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Barefoot Living and the Free-Range Human

May 4, 2011

What do you call someone who chooses what is best for him or her and who acts on that freedom? What do you call someone who listens deep, deep inside and understands that her body will tell her what to do if she waits and pays attention. She’ll know when to stand tall, she’ll know when to balance on both feet, she’ll know when to lift a foot to take a step, and she’ll know when to loosen her shoes or when to take them off.

Free-range humans. That’s what we are. We’re the ones who refuse to be pigeon-holed. We drive cars or ride our bike or walk to get where we are going. We can and do: run, walk, swim, or dance. We’re not barefoot all the time and we’re not obsessed with the latest craze of boots. We’ve given up our Danskos and own several lower-profile shoes. Sometimes we eat organic and sometimes conventional.

As a free-range human, we have choices and we act on them. We are free to access all kinds of strategies to get the job done. If we don’t have all the resources at hand, we’ll know how to get them or know who can help.

If we follow that logic, even a person who likes and wants to spend some time barefoot knows that she’ll need shoes in the garden some days. She’ll need something to protect her feet on a bike. She’ll need shoes on a coral reef. And, she knows that going barefoot often will do a world of good for her overall health.

Unfortunately, over and over and over and over we’ve heard someone say that it’s bad or unhealthy or unclean to go barefoot.

I couldn’t disagree more.

I see people who have postural problems because of over-engineered shoes and shoes that are too tight. If I could talk everyone out of the too-small shoes they wear, I might be less inclined to suggest barefoot. But most folks I know are having a hard time choosing shoes with enough room in them.

I attribute many posture problems, including sacro-iliac and low back pain, neck stiffness and inability to turn the head, and slumping or caving in of the chest to a consistently cramped experience for the toes. Without room to move and bend and grip and extend, the toes cannot do the essential job they were designed to do. Nor can the rest of the 26 bones of the foot and ankle.

It has become more and more apparent to me that the new aliveness I am experiencing these last six weeks of being barefoot is a direct result of being closer to nature, literally. My unshod feet bring me new sensations and new experiences. I’m more aware, more tuned in, more free to behave in unexpected ways. I find myself giggling at things in delight, much as a child would who lives a barefoot existence. Much as I did in my small southern Oregon hometown.

So what’s an urban dweller who works in an office all day to do? What’s an adult who needs to behave as an adult to do? How will she incorporate being barefoot into her life and get in on the fun of being alive and vital?

Regardless of curiosity or motivation, she could simply start with kicking off her shoes for an hour when she arrived home from work. She would shed her socks too and she’d soon be on her way to new sensations. She would gradually build up her time spent without shoes and vary the textures and surfaces on which she spent time standing and walking.

I remember seeing photos of Moshe Feldenkrais in which he wore the thin black slippers of so many tai chi practitioners with the thinnest of soles and the nothingness of an arch support. In many ways, those slippers were the first “barefoot” shoes, long before barefoot shoes were the craze.

Maybe it’s easiest to quit wrestling with what shoes to wear and consider that there’s a solution to every situation. You need to give yourself permission to make the choice that works for you and is appropriate to the situation at hand and your long-term health. You need to hone your attention skills so you can learn to assess what the choices are. You are the judge of your interest or intrigue and how you’ll stand up to the transitions that come with making big changes.

You can be a free-range human, making the choice that’s best at the time.

Note: If you want to start spending more time barefoot but have questions or concerns, please consider joining us on May 20 or 21 to get more information. One of the main reasons there is such negativity around being barefoot is that people go at it too quickly and end up hurt. After spending 35+ years in shoes, it’s going to take time and encouragement for you to safely transition away from your dependency on shoes to be comfortable. Learn the tricks from the folks who are living barefoot. Click on the photo above for a larger image so you can see the details of our workshop. Or, email for more info, kim@kimcottrell.com.

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