Barefoot in the grass. Another example of neuroplasticity.
In my Feldenkrais Advanced Training last month, we talked about going barefoot. Barefoot walking, barefoot running and even barefoot hiking. Yikes! I can’t even stand the thought of walking barefoot in my own home, let alone in the great outdoors. Feet were meant to be kept out of sight and supported by shoes. I used to believe that going barefoot was somehow uncivilized. However, after listening to my colleagues relate the richness of their experiences of walking barefoot, I was intrigued. I was curious, but skeptical as I considered the subject.
My feet often hurt. Walking barefoot would hurt even more, wouldn’t it? But I couldn’t stop wondering what it would be like to be barefoot outside. So, during the next break, I ventured outside. I looked around to make sure no one was watching me. After all, I didn’t want to look silly. I slipped off my shoes and socks and stood on the sidewalk. It was uncomfortable at first, but then the sun-warmed sidewalk started to soothe my feet. I could feel the small pebbles and imperfections in the sidewalk. I took a few steps, and the coarse, warm concrete almost felt good. When I went back inside, still shoeless, I marveled at how smooth and cool the hardwood floor felt on the bottom of my feet, something I had been oblivious to the past three days.
When I went home that afternoon, I wondered what it would be like to walk in my yard barefoot. Cautiously, I took off my shoes and socks and attempted to walk across my yard. Well, that hurt! I stood still, getting the nerve to hobble back to my shoes when something strange happened. My feet began to relax and mold to the shape of the ground. The earth beneath my feet was comforting. I started to slowly walk across my yard, enjoying the texture of the grass as I walked, noticing the change in the temperature as I went from sun to shade. I continued walking, aware of a new sense of flexibility and dexterity in my feet. I was immersed in the sensations coming through the soles of my feet. This was fun! And, my feet felt wonderful.
I started playing in the yard in my bare feet, feeling a childlike curiosity as my nervous system responded to the primal activity of going barefoot. My feet were contacting the ground like little cat paws. I didn’t know my feet could do that! I got really courageous and stood on the river rock bordering the lawn. Wow. What seemed absolutely impossible a few hours ago had turned into a fun, interesting and completely gratifying somatosensory experience! The flexibility of my own nervous system over rode the cognitive part of my mind and my preconceived belief that going barefoot was bad, uncivilized, or that it would somehow damage my feet.
By simply changing my belief system, I was able to enjoy a rich, rewarding experience. It made me wonder how many other new experiences I may have missed out on simply because of my personal belief system. Most of us hold ourselves back from trying new experiences, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Maybe we are afraid of getting hurt, looking silly, or being ridiculed for doing something different or unconventional. Even worse, perhaps we feel that we are too old to learn or try something new.
The truth is, it’s the simple things that bring about significant changes and a new sense of vitality to our lives. So, go ahead, try something new and different. You may be surprised how good it feels.
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP