Walking barefoot appears today as an ancestral and retrograde usage. Hygiene, health/accident, and ease/comfort are the three weapons that support the idea of progress and the paramount importance of footwear.
But then why are there so many people and philosophies of thought that tend to extol the benefits of walking barefoot, or more generally push humans toward a re-connection with nature?

As a kite instructor, it happens to me that to not wear my shoes for months, so I wanted to delve into some aspects from an introspective perspective.

Starting from the undeniable practicality and safety that a shoe offers us, my question is: what is the price to pay to benefit from such advantages, and what, if any, collateral damage is involved?

 In order to better understand my reflection, I have analysed the three elements mentioned above separately.

Hygiene

Black feet, how disgusting. Right?
In a world driven by aesthetics and superficiality, a statement like that doesn’t surprise me at all.
Taking such an extreme example, I certainly don’t want to induce you to go out and brag about having dirty feet, since it is not good, but rather reflect on whether this really represents a real hygienic problem, compared with keeping the foot trapped for hours on end.

Keeping any part of our body constantly protected and excessively clean has negative effects on our immune system. Over the years, our skin has developed natural anti-bodies that protect us from external microbes. Careless use of antibacterial products increases the risk of ruining this balance by exposing us to infections, dermatitis and allergies.
In addition, shoes do not allow your foot to breathe, which leads to sweating and unpleasant odours, or even worse, to fungus growth and nail problems (ingrown toenails).

In order to remedy these collateral damages, instead to find a right natural balance, we have turned to technological innovations of doubtful origin and usefulness. But the rules of the market are so powerful that they often mislead us.
We have thus fallen into a trap and submitted to a consumerist logic that involves the purchase and application of cosmetic products of all kinds to fit a hypocritical beauty ideal, to pursue a desire for infinite youth and to safeguard an exaggerated level of hygiene.

In view of these two reflections, I don’t think that shoes offer us a significant hygiene benefit, and black feet are not such a dramatic thing (by the way, just wash them).

walk barefoot -Jen uphill

Jen Joyance

walking barefoot - Jen on the road

Jen Joyance

Health/Accidents

I would like to start with the first, absolutely undeniable advantage that the shoe gives us, which is protection.

However, our foot is naturally able to react and protect itself, generating a thickening and hardening of the epidermis in contact with the ground.
The modern need for protection is influenced by the weakening of our body, which is now fragile (as well as human incivility to throw everything on the ground, cigarettes, glass, etc., making the road a real minefield). It is no coincidence that the natives who live in the most uncomfortable areas of our planet have lived barefoot for centuries.

Once again I am not pushing for a comeback to the stone age, but an attempt to find the right balance.

I am aware of the difficulties for everyone to ” learn” to walk barefoot (cold feet, cuts, pains etc.), but the advantages are countless and scientifically proven.
By walking barefoot we are able to stimulate the thousands of nerve endings that are connected and benefit our organs.

Since childhood we are pushed not to walk barefoot when it’s cold. In my opinion it is wrong, because doing so we can activate the blood circulation, allowing the body to heat every part of it independently, improving thermoregulation. The increased level of blood circulation also improves the cardiovascular system and produces a positive response of the immune system.
In addition, walking barefoot improves the mechanics of the foot, and indirectly the hips and knees by improving posture, reducing problems in the knees, joints and ligaments, and counteracts back, shoulder and neck pain.
By walking through direct contact with the ground we also improve our proprioception, i.e. perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body. This results in a better balance.
Walking barefoot, on sand, forest or stones, we can stimulate pressure points by strengthening the muscles that bind feet, ankles and legs, increasing the overall energy of our body. This makes us more active.
Finally, it has been investigated by some researchers how free electrons in the earth act as natural antioxidants by neutralizing the positive charge of free radicals that are the hallmark of chronic inflammation.

These are just some of the countless benefits of barefooting, or “earthing”, to be practiced essentially in nature!

walking barefoot-Manuela Peschman-copyright-Accalmia-tree

Manuela Peschmann, forest and wilderness theraphy

walking barefoot-Manuela Peschman-copyright-Accalmia-forest

Manuela Peschmann, forest and wilderness theraphy

Ease/Comfort

Today, the search for ease, simplification and comfort reigns supreme.
Everything and immediately, no time wasting allowed.
In this logic the shoe fits very well, which protects us from “every” obstacle and guarantees us a comfort and protection in order to minimize our attention on where we walk and where we are. We can head to our destination quickly.

As we return to walking barefoot, we are more prone to the dangers (e.g. sharp objects) of our surroundings, and therefore we need more focus. We are therefore more present and aware of who we are and where we are. We increase our connection with nature and our perception of it. In this way we feel its thermal and morphological variations, entering more easily into symbiosis.
By walking barefoot we become aware of the importance of each step, and we accept to see our way as a set of steps, each of which is important. This also allows us to focus not only on the point of arrival, seen as a mere goal to be reached in the easiest and most comfortable way possible and then move on to the next, but on the journey itself.

walking barefoot - jen mountain

Jen Joyance

walking barefoot -Jen freedom

Jen Joyance

Conclusion

I am aware how important the shoe is, as well as other innovations that aim to improve the human condition, presuming it does not deteriorate our relationship with nature.
I am convinced that we need a real bond with nature, and not a balance of power in which the only objective is to dominate it. Walking barefoot is just one of the many ways we need to recreate this connection.

Since I became a kitesurfing instructor I have rediscovered this pleasure. My job actually releases me from the obligation to wear shoes in all circumstances. At first it was not easy to get used to it, and I still find it difficult if I have to wear shoes for long periods of time.
It is therefore essential to find the right balance, using both the material means and the technological innovations (such as the shoe) at our disposal in the right measure.

In my opinion we should be encouraged to have a truer and more natural relationship with nature, instead of creating a world that tempts us to move away from it. Walking barefoot, whenever possible, is just one of the ways I use to be in sync with nature.

A special thanks to Jen Joyance and Manuela Peschmann for sharing their pictures.

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