I’ve just had a few days camping and walking in the hills. These days I don’t wear heavy hiking boots, just a waterproof, thermally insulated, light trainer. These are Vivobarefoot shoes and are ideal for me as they let me feel the ground under my feet, with a layer of thin Vibram sole to protect my feet from the sharpest bits of rock.
Recently I’d been experiencing a sore big toe when walking around town in my everyday work shoes. These also have a minimal sole, a flat heel and are lightweight. They are becoming slightly tight on me as the weather gets warmer and my feet expand in the heat. I’m realising that they pull my big toe slightly inwards towards the other toes and this does something the big toe joint is unhappy about.
The big toe joint I’m talking about is in the ball of my foot.
During our mini holiday we had daily walks near Edale for 3 days. We were a group of 4 x mums and 4 x 8-9 year olds, went up Mam Tor, which is an elevation of 517 metres, and then down the path from Hollins Cross. Another day we walked part of the Pennine Way with 5 little ones and 4 different mums. We enjoyed a paddle in a stream here. The walking wasn’t challenging, keeping the pack together and the little ones fed, rested and motivated was. And yesterday we had a dander along to Edale Youth Hostel to see where it is and what they offer.
I’m really happy to say that all this walking on uneven ground in my barefoot-shoes has really been wonderful for my feet. Feet are a biomechanical miracle. They have two main arches in them, one across the ball of the foot, the other from big toe to heel. These arches are springy and elastic when allowed to move freely. After these few days walking, my feet are warm, supple and flexible. I have Happy Feet.
When I talk to people about walking in these minimalist shoes or actual barefoot walking, feet on grass or paths, I mostly get a puzzled or defensive response. This very natural way of walking, the gait, the presence of mind which is required seems quite alien to us in our culture nowadays. There is fear of dog dirt and broken glass. I do understand.
When your feet are unprotected, it has certainly heightened my attention to detail, and trust in my ability to respond lightly to glinting things on the path, or dirty brown piles. So far, in 9 years of bare footing in the parks, beaches and woods each summer, I have not had any accidents.
As I was giving my feet their nightly foot massage, I noticed how malleable my feet are today. The bones seem happy in all their joints. The muscles feel warm and well used. My hips, pelvis and spine are all happy too. The increased range of mini-movements through my feet in minimalist shoes on grassy, paved and uneven ground has invited all sorts of dynamics along the network of bones and muscles throughout me.
If you haven’t done any barefoot walking in your life and are thinking of getting some minimalist shoes – a note of caution. The change from shoes – with heels, with stiff soles, with hard mid-sections in hiking boots, with restrictive joint movement – and then taking away all support can be a steep unlearning curve. Although ultimately I think its a good thing. A little of this kind of change can go a long way.
Really just try this for 5 – 10 minutes one day, especially if you usually wear any heel in your shoes. If you go from heels and support to nothing and walk for many miles, I think your bones will protest at the change and you’ll get sore feet, ankles and calves very quickly. I noticed that even when wearing a slight heel my achilles tendons were stiffer and shorter than they are now. If you try this for the last 5 minutes walk home, I think you’ll gain confidence and flexibility pretty quickly.
I wish you Happy Feet. Feet which are flexible, adaptable to many heights, or no height of foot-wear, which have protection from a good thin sole, or bare feet, with protection from keeping vigilant in a light, gentle and purposeful way. Your peripheral vision gives you advance warning, then it directs the brain to seeking further clarifying visual information, whether to avoid an obstacle or sharp object. A small side step is usually all thats needed.
I encourage you to start where its easy, a nice bit of sun-warmed ground, perhaps soft grass or sandy beach and see what you can discover. Our gait changes without shoes. Explore and discover the many textures of our world, our temperatures of the earth we stand on.
Lucy Ascham is an Alexander Technique teacher who loves to go camping with friends and family in Edale in the Hope Valley.