A Sense-able Reset for Your Feet
Updated: Jun 18
“You learn a lot when you're barefoot. The first thing is every step you take is different.” -Michael Franti
Our feet are designed to help us navigate the world by sensing the ground. To be able to do this the bottom of each foot is wired with over 200,000 nerve endings. That’s a lot of nerve endings!
Those sensory nerve endings take in information about the surface we’re on, how our feet are connecting with the ground, where our feet are in space, and what’s going on in our environment.
This info is then relayed to our brains so our brains can determine what our feet need to do to keep us safe. The brain then tells the feet what to do and how to coordinate with the rest of the body.
All this communicating back and forth happens at the speed of the nervous system. A message from the sensory neurons in your feet travels at about 150mph (241kmph) up to your brain. Your brain then processes the info and sends a message to your feet, via motor neurons, about what your feet or foot should do. This message travels at about 200mph (322kmph). It all happens so crazy fast.
It’s truly amazing that our feet are so wired to help us understand the world we’re moving in — in order to keep us safe and moving optimally.
Our feet want to help us so we don’t overcommit when we step on unstable surfaces in order to avoid spraining an ankle, injuring a knee, or falling.
Our feet also want to keep us from landing too hard so our ankles, knees, hips, and low back don’t take a beating.
Our feet want us to notice that wasp on our right foot before it has a chance to sting us.
Our feet want to help us learn about how we’re moving through the world.
Our feet want to keep us safe.
But sometimes we get too focused on protecting our feet. We keep our feet in shoes. And those shoes often have thick soles and lots of cushion. On top of that we wear socks.
All these layers between your feet and the ground get in the way of your feet being able to sense the ground.
As a result, your feet can’t as easily tell where they are in space. And if your feet don’t know where they’re at then the rest of your body won’t really know either. This can be problematic.
Wearing shoes and socks all the time simply gets in the way of your feet communicating with your brain. It gets in the way of your feet fulfilling their protector role.
Your feet can then forget how to help you navigate your world safely. This can lead to your feet feeling very unhappy.
To help keep your feet happy just kick off your shoes and walk around. Bonus points if you can do this outdoors. Just make sure where you’re walking is free of broken glass and rusty nails and such.
Breathe and feel the grass under your feet. Feel those little stones and twigs. If you haven’t been barefoot in awhile you might just wince a bit walking over a bit of gravel.
Notice how your whole body wants to work to lighten your step. Why? Because your foot is telling your brain that it would be helpful. So your brain recruits the rest of your body to assist.
Wearing shoes dulls this communication neuro-pathway because the feet aren’t able to feel the ground. Your feet have little to sense and report to the brain.
Now if you haven’t walked barefoot in awhile you’ll want to ease into this practice. Maybe start with 10 minutes and then put your shoes back on.
If you're paying attention you'll notice your gait is a bit smoother and your step a bit lighter after your barefoot session. Even with your shoes back on.
Practice gradual progress as you build up your barefoot time.
Our feet are truly wondrously designed. Along with all those sensory nerve endings each foot contains 26 bones —a quarter of all the bones in the body — which work together to form 33 joints. Each foot also has over 100 muscles and tendons and lots of fascia.
The more we can feel our feet the more all those bones and joints and connective tissues can perform optimally. This makes our feet happy.
And when our feet feel happy and safe to move it has a direct and positive affect on the rest of our body.
Leonardo da Vinci said, “The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.”
Explore your foot masterpieces.
Learn what each barefoot step has to teach you.
I think you’ll be glad you did.
*If you’re diabetic or have peripheral neuropathy then going barefoot is something you really need to talk with your physician about. It’s generally not recommended. A self massage device like this one might be an alternative way to help keep your feet happier. Again, talk with your physician about using one.