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Footloose and free: benefits of barefoot walking

Benefits of barefoot walking. Little eco footprints

A recent frustrating day in front of a computer had me yearning to escape. To connect with nature. To be more grounded. I decided to try something I had been considering for a while – barefoot bushwalking.

I’d heard of the health and well-being benefits of barefoot hiking and barefoot running. I even considered buying a pair of those freaky FiveFingers minimalist sports shoes a few years back. Then I learnt of earthing – coupling your body to the earth’s surface. By the time I started stumbling across images of public barefoot parks in Europe (commonly called Barfuss walks) I could no longer shake the idea of shedding my shoes.

Barefoot bushwalking Little eco footprints

Feeling rebellious, Little Eco and I took off our shoes and headed out for a walk. "Quick, head to the trees before someone sees us," I urged, horrified that we’d be spotted walking around shoeless.

Within moments, we relaxed. Our pace slowed. The location of each step was chosen carefully. We explored textures and temperatures through our feet and giggled as we squished in mud and sought out surfaces that massaged our feet. Little Eco’s childlike enthusiasm was amplified and contagious.

Surprised by how good we felt during and after our barefoot bushwalk, I wanted to find out more about the benefits of walking barefoot.

Barefoot buddhist monk walking. Little eco footprints

A friend of mine, Jason, hasn’t worn shoes since becoming a Buddhist monk in 2010. He has since walked more than 7000 kilometres – barefoot. I figured that he would have a pretty good idea of the benefits of shedding shoes.

Barefoot buddhist monk. Little eco footprints

Jason tells me that the immense benefits of walking barefoot can be nicely summarised into six key points.

1. Walking barefoot increases sensitivity

It is easy to become numb to our surroundings when wearing shoes. "Our feet are like the antennae of ants. Placing shoes on our feet is like placing a sock on the antennae of an ant," said Jason.

2. Walking barefoot increases our connectivity

Walking barefoot reminds us that we are dependent upon the earth for our survival. Jason tells me that "Putting shoes on our feet insulates us from the earth and disconnects us from our impact upon nature and others".

3. Walking barefoot increases our humility

Jason tells me that by shedding his shoes he is deliberately rejecting judgment. He has become more humble. "When barefoot, you can’t really judge anyone else. Humility feels good because it frees us from caring about the judgment of others." 

4. Walking barefoot provides a sense of freedom

Our own home is one place we are usually comfortable to remove our shoes. "By being barefoot beyond our home, our sense of feeling ‘at home’ expands, providing us with a sense of freedom."

5. Walking barefoot improves our health

Walking barefoot is good for our nervous system, vascular system and encourages the flow of life energy. "By walking barefoot we balance and tune these systems and our organs. Walking barefoot also strengthens our posture and balances our emotional sensitivity," said Jason.

6. Walking barefoot teaches us how to overcome addiction

Addictions are about preferring short-term benefits over long-term gains. To overcome addictions we need to prioritise long-term benefits. "Walking barefoot is a great reminder that a little short-term pain can lead to long-term gain," Jason told me.

So, the more I walk barefoot the more sensible, connected, humble, free and healthy I’ll become. That’s reason enough to take off my shoes. Although I suspect I’ll remain a closet barefoot bushwalker for a while yet.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 15th September 2014.