Saturday 11th June was designated as ‘Your Day Without Shoes’ by the Primalfoot Alliance, an international organisation whose objective is to encourage people to think about using their feet as nature intended. That is – Barefoot!
Locally, Steve Bloor, a Musculoskeletal Podiatrist and Chiropodist decided to organise a public barefoot hike to introduce people to the delights and benefits of barefoot walking.
Steve has been barefoot hiking himself since March last year, and been completely barefoot 24/7 since July 2010. His interest in a barefoot lifestyle was aroused after he read ‘Born to Run’ by journalist and barefoot runner Chris McDougal.
Steve was inspired to read the scientific research about the differences between barefoot and shoe wearing populations and came to realise that the cause of most podiatry patients’ problems was shoes.
As a podiatrist of 26 years Steve is acutely aware of the problems caused by shoes and spends over 90% of his professional time treating the painful injuries which result from shoe wearing.
Stephen’s objective is now to practice what he terms “Positive Podiatry” and aims to educate and inspire people to think about their own foot and lower-limb health and prevent so many of the orthopaedic foot, leg and back problems related to posture and gait, as well as avoid lots of skin problems, like athletes foot and verrucae, that plague a large percentage of the population who wear shoes.
Seven walkers arrived, just before 10:00am at the fairground car park near Helston boating lake, keen to learn about and experience the joy of hiking barefoot. Four more barefoot walkers arrived later.
After a short initial welcome and introductory talk by Steve Bloor, The Barefoot Podiatrist, the group made their way along the path leading to Lower Nansloe Farm where they were invited to remove their flip flops and shoes to begin hiking with bare feet through Degibna Woods next to the beautiful Loe Pool. (Loe Pool is the largest natural freshwater lake in Cornwall.)
The weather was perfect for a first barefoot hike. The sky was clear with gorgeous sunshine and a soft, gently cooling breeze, with the ground dry, but not too hard after some small rain showers over the preceding few days.
As we started our barefoot hike the first surface we walked on was a soft grassy meadow where the grass caressed our feet as we walked. Steve Bloor emphasised how our feet are sense organs designed to increase the awareness of our natural environment by having thousands of nerve endings in our feet. When wearing shoes these sensory nerve endings are grossly underused, so when walking barefoot for the first time they are initially overloaded by the sudden cacophony of amazing new sensations. The nerve endings are blasted with so much stimulation from the ground that they are dazzled.
After some time of continued barefoot walking the different types of sensations from the ground become individuated and easier to detect, so using the metaphor of listening to an orchestra for the first time and hearing just noise, eventually with continued listening you hear the music and can pick out the individual instruments. So it is with barefoot walking, you eventually feel the wonderful textures, temperature changes and movements of the foot over the ground.
As we walked further into the woods we experienced soft and hard soil, different types of leaves, soft pine needles and silky smooth grass, as well as the stimulating uneven surfaces of gravel and rock.
Now and again we walked over tree roots protruding out of the earth with interesting textures of bark. And we felt the warmth of the soil where the sunlight had penetrated the woodland canopy and warmed the ground.
Part way into the woods we crossed a small stream and discovered the delights of the cooling water as it bubbled over the pebble stream-bed. It provided a marked contrast to the dry textures in the woods.
Steve also pointed out that unlike traditional leather hiking boots, which we worry about being waterproof, our feet are naturally waterproof and dry out quicker than boots when wet.
Our beautiful barefoot woodland hike took us further into the woods with twists and turns in the path and uneven and varied surfaces underfoot which our barefeet easily coped with, and in fact relished. It was as if our feet were actually designed for this. They felt like a pair of wild animals which have suddenly been released from captivity.
We learnt that as our feet become more aware of our environment that our balance and postural stability improves so we can respond more quickly to uneven surfaces and avoid falling.
We also learnt to walk more gently. As we walked barefooted through the woods the uneven surfaces encouraged us to step consciously, with deliberate careful movements. Steve taught us that scientists and orthopaedic researchers have measured a decrease in the impact forces at heel strike and also reduced stress in the knee joints whilst barefoot walking.
We also learnt that, just like going to the gym or undertaking a new exercise programme, barefoot walking exercises our feet, leg and hip muscles naturally so they are strengthened over time, but we should be careful not to do too much too soon.
Our first barefoot hike was a wonderful introduction to natural walking and an unexpectedly joyful and exhilarating experience.
Somehow it seemed like we were connected to the earth. Natural creatures becoming one with nature. Rediscovering our primal heritage. Rediscovering the natural abilities of our feet, feeling stronger, more at one with our environment. Would we do it again? You bet!