlated to the chronic lifestyle diseases mentioned earlier.
Going barefoot keeps my ankles and feet mobile and ensures my knees and hips are functioning properly. My gait is even, and my toes can properly expand as I take a step because they are not squashed into narrow shoes. This gives me the support my body needs to traverse any terrain. My body is the vessel that will carry me throughout my entire life, and I ensure to look after it well. Going barefoot plays a significant role in keeping me functioning at my optimum.
Next time you go to the park or the beach, kick off your shoes, engage your core and try walking with presence and connection to the earth. Join me in getting back to the natural habits which keep us healthy. In this way, we can show up and give more love to each other and the world around us, at a time where love is needed more than ever.
1. Chevalier G., Sinatra S.T., Oschman J.L., Sokal K., Sokal P. Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth's Surface Electrons. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. 2012; 2012: 291541.