Barefoot Cultures


I've had the privilege of being able to visit and live (in VERY short term increments) among three barefoot cultures in the world:

  1. Waspam, Nicaragua.

  2. Kiria, Kenya.

  3. Bohoc, Haiti.

Every time I visit one of the above villages, it amazes me how the kids can run barefoot and play soccer for hours on end over uneven, rocky ground. Here in the U.S., we have rubberized playing fields (graded to pathagorean specifications) that children play on while wearing $100 running shoes fitted with the latest custom orthotics.

And, yet, here in the U.S., our foot problems continue.

It's been estimated that 40% of people living in western cultures suffer from mild to severe foot problems. I think that number's low. So low, in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the remaining 60% have foot problems, too; but, since such "problems" are deemed common-place and just "something I live with," they remain largely undiagnosed and undocumented. And so the suffering continues.

Contrast that with barefoot cultures, where the number of people with foot problems is estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of just under 3%. When I first read that statistic several years ago, it was interesting to read that most of the foot problems in barefoot/minimalist shoe cultures stem from diseases and accidents (where something was dropped on the foot). Such "problems" had little or nothing to do with "poor arch support," "poor cushioning," or "poor stability control."

In the west, we've been sold a bill of goods, and it's hurt us. In being told we needed to be in shoes as often as possible and from as early an age as possible, many of us grew-up without ever having to use many of the muscles in our feet. As a result, we suffer from fallen arches (which create a host of systemic body misalignments), plantar fasciitis, Morton's neuroma, metatarsalgia, hammer toe, bunyons, etc., etc., etc. Ladies and gentlemen, intentionally or not, we were lied to; and it's hurt most of us—some of us, irreparably.

So what can we do?

Simple (notice, I didn't write "easy"): begin the process of abandoning shoes and taking a more minimalist and, ultimately, barefooted approach to bipedal movement.

Begin the process...

Abandoning shoes is something you (and I) need to do over time, so take it slowly; otherwise, you'll injure yourself trying to heal yourself (which, unfortunately, can happen very easily). Yes, we were created to move about barefooted; but because so few of us do, our feet don't have the strength, flexibility, and calusses needed to move about effectively without shoes. We need to take the time (and it may take several years [I'm in year four of probably a ten-year process]) to retrain our feet to handle the loads they were meant to handle.

Here are some suggestions:

Throw out any shoes that have any of the following characteristics (Yes, even those you paid $200 for. Hey, at least now you won't be paying for them twice!):

  1. A narrow toe box.

  2. A positive (lifted) heal.

  3. A toe spring.

Opt instead for shoes with a wide toe box and a relatively flat bottom. Altra (www.altrarunning.com) makes some really good running shoes that fit that bill. I wear mine (as well as my Birkenstock [www.birkenstock.com] sandals) when I'm in professional settings. When I'm not in such settings, I go barefoot or wear my five-fingered Vibrams (www.us.vibram.com). I call my Vibrams my "hamburger helpers," and I do most of my boxing, wrestling, and HIIT training in them.

Where walking barefoot is concerned, I'd start with doing it inside as much as you can. After a few weeks, take it outside for ten to fifteen minutes a day. As you increase your outside time, your feet will become more conditioned. Gradually, you'll find yourself being able to traverse more challenging surfaces, and to do so comfortably. Long-term, walking and running over uneven, rocky ground will produce the most optimal results in-terms of foot-health. Moving around on such terrain will toughen your feet and strengthen the 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100+ muscles, tendons, and ligaments that comprise the functional structures of your feet. Just so I'm being honest here, I'm in the beginning stages of all this myself. As I wrote above, I'm in year four of what will probably be ten or more years of concerted foot training. My goal is to one day be like the children I like to play with in the villages above. Holding their smiling faces in the eyes of my mind, I tell myself, "If they can do it, so will I...some day!"

God's peace to you all...

Dave

 

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