Since I’m not much of a runner, the recent trend of barefoot running didn’t sound like it would be for me. But it never occurred to me that I could get the same foot-strengthening benefits by walking barefoot. Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee explain it all in their new book Barefoot Walking: Free Your Feet to Minimize Impact, Maximize Efficiency, and Discover the Pleasure of Getting in Touch with the Earth. We caught up with the husband-and-wife team to learn more about how something as simple as taking off your shoes can strengthen your mind, body and soul.
Books for Better Living: What are some of the benefits of barefoot walking?
Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee: When you go barefoot, you’re rolling back the clock and waking your body back up to its natural state of health. It’s incredibly rejuvenating, which comes from the grounding or earthing effect and from the feedback we get from the ground. It’s as if the ground gives us a message to flip the on-switch or reboot. By connecting with the earth our circulation improves, our balance improves, muscles grow stronger, our joints feel better, our posture improves, even our immune system gets a boost! At the same time it helps reduce blood pressure and inflammation throughout the body.
As we go barefoot, we’re focused on the ground beneath our feet. This helps us let go of distractions and focus on each individual step. In this way it’s a mindfulness exercise, helping quiet the mind and plant us firmly in the present moment.
As a mindful exercise, and by plugging into the earth, barefoot walking helps us on our spiritual paths as well. For when our minds are quiet, that’s when we can truly hear into the silence, and that’s where many say the magic occurs! In a sense, barefoot walking can be a true meditative or spiritual experience.
BBL: You talk about getting “grounded” in a literal sense—connecting to the ground. What does this do to us?
MS and JL: When you’re grounding, you’ve established an electrical connection between yourself and the earth, similar to the one your computer gets when you plug it into an outlet. Computer plugs typically have a third prong for the purpose of grounding. The third prong plugs into the outlet’s “ground.” By plugging into the ground, you help protect your computer. And when we’re plugged into the earth, we help protect ourselves. Studies show that when we’re grounded, we drain off inflammation and the harmful static electric charge that can build up in our bodies by being out of touch with the earth. When we drain the charge we feel better, our cortisol (stress hormone) levels decrease, our blood pressure decreases, our sleep improves and our immune system gets a huge boost. The great news is, you don’t even need to walk. Standing barefoot, sitting on the ground, laying on the ground — these can all help you get grounded and experience these amazing benefits.
BBL: What should you know before you try barefoot walking?
MS and JL: Going barefoot is an exercise in being gentle and taking your time. Since you’ll be working muscles that have weakened in your shoes, you want to start extra slowly, with only 100 yards (the width of a parking lot or less, or the distance to the end of your block) on the first day, and then take the next day off. Increase by only 100 yards every other day for best results. And like with any other exercise program, always check with your doctor before you begin.
BBL: How do your feet change after getting conditioned to walking barefoot?
MS and JL: Your feet will grow magnificently stronger, better able to support you, with greater balance, and much better circulation (say goodbye to cold feet). Your skin will also grow stronger, making it easier to negotiate pebbly paths or handle any obstacles in your way. Your toes will start to spread apart, no longer squashed together or stacked on top of each other the way they typically are in a shoe. And the more time you spend barefoot, the better your feet will feel, and the more you’ll want to place them directly on the earth.
BBL: You had a “barefoot wedding.” How did your guests respond to being asked to go shoeless?
MS and JL: Initially there were some protests from one or two shorter guests who longed for high heels and some uncertainty among those who rarely go barefoot even at home. But once the guests arrived they all found it liberating and fun. We set up a series of barefoot games, and for the adults it was an excuse to be a kid again. It was hard for anyone to keep their shoes on once they saw how much fun everyone else was having barefoot. And that’s what it’s all about. At its core, with all of the mind, body and spiritual benefits, it ultimately makes us feel young again…when you’re barefoot you feel light and nimble and alive!
Learn more about barefoot walking and running at runbare.com.