From improved balance, a more natural gait and strengthened muscles to pain relief and reduced stress and anxiety, walking barefoot has been found to provide a range of health and wellbeing benefits. We explore the concept of “earthing”, the benefits of barefoot walking and ways in which we can engage with it in our daily lives.
What Is “Earthing”?
Many people already engage in barefoot walking, but this tends to be mainly limited to their homes. The practice of walking barefoot outdoors on a natural surface, such as grass, soil, sand or moss is often referred to as “earthing” or “grounding”. This is because the act of walking barefoot outdoors allows us the opportunity to reconnect with our natural environment, whilst also offering us the opportunity to (re)ground ourselves and engage in some wellbeing practices.
The Benefits Of Walking Barefoot
There are a range of benefits, both physical and for our wellbeing, which are associated with walking barefoot.
· Restoring our natural gait – engaging in regular barefoot walking can help to restore our walking pattern to its natural gait. Depending on the types of shoe that we wear, our walking pattern is disrupted and changed. The impact of this is felt throughout the body, not only in our feet. Walking barefoot provides our feet with the opportunity to strengthen and fully use all the muscles and tendons in the feet, which might have been prevented from being fully used and may be weakened as a result, from the shoes we wear in our daily lives.
· Improved foot positioning – as well as increased strength, walking barefoot also enables us to develop better control over the positioning of our feet. This is especially important when considering the position of the foot as it strikes the ground. Walking barefoot enables us to more carefully consider what part of the foot we are (or are not) using effectively. As a result of improved positioning, we will also be able to develop better balance and even improve our posture as a result.
· Improved body mechanics – barefoot walking is a fantastic way to improve our proprioception, which is our awareness of not only the position but also the movement of the body. As such, we can gain better awareness of our whole body in space and how we move. Improved awareness and mechanics of the foot will also impact on the rest of our joints, helping particularly to improve the mechanics of the ankle, knee and hip joints. Consequently, this will all contribute towards better control and use of our body and can help reduce pain in the joints of the lower body and lower back.
· Improved strength in the feet and legs – an improved walking gait and more considered foot positioning will also help to strengthen the muscles, not only in the feet, but also in the legs. In turn, this will help to support our lower back, leading to a reduction in lower back pain. As well as strengthening the muscles, barefoot walking also helps to strengthen the ligaments in the feet and ankles and can help to improve the range of motion of these joints.
· Pain relief – by improving our balance and developing stronger muscles, we can help to ease some of the negative forces and pressures incorrect walking can place upon our bodies and our joints in particular. As a result, barefoot walking can help to alleviate pain and inflammation. It also offers relief from a range of foot ailments which are associated with wearing ill-fitting shoes, including bunions and hammertoes.
· Stress relief and improved sleep – undertaking some regular barefoot walking affords us the possibility to spend some time reconnecting with nature. As a result, we are able to engage in some mindful practice. The very simple act of walking barefoot on a natural surface can help us to feel more relaxed, reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and subsequently, help us to sleep more soundly.
Risks To Be Mindful Of
For the most part, walking barefoot is a safe practice to engage in. However, when walking outdoors it’s important to be mindful of the type of terrain we are walking on. It’s important to look out for any sharp objects or rough patches (including glass) which can cause injury. Similarly, be aware of whether the terrain is wet or especially smooth, in order to prevent slips and falls. Temperature is also important. If the ground is quite cold, it may be worth limiting the amount of time spent barefoot and build this up slowly over time.
The feet need time to develop strength and muscle, so it’s important not too over-exert ourselves to begin, as well as to avoid injuries. Remember to always check the feet thoroughly after walking barefoot outdoors for any injuries which might have been sustained, including cuts or wounds. If you have, make sure that you thoroughly clean and treat these to prevent infections. This is especially important if you suffer from diabetes.
Begin Walking Barefoot
The best thing about walking barefoot is that it does not require any equipment. To begin with, start by spending only 15 minutes per day walking barefoot. As your muscles strengthen, you can extend the length of time you walk barefoot. If you don’t already, begin by initially walking barefoot indoors. Simply notice how it changes the way you walk. Observe your foot placement and how it affects your balance.
You can then move on to walking barefoot outdoors on some safe, familiar surfaces, such as grass, soil or sand. Again, observe and note any changes to the way you walk. If you feel any pain or experience any discomfort, stop. Take a pause or restart again another day.
Finally, you might also want to consider going barefoot as part of an activity. For example, you could try doing some yoga, meditation or martial arts outdoors in bare feet. You could also go barefoot whilst following one of Anna’s audio guides.
This week we invite you to spend some time walking barefoot. Whether that is simply spending time being barefoot within your own home, walking barefoot in your garden or local park, going for a barefoot walk along the beach or even taking a barefoot stroll through your local nature reserve.
Remember to start slowly, with only 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Take the time to engage mindfully with the experience. Notice how it feels to be barefoot. Which parts of your feet are you using? Where is your weight placed? Notice the movement of your feet as you take each step. Which part of your foot strikes the ground first?
Take some time to pause and try doing some simple balancing exercises. How does being barefoot impact upon your ability to balance? Can you distribute your weight equally throughout all areas of your feet? How do different terrains or surfaces affect your walk and balance?
We invite you to share your experiences and thoughts as you engage in barefoot walking. Consider too whether the practice elicits a creative response from you (for example, a piece of text, a drawing/picture/image, some movement or some sounds/music). If so, we invite you to share these in the comments below.