The Benefits of Barefoot Wandering

My bare feet stride across the warm black bitumen. The jagged surface forces me to slow down and lighten my footsteps. Scattered fallen gumnuts, spiky allocasuarina cones and shards of broken glass litter the road ahead. I carefully choose where to place each step and slow my breath to match my pace. The buzz in my brain is hushed, the moment comes into focus and I wake to my surroundings.

I reach the end of the street and step onto a gravel bush track. I tread slowly, dodging sharp stones and sticks. A patch of soft fallen leaf litter allows me to quicken my pace. Next I delight in sliding my feet through a stretch of warm sand. I smile at the sensation and retrace my steps a few times to prolong the sandy massage. Then I tiptoe across a spongy bright green patch of moss. My toes squelch into the minuscule canopy. I step from rock to rock and admire their covering of lichen.

Each change in substrate is obvious. I’m no longer insulated from the earth by shoes. I’m no longer numb to my surroundings and can respond to the trail, slowing down when I need to and speeding up when I can.

Now and then a stubbed toe or scratch brings my wandering mind back to the present. I notice a backache that has been bothering me for days is gone—the massage and grounding having extended far beyond my bare feet.

My other senses come alive. I smell peppermint. Then warm earth. I admire a spotted gum shedding small flakes of brown bark to reveal a smooth lime green surface underneath.

My barefoot bushwalk highlights some of the obvious benefits of taking off your shoes. Walking barefoot helps you connect to the present moment, forces you to slow down, awakens your senses, and increases your connection to the earth—emotionally and literally. And if you take your barefoot walking into the bush (which I highly recommend) you add the benefits of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, which include stress reduction and improved immune function.

A friend of mine, Bhante Jason Chan, hasn’t worn shoes since becoming a Buddhist monk in 2010. He’s since walked thousands of kilometres barefoot, including an epic walk from the Gold Coast to Townsville to Sydney. He adds increasing humility; providing a sense of freedom; and overcoming addiction to the above benefits of barefoot walking. Bhante 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.” Being barefoot has also increased his 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.” Regarding overcoming addiction, Bhante Jason suggests that “walking barefoot is a great reminder that a little short-term pain can lead to long-term gain.”

Another benefit of taking off your shoes and walking barefoot is earthing. Earthing, also referred to as grounding, is basically connecting your body to the Earth’s surface, for example directly by walking barefoot or sitting on the bare earth, or indirectly using a device that creates the same response indoors. Interest in the health benefits of earthing has led to the development of a range of devices that allow you to connect to the Earth while indoors. There’s earthing mats, bed sheets, ankle bracelets and so on. They typically connect you to the Earth via a cord inserted into a grounded power point outlet.

So why all the fuss about earthing? There’s an increasing amount of research supporting its health benefits. For example, it can reduce inflammation (and hence a range of inflammatory diseases); thin blood and reduce the risk of heart disease; and reduce stress by activating our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system) and switching off our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response).

I understand the appeal of earthing devices, but by simply plugging in rather than getting outdoors, we’re missing out on all the other benefits that come with being barefoot. We’re missing an opportunity to be more mindful, aware, humble and free. Nothing can replicate slipping off your shoes and getting your feet dirty.

Tricia Hogbin is a writer with a background in ecology and plant conservation. She’s currently focusing on living life rather than earning a living. She loves drinking tea, wandering barefoot, and eating homegrown meals with her family. VIEW TRICIA’S INSTAGRAM & BLOG