I just got back from a brisk afternoon walk across the mountain and I had an interesting experience. Lately, I have been focusing on foot awareness. Over the last few hot and dry summer months, I ditched my hiking boots to consciously walk in open sandals and light running shoes with no heels. Inspired by the foot movements in Katy Bowen’s fantastic book, ‘Move Your DNA’, and other complimentary foot mobility routines out there, I have been teaching foot awareness exercises in my classes over the last few months.
Living according to the Indian tradition, I never wear shoes inside the house, which is something I suggest everyone should adopt wherever you live. Also, whenever I am sitting around at home, I have taken to opening up my toes by working my fingers in-between each toe.
Monsoon has just reached the Himalayas and the paths are wet and muddy. So I put on my stout, solid hiking boots. It was quite a shock! I really felt like I had blocks on my feet and I found myself moving quite awkwardly for the first half hour as I had to readapt to this new lack of sensation in my feet. I could feel the lack of sensory input that I was used to experiencing when my feet are fully engaged in the walking / moving experience.
The science from Katy Bowen states, “Feet are extremely dexterous, not just to hold you up and help you navigate terrain; the sole of your foot is like your nose or eyes, a sensory organ. The bony distortion created by stepping on something creates a neurological ‘image’ in the system of your body that maintains an awareness of your position.”
The lack of sensory information while walking in my hiking boots, made me realise that a dimension to my movement that over the past months I had become used to, was missing. I had adapted, because we have a great power to do so even to if it impacts negatively on our body in the long run. In that adapted movement, I noticed the way I was loading and positioning my ankles, knees and hips to compensate walking on those two stout rigid soles.
I’m not ready to ditch my boots yet! Hiking in the Himalayas can be tough and challenging, and you encounter all kinds of terrain. Often times I need to bushwhack through thick undergrowth. But, I do believe that overtime you can build the strength to walk in minimal shoes or barefoot under any conditions.
Once, as a younger man, I made the rooky mistake of going on a long expedition with new heavy boots, only to have them create such bad blisters after a few days that I had no option other than to go barefoot. It took me a few weeks to adjust, but by the last few weeks I was hiking long distances, carrying a full pack, barefoot, and it felt great.
Your feet ‘read’ the terrain and provide valuable information to the brain, like a sonar signal, that allows the body to position itself optimally in its upright position. This enhances gait pattern, balance and stability.
I hope this writing inspires you to get your shoes off more regularly than just when you get into bed! Give your feet some love. There are 26 bones in one foot. Totalling 52 bones in both feet, which is nearly 25% of all the bones in your body.
Here’s a great place to start with 12 easy moves to help get your feet & ankles moving –