Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Barefoot" Shoes - A Rant

So, one of the big deals floating around the barefoot community at large right now is the use of the terms "barefoot shoes" and "minimalist shoes". People like barefoot shoes apparently (although I've only seen this claim espoused by those who make money by selling such footwear, so I'm somewhat skeptical).

But I have indeed seen more and more use of the term "barefoot shoes", so I think that they may be right that the "masses have spoken". Here's the problem I have though. The masses, i.e. people, are also stupid creatures sometimes, so let's just throw out what people like for a second and consider this rationally.

"Barefoot shoes" is as inane a statement as is "naked pants", or "topless shirt". There might be something quaint about attaching those types of contradictions together, and that's fine within a particular context (for example, it's particularly effective as a marketing catch phrase because it's attention grabbing). But when we transition those phrases from being quaint to being serious by replacing the word minimalist with barefoot and saying that from now on, those funny shoes will be called "barefoot shoes", all it does is sow confusion. So now, apparently when I tell people I go barefoot, the question will be "Do you mean you wear those funny toe shoes"? Fuck no I don't.

Pardon my French, but this whole thing really pisses me off. It's not even the specific idea that pisses me off as much as it is the principle involved. Language has meaning, and it does this so that we as a species can communicate concepts and ideas to one another, without confusion. Language does evolve, but we should fight against such evolution when it means reversing the meaning of core ideas.

Imagine if you will a movement in North Korea to call their system of government democracy. Their "worship" of the Great Leader (and now Jr.) might have some things in common with democracy, but it is distinctly not a democracy.

Or imagine that enough compulsive liars get together and convince everyone that what they do is actually tell the truth. What becomes of the truth?

Is "barefoot" as a word, as a concept, worth protecting? You're damn right it is! It's not critically important, the way that truth or democracy are, but it's been enshrined in the language to mean one thing: being without shoes.  I will continue to fight the trend towards softening its meaning, because in all honesty - if "being barefoot" someday means that I am actually still wearing shoes...then what the hell am I?

Monday, December 19, 2011

New and Improved!

Hey all, and welcome to the format change for my blog. I've got no time to really break in the new format just yet, but I'm changing this blog over to be my personal "unaffiliated" space to rant and rave. I guess I finally realized that I'd like to be able to talk about more than just barefooting (though there will still be plenty of that material, don't worry). But expect to see more topics like religion and atheism, science, pop culture like films and video games, and anything else that gets me fired up enough to write a paragraph or twelve. ;-)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The willPower Method - A 1/2 Review

So I attended my first willPower exercise class yesterday. I wanted to give it a thorough review, since I've been reading about it on the internet for some time now, but unfortunately my body had other ideas. Here's what happened, and a short review of what I experienced in the class.

First a little background: willPower is an exercise modality created by Stacy Lei Krauss, who is a fitness educator and also the Lead Fitness Advisor for Vibram Five Fingers. The willPower method stresses that they are a barefoot workout, and blends elements of dance, aerobics, yoga and pilates to create something unique and dynamic. Needless to say I was excited to try it for myself (even though I was worried about how I would manage the dance portions - Matthew don't dance).

I arrived right on time (I had to turn in a free pass to the club, and had to jump through about 5 hoops to check Owen into their childcare), and so I didn't get a chance to talk to the instructor Alyson before class, and we got right into it. She first had us do some foot stretching and flexibility exercises. This was the part I was most interested in, because I of course was very curious to see how the foot fitness thing felt as an experienced barefooter. I consider myself to have strong feet because of how much of my life I spend barefoot, but I must admit I was rather surprised by how wrong I was. Or rather, how many strengths I have been overlooking, because some of the stretches and foot poses (in particular trying to get my big toes and your pinky toes on the ground at the same time, without bring the other three toes down) were a significant challenge for me. But it was still a great deal of fun, and I was challenged to improve - I have a lot to practice to get my feet more robust and flexible.

Then we started on the floor routines which felt more like a typical group fitness class, and given that I haven't really exercised much at all since the end of the summer (when I was biking like a madman), I felt I was keeping up pretty well. I could definitely recognize the yoga and pilates portions of the regimen - and I really enjoyed the challenge of some of the twists, squats and bends. I got in about 30 minutes of solid exercise...

And then my back muscles locked up. I couldn't bend. I couldn't squat. I hobbled to the back of the class and tried to get it to unclench...but every time I used those muscles at all, I felt them tighten in anger. After resting and catching my breath for around 5-10 minutes, I managed to stretch them out enough to move again, and gingerly made my way over to the side of the fitness area to lie down and bring my knees into my chest. Finally, after lying down, the muscles in my low back gave in and relaxed, and I spent the rest of class doing floor stretches on my own.

I realize that this was my own fault. I didn't have time to properly warm up my muscles, and I also haven't done any exercise in months. Combine the two and you get what happened to me yesterday. Just another reminder that I'm heading straight on towards 40, and can't simply jump into exercise anymore. :-)

After the class I sheepishly introduced myself to the instructor (I was mildly embarrassed by my inability to keep up with the 10 or so women in the class). We had been emailing prior to this so she knew to expect me, and we talked about the class and the method, and I told her how glad I was to see a class like this making headway into a typical gym, where shoes are otherwise required. I'm hoping to establish some ties to the people in this fitness movement, as I think that the more allies we gain as barefoot advocates, the more we can all achieve together.

So I would love to go back and try the class again, but maybe after I've done some more work to get my body ready for that level of activity first. When I do, I'll write up my full review. For now, if you're interested, head over to and check out the information and links on their website. I encourage everyone, barefooters and non-barefooters, to check it out and maybe even find a class or instructor near you, and experience it yourself.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rights is Rights

Yesterday, I'm sure some of you saw the link I sent around about the stirring speech given by our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the United Nations, calling for international cooperation and support for LGBT rights. I was moved by her passionate words, which you can check out here if you haven't already:

I am posting this again, here on my blog, because I want to spread these powerful words in every corner of my "world", but also to extend on what Mrs. Clinton said. It's imperative to me that we change the way we view the LGBT community, but in an even larger way, how we view ALL groups that do not belong to the "majority".

I do this because I know what it's like to be marginalized, or to feel embarrassed, ashamed and/or inferior. I know this because I'm a member of the LGBT community. Although I've never faced physical threats or feared for my life because of my sexual orientation (I'm a B in that acronym, in case you didn't know), I've certainly felt the pressure to hide my identity, particularly from those I am closest to. So I understand some of the pain that comes from having to hide who you are, and I steadfastly support our administration leading us towards full acceptance and enforcement of human rights for ALL citizens. I have been fortunate enough that the positive experiences and the number of supportive friends and family who know about this facet of my life has greatly outweighed the negatives. But despite all the good fortune I've had, I have also felt the despair which comes from knowing that some people will not or cannot accept who I really am...who I was born to be.

I am also an atheist, and this too has led me to hide my true feelings, particularly among my closest family, who are all mostly Catholic or spiritual or religious in some fashion. Atheists sometimes complain about being marginalized, and there's an element of truth to that (we're certainly under-represented in government, and believers definitely find it difficult to trust us) but by and large my own shame at my questioning faith has been what has crippled me from being more open about my lack of belief for so long, not pressure from outside. There are, of course, those who would love nothing better than to see atheists all leave the country, but it's been my personal experience that, at least in this country, those people are the minority. Most of my friends and family who are believers would not wish to force their beliefs on nonbelievers...nor do I believe that they would ostracize me for being more open with them about my viewpoints. I think they are simply uncomfortable with the thought of someone who doesn't need a god in their life to give them meaning.

However, I have faced the same kind of marginalization as a barefooter that I have felt as a bisexual man. The ostracism, the feeling of being unwelcome, the hateful looks. In a way, being a barefooter I have been more exposed to the negative side of other people's attitudes precisely because being a barefooter is visible. Being bisexual is not, and while I've not made a great secret out of the fact, I am also not broadcasting it as it really isn't most people's business. In fact there may be some people who read this blog and think "I didn't know that!". The same is true for my religious beliefs, although I have been much more vocal about those in the past few years.

But my being barefoot is an obvious and outward symbol of a facet of myself that I no longer choose to hide. If people miss the fact that I am shoeless, it's not for lack of me trying. :-) As a result, I have had many more confrontations with others surrounding my condition as a barefooter than I ever have about being either bisexual or an atheist. I'm not comparing the experiences, in terms of me asking for a campaign to end oppression against barefooters (there isn't even a hint of this).

I clearly know there's a vast difference between the experiences, in terms of level of acceptance and acts of violence against the LGBT community, which are shameful facts of life even in this country. However, I think the larger point, which is fair to make comparisons about, is that we have to pursue and explore our acceptance and tolerance for others: who they are and how they live. Basically, what Hillary Clinton said so simply: "Gay rights are human rights. Human rights are gay rights."

I guess I would simplify it even further to say: "Human rights are human rights". Who you love, what you believe, what you wear or don't wear - none of it matters, and none of it should be used to allow any of us to marginalize, discriminate against or abuse each other. Human rights are human rights. And let no one ever take them away.

EDIT: I didn't include this initially because I didn't feel it was relevant to the discussion of the topic, but based on some upset I have seemingly caused, I must include this postscript. I am happily married to a wonderful woman, and have been for twelve years. I realize it's tough for some people to understand, but it is possible to be bisexual AND have a rewarding relationship with one person. How we handle that relationship, and how my sexual orientation impacts that relationship, is between us, and no one else. However, I apologize for my oversight in not including this information in the original post, and I hope that this clarifies the situation and that it helps ease any hurt I have caused with my words.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Daddy, why are you going barefoot?"

I finally heard this question from my son as we crossed through the parking lot to go into Trader Joe's. I have to admit it somewhat surprised me. He's attended many of my barefoot meetups, and he's seen me shop barefoot in stores before. So I suppose I took for granted that my son simply knew that I preferred to be barefoot whenever and wherever possible. But it seems that, although he's had experience of my preference for a while now, the question of "why" might not have occurred to him until then.

I tried my best to explain to him that first of all, I just don't like wearing shoes, and that I'm more comfortable without them. But I also tried to impress upon him that I've discovered that my being barefoot is a central part of who I am as an individual, and that different people have different ways of living, and of being, and that those differences are something special.

This brings up something that I don't think we as barefooters do a good enough job of addressing - and that is that going barefoot isn't a matter of choice for us. It IS a choice, in the strictest sense - but it's a false choice. Could I live my life wearing shoes again? Sure, I COULD. But I could also live my life wearing handcuffs, or a mask, or a scuba tank on my back. Those are all choices, but they're not choices any sane, rational person would suggest, because choosing that negatively impacts you day to day. Those of us who have discovered that we are more fulfilled human beings when we don't have to put on shoes - we are making a choice to be barefoot, yes. But for us, there *is* no other choice. Shoes to us, are like scuba tanks for everyone else. I wish that we as a community did more to communicate this thought to others.

Back to my original thought - I don't know how much of this I am able to articulate to a 7 year old - because as soon as I gave him the straightforward answer that I don't like shoes, he was off and running on another tangent, and I'm not sure he heard the rest of my explanation. :-)

But that brings up an interesting question about teaching tolerance and diversity to children, and the challenges that we face as parents to accomplish that goal. I think that, like many things, it feels frustrating to try and communicate complex ideas and virtues to a child (and also to some adults), especially a young child who is looking for a simple answer to the question that they've asked. I think that we simply have to keep talking about it with our kids and hope that the deeper meanings are being absorbed, somewhere in their consciousness. Or that they at least know that we have more to say on the subject, and that we will keep the dialogue open, with the hope that someday they will be ready to seek more in-depth answers to life's larger questions.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Barefoot Advocacy

One question I get asked sometimes is "Why are you always going on about barefooting?" 

There's a really simple answer. It's about raising awareness, and promoting the cause of acceptance of bare feet as the non-issue that it should be. Does that sound contrary enough for you? :-P 

Seriously, it really is somewhat counter-intuitive. We are fighting to be unseen. I go on about barefooting not because I want to, but because I have to. The eventual goal of barefoot advocacy is to become invisible. We want *everyone* to stop caring about what we wear on our feet. But we're not there yet - barefooters still face discriminatory action, and negative attitudes by others. And until we get to a point where this is not the case, I will continue to be vocal in my support for barefooters and to spotlight the positive benefits of living a barefoot lifestyle.

Is going barefoot really that big of a deal? Of course not, but it can easily be made into one by intolerant people who see it as their role and responsibility to ensure that their ideas of the "norm" are what we all must live by, or by authoritative types who wish to enforce myths about safety and liability or who just gain enjoyment from telling others what to do. Sometimes we are even set upon by good-natured people who believe they are looking out for us. Non-barefooters can't understand until they've tried to enter a business barefoot and been refused entry, or been asked to leave a business for the same reason, or been given strange or even dirty looks by others simply for being who we are.

I choose to share my experiences, and to advocate for barefooters so that when I run into people at work, on the street, on the trail, or inside a store, I have the chance, however small it is, that those people have "read about" us barefooters and will either A.) think of us in a more positive way or B.) not think about us at all. 

So to answer the posed question in a single sentence: I am always going on about barefooting so that it becomes an ordinary part of the fabric of our culture, and in so doing, it will diminish the importance people place on what individuals have, or don't have, on their feet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Being a Dick

I was pleased to read this recent blog post from the Barefoot Professor, Dr. Daniel Howell, advising new barefooters against being jerks. 

As a rule, I wholeheartedly agree with what Dr. Howell is saying. In fact, although he might not have intended it, he is paraphrasing the "Atheist Commandment" which is "Thou shalt not be a dick". I think that such a decree has some unmeasurable value, especially at moderating the tone of the discussion away from confrontation and tension.

However, I also think it's important to remember that sometimes, bad ideas can and will only go away when exposed to the harsh sunlight of ridicule. In other words, although we may attempt to live by the commandment "don't be a dick" as much as possible, sometimes it's advisable to not just bend, but to break this important rule. To show this perspective, I think we can get value from looking at the discussion that we atheists have amongst ourselves about whether we help or hurt our cause by sometimes "being dicks". 

Our leading atheist figures have often been accused of being "shrill" or "strident" for the way in which they question a particular point of dogma, or for implying that believing something without evidence, regardless of what is on the table, is a bad idea. There then follows a backlash from more friendly types of non-believers who will decry such "harsh treatment" of religion, believers, etc. This then inspires the original group to defend their statements which get even more criticism...wash, rinse, repeat. 

While I appreciate the gentler side of our causes, as they attempt to cajole our critics with kindness and understanding, I also think that we should value those who will stand firm and challenge those who would spout bad ideas as though they were Undisputed Truth. 

I think that Public Displays of Stupidity SHOULD be mocked. If we simply let them slide, there is the chance that we will become numb to stupid ideas, and it will require stupider and stupider acts to elicit our outrage. I guess to sum up, I think that sometimes the best (and only) way to move the markers down the field is to go against that one lone commandment to not be a dick. 

I will leave you with the following quote from PZ Myers, of the blog Pharyngula, who discussed this very topic of "playing nice" recently, and had this to say at the end of his blog post (emphasis mine): 
So here we are, once again talking about how to communicate, and I fear that we'll lose is the sense of what to communicate [sic]. Don't forget: the truth is our pole star, science is the vessel we use to progress, and a passion to explore and learn is the engine of our purpose. If we lose sight of that in our concern to be gentle with those who impede us, we'll lose our way.
So get out there, go barefoot, be proud, be nice, and don't be a jerk/dick. Mostly.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lighter than Air

This post is inspired by an event which transpired about two months ago, and which has stayed with me this whole time. I was bothered by it then, but I never blogged about it and I wanted to say my piece before I let it go for good.

So back in the early spring, I had been getting into trying MovNat. (If you're unfamiliar with MovNat, head to I was running around on rocks, balancing on logs and beams, and just generally having fun. Well, there's a beautiful park here in Bellevue with a botanical garden, and there's one section of the path that winds through the gardens and is lined with these nice big rocks. They're perfect for jumping on. So this is what I was doing, when along comes the park ranger. He proceeds to ask me just what it is that I'm doing.

I felt a wave of embarrassment at first because here I am two years shy of forty and I'm jumping on rocks like I'm my son's age. But that quickly passed when I realized that I was in a public park, and who cares if I'm having fun pouncing on rocks. So I proceed to tell him that I was simply working on my balance, etc. He doesn't really let me finish, and then scolds me by telling me that I will "scuff the moss off the rocks".

I stammered an apology, and moved on, running barefoot down the gravel trail. It hit me within two minutes that his entire argument was nonsensical. And the reason it was nonsensical was because he was making the rather bold assertion that my bare feet would somehow damage the natural environment. And he had no idea just how light I am when I am barefoot.

Now, I'm a heavy guy. Marriage, a job which has me sitting at a computer all day, and age have conspired to turn me from a once-skinny string bean into an oafish gorilla-type. I'm not happy with the number that the scale continually tries to convince me that I weigh. But despite my weight, I know that when I am barefoot (or even in flip flops), I am distributing that weight evenly across the entire surface of my foot, the way that our foot has evolved to operate. So when I land even my bulk on the rocks at this park, I don't leave a single mark behind, nor do I feel any movement of moss being dislodged. I've become so light on my feet that I no longer make that ubiquitous slapping noise when I wear my flip flops. Going barefoot naturally pushes you to walk "lighter".

Barefoot Ken Bob describes how, when Harvard professor Dr. Daniel Lieberman tested Ken Bob's barefoot running to ascertain his kinetic impact, both of them were surprised to discover that Ken Bob showed NO discernible impact while running barefoot. What's possible when running is even more possible when walking. Or when jumping onto rocks.

Which brings me back to the point of this post - I'd like to say now to the park ranger what I wish I had said then: "Hey, buddy, chill the f#$& out."

There's an old trail saying that says "leave nothing but footprints". Well, I live by that credo, and I've even aspired to take it a step further, because when I go barefoot hiking, I find that even with a careful examination of the trail, it's tough to see even my own footprints (yes, I check). While I may not actually be lighter than air, I certainly feel light enough to not have to worry about destroying the ecosystem of the single most prevalent type of growth in the state.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Free Your Feet, and Your Mind Will Follow?

I was planning to post something on this next week, but since Ken Corder from posted this blog post on losing our soles yesterday, I thought I would like to reply to that blog post with comments of my own.

For several years, I've used the phrase in the title of this post "Free your feet and your mind will follow" as my internet signature. I've always agreed with the sentiment, even before I discovered that I was in fact an atheist. But it was only after becoming a freethinker that I actually understood exactly why I think that there's a deep connection between our soles and our mind. Although of course there is a physiological component that is obvious (it feels good!), I actually think it's the psychological or intellectual effect that is more important to explore.

In the blog linked above, the author talks about several points linking "naked feet and the sacred", and while I agree with many of the reasons given for these factors, I disagree with some of the author's conclusions. I want to respond to each of the points that he brought up, but from a different point of view. Since I'll be referencing the blog post, now might be a good time to read the original if you haven't already done so:

Connectedness - I have no doubt that for a believer, this is a tempting thought to subscribe to. However, it doesn't address the fact that most of us live in an artificial world, and most barefooters spend the majority of their time on manufactured surfaces - asphalt streets, concrete sidewalks, carpet, tile, engineered stone, and so on. The thing is, going barefoot still feels just as good on man-made surfaces as it does on dirt, grass, and other natural surfaces. It's my opinion that the connection you feel isn't to the earth or to a creator - it's to our NATURAL condition. It stimulates the reptilian core of our brains to hearken back to the way that we all used to live. Many people feel the same feeling of "connectedness" by being naked outdoors. Not because our skin is touching the air and soaking in the sun, but because the act of doing so reminds us that we are still animals - that clothing and footwear are an "unnatural" state for us, still. Why is that an important distinction to make? Because acknowledging that part of ourselves helps us to see that we are all the same. We might have different color skin, different body types, and different minds, but we're all one species. One tribe. One people. Connecting to that ancient past "self" can absolutely promote feelings of good will towards each other. That's a powerful feeling, and something that I think we should all take steps to remember now and then. 

Worth - I love this point, and the quote as well. The only thing I would add to this point is that this is very much a humanist argument. Most religions, including those the author cites in his article, instead begin by asserting that humans are inherently flawed and unworthy, and it is only through redemptive acts that we can be saved. The implication that this inherent worth can be derived from spiritual tradition or established religion seems flawed in most cases I can think of.

Humility - Humility and equality are normal human notions, and are not exclusive to religious or spiritual sources. But I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly that going unshod literally strips us of one of the barriers that makes us feel connected to one another (as I noted in the section above on Connectedness). I think the relevant point here is that shoes, like every other piece of clothing, have evolved from being something that once served a utilitarian purpose and instead are now objects of vanity and status. A willingness to shed one's shoes (or clothes for that matter) demonstrates a willingness to not lord over others with what you have and they don't. It is an important reminder of our equality.

Health - The claims by barefooters that it is healthier for our feet to be bare are, in almost every case, backed up by the medical community. Corns? Bunions? Althete's Foot? Back and knee pain? Almost all shoe-based ailments (back and knee pain are probably because we never really evolved a perfect anatomical solution for standing upright, but shoes certainly don't help the problem). Shoes cause innumerable conditions that going barefoot does not. And the conditions that one can get going barefoot are minor for most of us. There are countries where going barefoot does represent genuine dangers, but in those instances, generally there are larger public health concerns than just going barefoot. We were not born with shoes on. We did not evolve hard, inflexible feet. Those two facts alone tell us everything we need to know, in my opinion, about whether our feet are healthier bare or shod.

Freedom - Ahh, now we get to my favorite point, and why I find myself so enamored of the phrase "Free your feet and your mind will follow". Because to me, although it is "freeing" to lose my shoes, and let my skin breathe, and my toes wiggle, what we are really talking about here is freedom of thought. Barefooters are fledgling freethinkers. Freethinkers are those who do not simply accept the word of whoever they happen to be around. Freethinkers are people who want to know that the things that they believe are actually true. And the notion "shoes are good for you" is one that NEEDS to be challenged. Even something as simple as considering whether we need shoes or not can have long-term repercussions for your thought processes. Because after all, if in challenging such an idea you find out that this is untrue, what ELSE do you think or believe that can stand up to that same level of scrutiny? If you've taken the steps to challenge society's outlook on footwear, which is in many ways a trivial idea, why stop there? Many believers criticize atheists for appearing "strident" or "shrill" in our challenges to their beliefs. Are barefooters that much different when challenging the claims that shoes are both necessary and beneficial? Barefooters and atheists are both practicing a form of freethought. In the former case, I have confidence barefooters will win because that seems to be where the evidence lies. So for me, going barefoot is healthy skepticism put into practice, not subversiveness. 

In closing, I think it's important to point out that the words "Free your feet and your mind will follow" is not a direct causal argument, but rather a  metaphor for opening your mind. Thinking for ourselves is the greatest thing that we human animals have evolved, and I encourage people of all walks of life to practice it more in every way, barefoot or not. 

Foot Care for Barefooters

So today I'd like to talk about foot care. It's a subject that I don't see brought up a whole lot on other barefooter's blogs or websites. But why not? We barefooters expose our feet to extremes of temperatures, a wide variety of environments and even potential dangers. It's true that most critics of our preference for being barefoot greatly exaggerate the dangers of taking off our shoes, but that doesn't mean that going barefoot will  make our feet feel good all the time. On the contrary, I think it's even more important for barefooters to pay careful attention to the care and maintenance of their feet, and should practice a regular regimen of foot care so that we can enjoy being barefoot as often as we can.

Barefooters have to watch out for a number of hazards in the field, but very few barefooters resources talk about the hazards of just ordinary wear and tear - cracked heels, dry skin, skin infections, and so on.

To that end, I've put together this list of ideas that I think barefooters of all stripes can use to keep their feet healthy and hygienic. Some of these may elicit a negative reaction from more hardcore barefooters, but I hope that you'll give me the benefit of reading through my whole post before making judgments. These are my opinions, based on my almost 20 years of going barefoot as often as possible (I'm able to be barefoot between 80-100% of each day). So without further ado:

1. The Deep Clean - Let's face it...when you go barefoot, you get dirty feet. It's inevitable, and typically it's nothing we need to worry about. If we are practicing regular hygiene (showering, wiping your feet, etc.) dirt shouldn't get to the point where it can impact your health or hygiene. But for every speck of dirt we can see, there are many more that we can't. It's this dirt that I think we should be taking care to address now and then. Many barefooters wear their "black soles" as a badge of office, and I can appreciate that fact. However, even if you relish the idea of your dirty soles clearly demonstrating to everyone around you that you proudly go barefoot, it also doesn't hurt to, every once in a while, break out the soap, the loofah and maybe even a nice gritty foot scrubbing cream, and scrub those tootsies. The truth is, if you're a barefooter 24/7 or close to it, chances are that you won't be able to get them completely clean anyway - some residue of dirt sinks below the epidermis or clings to the crevices of your sole pads, making it difficult to ever eliminate every trace or stain of dirt from your soles. The idea here is not to chase after perfectly clean soles - the object of the Deep Clean is to help your body slough off some of the dead skin cells and keep dirt buildup to a reasonable level. This step is particularly relevant to those of us who do not or cannot go barefoot 24/7, as transferring dirt, mold and bacteria from your soles to a sandal or shoe, even for a few minutes, can actually result in infections like plantar warts.

2. The Sole Scrub - This point is sure to raise some controversy among barefooters. I know I've argued this point with a few of my fellow 'footers and I might very well be alone in my thinking on this. But I am going to stand by my views on this: Every few weeks, we should be using a foot file or a pumice stone, and taking down some of the thickened skin that builds up on our heels, balls of our feet and toes. I know, barefooter blasphemy right? Well hear me out for just a second. There's a distinct difference between thick barefooter's pads and callus. One feels smooth and tough, like polished, supple leather. The other feels rough and gritty, almost like sandpaper. Being a barefooter only requires thickened skin, but not to the degree that the skin forms a callus. I've been going barefoot for almost twenty years, and in that time, I routinely do this myself, or go to get a pedicure and get the worst of the callus removed. Contrary to what most barefooters may think, I have never experienced a decrease in my tolerance level without calluses - in fact I personally find that keeping my soles thick, but callus free results in increased sensitivity, not less. The reason that I believe it's unnecessary to carry calluses around is that eventually, calluses can start to dry out, crack and cause pain and open sores. This is not good for people who walk through dirty streets, as you are at increased risk of infection. Again, as in point 1, if you go barefoot with regularity, you should have a nice thick, but smooth, build-up of skin, and then a layer of callus on top of that. Keeping your skin from thickening to the point of drying and cracking is the aim here, so feel free to use this step to whatever level you feel comfortable with. I know that many barefooters will simply flat out disagree with my way of thinking on this point, and I understand their reticence somewhat, so take it or leave it. But it's my opinion, and is backed up by my own experience, that even a little bit of this is better than nothing at all.

3. Water Please - Perhaps it's a fair bit of irony that exposing our bare feet to more moisture can actually result in our feet drying out more than most, but it's something that I've taken note of, living up here in the Pacific Northwest where my feet routinely splash through puddles and rainstorms, and the winter air and the cold can sap moisture from my skin. But no matter where you live, the climate and the environment we walk in can have an adverse affect on your feet. So it helps to apply some moisturizing lotion or creme to your feet on a somewhat regular basis (every day or every week). Because of the climate where I live and how much water my feet are exposed to, I actually do this once a day. I can see and feel a dramatic difference in the quality of the skin on my feet when I don't. The benefit to moisturizing is that you maintain your suppleness and skin elasticity much more when your feet aren't starving for moisture. However, I suppose some people will look at this step and counter by asking how our primitive ancestors got by without moisturizing lotion. It's true, that this is not a requirement for living barefoot. But as a barefooter living in the modern era, with all the pros and cons that that brings, I prefer to have healthy looking feet, with supple, elastic skin instead of flaky, dry itchy skin.

4. Toe Tips - The basics of caring for your toes are even more important for us barefooters than for most. Although not wearing shoes helps us prevent many toe conditions and ailments, we should pay careful attention to the state of our nails and cuticles. Almost all of the injuries I've sustained while barefoot have been to my toes, and could have been prevented with more careful attention to their care. Uneven or long toenails can snag, even on blacktop (and this can actually rip part or all of your nail right off - I have personal experience with this one) or tear, or gather dirt or fungus, which if left unattended could present larger problems. So keep your toenails trimmed, which will help keep dirt from gathering underneath the nail bed, and take care of any ragged cuticles that could peel back to an open sore, which could cause you discomfort or get infected. There are some good products out there (nail oils, etc.) that can help keep your cuticles in good shape, as well as give your toenails an extra does of Vitamin E, which helps them stay strong and prevent chipping and breaking.One note on nail trimming - unlike shod people who are counseled to trim their toenails straight across to prevent ingrown toenails, barefooters can, and should, follow the natural curve of their toes. Without the constrictive forces of shoes to pinch the nails into the skin surrounding the nail bed, ingrown toenails are not an issue for barefooters, even with curved toenails. 

5. The Whole Enchilada - This is particularly relevant for barefoot runners, but the lessons here apply to anyone who goes barefoot frequently. As often as we can, we should be checking all the structures of our feet, and doing regular stretches and strengthening exercises to keep them in top shape. Push, pull, flex, point, and massage your feet every way possible. Do this for about 10-15 minutes a day, and make note of any pains, strains, and unusual sensations. In my own personal routine, I do daily check-ins, and every other day I do stretches and strengthening. Very often, our body can send us very subtle signals that something is wrong BEFORE we suffer a debilitating injury. Don't wait until you suffer an arch pull when running...check in with your feet on a regular basis! If something seems out of whack, play gently until if feels back to normal. This is also the easiest step, because it's a great thing to do while sitting at the computer reading an article like this one, or while watching your favorite show or reading a book before bed.

One other minor point before I conclude this post: Perhaps one of the reasons I subscribe to these things is that I see myself as a barefoot ambassador. In other words, one of the goals I have when I go out barefoot is that am presenting "the case for bare feet" in the court of public opinion. And as an ambassador trying to win acceptance from people to let us live our lives without being hassled for our lack of footwear, the image I present to them is important. Like it or not, I have seen the negative stereotypes of the "barefooter" in the eye of the public: grungy, hippy, long-haired, dirty, smelly, etc. Irregardless of how accurate or inaccurate these stereotypes are, I think that the more effort we put into showing that barefooters can and do take good care of themselves and their feet, the more chance we have of swaying others and changing their minds about what a barefooter actually is. It's easy to dismiss the guy or girl who looks like he doesn't care. I hope that by changing people's views on who they expect barefooters to be, and how well they care for themselves, that we'll be able to get others to stop and think just a bit about their preconceptions about us, rather than make a snap judgment.

So that's it for now. In closing, I acknowledge that some of these tips and suggestions may not be every barefooter's cup of tea. That's OK - each person can choose what works for them. But my philosophy about being a barefooter has always been: put your feet first. We barefooters know - they're pretty special, these feet of ours! And yes, they're amazing in so many ways, and have evolved to take tremendous amounts of punishment and come back fighting. But even with that, we should not simply expect them to handle whatever we throw at them! Treat your feet well, and your whole body will thank you. Barefooters more than any other group of people appreciate how much joy healthy, strong feet can bring. I hope that these tips can help more of my barefoot brothers and sisters keep their feet healthy longer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Welcome to the official blog for Northwest Barefooters!

Hello world!

I'm Matthew Medina, and I'm the founder of the Northwest Barefooters Meetup group here in the greater Puget Sound/Seattle area. I'm starting this blog because there seems to be a groundswell of people who are interested in learning more about the barefooting movement, whether it is taking up barefoot running, or just learning to feel the earth beneath your soles. As an active barefooter myself, I wanted to add my voice to the growing number of people who are out there promoting our cause. This blog will not only talk about our local events, but it will also feature articles on subjects that are of interest to those of us who go without shoes.

Before I start off this blog with a full-on article, I figure I should give a little background on myself, and how I arrived at becoming a barefooter.

I've never really liked shoes. I mean, when I was growing up, I wore them because that's just what you were supposed to do. I'd never thought about any other alternative. And then my cousin Nathan visited us from Australia. He stayed at our house for a time, and of course being from down under where going barefoot is slightly more acceptable than it is in the States, he was often not wearing shoes. And I remember vividly that there was one occasion when we were going to the video store to get a movie to watch one weekend, and he rode in the car barefoot with us. I can't remember if he actually went into the video store with us, but I remember my father afterwards telling him that we just didn't do that over here in this country. And it started me thinking "Why not"?

I didn't really explore that thought more until years later, when I moved up to Seattle for college, and I saw a large number of people wearing Birkenstocks around town. They looked comfortable and so I bought a pair. And quickly realized just what I was missing. Now, being that I lived in Seattle, and this seemed to be the thing to do, at first I paired my Birks with socks (yeesh, I know...don't hate me!). But it was so much more comfortable to just have shoes I could slip in and out of whenever I wanted. Eventually, I worked my way out of the socks, and then transitioned from Birks to flip flops, and then to barefoot, with flip flops as a backup. And that's the way it's been for around the past ten years or so.

It's only really been the past few years that I've taken on barefoot as a lifestyle and not just a passing interest or a preference of mine. And that's what led me to found the Northwest Barefooters Meetup Group. We've been around since April of last year (Happy Belated Birthday to us! Yay!) and we've grown to over 50 members. I hope to continue to grow the meetup membership, and to spread the word that barefooters are here to stay!

So I will use this blog to help organize the meetup, and report on our activities, but also to help others who are just starting out with barefooting. I also want to help those who want to find others who share this interest, and lastly I would like to think that this platform could allow me to raise awareness and educate people about our simple little cause, in the fondest hope that someday I will feel it's completely silly to have to write about something so trivial as going barefoot.