Barefoot walking is best
Posted on August 3rd, 2019

Courtesy The Island


“Going barefoot is the gentlest way of walking and can symbolise a way of living – being authentic, vulnerable, sensitivn to our surroundings; removing barriers between us and nature.
— Adele Coombs, “Barefoot Dreaming”

Just a comment to my son that with age unsteadiness when walking brought forth a barrage of advice and directions and an article I will be quoting. Barefoot walking connotes much

But first, instant first thoughts to the term ‘barefoot walking’ which flashed through my mind. Vijayatunge’s early novel “Grass for my Feet’ with its idyllic village; Tom Jones and his ‘Green Green Grass of Home’ though he was being brought home to be buried not having walked for long being a prisoner; as a teenager and young woman opting for pretty silver anklets to enhance bare feet dressed for weddings; walking barefoot on the luscious grass of the BMICH grounds.

As kids in my grandmother’s village we walked barefoot and were all the better for it: in the midula, along the paddy field niyaras and of course in the mahagedera. As a child living in Katukelle Kandy, four friends and three brothers went often to the school pitch (we called the netball court) to play cricket or to run around hiding and seeking. That was a gracious time when day scholars were magnanimously allowed in the school premises, in the evenings.

Article from the NY Times

The article sent me was titled ‘Born to Walk Barefoot’ and chronicled extensive tests and investigations carried out by Dr Daniel Lieberman, evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, with several colleagues in Boston and in Kenya. The article in The New York Times listed the benefits of walking with unshod feet.  I quote from the article: 

“Shoes protect our feet, but they also alter our strides and could increase the wear on our leg and ankles. Wearing shoes when we walk changes how our feet interact with the ground below us, according to a novel new study in the journal HYPERLINK “″ Nature of shod and unshod walkers, the state of their feet and the extent of the forces they generate with every step. The study, which echoes some of the research that first popularized barefoot running, finds that walkers move differently when they are barefoot or shod and have differing sensitivity to the ground, potentially affecting balance and joint loading. The results intimate that there could be advantages to perambulating with naked feet, not the least of which, surprisingly, involves developing calluses. Today, many of us might consider such calluses unsightly and disagreeable. But Daniel Lieberman, who conducted much of the early research into barefoot running, began to wonder recently whether those calluses might have a hidden utility and beauty. Might they, he wondered, protect and guide feet during walking in ways that shoes cannot? And, if so, what does that tell us about walking and footwear? Such persistent impacts tend to move up and dissipate through our leg bones, ankles and knee joints, whereas the shorter, sharper jolts created when we walk barefoot are more likely to rise through our soft muscles and tendons, Dr. Lieberman says.”

I am aware that now the care and continued use of muscles is very important with attention given to them even superseding that given to bones. Consulting a rheumatologist, I was told that muscle care is of prime importance. Thus the benefits of yoga and the more strenuous stretch classes that are becoming ever more popular. To continue quoting the article on Dr Lieberman’s research:

“We humans are born to walk. Distance running during hunts may have been important for the survival of early homo sapiens, most evolutionary biologists agree. But our forebears almost certainly spent far more time walking than jogging, just as modern hunter-gatherers do.

“Shoes, though, are new to us. Archaeological finds indicate that humans first started wearing rudimentary sandals about 40,000 years ago, an eyeblink in our history as a species. Before then, nature seems to have deemed that our best protection for bare feet would be tough skin. So, people who walk without shoes develop hard, leathery calluses on the heels and balls of their feet that can reduce sensations of pain when they stride over small obstacles like gravel.


“What these findings suggest, in aggregate, is that what we wear on our feet shapes the way that we walk, and that nature would make a fine footwear engineer, Dr. Lieberman says. Shoes protect our feet and sop up some of the slight pounding during a walk, he says, but they also alter our strides and could, over time, increase the pressure and wear on our leg joints. Meanwhile, calluses shield us from some of the discomforts and pointy objects we encounter while barefoot, but do not reduce our contact with and feel for the ground.

“So, the message of the study would seem to be that people who have concerns about their balance or their knees but not their pedicures might consider sometimes walking barefoot.” Apart from lack of steadiness when walking being directly proportionate to age, there are further impediments that the years bring to our feet. Many a dainty much admired foot turns queer with toes pointing this way or that, the commonest being the big toes moving towards neighbour toes. That definitely causes imbalance. A bony bump results below the big toe which cannot be hidden; thus open sandals are what we wear. We oldies shudder when we see young ones balancing on very high heels. Will they later have to pay a price for their youthful vanity and keeping up with fashion? 

The famed who walked

It is almost certain that the Buddha and his Sangha walked the length and breadth of Northern India barefoot. Walk they did, and most probably in unshod feet. Hence the custom, apart from the hygienic angle, of always entering a temple or grounds of a dagoba or sacred area discarding shoes at the entrance. Monks arriving for dane in people’s homes leave their chappals outside, if they were wearing them and have their feet washed before entering the home. Even a groom and his best men have water sprinkled symbolically on their pointy embroidered shoes when in the Kandyan mull anduma.

When my son sent me the article on the benefits of walking I was reading articles compiled in a book about German Ven Nanawimala Thera (November 10, 1911 – October 10, 2005) who was well known for his saintliness, spot on advice and his carikas – walking around.  Many a tale is retold about him – the several times he has refused lifts in vehicles while walking along – barefoot very probably. He would answer the invitation to take a ride by saying: “What are my legs for?” He very often walked from Dodanduwa to Colombo and from Vajiraramaya to the Island Hermitage.

He would walk in forest reserves and once while taking shelter for the night in a cave he had a bear suddenly darkening the entrance and moving in on its hind legs with claws outstretched. The monk narrated that he projected metta to the bear while looking him in the eye. After a while of indecision, the bear dropped to all fours and exited the cave.

Another time he had been walking through a deserted jungle for two days without any food, there being no persons to go to on pinnapatha for. On the third morning, he suddenly came upon a neat house with a woman dressed in white ready to serve him a specially cooked meal of rice and curry. “How did you know to expect my arrival?” had her answering him that a devattava had told her the previous night to have a meal prepared as a famished monk would pass that way. 

Maybe the pious monk, believed to have attained arahatship, overdid his walking. He developed hip trouble and spent his last years cared for by two monks in Nuns’ Island, Parappuduwa, which was built by Bhikkhuni Khema and when she left Sri Lanka given over to a group of women to manage the nunnery. Many years of strenuous effort failed to attract really dedicated nuns so Nuns’ Island was handed over to the Island Hermitage. It was heartwarming to the women who had worked hard to maintain the nunnery to know it was put to good use to make a last resting place for the monk who walked the length and breadth of Sri Lanka.

One Response to “Barefoot walking is best”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    This is VERY BAD ADVICE!

    Barefoot walking

    1. Exposes feet to injuries
    2. Exposes feet to harmful germs
    3. Thickens and hardens the sole leading to CRACKING of the sole beginning at the margins foor and extending to the center of the sole. This cracks ultimately lead to inability to walk.
    4. Leads to deformed feet
    5. Feet with Coarse, thick soles, and injury ridden, sun burned upper surfaces of feet are ugly and unattractive.

    I encourage ALL Sri Lankans to get used to wearing thick socks and wearing shoes with substantial sidewall support. For most everday use purposes, laced sneakers can be worn as a good option and wearing leaving laced leather shoes for occasions.

    Women, especially are at risk, because traditionally they wear slippers that are weak, without sidewall support that leads to cracking of soles, and are without protection for the upper surfaces of the feet. This MUST BE CHANGED and better options made available for them in shoe stores.

    For working outside in gardens with potentially dangerous tools, and in overgrown underbrush where snakes and other poisonous animals lie hidden, Sri Lankans must get accostomed to wearing thick socks and RUBBER BOOTS!

    I practice what I preach here! I provide safe and sensible footwear for ALL of my adopted children and the elders in their families. The HEALTH BENEFITS of taking this step has far outweighed the cost and inconvenience to them,and saved me considerable money in the long term.

    Healthy feet are an important ASSET we should protect, by changing our bad habits!

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