Yet this was not the grassy countryside, this was the big city. Glass, asphalt, concrete sidewalks and disapproving glances all threated. Dissapproving glances - Hah! - I rejected conformity some time ago so the public disapproval was a small hump and the least of my worries. What about the dangers? Well feet get pretty tough don't they? Did humans not survive millenia without shoes? A quick google search revealed a whole community of "barefooters" many of them living in cites this support and contact with others abandoning their shoes allayed many worries.
So the shoes came off and have remained off for the past month. The experience has been educational, delightful and profoundly liberating, except for a pair of flip flops and one now rather dusty pair of trainers all my shoes have been discarded.
Reactions have been few and far between, London is a fairly tolerant place, I have not yet been asked to put on shoes before entering an establishment (I carry a pair of flip-flops just in case). The strongest reactions have been from friends and family who don't fully understand why I am now barefoot and suspect a strange form of rebellion.
So why? Apart from "It feels good"?
Feet soon become free of corns, buyions, ingrown toenails and any other ailments caused by rubbing of the foot on the inside of shoes.
Fungal infections cannot cope with the air and sunlight and quickly clear up. I had a persistent toenail fungus on my right big toe which had resisted tea-tree and all sorts of anti-fungal creams for years, it has now cleared up and the damaged toenail is growing out.
Toes liberated from narrow confines begin to strengthen, spread out and get used much more during walking. My feet have become buff! Even when they are relaxed you can see the tendons and definitions of the small foot muscles. My pinky toes have already started to straighten out after lying slightly on their sides.
Shoes act like casts, holding the bones of the foot so rigid that they can't move fluidly, Steven Robbins [MD and adjunct associate professor of mechanical engineering at Concordia University, Montreal] explains. "The foot becomes passive from wearing shoes and loses the ability to support itself."
Gait and Posture
Shoes alter our natural means of walking. We are evolved to be barefoot and as natural selection is longer operating on humanity we will never adapt to wearing shoes.
Bad posture and gait is the cause of a multitude of problems and a the main cause of bad posture is shoes.
"I had ample opportunity to watch the boy's feet as he walked about that summer. I could not help wondering what, during his first two years of life, had ruined his feet, turned them outward, and caused him to walk with a fallen-arched gait. For months I watched every movement of his toes, each twist of his ankles, the way he lifted his feet, the manner in which his foot first made contact with the ground.
Then an amazing thing happened. He finally stopped leaning on his arches; he started to walk straighter and more normally. At last I began to understand the cause of fallen arches and the origin of foot trouble. With his toes continually pressed together in his shoes, his body had to improvise a brace-instead of leaning on his weakened, squeezed-together toes, the inner sides of his feet were turned outward for balance. I realized then why people persist in leaning on their strained inner arches, which were never meant to support continuous leaning, and why they have to push off painfully from their arches instead of their toes, at the end of each step.
Going barefoot had made this boy's toe area broader and stronger. When he stood, his stronger toes were now able to spread out, giving him a broad forward area on which to support his weight. Now he used his toes in standing and walking-he would even stand on his toes frequently while playing. His fallen arches were cured. With better foot balance, he rarely fell. He no longer begged to be carried, and he seemed tireless in his activities."
~ Simon J. Wikler D.S.C. (Doctor of Surgical Chiropody)
"Wow your feet have no tension at all" exclaimed my friend Greta when giving me a foot massage.
Recounting my barefoot exploits had inspired Greta to give me the massage in the first place ("Your feet look so free I want to touch them - would you like a foot massage?" - about a milisecond later I agreed!).
Being barefoot is healthier in many ways - not just for the feet but also for the back, the gait and posture. Indeed if one accepts reflexology as in any way valid (and some studies seem to esp. with regards to stress reduction) walking barefoot is good for our whole system.
In the United States people spend an estimated $26 billion a year imprisoning their feet, and another $28 billion in attempts to relieve the resulting pains!
Personally I've spent a lot of money on shoes, I will be making considerable savings in this area in the future.
Being barefoot makes you more aware of your environment. Having your feet unprotected means you are aware of their vulnerability and pay more attention to where you are going. Not only this but you have a whole extra sense engaged. Normally we see, hear and ocassionally smell things on our travels - we don't feel them.
When recalling yesterday's walk to my friends house I remember not just how the journey looked, and sounded but how it felt too. The roughness of the gravel near the mosque; the pressure of the knobbly non-slip paving near the traffic lights; the coolness of the iron manhole cover.
Without shoes I find movements are more delicate more nuanced, and it suddenly feels like this body is five kilograms lighter.
I see the search for the eternal as the purpose of existence. Ideally the spiritual path is not separate from everyday life and I have found being barefoot is immensely supportive of integrating the two. Materialists may find much to disagree with here - feel free to skip to the next section.
Holy ground is meant to be trod barefoot. Hindu temples, mosques and many other sacred sites require that devotees remove their shoes. Yet if we truly accept the presence of the sacred is not all ground holy? The Kogi people, believe that to wear shoes is to cut oneself off from the mother (Planet Earth) and become deaf to her.
Jesus sent the disciples out two by two and barefoot. (Luke 10:1-16) "I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Take neither purse nor pack, nor sandals.". Saint Francis, Santa Teresa, Saint John of the Cross, and many others took bare feet as a literal command of Jesus. Bare feet are prominent in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, often appearing in contrast to shod feet as a mark that distinguishes humility from pride, spirit from flesh, or sacred from profane.
It is not just in the Christian tradition that saints are to be found barefoot but many others too:
"Earlier I had mentioned he walked everywhere and was almost always barefoot. I also mentioned he didn't drive, but seemed quite comfortable riding around in my wagon. I thought it extremly odd that a one time World War I fighter pilot refused to drive." -'The Wanderling' speaking of his "mentor" (who was the real life counterpart of the 'Larry Darrel' character in Maugham's "On The Razor's Edge")
Being Barefoot makes me feel free. Liberated from shoes and also liberated from caring about approval or disapproval of society. My feet love the feel of the ground
Like anything worthwhile being barefoot carries some risks, after one month baefoot I must say most of the dangers are exaggerated.
Stepping on something unpleasant/dangerous - Being barefoot really improves your peripheral vision/awareness. For the first few weeks you do spend a lot of time looking at the ground but after this one makes do with an occasional glance. In a month of barefooting I have had just one small piece of glass which came out after a day and some work with a needle, most barefooters report years between injuries. After a few months of being barefoot feet become very tough and resisant to punctures, gravel and hot pavements.
Cold - This will be interesting as I've not barefooted a winter yet, but other barefooters tell me that the feet do ideed adapt to the cold (within reason!) and indeed theyfound that being barefoot made them overall less cold sensitive. This is speculative but perhaps feet have some sort of thermo regulating function in the body...
Wounds - I've had a couple of scrapes on my toes (in the house!) and these have healed very fast in the fresh air and sun. I remember having a cut on a toe last winer which took ages to heal in the moist environement of shoes
Physical Threats from the barefoot hostile - Weeeelll maybe in the US but here in the UK I couldn't imagine someone being violent because of bare feet. If they were I would practice the venerable martial art of Run-FU, bare feet make you faster and more manouverable so I would expect to quickly lose them.