Since spring this year I’m going through life barefoot ‘full time’. In nature, in the supermarket, at work… well basically always except for occasions like job interviews…and driving a car (then I wear minimal sandals or my sexy ‘gorilla feet’ ;-), my black ‘fivefinger’shoes) to ensure good grip on the pedals.

Chances are you think.. “why would you want to do that?” or: “what about glass, aren’t you afraid to step into that?” Well, I’ll come back to the glass but let me first explain a bit of the why..

There are lots of health benefits of walking barefoot.. add to that the wonderful feeling of freedom, reason enough for me to ditch my shoes. I’ll mention a couple of these benefits, if you want to learn more about it, there’s plenty of resources out there.

Walking barefoot forces you to walk better, with less impact on your knees and spine. With shoes most of us land on our heels, this sends a shockwave through your entire body. When walking barefoot, you won’t do this because, believe me, you will feel it. Shoes constrain the range of movement of your feet and as a result they’ll lose some of their agility and strength. I’ve worn custom-made insoles for years. While this was pretty comfortable, by cushioning them they only weakened. Shoes often shape your feet by being too narrow and small. Try this: stand with your feet on a piece of paper and draw around it, now compare this with the shape of the (in)sole of your shoe. Chances are that your feet are actually wider than the shoe itself. Since I ditched both the insoles and shoes my feet got a bit wider. Other proven benefits of going barefoot are; improved balance, blood circulation and sleep, reduction of stress and inflammation.

Without shoes you are more aware of your surroundings, partly because you need to be and simply because you get more sensory input. I often joke that it’s like receiving a constant free massage.

Choices you make often have consequences in an array of areas. This definitely also applies to me choosing to go barefoot. As I mentioned the health benefit and feeling of freedom it gives, it did bring more than just that.

There are two main lessons I would say I have and continue to learn from it.

Firstly, there is the, at times, uncomfortable side of it. Sometimes going barefoot simply hurts. The natural tendency is to tighten your muscles.. This only works against you and as in most cases, when you relax, things hurt less. The good thing is that after some time you and the soles of your feet get used to it, so both physically and mentally it will get a lot easier. Still, sometimes it does hurt and you will have to choose to relax despite a certain level of discomfort. It is kind of a neat metaphor for other pain in life, both physically and mentally. You simply can’t always prevent it, sometimes you just have to accept it and find a way to cope with it. After you do it might help you taking further hurdles.

Secondly, there’s the aspect of social interaction. From a young age on I’ve always done certain things I thought were good, or that I liked despite how others responded to it. Yet there’s this other side of me that is insecure and doesn’t like to stand out in a crowd or to be the object of disapproving glances. This is exactly what will happen though when you stop wearing shoes.

The way people react varies massively. Often its a mixture of curiosity and thinking it’s kind of odd, (can’t blame them…for it ;-)).  You get all kinds of reactions, people being weirded out and (sneakily) taking photo’s to saying ‘thats so cool I wish I could to it’. Recently a young guy on the metro told me: “I feel like puking when looking at your feet”. This most probably had more to do with the amount alcohol he had consumed than the tiny specs of mud on my feet after a weekend in nature… I laughed and said it was probably a good thing we had just arrived at my stop, so the metro could stay clean ;-).

Although this reaction was quite extreme and kind of funny I have to say that I have to keep choosing not to care too much about the way people tend to stare or react. Some days I kind of enjoy surprising people and challenging their understanding or ‘normal’. Some days I just want to blend in and not feel self-conscious…

It keeps teaching me to enjoy making people smile and not to care about negative people might say or think about me and the choices I make..

In case you are wondering, yes, by now I have switched to some minimal footwear (minimal in the sense of restriction it gives). In spring or on warmer days I’ll gladly take them off again. I did go for a short barefoot walk in the snow today, fairly challenging and in day to day life not practical… I did get rewarded with toasty warm toes afterwards.

Would I recommend walking barefoot, absolutely! …you might want to wait till spring though..

Do take into consideration if you have diabetes or for some reason you have limited feeling in your feet, then you might want to opt for ‘minimal footwear’ instead. And no, so far I’ve never stepped in glass, I’ve had quite a number of thorns in my feet, but no glass…