We know that most things in life (relationships, houses, business ideas, etc.) need to be built on strong foundations in order to prosper. But what about the thing that actually does the living? Our bodies have a foundation, too… FEET! I’m a self-proclaimed foot nerd, though not a certified one (yes, that is a thing!). I have seen so many benefits in my own life from paying attention to my feet and working to restore them to their native functionality. I’ve even been surprised at their heeling power. (Pun intended).

 Our feet have evolved over millennia to support our bodies in the best way possible. There are a whopping 26 bones, 30 joints, and over 100 muscles associated with the foot. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty complex system to me! All of these beautiful components work together to help us move, keep us balanced, and even give us information about the world. We would be quite lost without our feet.

How do we thank these incredible appendages? We cram them into foot prisons – You might call them shoes. Society has made it clear for a long time that one must wear shoes in order to be socially acceptable and look “cool”. Folks, the fact of the matter is that our feet are not meant to be inside shoes, and they usually don’t work so well that way. Most of the shoes we wear significantly change the way our feet function, usually for the worse. They have a heel lift, meaning the heel of the shoe is higher than the toe, and a narrow toe box, meaning the part of the shoe where your toes sit is narrower than your toes. The shoes most of us wear look quite different from the feet that are intended to inhabit them.

Not only are these footwear features super uncomfortable once you start to notice them, they can also cause some serious damage. Heel lifts change the angle of almost every other joint in our body. Remember, our feet are our body’s foundation and they have an effect on everything built on top of them, including our minds. Heel lifts cause unnatural movement patterns, unnecessary wear and tear on our joints, and all kinds of pain. Narrow toe boxes squish our toes together and prevent them from spreading out and assisting with our balance as they are meant to – Hello sprained ankles! Our feet have so much more to offer than we usually acknowledge.

I’m not just a random, self-declared foot nerd – I’ve learned all of this through my own journey. I used to be in pain every day because my hips were so tight and misaligned. My arches had gotten flattened out, and so my knees caved in, my hips internally rotated, my lower back was crunched, and my neck forced to overwork to hold my head in the right position. I was getting headaches regularly and didn’t feel comfortable in my own body. Thankfully, I had a great yoga teacher/massage therapist who helped me make the connections between my feet and the way the rest of my body felt. Through a slow process of foot strengthening and whole-body exercises, I’ve been able to reverse much of the discomfort I used to feel and learn about the amazing capabilities of my body to heal. Yay feet!

At this point, you’re probably imagining me as a barefoot hippie chick who refuses to wear shoes at all. As much as I’d love to live that lifestyle, I live in a city in Michigan and completely abolishing shoes is just not practical for me. So, I’ve adopted “barefoot shoes.” The idea behind these lovely creations is to protect your feet without inhibiting their natural movement. They are usually flat, thin-soled and, have a wide toe box. If this is something you are curious about, there are so many great brands out there. (My personal favorite is Vivobarefoot.)

Perhaps I’ve convinced you to dump the chunky Nikes in your closet and free your feet – Wonderful! However, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of going slowly with this process. If your feet are used to being in cramped shoes, they are going to need some time to adjust. Begin with a short amount of time each day and some fun toe yoga while you watch Netflix. Just like tapering off medication, slow and steady wins the race here. Your feet are 100% capable of supporting you, but odds are that you haven’t asked them to since you were throwing your shoes out of the stroller. Know that through this process you are building strength and resilience in your whole body and developing a greater connection to yourself.

By working on your feet, you are working on your physical foundation. By working on your physical foundation, you are also working on your mental foundation. I can say that it feels amazing to walk and run barefoot (or in shoes that are pretty darn close). I love feeling my feet instinctually adapt to the terrain I’m on and continue to happily propel me forward. I can’t help but smile, and I’d put money on the fact that there’s more dopamine and serotonin flying around my brain as a result. Taking away the thick-soled, constrictive shoes lets you be closer to the earth, helping you feel more grounded, and thus more connected with your body and the world around you. Any time we can free ourselves from an unnecessary restriction, we can find healing.