However you choose to go about it, getting started can be a little daunting. Questions and concerns about avoiding hazards and soreness are common, but much less of a bother than you might think. Whilst it is true that, at first, your feet will feel sensitive to every little sensation in the ground – they soon adapt. That’s not to say that they toughen up, contrary to popular belief it is much more like walking in to a brightly lit area after laying in the dark for a while. Your eyes are very sensitive at first but they always adjust to an optimal level. As for hazards, we’re actually more aware of our surroundings than we might think – though our shoes do dampen our natural proprioception that naturally steers us away from standing on dangerous objects. At first, you will find yourself watching the road as you walk along but over time proprioception begins to take over. Even on a little walk, you will quickly become more confident and adept as the walk goes on.
The best place to begin depends upon you. Some people like to take it slowly, a few minutes teetering around their garden with bare feet gradually building up to a walk through the park and then maybe a hill climb or wading through a stream. Others cast their clogs over their shoulders and never look back, stomping new ground in the workplace as they pad around the place in their birthday shoes. If you’re a slow and steady kind of person, or you have children and you’re unsure how to approach transitioning them to a more barefoot friendly lifestyle why not try out our top tips for relaxing into barefooting so that you can enjoy as many of the benefits as possible:
1) Barefoot shoes. OK, so it’s not “proper” barefooting – but you can buy a wide range of barefoot shoes for adults and children, to help with the transition, that are designed to allow the same physical benefits as being actually barefoot. You can also wear them if you have a job in healthcare or another line of work where shoes are required, your children can wear them to school and very little ones can wear them if you can’t quite get past the worry that they’ll hurt their feet if they don’t have a little protection for their soles.
2) Barefoot gardening. Gardening has countless benefits, but throw in a pair of bare feet and it’s sure to be a whole new level of earth connecting, mood balancing bliss. Walking around your garden is less intimidating than taking a walk out in the world, too. You know roughly what’s on the ground and where, like you would in your home, and you can take it at your own pace. Committing to never wearing shoes in the garden, even in the squelchy rain and mud, can be one of the first steps toward becoming a more confident and experienced barefooted.
3) Take a walk in the park or a field. You can walk there with your shoes on, find a nice big patch of grass and take them off, take a walk and then pop them on again before you walk home. You might be surprised to see how many other people are ditching their shoes, particularly in the summer months. This is a gentle introduction to being a little more out and proud. Each time, you can try walking a little bit further home without popping your shoes back on.
4) Climb a hill. Nothing says primal like being out in nature, climbing and enjoying your surroundings… minus the constrictive walking boots. You can always bring the boots with you and do as much, or as little, of the walk with the boots as you like. Climbing barefoot is also great for developing the foot muscles and working on proprioception, so the benefits are really worthwhile even if you don’t do it all that often.
5) Wade through a stream. Now you’re a little more experienced, you can try paddling in a stream (be sure to check local water safety regulations and restrictions, children should always be accompanied by an adult) to put your new skills to the test. The feeling underfoot is not to be missed. There’s no more freeing a sensation that I can call to my mind than being almost fully immersed in a stream, connecting with nature at all sides. And the benefits are endless – just be sure to avoid still bodies of water, particularly those with floating patches of green.
From here, you can branch out into anything. Take a beach holiday and leave your flip flops at home; take a walk to the shop and back; try a barefoot school run; push yourself a little bit here and there. Little steps reap such large rewards that you will likely find yourself progressing much faster than you expected, and if you don’t – just remember than any barefooting is better than no barefooting. Whether it’s taking 5 minutes to stand on your lawn in your bare feet or being a full time enthusiast, there’s something to be gained for everyone by just using your shoes a little bit less.