Can you walk? Really?

In no civilization in history were foot diseases as widespread as in the present Western society. American Indians, Egyptians, Greek, Romans, Chinese used to wear simple footwear or walked barefoot. In many places that weren’t so heavily influenced by the cultural and fashion whims of the modern world, simples shoes are still popular: flip-flaps, sandals, sabots, moccasins, Those who don’t wear any shoes are not considered queer.

Mass problems that required serious medical attention began only with the industrial revolution. Actually the first cases of foot deformation go back to the Renaissance when it became popular among aristocrats to wear pointed shoes with high heels. But aristocrats didn’t walk a lot and the rest of the population continued to wear regular shoes, or walk barefoot.

Before the French revolution aristocrats found the robust legs of farmers and workers ugly, so they created an ideal of slim legs and small feet. That’s why noblemen’s children had to wear tight shoes from a very early age. After the French revolution, when a middle class was formed, women began to massively imitate the ideal of small feet. But shoes were expensive, being made manually by craftsmen. Only with the development of machines have shoes become easily accessible to the quickly growing middle class in Europe and America.

The Myths of bare feet

It is dangerous (or forbidden) to walk barefoot in the forest or in town.

It is no more dangerous than walking shod! Walking barefoot makes you attentive to where you set your foot and how. With shoes on you don’t always pay attention. When you’re barefoot you feel the ground. Muscles and tendons in foot and ankle strengthen up, and this is the best protection against sprains. Bare feet keep you very stable.

You might be warned by guards or police officers if you go trekking high in the mountains without appropriate shoes (or barefoot), but walking up a small hill shouldn’t be a problem, nor walking to the library, school, to the shopping mall or hairdresser.

If you are careful and keep your eyes open, there is hardly any danger of stepping on a sharp object. And what about filth? Well, it is as awful as advertisements on TV are trying to convince you in our antiseptic society.

Barefoot on 2500 m mountain

Walking barefoot on the cold floor can cause kidney and bladder diseases.

There is plenty of evidence it is actually beneficial to expose the feet actively to moderate cold. Already in 1870 the Austrian priest Sebastian Kneip became famous for his method of relieving the fatigue and all the accompanying symptoms. All he did was to encourage people to take off their shoes and walk barefoot in the morning dew.

If somebody reminds you that you’ll get ill standing barefoot on a cold floor, don’t get frightened! If your body and head feel warm, being well clad, and you maintain the blood circulation in good shape by moving sufficiently, your feet will be warm enough and you won’t risk any illness. Quite the contrary! Your feet will act as a thermostat, regulating your inner “central heating”, and reminding you when you really need to put on more clothes. Your immune system will strengthen up and you’ll be healthier than ever!

But don’t rush! It isn’t advisable to begin walking barefoot in the winter all of a sudden. It is better to start in spring and keep up the habit till the late autumn—for as long as you’re comfortable.

After a few years, your feet will easily stand the temperature between 0 and 5ºC. With young men, the threshold can be even lower than that, with women and older men it is usually somewhat higher. The measure of when the ground is too cold for you is a subjective feeling: when the sense of touch on your soles gets numb, that means the temperature is too low for you. The subjective feeling varies, but it is the most reliable indication, showing you what temperature is still safe for you.

After some time, when your feet get used to the cold, you might find yourself uncovering your feet in your sleep! They will be (too) warm on their own, so they’ll sweat under the blanket. There’s nothing wrong—your feet finally learned to be warm and feel warm because you don’t constantly keep them covered!

If you walk barefoot, you’ll have cold feet.

There’s nothing further from the truth! After I’ve been walking barefoot everywhere for more than two years, I met an old friend. When he saw me barefooted he exclaimed: “Wow, you’re barefoot! But you used to always complain about having cold feet!”

I completely forgot about that, but he made me remember. Now I don’t ever have problems with cold feet.

The reasons for cold feet are usually related to bad circulation in the lower extremities. This can be the consequence of insufficient exercise, low blood pressure, atherosclerosis, diabetes, thyroid gland problems, but also of many external factors such as the use of certain medications, smoking, or simply exposedness to cold. The circulation may be obstructed by tight shoes or socks. Walking barefoot automatically solves many of these problems and improves the general condition of the feet. In addition to this, you should exercise sufficiently, eat healthful fool and sit less on chairs (with your feet lowered down). In some cases, it might be helpful to use certain natural herb creams to support the circulation in the feet and legs.

Walking barefoot is dirty.

Yes, the soles of the feet do get dirty. But it’s very easy to wash them! Tell me, what is more disgusting: dirty soles on free feet, or sweaty stinky feet in tight shoes? How often do you wash your (dirty!) shoes? And how often do you wash your feet? Think about it. Walking barefoot isn’t that dirty after all.

Walking barefoot is painful.

I am startled when I hear this from people in pointed high heel shoes! You’re telling me, it’s painful to walk barefoot! Wasn’t it painful to make the first few steps in your fancy shoes? Oh, not the first few steps, it was actually painful for the entire month, wasn’t it? Maybe it still hurts. But you got used to it!

You got used to blisters, calluses, sweating, weariness, and squeezed veins. But now remember as lively as you can, how good it feels to get home from work, take off the shoes, sit back on a sofa and swing your feet on a chair. Doesn’t it seem logical to keep the shoes off all the time and enjoy the relaxed feet 24/7?

It will take a while for the soles of the feet to get thicker and more resistant to rough ground, but once this happens you will have a new world in front of you! It is like getting a new sense. The skin on the feet will quickly become an expert reader and interpreter of whatever they touch. They will also learn to perceive any prick, sharp edge or unevenness as a message to adjust the step or to move the foot away. The foot will behave just like the eye when it is exposed to very strong light—when this happens you bring your eyelids closer together or shut them completely. You’re not wearing protective eyeglasses all the time just because strong light might once shine in your eyes and damage your eyesight, you put them on only for particular activities. It is the same with shoes: they should be used in rare cases to protect the feet on dangerous terrain (thorny bushes, construction works, very slippery floor, etc.) in all other cases your feet will be grateful for all the freedom you give them.

From walking barefoot the soles get rough, coarse and ugly.

Bare feet are natural and beautiful. The skin on the sole can become up to 1 cm thick and 600x more resistant to abrasion, stings and other injuries, than the skin on a thigh, per example. But the skin on the sole doesn’t die; it doesn’t become insensitive and hard. It is a thickened live tissue, extremely sensitive to the structure, temperature, moistness, smoothness, etc. of the ground. The wounds on the soles heal much faster than anywhere else on the body.

Problems with cracks on the soles or with thick dead skin that comes off like butter, often turn up when you walk barefoot for some time and then start using shoes (per example in the winter). Changing shoes a lot can cause this problem as well, and also using inappropriate shoes. Rubbing the skin and using creams doesn’t always help. The skin tends to grow and grow, the cracks keep coming back. The best solution for this problem is to stop using any medicines, stop pealing the skin, and simply taking daily walks on slightly moist soil (in the garden, on a meadow, in the forest, etc.), possibly of the beaten tracks. The problem will never come back.

It is illegal to be barefoot when driving a car or a bicycle.

I heard this question many times: “How can you drive barefoot? Can you feel the pedals properly?” The second after they say this out loud, people usually become aware of the nonsense they just uttered. How could you feel the pedals better with your shoes on?!

“But what if your foot slips …” they don’t stop opposing the idea.

“Come on! I am barefoot! I embrace the pedal with my toes, and hold it almost as firmly as with my hand.”

By the law in many countries it is forbidden to wear clumsy footwear (like flip-flops, clogs, boots), but from what I’ve seen policemen rarely pay attention to the shoes you wear (or don’t wear). I am lucky because in my country the law doesn’t forbid barefoot driving. When I travel abroad I have my “statement of reasons” ready just in case.

It is illegal to go barefoot to a restaurant, shop, office or library.

Only twice was I asked to leave the room I entered barefoot. Once in a church and once in a shopping mall. When I enter a library, museum, restaurant, I sometimes encounter curious or judgmental looks, but not as often as one would expect. Walking barefoot is practically my nature, so it is inconspicuous.

A few years ago I was staying for seven days in a five-star hotel, going everywhere barefoot, of course. On the sixth day, my new friend noticed my habit and thought it was a good idea! He took off his shoes and went around the hotel. Everything was all right until he went for lunch. He was politely but firmly told by the staff it is not allowed to come to the dining hall without shoes.

Strange how nobody noticed I’ve been having all meals barefoot for six days!

There is no law that would forbid you to walk barefoot on official or private grounds. There might be, however, internal regulations out of fear of you getting injured (and suing the owner). But generally, it is just prejudice. If your dress is decent and your behavior seemly, bare feet shouldn’t be any more unacceptable than open sandals.

Barefoot running doesn’t provide sufficient suspension (especially on asphalt surface).

For a long time, the sport footwear was striving to imitate the feel of running barefoot, yet protecting the sole from the harsh surface. Asphalt is probably the most unpleasant surface to run barefoot on, but it is mostly so due to it being harsh, thus abrading the skin on the soles, and because it is hard, which makes stepping on a stone, big or small, quite painful. The foot that is used to running barefoot, can better amortize steps and can adapt itself to any unevenness than any shoes. It just needs practice.

Barefoot in Strasbourg EU parliament

A person in tight shoes is like a plant in an undersized pot. Your toes are like the jammed roots of a plant. Has drought ever tipped over your house flowers? In a similar way your feet, squeezed in tight shoes, don’t provide adequate stability and the feel for the ground, as is the case with being barefoot or at least wearing good footwear.

In tight shoes, foot arches undergo greater extortion, as the toes don’t bear the weight when the foot is stepping off the ground. In early age, deformations are common, particularly fallen arches, since the toes are squeezed inside the tight shoes and thus don’t offer adequate support. Children begin twisting the feet outwardly, putting the weight on the arches, thus causing them to drop. When children walk barefoot the toes spread apart and increase the surface of the front half of the foot, with the weight predominantly on the outer side of the foot, on the cushions and toes, particularly on the big toe. The arches are bent exactly as they ought to be. Being barefoot allows you to easily stand on your toes (actually on the cushions, supported by toes). This is an excellent exercise for good bodily posture.

In what kind of shoes should I follow Jesus?

Spiritual aspects of walking barefoot shouldn’t be overlooked. How common are images of shod Jesus? Or Buddha? In the times of Jesus wearing shoes was characteristic of soldiers and bare feet were a symbol of peace and contact with God. In India. it was also rare to see people wearing shoes. Even nowadays it is customary to be barefoot at home and in temples. Being barefoot means being humble while being shod means being haughty and rich.

Bare feet ground you, they get you in touch with nature. Footwear is civic, modish, cultural and commercial. Being barefoot extricates you from the prejudices of the modern society and your thinking gets free. Nowadays bare feet are in no way a sign of poverty. To be barefoot means to be responsible in relation to your body, to know how to handle it. People who mock barefooters and belittle them, who arrogantly forbid them access to their “private” property, even to a church or a library, are forgetting the spiritual and ethical values of their ancestors, a healthy attitude to the world they live in.

Once you get used to being barefoot you’ll soon notice the difference in how you step on the ground. In shoes you tramp, while you set your bare feet gently, attentively, with awareness, watching every step. The keen edges of shoe soles damage the plants, while bare soles just press them causing much less harm if any. When Masanobu Fukuoka, one of the greatest regenerative farmers, came to Italy he noticed the farmers in their robust shoes hurting the soil much more than in places where farmers used light shoes or walked barefoot.

If you walk barefoot you learn to respect the areas that are protected by nature for a certain reason—the areas covered with thorns or sharp rocks. You also walk very quietly, without any noise. As you wear out fewer shoes (particularly those containing plastic and rubber) you are a lesser burden to the environment.

Close your eyes and imagine as vividly as possible the following image: a slender girl is riding an unsaddled horse over a blooming spring meadow—with a smile on her face and barefooted. Can you come up with any better image of freedom than a barefoot woman on an unsaddled horse? There is no cabriolet, there are no fancy shoes, no road so smooth that can compare to that kind of freedom.

Why do we limit ourselves?

It was the beginning of March. For the first time after a long cold winter, the sun shone very warmly and lured me out like a lizard. I went for a walk on my favorite path on the southern slope of a nearby hill. Barefoot, for the first time in that year. I enjoyed the chill of the wet soil, the sharpness of small stones, the tenderness of moss and the first young straws.

An old woman in black walked towards me and addressed me with shrieking menacing tone: “Are you crazy! Barefoot! You’re going to get sick!”

I just smiled at her, shrugged my shoulders and ran away from the cloud of enmity, staying in which might truly get me sick, indeed.

I walked thousands of miles barefoot in forests, on meadows, on beaches, in mountains, in towns and villages. I stay barefoot throughout the spring, summer and autumn, but also for a considerable part of winter when the temperature is around 5 degrees Celsius. I tried walking barefoot on dew, rain, and snow. I walked down holy paths, both paved and thorny. What I can say to the old woman in black and those like her is the following: bare feet are the source of health, not the source of disease. Such prejudices were implanted in them with intimidation, not with facts. So now they don’t allow themselves any freedom — nor to others.

Sometimes I put some shoes on not to stand out, sometimes I do it due to the same prejudices for which I was harassed by that old woman. I am not sure why these paradigms control us so powerfully. I don’t have a satisfactory answer, there’s only this intuitive feeling of what it might be. But I know something for sure: all the research I’ve done in the process of writing this has inspired and encouraged me so strongly, from now on I’ll enjoy “wearing” nothing but my bare feet, wherever I go.