Taking off one’s shoes is an intimate experience that can feel invigorating, mystical and somewhat naked.
Going barefoot allows us to feel the natural world and cultivate a sense of presence with what lies beneath us. Almost like a meditation, the experience of baring our feet can challenge and even defy our notions of ourselves as civilised beings. We all enter this world naked and bare, yet in this contemporary age, something stands between us and our primitive self.
Many would argue that foot coverings provide us essential protection from the thorns and thistles of the natural world, but what is really holding us back from baring our soles?
Ancient historians have found evidence of humans wearing shoe-like coverings made of animal skins as far back as the stone-age. At this time, shoes would have been entirely practical, designed to shield the wearer from the harsh extremities of the elements. As we developed civilised cultures with more shelter, shoes also evolved, becoming a statement of fashion or status. They now sit somewhere between practicality and expression of style.
In the Western world we have developed strong, protective footwear to shield our feet from the elements. Cast as a means of survival, we are sheltered from the natural rhythms of the world, not just through our shoes but also our clothing, homes and the environments we live in. As our fingers have drifted off the heartbeat of the earth, our lives and practices have followed suit. It seems we are living apart from the natural order of things, insisting that nature adapts to us, instead of allowing our bodies to develop and evolve with their instincts.
Surprisingly only 20% of the world’s human population currently wears shoes. Many indigenous and native people choose not to wear protective coverings on their feet as a means of honouring the natural balance of things, and over their lives develop thick callouses on their feet that protect them from the elements underfoot.
Many Holistic, Homeopathic and Ayurvedic practitioners even suggest that by reducing footwear, we can better equip our bodies to cope with some of life’s challenges. Yogic principles invite us to live presently and observe what our experience of the present moment is. Yoga teaches us to “bend and not break” in order to better weather the challenges of life, making for a flexible body, mind and a rising, joyful spirit. With these principles in mind, we might see that wearing shoes may simply be another mechanism to protect our bodies from pain when we are already well equipped to naturally deal with danger as and when it arises.
Perhaps our wearing of shoes can be viewed as a much deeper indication of our turning away from our natural capabilities and even nature itself.
The physical act of walking without shoes can be a powerful one. At once, walking barefoot is exposing, intimate and blissful. Like a method of meditation, you suddenly become aware of the sensations travelling past your bare skin, dropping for those moments into the present as you energise and connect back to yourself and your surroundings.
This is essentially what grounding means, in both senses of the word. The majority of our bodies are made up of water which is great for conducting electricity. When we go barefoot we ground to the Earth’s negative ionic charge, which has many amazing health benefits including; the reduction of inflammation, endocrine balance, sleep cycles, detoxification of our drainage systems and a profoundly calming effect on the mind.
In the more metaphysical sense, the feeling of the ground under our feet is hugely nourishing and supportive. It allows us to feel more connected to the natural rhythms of the earth, which in turn stimulates our first Chakra. Muladhara, or the Root Chakra, is energetically responsible for holding and grounding the very basis of our being. Like a tree, it is the roots through which we draw up nourishment. When we walk with bare feet, our Muladhara may move into energetic balance, helping us to feel more grounded and connected to the deepest essence of our being.
Certainly within our contemporary society and fast-paced modern lifestyles there are many dangers to be considered before whipping off our shoes in the middle of a city. However a slow re-introduction to walking barefoot can have massive benefits for our physical, mental and spiritual health.
Essentially, going barefoot leaves us feeling more rooted within the natural world and more connected to ourselves.
Take your shoes off every once in a while - it's good for the sole!