The Science and Spirit of Barefoot

Barefoot Earthing Outdoors Natural Movement

Her furrowed, dusty indigenous feet had never seen the inside of modern day, ‘civilized’ footwear.

And as we pressed through the crowded concrete thoroughfare to reach our nautical departure I’m reminded of an excerpt from the journals of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, early American colonizer for the Spanish Crown.

An excerpt that would dramatically alter the course of my life for the better.

Of the Indians located near present day Texas, Cabeza de Vaca wrote…

 “The men could run after a deer for an entire day without resting and without apparent fatigue . . . one man near seven feet in stature . . . runs down a buffalo on foot and slays it with his knife or lance, as he runs by its side.”

And of the Karankawas, a tribe located near the Gulf Coast…

 “With amazing physical prowess . . . they go naked in the most burning sun, [and] in winter they go out in early dawn to take a bath, breaking the ice with their body.”

During my own adolescence, I struggled with unpleasant side effects from the powerful nervous system stimulants often used in the treatment of ADHD until I reached 9th grade, when I chose the natural way. A decade later, when I came face to face with chronic, debilitating health problems, my aporetic family physician left me no other choice but the natural way again.

As I grew to trust the healing powers of the human body…

Resonance from Cabeza de Vaca’s account of extraordinary, indigenous physical prowess lifted the veil on our prevalent narrative of modernist superiority. Among the many naturalist practices I would come to engage in over the last fifteen years, the imagery of Olivia Arevalo’s dusty indigenous feet represents one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of healthy human movement.

I began to develop occasional, sudden and excruciating waves of pain radiating throughout my sciatic nerve sometime in my early twenties. I was young, highly active, and basically ignored the problem until my late twenties when it started causing me trouble at work. However, my solution was simple: spend more time barefoot, or as close to barefoot as possible, and see what happens.

Within a few months, those occasional bouts of sciatic pain were a thing of the past. And I also began to see benefits in other areas of life as well. Here are some of the benefits you might be able to expect from spending more time barefoot, indoors and out.

  1. Healthy Foot Function: With over 150 joints, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the human foot, it sure has a lot to offer when it comes to maintaining healthy posture and alleviating excess impact on your knees and hips. Much like putting your hands in a pair of boxing gloves, your feet are well protected inside of modern footwear but severely restricted in terms of doing what they do best.

  2. Energy and Electricity: The health benefits of stimulating the various pressure points in our feet have origins in Chinese Medicine that date back at least 5,000 years. Furthermore, recent scientific research connects barefoot contact with the Earth’s electric current to a number of potential health benefits: from improved sleep, to reduced stress, as well as eliminating chronic pain and inflammation in the body.

  3. Awakening Neural Pathways: Simple biology supports the obvious link between movement and cognitive function. Going barefoot helps to stimulate over 200,000 sensory receptors in our feet which build and maintain important neural pathways in the brain for our overall cognitive health. From focus, to dopamine production, to problem solving and creativity, our feet have us covered.

But after years of flat predictable surfaces and constrictive modern footwear…

The natural range of mobility in our feet can get a bit rusty.

So it’s important to become accustomed to spending more time barefoot gradually. That is, don’t expect to become a barefoot runner overnight.

The recommendation I make to most of my clients who are looking to become reacquainted with their natural, healthy posture is simple.

Make a rule: no shoes in the house.

And if you’re brave, take it one step further: no socks in the house either.

It might sound a bit strange, and it might even be a bit uncomfortable at first, but your body will thank you for years to come.

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