Walking barefoot connects us to the calming security of the earth. Whether you think of this as a spiritual grounding or simply a physical pleasure, the soles of our feet can tread a pathway to calm.
Walking barefoot along a beach
I love beaches. I love sand and shingle and rocks. Walking barefoot along a beach rests my heart and lifts my soul. It is one of my favourite things to do in the world.
When I was a little girl, my Dad used to tell me that anyone who was born in Brighton has an innate ability to walk barefoot on a pebbly beach without pain. My Dad and I were both born in Brighton. He passed away years ago, but to this day I remember him and smile whenever I am picking my uncomfortable way across shingle in bare feet. I tell myself it is true, and I feel special. I am a child of the beach. I belong here.
Many faiths and traditions share a deep sense that the ground is holy. Native Americans and many indigenous peoples believe that Mother Earth is a sacred, living being. [i]Walking barefoot connects us directly to the energy of the earth.
In India and the Middle East, worshippers in mosques, churches and synagogues remove their shoes before entering a sacred space to pray. This is connected with ideas of cleanliness and purity. In some traditions, pilgrims walk holy paths barefoot as a sign of their dedication and love. In the Bible, God tells Moses to take off his shoes in the Divine presence, because he is standing on holy ground.
Feet are amazing
Our feet are remarkable. One quarter of all your bones are in your feet. Together with a complex network of tendons, muscles and ligaments, these bones allow you to walk, run and dance with stability and balance. If the bones in your feet are out of alignment, the rest of the body will suffer. Your feet also have 250,000 sweat glands, and over 14,000 nerve endings in each foot. They are incredibly sensitive and adapt to a range of surfaces to keep you upright and safe. [ii] Any damage to the nerve endings in the feet can have serious consequences[iii].
Walking barefoot for health
Walking barefoot has plenty of health benefits. Many people believe that direct barefoot connection to the earth, often described as “grounding”, can connect us to the earth’s free electrons and stabilise many body systems. You can read more about the research and thinking behind this in my More Information links below.
There is growing evidence, both anecdotal and from scientific studies, that regular barefoot walking is good for us. It can help with chronic pain and inflammation, improving sleep, strengthening the immune system, reducing anxiety, preventing period pains and hormonal imbalances and improving energy levels[iv]. We are not yet sure exactly how this works, but it seems to be powerful. I know from my own experience that a simple barefoot walk on grass or sand can make me feel so much better and calmer.
As a practising Reflexologist and enthusiastic Reflexology client, I know that the same benefits available from walking barefoot come from Reflexology too. This is not surprising. Our feet are intimately connected to the wellbeing of the entire body and mind. Massage and stimulation of the reflex points on the feet is one of the most reliable ways to relax into the parasympathetic state of calm. It is restful and healing for the whole person.
Honouring a sacred space
There is something special about walking barefoot in a favourite place. Whether it is the damp grass in your garden at dawn, or the sand on a quiet beach, feeling the surface beneath your feet can help you feel connected. Some people like to walk around the boundaries of a space which is significant to them. Just as animals mark territory, so we can enhance our inner sense of security by honouring a place where we feel we belong.
Taking off my shoes makes me feel free. That barefoot feeling instantly connects me to my inner child. Footwear can subtly symbolise all the constraints of our modern lives and daily commitments. Sometimes just removing your shoes and socks and wriggling your toes in mud or grass is enough to create a complete sense of liberation.
Some schools of Yoga insist that practice must always be barefoot, to ensure a balanced sense of connection. I love practising Sun Salutations on the lawn in bare feet. The cool of the dew in early morning is so refreshing.
Better foot health – and injuries?
There is evidence that walking barefoot can strengthen the bones and arches in your feet, as well as giving your lower leg muscles a good workout. However the debate about walking substantial distances or running barefoot is complex. Some people swear by barefoot running, but it can also cause injuries[v]. I developed plantar fasciitis when I tried barefoot running, so I would sound a note of caution here.
I would recommend walking only short distances barefoot, and on safe surfaces. Avoid walking barefoot if you have any foot injuries or damage to the nerves in your feet or lower legs. Always inspect your feet and wash them after a barefoot experience. We have shoes for good reasons, and we should be grateful for them!
Give it a try!
For today’s calm practice, take off your shoes and socks and feel the earth under your feet. If possible, take a short barefoot walk around your garden, or in a park or on a beach. Walk slowly, and feel all the sensations of the ground under your soles. Slow down enough to notice how your feet and legs move as you walk. Breathe gently and enjoy your surroundings.
If you can’t get outdoors, take off your shoes and socks indoors and walk slowly and mindfully around your house. Keep all your attention on your feet.
Afterwards, sit down or lie down and rest. Notice how you feel.
If you can, take a picture of where you walked, and share it in Nurture Yourself Group.
Thanks for reading this blog post. I am writing a series of 31 blogs every day this August. I plan to publish them later in the year as a book entitled, ‘Finding Your Calm Space – 31 Ways to Find Calm in a Crazy World’.
I’m Karen. I am a Yoga teacher, Reflexologist and busy mum of seven. I live with my family in Billericay, Essex, UK. In the past I have worked as a Midwife, Health Visitor, Baby Signing teacher and Tax Inspector. I love getting outdoors, swimming in the sea, walking and writing. Helping people relax is one of the things I do best.
You can learn more about my Yoga classes and Reflexology at my website www.thecalmspace.co.uk
If you would like to learn more about the health benefits of connection to the earth, there is a fascinating book called “Earthing” by Clint Ober which goes into this in lots more detail: