This post is brought to you by Matthew Medina, a content game designer and barefooter for twenty years. He is passionate about advocating for acceptance of the barefoot lifestyle. Maybe you remember him from this post: 5 Foot Care Tips for Barefooters.
Today Matthew shares his experience in leading a barefoot lifestyle. It is intriguing to hear from someone who has been barefooting for so long. His experiences are invaluable to those of us who are just starting out. It gives all newbies a glimmer of hope and builds our confidence. Thank you Matthew for being so brave and opening up your life for us all.
And now a word from +Matthew Medina...
So, what tips can I give as a barefooter with over twenty years of experience? Well, I've had lots of experiences, but probably the biggest takeaway I can give both old and new is this: By a mile, the positives of going barefoot and adopting a barefoot lifestyle will outweigh any of the negatives you might encounter. I've made acquaintances and friends with many other barefooters in the time I've been going barefoot, and I've never met anyone who regretted their choice.
Being a barefooter does lead you to encounter these things, sometimes even from family and friends, and if you're put in that position of having to choose between following your heart in one direction or the other, I don't know there's any advice I can offer. But I would point out - we now live in the age of information, where the Internet acts as a virtual land bridge, allowing us to connect to others who share both our interests and anxieties. We may not be able to conquer all of our fears, but the community of barefooters that has sprung up on the Internet has been invaluable to me in sharing my experiences and discussing our lifestyle in a non-judgmental way. I urge all barefooters, both newbies and veterans, to participate online in the advocacy and support of our chosen way of life.
When I see new barefooters posting in various forums, I tend to see questions come up about how your feet change. In particular, some people wonder whether the sensations you feel lessen as you develop thicker skin on your feet. If anything, it's been my experience that the exact opposite happens. Although the skin does thicken and can even form into tougher calluses, I've got to admit my overall experience of my feet is the sense of touch I experience with them has become hyper-developed. I feel more with my feet now than when I began barefooting. Actually it's more appropriate to say I feel more with my brain, thanks to the training I've given my nervous system by helping it rewire all those extra sensory inputs. Muffling the signals from the soles of our feet with socks and shoes for years or decades of our lives, dampens some of those neural connections and going barefoot awakens them again. As those connections are restored your feet get more sensitive over time. This doesn't even take that long - you can be enjoying the full range of sensation in your feet in just a few weeks of barefooting. Going barefoot for many years likely doesn't expand these connections, but it does give you a more intense and intimate familiarity with them. You begin to appreciate the sensations in a whole new way.
One of the other concerns I see both from new barefooters and from non-barefooters are injuries. There are some basic rules to follow when barefooting to avoid injuries, just as there are "rules of the road" that help you prevent automobile accidents. Of course, everyone is different and life just happens, but taking sensible precautions can eliminate many of the risks.
The Rules of the Road for Barefooting
- Maintain a reasonable speed - Whether you're walking or running, being barefoot exposes you to potential injuries but if you can see them, you can avoid them. Unlike in a vehicle, the mind-body connection formed between our feet and brain usually regulates our movement speed effectively. It's still important to listen to your body and gauge if you're pushing yourself beyond the "speed limit". Even as a seasoned barefooter, I've only been barefoot running for the past few years and I'm still working on finding the balance when I start moving faster.
- Watch out for hazards - Keeping your head on a swivel while behind the wheel can save your life. The same applies to being barefoot when it comes to saving yourself from injuries to your feet. If you live in a city or suburb in one of the developed nations of the world, chances are you don't have to work too hard at this. But even if the likelihood of significant injury is low, you still want to keep your head and eyes moving, always on the lookout for dangers.
- Don't move while distracted - I see this one more among the younger folks. I wouldn't recommend walking, hiking, or running barefoot while texting, web surfing, or watching the latest episode of your favorite show on Hulu. Paying attention to where you're going is the most important thing I stress in my barefoot hiking lessons. You can't follow rule 2 above if your face is glued to a screen. This is just as true for the old school among us; reading the newspaper, solving a crossword, or adjusting your makeup are all better done when NOT in motion.
- Use proper technique - Just like keeping both hands on the steering wheel ensures more control over your vehicle, using proper technique while barefooting can help prevent most injuries you might encounter. Specifically, don't slide or shuffle your feet; pick them up and put them down by lifting your knees and try to step straight down. Adopting this way of walking, strange as it is to those of us who learned to swing our legs blindly forward thanks to the protection of shoes, gives you the best chance of pulling your foot away if you do put your foot in danger.
Most of us don't live in the tropics where the temperatures are mild and pleasant year round. If you're anywhere north or south of the equator, the temperatures during certain parts of the year will be challenging at first. I don't know if this is something that everyone can overcome, honestly. My own experience with cold management is a larger topic. In short, I moved from California to Seattle, which was a significant change of climate for me. The first 2 years of living in the Northwest, I missed the sunlight and warmth tremendously. I only went barefoot in the Spring and Summer but at the same time, I was donning a jacket if the temperature dropped below sixty degrees. Over time, as I got more used to the colder temperatures, my tolerance for extending my barefoot time also increased. I can now go barefoot without discomfort when it's in the thirties and can extend myself to go barefoot for a limited time in the twenties.
The takeaway of this is that, over time you will adapt to what your body is comfortable with, but only if you expose your feet to the limits of what you're comfortable with. There's nothing wrong with disliking having cold feet and avoiding going barefoot in the winter, but you can adapt to it if you have the persistence to challenge yourself.
Looking back on it now, I can say that the situations I face today as a seasoned barefooter haven't changed. 90% of the time it's not a hassle for me to be barefoot and the few times I'm approached or confronted, I have a choice to make about whether my business with that merchant is important enough to comply. But what has changed is the fear, which is now just a slight flutter in the background. Where I used to dread the person approaching me to have "the talk", I now almost welcome it as a chance to have a conversation about the barefoot lifestyle with someone who is likely not informed about us just yet. I don't have any illusions I will change their minds right there on the spot, but I no longer see them as holding any power over me. I have the power to take my bare feet somewhere else and so I have no fear of what they might say or what they might think.
I've read of some small municipalities where there are still anti-barefoot laws on the books, but I've never read of them being enforced. The only law that might apply universally to barefooters is that of contempt, which is a broad category covering the rights of our court system to enforce certain standards of dress and behavior when appearing before a magistrate or judge. But most of us don't need to do this as part of our daily routine... hopefully.
There are, however, plenty of companies who will make the "being barefoot is against the law" claim without realizing that they are completely wrong. Most of the so-called laws cited are referring to each state's health laws, but this is a completely erroneous claim. The Society for Barefoot Living has letters from the departments of health for all fifty United States and none of them have state laws pertaining to customers and ordinary citizens going barefoot wherever and whenever they like. What most opponents of barefooting are usually referring to are not in fact laws, but policies, set by individual business owners and corporations. This can be a really murky area, in all honesty, for many reasons. When challenged to produce evidence of such policies many businesses simply can't because no such policies exist. But there are plenty of examples where they do produce policies. I am sure we all are culturally familiar with the phrase "No shoes, no shirt, no service". While it is an established fact private businesses can (and for the most part, should) be allowed to set policies applicable to their establishment, this liberty on the part of the business in question must be balanced against the significant constitutional interest on the part of the state to ensure free and equal access to all people for basic goods and services.
Up until now, business owners have been relying on the "health hazard" that their establishments supposedly represent to bare feet to claim that they would be liable for any injuries a barefoot customer would sustain. There are several gaps in this logic, many of which have been exposed by other articles and debunked, so I won't go into them in detail other than to say the material is out there if you are interested in this topic.
The general point is one every barefooter should know: Going barefoot is NOT against the law and businesses may make no claim of STATE interest in the footwear choices you make. They MAY claim this right on the grounds that they are a private business and have indeed set a prohibitive policy, but this then becomes a prejudicial rationale and they are discriminating against someone based solely on their state of dress. This level of discrimination is still deemed acceptable by society (for the same reason, nudity is not permissible in public in many areas of the world) so it's unlikely to change any time soon. As an experienced barefooter, this is sadly one of the areas where I've seen little or no change over time, likely because barefooters aren't represented in government at all.
Free your feet, and your mind will follow!