Friday, October 15, 2021

A Barefoot Shoe?

I may be one of the fussiest shoppers in the world. For years, I've contented myself with hand-me-downs (Thanks, Sis!), kept things simple (jeans & a t-shirt), and avoided purchasing new pieces for my wardrobe unless absolutely essential, not necessarily because of budget considerations as much as because I love the comfort of things that are well broken in. I'll be the first to admit that it has always been a chore for anyone to drag me on shopping excursions to purchase new clothing, especially footwear. (Sorry, Mom!) I can't
tell you how many of my childhood back-to-school clothing trips were accompanied by tears because it was so hard for me to find things I loved (not to mention the fact that I have always had zero fashion sense). Which brings me to present day...not much has changed... except, thanks to Katy Bowman, I have begun to discover a whole new footwear world: the barefoot/minimalist shoe movement. Where have these folks been all of my life?!? 
After decades of kicking off my shoes every chance I got, I have finally discovered shoes that allow me to feel barefoot while shod. Wonder of wonders!

So, what makes these shoes so special? First off, the
soles are thin and flexible, allowing for natural movement of the foot (as opposed to stiff shoes which require the majority of movement to come from the ankle). Did you know that 25% of the bones in our entire body reside from the ankles down? Our feet our comprised of 26 bones and 33 joints allowing for the front and back halves of our feet to move separately from one another and our toes to move separately from our feet, as well as, one another! Conventional shoes function more like a cast, restricting movement, whereas barefoot shoes allow for an incredible amount of movement and sensory feedback. Upon initial consideration, it may seem silly to gush about feeling moss, sticks, and plush carpet under one's shod feet, but upon further reflection, one begins to realize that we were designed with an incredible number of nerves in our feet such that our brains would be able to absorb all of this sensory feedback and make course adjustments accordingly resulting in better balance and maneuvering across varied terrain. Katy Bowman refers to this as "vitamin texture", and I've learned to see it as a gift. One of the benefits of a thin flexible sole that I have noticed in particular is the fact that I am far less prone to twisting my ankle when traversing uneven ground. The only place for give when wearing conventional shoes, with their stiff, inflexible soles, is the ankle. However, thin, flexible soles allow for a wide variety of movement from the 26 bones and 33 joints of the foot, an amazing design that I've come to appreciate more fully. I've also noticed that thin, flexible soles result in my stepping more gently because I can feel the ground underneath my feet, as designed, which results in less impact to my joints.

Furthermore, barefoot shoes have an
upper that connects well to the foot, allowing the shoe to stay on well without any kind of toe gripping (which can lead to all kinds of foot pain and issues). We are talking about footwear that acts like a second skin, albeit a bit tougher in order to protect us from potential hazards awaiting us on the paths ahead.

Additionally, the
toe box should be anatomically correct; that is, they should allow our toes to spread out (splay) naturally, while also remaining level with the rest of the shoe. (Conventional shoes, especially athletic shoes, tend to have a toe spring that artificially forces the toes upward into an extended position.) The benefits conferred by this design are improved stability. (Though this may not be noticed initially if your feet have been crammed into the narrow toe boxes of conventional shoes because this mild foot binding results in deformed feet that lose the ability to splay naturally. Thankfully, I've been a bit of a shoe rebel my entire life, have kicked off my shoes at every possible opportunity, and have worn over-sized shoes to give me piggy toes more room to wiggle while shod. I no longer need to do this now that I've stumbled upon shoes that conform to my feet rather than making my feet conform to them. :)

Finally, barefoot shoes are
zero drop which means that the thickness of the sole is the same at the heel and the toe. Believe it or not,  while I list it last, this feature is the first thing that drew me to the barefoot shoe movement. You see, what I learned after I gave birth to Baby #9 is that a lifetime of poor movement habits had caught up with me and culminated in a condition that made postpartum recovery more of an uphill battle. I needed to make some changes...big and small. Perhaps the simplest one was to change what I was wearing on my feet. You see, nearly all conventional footwear (including the athletic shoes that I wore most frequently) have a positive heel which prevents the ankle from coming to a 90 degree angle while shod. This lack of vertical alignment throws off the alignment of the rest of the body causing changes to joint function and the way the body manages internal pressure. It's quite amazing but, sadly, beyond the scope of this post. (For more information, check out any of Katy Bowman's informative titles like Move Your DNA, Whole Body Barefoot, or Diastasis Recti.)

So, what shoes "fit the bill"? Katy Bowman maintains a helpful list to serve. However, I've also had the opportunity to work with some fantastic folks and will share my discoveries in future posts.

The best shoes let you enjoy all of the comforts of being barefoot while protecting your feet from any potential hazards that might present themselves on the paths ahead.

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