written by: Kyneret Azizo
It’s been a few months since I made the decision to go hiking barefoot. What better way to pay tribute to the upcoming Grow Your Yoga challenge than by chasing waterfalls with the souls of my feet kissing the earth! It has been healing on so many levels for me, and I’m reminded of the integral connection between earth’s health, and our own.
It all came about with the inspiration of my boyfriend, who basically ditched his shoes about 2.5 years ago while starting his life in Koh Phangan. He’s been pretty much walking barefoot ever since, with the exception of when travelling. He’s been the catalyst to my own experimentation with barefoot trekking, and has encouraged me to reconnect with nature in ways I never imagined myself doing.
I remember being completely resistant to it at first. I was fearful of getting injured from inconspicuous sharp objects lying in my path, and was put-off by the prospect of getting my feet so dirty.
At first it hurt quite a bit to walk along pebbly dirt paths, but overtime my feet began to take a liking to it. I can describe it as a ‘good kind of pain,’ like when you are getting a massage or a reflexology session. In fact, each pebble or stick pressing into the sole of the foot behaves like an acupressure tool, and I believe this is one of the many reasons walking barefoot is so beneficial to our health.
After a few hikes like this, I was hooked. I began to crave the feel of the cool damp earth under my feet, more and more. Our body speaks to us in so many ways – this craving to be out in nature is my body’s way of trying to bring me back to balance. I believe there is nothing more centering than the earth’s vibration entering through the soles of our feet.
Following a series of barefoot adventures, both on my own and with friends, I began to notice some changes in my overall wellbeing. It wasn’t surprising, considering the many studies cropping up which detail the many benefits of earthing, or grounding.
If you’ve ever heard of this phenomenon, it is exactly this: connecting our bare feet to the earth and allowing its energies to permeate our own auric field, plus allowing our own excess energy to discharge into the earth. Grounding allows the body’s energy frequency to match that of the earth’s, resulting in an overall balance and harmonization of bodily functions. There are so many biological benefits that can be detected in this process, but here’s what I observed first handedly:
Having struggled with an autoimmune condition for the last 4 years, I’ve battled with chronic fatigue and a host of other symptoms resulting from ulcerative colitis. I could never understand the reason why my body gets so tired so easily, and all from doing simple daily activities or basic resistance training exercises. Physical activities that would be easy for others to perform would be really hard on my system, causing me to fall into a bout with fatigue, pain and flu-like symptoms for the next few days. I later learned these symptoms were all related to my health condition and had to accept their presence in my daily life.
When I began these lengthy waterfall hikes while wearing shoes, I remember being utterly exhausted after just a small portion of the hike. I required more rest breaks than everyone else in the group, and would often feel dizzy. This was my ‘normal.’
After my first barefoot waterfall hike, however, I was astonished to see how much energy I had to work with. The cool water flowing across the rocks felt as though it were filled with limitless energy. The damp earth felt as though it had a heartbeat, and with each thudI could feel my body drinking in its energy and using it to recharge my own batteries. This vital boost would last for several days.
One of the symptoms that people with autoimmune conditions experience are chronic aches throughout the body. They appear unexpectedly and sometimes without much reason, usually in the joints but sometimes in the muscles too. They can also show up after even mild workouts. If my yoga practice is slightly too strenuous, I’ll feel pain and flu-like symptoms the next day, and my muscles will feel really tight, as if I hadn’t practiced in months.
But it seems that the earth’s vibration is nature’s painkiller. After ditching my shoes on these hikes, I was amazed to observe the absence of pain throughout my limbs, even after lengthy outings. There are reports claiming that grounding helps with pain, as it decreases inflammation in the body. Whatsmore, the continual activation of pressure points on the soles of the feet as we walk along stoney terrains amplifies this effect, as it boosts the flow of Chi through the meridian channels. Barefoot adventures are basically free reflexology sessions! We should jump at the opportunity as much as possible – it can make a huge difference for pain management.
Proprioception is the awareness of the position and movement of the body. It’s how we carry our weight through our environment with precision. It’s how we know whether our arms are above our head or below it; whether we are upright or upside down. It’s an awareness of our physical boundary, and essentially it is what allows us to maintain balance.
Yoga improves this faculty, mostly because it involves practicing barefoot. But I feel this effect is compounded when we are outside in nature, as there is much more texture to act as stimuli for the soles of the feet to gather information from. As a result, you have better control of your foot position when it makes contact with a surface, which means you’re able to achieve mobility and stability with greater ease.
After a few hikes, I noticed that my balance improved significantly. Whereas I once felt apprehensive about taking necessary leaps from one stone to another, I now do so with much more confidence and assurance.
Walking barefoot is powerful enough to change our state of mind in a very short amount of time. For one thing, it requires more concentration, as we’re constantly on the look-out for what’s ahead of us on our path. We are required to arrive at a focused mindstate, instantaneously.
Yet there’s also an energetic component which seems to further induce a concentrative state of mind with ease. Nature readily hands to us an electrical charge from the earth and helps us dispel unnecessary energy in our system. As we maintain our barefoot connection with her for some time, we’ll find that our mind naturally comes to a quiet place on its own, and our body relaxes. Here, we are granted access to a state of peace that would otherwise be obscured amidst the noise that we encounter day-to-day.
I used to think that concentration is something you can only achieve through strenuous mental effort; that much like a muscle, you must work it hard to strengthen it. But I now see that it is quite the opposite – it is the result of relaxing. Clarity and space are made by letting go of mental strain. Concentration is actually quite easy to achieve, if we can learn to soften and relax, and it seems nature provides the environment in which to do so.
I believe anyone can benefit immensely from barefoot walks. It’s the ultimate jungle gym experience, in my opinion! Whether one is dealing with chronic health conditions or simply needs a boost in vitality, nature provides all the essentials that are required to optimize the body’s rhythms and functions. It has changed my life and I cannot imagine hiking with shoes on ever again. So much has changed for me in positive ways. My energy level, strength, stability, concentration and mood have improved significantly. Knowing this keeps me motivated to go back to this very rudimentary form of medicine.
This year, we are thrilled to be supporting JungleKeepers for Modo Yoga’s annual Grow Your Yoga challenge. The theme is aptly named “Sweat to Protect the Earth’s Forests,” and is focused on raising money to do just that. Mother Earth is generously basking us with her healing energies – let’s do our part to help her stay healthy. Sign up at the front desk to be a part of this great cause!
Kyneret has been practicing and teaching yoga for over a decade. She began as a yoga teacher for Modo Yoga Maple in 2012, and has recently set off on a nomadic adventure to South East Asia. She remains active within our Modo community as a blog writer.
When not writing, she is fully immersed in the day-to-day adventures of travel life and actively seeks out as many foreign yoga experiences as possible to further her knowledge and skills! You can follow Kyneret’s travels on her instagram account @planes_trains_autoimmunity