June 13, 2021

The Cheapest Way toward more Mindfulness: Walking Barefoot.

Are you interested in a free foot massage, more mindfulness, and getting out of your head?

I remember meeting one of my best friends for the first time.

We had to share an apartment during a yoga teacher training. After moving in, I asked him, “Where are your shoes?” He just laughed and said, “I don’t like shoes.”

It sounded weird, but besides that, he seemed to be a pretty cool dude, so I asked him what that was all about.

“Take a look at your shoes, and then take a look at your feet—it doesn’t match, right?” was his introduction to the most profound thing I learned at the beginning of my yoga and mindfulness journey.

It was my first yoga teacher training, but he was already an experienced teacher. I specifically liked his approach of practicing yoga that wasn’t based on buying every spiritual gadget available. Walking barefoot doesn’t cost anything.

While our fellow yoga students booked massages, drank overpriced smoothies, and hired folks to give them astrology readings, Jesse inspired me to take the barefoot approach (which is not only about walking barefoot—it’s a way of life).

Walking barefoot doesn’t come without risks, and we are likely to hurt our feet along the way—just as a fair warning before we dive into the benefits of it.

Here are the three main benefits of walking barefoot:

1. Free foot massage

As mentioned in the intro, walking barefoot literally massages our feet.

The Harvard Medical School claims on their website that “regular massage improves circulation, stimulates muscles, reduces tension, often eases pain.” And of course, that is the effect of a good old foot massage, but when we walk barefoot, we get the same effect for free.

Think about a reflexology foot chart and then think about all the sensations we receive when walking barefoot—it’s pretty much self-explanatory.

2. More mindfulness 

When walking barefoot, we need to watch our steps. The main reason humans started wearing shoes was to protect our feet from rocks, sticks, and other things that could hurt us.

Walking meditation is one of the easiest and accessible ways to combat anxiety. Especially when we struggle with traditional meditation, barefoot walking can be our gateway drug toward more mindfulness.

Watching every step that we take might feel weird in the beginning, but it’s worth trying. Once we establish a mindful way of walking, we immediately feel the positive effects of slowing down.

3. Getting out of our heads

Many of us, including myself, struggle with overthinking every single aspect of our lives, which often causes headaches, anxiety, and insomnia—or other symptoms showing us that we are caught up in our heads.

Feeling our body takes us out of our heads. This can be achieved by exercising, touching, and getting touched—or walking barefoot.

The sensation of stepping on a tiny, little rock might not always be convenient, but it literally shifts our awareness from our mind to our feet. While walking barefoot, we open ourselves to connecting to nature on a deeper level—and yes, sometimes it hurts a little.

I remember the first years of teaching yoga at gyms in Germany. As a yoga teacher, you don’t need specific shoes to teach, so I made it a thing to always show up barefoot—even in winter when students showed up in their fancy “yoga socks.”

People laughed at me and called me the barefoot guy. As my friend Jesse still had his “Barefoot Wisdom” project going, I decided to represent this idea to my German students.

Outside the gym, reactions were even more intense. Folks weren’t laughing about me walking barefoot; they called me stupid. “Adults have to wear shoes. Grow up!” was something I heard a lot.

When I lived in Morocco, I continued to walk barefoot. A good friend visited me with his family, and I accidentally started a little drama. “Why does Robert not have to wear shoes?” asked my friend’s daughter when she saw me walking barefoot on the streets. My friend (obviously) didn’t have an answer to that.

In Costa Rica, my landlord always asked me, “How can you walk on these rocks without any shoes?” My answer to that was, “It takes some practice, bro.”

It’s almost funny how we consider walking in shoes normal and get confused when we see someone walking barefoot.

Especially, the ladies reading this article know this struggle too well. Who has never complained about the discomfort of wearing high heels? Anyone having a hammertoe?

Shoes are supporting our feet, but maybe our feet don’t need all support? I would even go further and say, “Shoes make our feet needier.” If walking barefoot for longer than 10 minutes causes pain in our knees or hips, then it might be a sign that the muscles of our feet need some workout.

Our feet literally carry the weight of our whole body, distribute impacts of walking, and are essential to our sense of balance—enough reasons to take good care of them.

Last week, I had a cramp while running, and the pain lasted for a few days. I wasn’t able to run this weekend, so I went for two extended barefoot walks. My calf muscle feels much better by now—but even more important: it reminded me of the power of walking barefoot.

When I was living in Costa Rica, I was barely wearing shoes (maybe flip-flops when going to a restaurant), but since my return to Germany, I even wore shoes in the garden—and started getting headaches, anxiety, and insomnia again.

I know that walking barefoot isn’t a cure for everything, but it is easy to do and doesn’t cost a thing.

Before you get started and say goodbye to your shoes, keep in mind that this is a practice. As with every practice, there is no point in overdoing it at the beginning. Start by taking your shoes off for a few minutes during a walk and see how it feels.

And one last tip for those of you that might be worried about getting your feet dirty—they are made for that, and you can wash them after your walk.

~

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