FREE YOUR SOLE!
“The more our bodies are strangers to us the more we remain strangers to life.”
– Carol Bernstein and Therese Bertherat (The Body Has Its Reasons: Self-Awareness Through Conscious Movement)
WTF Is On Your Feet?
When people see me wearing my Vibram Five Fingers, they stop and stare and some say, “Oh they’re so weird”. I reply “they just look like feet, are feet so weird?” Apparently so, but maybe it’s because feet don’t look like feet anymore, they look like shoes.
Leonardo Da Vinci said the human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and work of art. He was right, but somehow we’ve gotten lost along the way by the influence of fashion and marketing, thinking we can improve on what Mother Nature gave us.
Why are we so embarrassed about a foot shaped shoe, one that allows freedom to move naturally, maintaining a strong but mobile foundation (the feet) without compromising the entire structure (the body) allowing it to move well, with balance, stability and confidence, as it should… and without pain?
Vibram Five Fingers are the closest thing to being barefoot I can find. They are a perfect compromise to being completely barefoot. A shoe that will not manipulate or influence the form and function of the foot, and will not change the biomechanics.
From an early age our feet are shoved into regular shaped shoes, and some into even weirder shapes and they are gradual, over time, moulded into what we recognise as a shoe shaped foot.
Not only that, but most shoes have a heel, shortening the muscles and tendons of the back of the leg, a toe lift (i.e. sports shoes) disconnecting your big toe, the anchor and pivot point crucial for balance and skilful movement, and an arch support, making the muscles that would be creating the arch weak and useless.
Add these together and you have a foot with a completely overstretched sole, the muscles and joints unable to move, and the foot becoming pointed, rigid and narrow, rather than staying wide, i.e. the same shape as when you were born. Imagine it’s like any body part, being held in a cast, unable to move or feel for a very long time.
Strong and Mobile
With 33 bones 26 muscles, the human foot has evolved be a strong and mobile part of our body. Our feet should be as dexterous as our hands. Our body created more joints where it needs more movement, enabling us to move optimally and distribute load and forces to muscles and soft tissues instead of directly to bone.
Their purpose is not only to hold you up and help you navigate terrain, but they are also a sensory organ, like your nose and your eyes, transmitting the subtlest of information to the brain about how to move the rest of your body.
And when they have the freedom to move naturally, adapting to every texture and shape of the ground, moving through many micro-movements each step, your body above can articulate with fluidity and ease.
Transitioning: Regress to Progress
People ask what it’s like to run in a minimal shoe, thinking it’s dangerous to run on tarmac or hard ground (because their doctor told them… seriously, I hear this ALL the time).
The feet, as sensory organs, will adapt and respond appropriately to the surface they feel; so naturally, when your feet can actually ‘feel’ a hard surface, they will respond appropriately and give the correct messages to the brain of how to move and with how much load.
But we also have to be aware of what mindset we take when we go out for a run in our nice new minimal shoes. Transitioning to minimal shoes is not ‘No pain no gain!’
It must be done with a regressive mindset; learn to walk before you run. Let the feet rebuild their strength; awakening the muscles and strengthening the bones through appropriate, progressive loads, bringing back elasticity and strength to natures perfect engineering. Slowly building this way, the senses start to balance as the foot knows the terrain.
The body is intelligent, so feeling your way into this is key. Everyone is starting in a different place, there is no one set formula, just intuitive intelligence.
Once transitioned back to natural how we evolved to be, feeling the ground only gives more confidence to move freely, without fear of falling, twisting, slipping or sliding. Never do I encounter the thought that I might be doing damage to any part of my body, or that it is dangerous.
Smart and Agile Kids
There are 200,000+ neurotransmitters in the feet. The more they can feel the ground, the more the foot-brain connection stays sparking and active. Thick, cushioned and supportive shoes cut off this all-important feeling, dulling the sensory feedback our brains receive from our feet.
Vivobarefoot, a barefoot shoe brand that champions the importance of allowing kids feet to grow naturally, to let their bodies move freely and their brains to develop greater potential.
A major study from the University of Bournemouth concluded that keeping shoes off kids’ feet in the classroom helped them concentrate more, behave better and perform better academically.
According to a new study from the German University of Jena and Stellenbosch University in Africa, kids who are regularly barefoot have better-developed motor skills than those who regularly wear shoes.
And there’s much more to be said on the importance of children being able to go outside, be barefoot and play in nature. Doctor Peter Gray, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Boston College writes, “Without play, children fail to acquire the social and emotional skills that are essential for healthy psychological development. “
And paediatric occupational therapist, Angela Hanscom writes, “The more we restrict children’s movement from nature, the more sensory disorganisation we see. It’s time to rethink what we put on our kid’s feet. Traditional school shoes are stiff, narrow, and rigid – wrecking the foot’s form and function as it grows, as well as restricting all the awesome sensory feedback our brains get when our feet can feel.”
Fashion or Function?
Early records show the trend for a heeled shoe with the riding shoes worn by noblemen of the Persian Empire. Even though very decorative, it was merely a functional aspect to keep the foot in the stirrup.
And even though a pointed, narrow toe-box had been around on and off since the 1300’s, the heeled shoe with narrow toe box, really became popular as a fashion statement by King Louis XIV of France in the 1700’s as an important status symbol of nobility.
Since then, this fashion has remained, whether it be a small heel on a man’s shoe, or a woman’s stiletto, the heel and narrow toe box are a non-functional extra to the shoe. Their only purpose was for power, status, sex and fashion… definitely not for comfort.
According to Doctor William A Rossi, a pioneering podiatrist who emphasised natural approaches to foot and ankle problems, in his article “Why Shoes Make ‘Normal’ Gait Impossible” he writes, with a heel “the body is tilted forward, pressure and load is pushed to the front of the foot for the body to maintain an erect position.
A whole series of joint adjustments (ankle, knee, hip, spine, head) are required to regain and retain the erect stance. Under these conditions, the pelvis tilts, and the pelvic and abdominal organs shift and adapt to new and unnatural positions. In this new adjusted stance, scores of body parts – bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons head to foot must instantly change position. If these adjustments are sustained over prolonged periods, or by habitual use of heels, the strains and stresses become chronic, causing or contributing to aches of legs, back and shoulders, fatigue etc.”
My Mother Has Them
It saddens me to hear and see people go in for foot surgery. They only see their feet becoming misshapen, ugly and painful. My mother had terrible bunions, had the surgery, and has bunions again now. Lots of people (especially women) tell me the same story. But it’s not hereditary, as is the conventionally held belief; it’s the wearing of conventional, shoe shaped shoes that has been inherited.
In a nutshell, according to Barefoot Podiatrist, Dr. Ray McClanahan, a former foot surgeon and creator of Correct Toes, the ‘bunion’ is the metatarsal head that has become exposed. Over time, in conventional shoes, the big toe (your natural anchor for balance of the foot and pivot point for walking) has gradually been pushed aside. Bunion surgery is just shaving off part of your foot, when what we really need to do is bring the big toe back into alignment with the metatarsals of the feet.
Fortunately my feet have now adapted back to natural, since I threw away all my ‘normal’ shoes. Otherwise, I too, would have the ‘hereditary’ bunions forming. Most foot problems can be corrected by restoring natural foot function.
The body is an adaption organism. You can adapt it to wear shoes and it’ll adapt and do it’s best to keep you in balance, until it can adapt no more, then comes pain. Or you can adapt it to ‘regress’ back to its previous natural balance, before the influence of the ‘cast’ of the conventional shoe. As Katy Bowman says, “Adaption is adaption. It’s either helping or hindering.”
Respect and Protect your Feet
We forsake the strength and balance of the foot and the entire body in the name of fashion, to conform to convention. Isn’t it about time we stopped contorting our feet into restrictive and unnatural footwear just for the sake of external appearance? Isn’t a well functioning and happy body a more sexy body?
Sometimes we acknowledge that part of the body is ugly, but we don’t take it seriously if we can hide it and if it isn’t a source of persistent pain. The foot is an excellent example. Francoise Mézieres said “You can’t preserve the foot’s perfect morphology when you wear shoes that constrain it instead of protecting it. Shoes should respect the contour of the foot and let the toes have freedom of their movements, modern aesthetics doesn’t accept this, but can you imagine a Greek statue with pointed feet?!”
From: The Body Has Its Reasons: Self-Awareness Through Conscious Movement by Carol Bernstein and Therese Bertherat
Other Resources: Daniel Vitalis, Rewild Yourself Podcast #140, The Barefoot Podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan, Vivobarefoot.com, Kids Science, Katy Bowman, Move Your DNA, Whole Body Barefoot
Written by Rebecca Lewis for Nourish The Guide
FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR LIFE BY EXERCISING IN NATURE
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks…and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” – John Muir
Whether you’re suffering from a low mood, anxiety or depression or if you’re experiencing the heartbreak of losing someone you loved, running or walking outdoors in a natural setting can help you feel better in many ways.
Run outdoors to lift your mood and stimulate creative thinking
According to a 2010 study, when we experience heartbreak, our brain’s response is similar to that of cocaine withdrawal. In other words, you need all the feel-good chemicals you can get to counteract this feeling of withdrawal.
Exercising regularly during times of heartbreak can reduce stress and anxiety, and stop depression from creeping up on you. It really can give you a bit of a high by releasing endorphins – and every positive emotion counts during times of extreme sadness.
Just getting out and moving our bodies in nature usually lifts our mood. Scientists have discovered that the areas of the brain that are responsible for repeated negative thoughts and critical thinking become less active while you are running or walking outdoors.
Once the mind has been quietened in this way, deeper brain areas become more active, allowing more lucid, creative and imaginative thinking to happen.
It’s a good recipe for coming back feeling better so that we can be better for the people around us.
Find peace of mind in nature
The science says that moving your body in a natural setting is healing, and the colour green is soothing. It’s also quite well established that connecting to the Earth is grounding.
Being in nature allows you to enter a more relaxed state of mind by switching off your physiological stress response. According to one scientific study, a biomarker related to inflammation was reduced when people spent time outdoors and felt awe when they were surrounded by nature. Perhaps the feeling of being part of something far greater than ourselves helps us feel more relaxed, peaceful and grounded.
In comparison, running on a treadmill in a gym is an unnatural, mechanical movement, because you’re tricking your brain by running without going anywhere. You’re also feeding a competitive mindset of running against a time or speed, or maybe other people in the gym.
So, if we can let go of goal-orientated exercise, and move purely for pleasure, experiencing different terrains while breathing in fresh oxygen and taking in the views, the colours and the sounds of nature (rather than pumping techno!), we can find more peace of mind and more connection, as well as a more tuned-in and tuned-up body.
From loathing to loving via heartbreak – my personal journey with running
I had always believed I was a useless runner. I even had repetitive dreams about how terrible I was. My legs would never move in my dreams, as much as I forced them to; they felt like dead weights.
As a kid I hated running. I was severely asthmatic and whilst trying my hardest in school sports day races, my ankles collapsed often, sending me to the ground in humiliation.
So, I had my reasons to dislike running. I decided it was not for me, and abandoned it at the first opportunity.
Around 15 years ago, I started running again. It did not come naturally to me, but came out of desperation and necessity. It was through being heart-broken.
I thought I would fall apart if I didn’t do something. Not knowing what else I could do, and not being able to sleep through the night, I got up and ran! It was my Forest Gump moment: “I just felt like running”.
That was the spark that ignited my passion. Something shifted during that first run. I came back feeling empowered and uplifted… temporarily, until my mind got involved again. So, I’d have to go out and repeat, to get that feeling back again the very next day.
Even after a night of drowning my sorrows, I could get up at 5 am and run 9 or 10 miles. The drive to run was so strong. It was the new light that pulled me out of the darkness, the ’runner’s high’, even though I didn’t know what that was yet.
So, I thank the Universe, the inner wisdom, or whatever it was, that inspired me to get up and run, to get me to ‘act’ instead of trying to ‘think’ my way out of the problem. To get me connected to my body, and get me out of my head. To stop me searching for and pursuing happiness through something or someone else, and to ultimately realise happiness can be found within myself; running was my saviour.
Running became time that was solely for me. It was a time when I could invigorate my body and let my mind be free for once. I quickly noticed the effects of running translating over to my anxiety responses to stressful situations in my day-to-day life. I came to depend on my time running outdoors almost as a meditation.
Having that slice of time for myself, connecting with nature and my body simultaneously, was undoubtedly a huge help in managing my grief and emotional health.
Before I knew it, my mind began to connect with my body more than it ever had before.
Exercise in nature to improve your life
So, making a small space in your day to move, preferably in nature, will improve your day, your health, your happiness and ultimately your life!
We take for granted this amazing body we have. If we can move it, then we probably should, as one day we might not be able to.
Much of our connectedness to ourselves and the world around us is through movement. It’s in our original nature; it helps us understand ourselves in order to understand everything else…. it’s our biology, it’s part of our evolution.
Allow running or walking outdoors to show you how wonderful your life is:
“That’s the thing about running: Your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are the moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is.” – Kara Goucher
Written by Rebecca Lewis for Nourish The Guide
NATURAL RUNNING - LEARNING TO ENJOY, NOT ENDURE
Many people will tell you that running hurts, and they are right!
With reports stating that around 80% of runners will suffer from a running-related injury at some point, you could be forgiven for questioning whether running is something that people do as a form of punishment, to work off over indulgence, or to counterbalance being sedentary for much of their day. It doesn’t have to be that way though.
Running throughout history
As nomadic hunter-gatherers, we evolved as a moving, walking, running species; our environment shaped our physiology. New anthropological evidence suggests that sapiens date back to 300,000 years ago, not 200,000 as previously thought, and yet in a relatively short time (in terms of human evolution) over the last 10,000 years, humans have changed radically in terms of movement – or lack thereof. As a species, we have transitioned from migratory hunter-gatherers, to mechanical and sedentary farmers, to a culture of industrialised and technology-based beings.
The need to survive is what drove us to move thousands of years ago, but now with the convenience and comforts of modern life, we can survive with much less physical effort.
The importance of Natural Movement
The problem lies in that, while our physical survival doesn’t require as much movement, our biological wellbeing does. Movement is essential at a cellular level, and to truly benefit, we should do it outside. What environment are we training for? Is it a concrete, mechanical one? Or a natural one?
When I started coaching in skilful, natural running (aka ‘barefoot running’ – but with minimal shoes), most who came to me were simply wanting wanted to move more, with less pain. Before moving ‘more’ though, I realised that it was vital for them to move ‘well’. Our sedentary lifestyles and poor fashion choices meant that many needed to regain balance and strength in parts of the body that had reformed into patterns and shapes that compromised their natural running form. Many of us are imbalanced and weak in the areas needed for natural running and an optimal, fluid, pain free walking gait. I help people find their centre again, reawakening dormant body parts and promoting a stronger more balanced body – the same principles are incorporated into my yoga classes to help people move with more ease and less effort.
Convenience and fashion may seem harmless, but over the years they have been reforming us, myself included, into a less robust, more domesticated variation of our former species. Furthermore, in today’s culture we are all after a quick fix. We tend to seek out diets and workouts that produce a high tax on the body for short-term effects; we want to look good on the outside, rather than function well on the inside.
The benefits of running outdoors
As human beings with an ancestry steeped in the outdoors and the natural world, we have an internal pull to get outside. That’s why I encourage nutritious, functional, natural movement in an outdoor environment, rather than the mechanical movements helped by machines.
Over the last few years I have been teaching skills for a more natural running technique; changing movement patterns to help people find a more fluid and less impactful form and flow, alongside studying bioenergetics and what the runner naturally needs as fuel. This is key to remaining an efficient and happy runner for the long-term.
Running for me is a form of meditation. To be out on the trails, in the peace of the mountains, moving joyfully and really being able to connect with my surroundings. It allows the creativity of thought to flow through my mind, without being niggled by discomfort or pain.
I would love any runner, would-be runner, or walker to experience this way of moving. To move with ease like we see any free animal do, to move naturally with what evolution gave us and to remove the notion that we need fashion or tools to ‘get the job done’!
Mallorca has so much to offer through its natural outdoor playground. Get truly connected and feel good in your body. Move with ease and above all else, enjoy, don’t just endure.
Written by Rebecca Lewis for Nourish The Guide