Going barefoot almost all the time is a massive part of who I am – it’s a way of life – and has formed a vital aspect of my recovery from severe depression in 1997.
The fact that my bare feet are constantly connected with the ground is a coping strategy devised during a 10-week spell in a psychiatric hospital. Most exercises involving mental concentration are done barefoot – including yoga, martial arts and tai chi. Not that I do any of those, but I’ve discovered over the years that walking barefoot has massive health benefits…both mental and physical.
To my mind, going barefoot on all types of terrain is a prolonged reflexology session, allowing energy to flow naturally through the body, preventing many diseases and ailments. I always say being barefoot is what keeps me young (ish!) and relatively fit.
Abandoning shoes in almost all situations stimulates my blood circulation; helps my body eliminate a fair amount of fats and toxins; prevents varicose veins; and improves my posture and balance. Many podiatrists and sections of the medical profession now recognise the enormous health benefits of going barefoot when it comes to alleviating sleep disturbance, muscle and joint pain, asthmatic and respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, heart rate variability, and immune system activity and response.
But to me, as well as these physical benefits, I believe going barefoot has had an enormous impact on my mental and spiritual wellbeing, eliminating hypertension and stress.
When I’m barefoot, whether it’s on urban streets, in open countryside or on woodland paths, I’m so much more aware of my surroundings. I’m at one with the terrain, not just a spectator. Focusing on my steps and not my problems, clears my mind, putting me at ease, considerably reducing stress and tension. And what’s more…it’s FUN.
Up to the time of my barefoot epiphany 19 years ago, bare feet had played a smaller part in my life and only in a very hit and miss way. It started during my teens when the policy at the Grammar School I attended in the 1960s was no footwear for cross country running. Can you imagine them getting away with that nowadays? Some of us loved it, some of us hated it. While I loved it, I never really took it any further in a serious way. I’d never wear shoes in the house or garden, but I’d never go barefoot in the street for instance, or on the wonderfully sensation-ful (is that a real word, or have I just made it up, although it describes exactly what I mean?) forest trails that I so love now.
But for the last 19 years I have rarely given myself the option of shoes – and it’s meant that with every step I take, my thought process becomes more focused on the path I’m treading. Consciously I try to steer clear of stones, thorns, glass, and, yes…dog poo, too! When that happens, all negative thoughts vanish and I’m able to focus solely on walking.
Wearing shoes nowadays just makes me downright grumpy and bad tempered, and is reserved mainly for business meetings and unenlightened restaurants. I’m not saying being barefoot all the time is right for everyone. But for me, having bare feet is a major coping strategy, and has changed my life.
And I also put it to good use for other people, by incorporating it into a variety of charity activities. I’m probably as well known by my local newspaper and radio for my barefoot charity events as I am for my novels. For example, in the past two years I have undertaken a quite gruelling 10-mile barefoot trek to raise awareness of Lyme Disease, been handcuffed and marched 2-miles barefoot through the streets in a charity carnival parade on my way to the stocks (twice!), a 5-mile barefoot run for Sport Relief, donating my shoes and doing a 5-mile barefoot walk to highlight the urgent need Syrian refugees have for shoes, campaigning barefoot to save our local cottage hospital, and I was working closely with my local Mind charity on a major event for me when Government cutbacks forced them to close.
For a couple of years I belonged to a barefoot hiking group – we only had around 10 members, and everyone just started dwindling away. So that eventually closed, meaning that nowadays most of my barefoot hiking is done either alone, or with people who insist on wearing sturdy walking boots. They. Do. Not. Know. What. They. Are. Missing.
I also belong to a closed Facebook group called Barefoot Living UK, which has 251 members, including real hardcore – never EVER wearing shoes, those who kick ‘em off now and again, and those who wish they had the courage to stand up to corporate businesses, stores and restaurants who frown on barefoot patrons (actually…if truth be told, I’m in this category when it comes to restaurants and business meetings). And then we have the occasional barefooters who share their adventures on grass at picnics and on beaches, and look in awe at the numerous pictures of unflinching walks across rocky terrain and gravel.
Any type of footwear – flip flops, shoes, boots, even socks – acts as a barrier, dulling our senses. I tell sceptics to think how desensitised our hands become in gloves, and I ask them would they ever listen to music while wearing ear muffs, or watch a beautiful sunset through a piece of gauze? No, of course they wouldn’t. So why block all those wonderful sensations that the soles of bare feet take in and pass on to the brain for processing about our environment?
Again, I say: They. Do. Not. Know. What. They. Are. Missing.
Ballpark figure – I reckon I’m barefoot 95 per cent of the time now. I just wish I had the courage to give all my footwear to charity and go the final 5 per cent too.
Stewart Bint is a novelist, magazine columnist, and Public Relations Writer. Previous roles include a radio newsreader and ‘phone-in show host. He lives with his wife Sue, in Leicestershire, in the UK, and they have two grown-up children. When writing, his constant companion is his neighbour’s cat, or his charismatic budgie...but not at the same time.
Stewarts has achieved much success since his dark days. If you'd like to take a look at his books you can do that here