Q&A with Michael Sandler
Q. You share an inspiring story of how you came to abandon footwear that demonstrates you needn’t be a superhuman to walk without shoes. Can you describe the physical challenges that led you to barefoot walking?
A. In 2006 I was involved in a near death accident. This debilitating injury left me with a titanium femur and hip, an inch leg-length discrepancy, and a total of 10 knee operations, plus no ACL in my left knee. Doctors didn’t know if they could save my leg, nor if I’d ever be active again.
Many months later, when I first started walking again, my left leg felt like it was falling apart. I went from overuse injury to overuse injury—from chronic plantar fascists in my feet, to shin splints, then tendinitis in the knee, plus problems with my hips and back.
However, everything began to change when I started going barefoot. First off, the swelling, achiness, and inflammation in my joints and legs began to subside. That alone was huge. Then without shoes on, I found myself standing straighter, (and taller!) despite my leg length discrepancy. Feeling the ground helped me step extra-light (gingerly at first), teaching me how to protect my bones and joints. Over time I almost felt like I was floating over the ground. My feet and legs grew stronger, my joints much happier, and my posture improved. Even my incessantly chattering ADHD mind would miraculously go quiet on my barefoot walks. It was both a health-changing and life-changing experience.
Q. Why should I walk barefoot?
A. Remember how great it feels to walk barefoot through the grass or to feel the sand between your toes on a beach? There’s a near-universal joy of going barefoot, one that brings us back to a time when we were kids. Once you go barefoot, it’s as if you’ve just flipped the on switch for perfect health, helping return your body to a younger, healthier you. Your feet and legs grow stronger, you stand taller, and you have more energy throughout the day. Your immune system gets a boost, your blood pressure may lower, and since barefoot walking is a mindfulness exercise, you begin to experience greater peace of mind. Neuroscientists say it even helps wake up the mind for better focus, concentration, and balance!
Q. Is barefoot walking really for everyone? I’m not an athlete nor very athletic; will I still enjoy this book?
A. Nearly everyone can benefit from Barefoot Walking. While an athlete will get a lot out of this book, it was never specifically designed for athletes. Instead, it’s designed for people who want to get moving, get healthy or back into shape, overcome an injury, or just discover the pure joy of natural movement. Everyone can benefit from stronger, healthier feet and legs, and less fatigue and soreness on all joints throughout the body. So barefoot walking’s for almost everyone…with the exception of diabetics with advanced neuropathy and those who’ve had serious foot challenges or surgery (always check with your doctor prior to starting a new exercise program). For kids, it helps them grow up with stronger bodies, boosted immune systems, and an incredibly healthy muscular-skeletal system—scientists would say better focus and concentration and stronger brains too! For seniors, it helps with balance, strong joints, maintaining muscle tone, sharpening the mind, and preventing falls. And for those overweight, it helps them walk extra light, reducing impact on the joints and back. And for everyone, it acts like a fountain of youth, returning us to a state of greater health and vitality!
So we’ve designed a step-by-step program in the book to be extremely gentle in easing people into things, no matter your fitness level. This way, everyone can benefit from the advice in this book.
Q. But I love my footwear. What if I’m not ready to give up my shoes?
A. We wrote Barefoot Walking to help people heal and grow stronger whether in or out of a shoe. So while we have our bias and think the benefits of direct contact with the earth are very important, we recognize many people may want or need to stay in footwear. So we wrote Barefoot Walking in a way everyone can benefit. In essence, we recommend spending time barefoot whenever possible, and for the rest of the time, using the advice in this book to make the most of the experience in footwear. And for choosing footwear such as minimalist shoes, we spend an entire chapter dissecting footwear and what to look for to keep your feet happy.
If you simply can’t give up the painful footwear—like high heels and most “traditional” shoes—the strength training and stretching exercises we include will still help tremendously with keeping your feet happy.
Q. I live in the city; where can I walk barefoot there?
A. City sidewalks or paved park paths are great. In the beginning you want a harder surface, which helps us learn to land extra light on our soft and sensitive feet. Think of it this way, you can cheat and hit your heel down hard on the grass, without any problem, but try that once on the pavement, and you’d never do it again. So, the hard surfaces help us develop a lighter, more natural stride—one every child knows before they start walking in their shoes. Hard surfaces also help you engage more muscles of the foot, and the roughness stimulates the growth of stronger skin too.
If you’re concerned about safety while the skin is still soft, you can always walk a sidewalk in shoes first to be sure it’s safe before you begin. And to keep your feet clean, simply keep cleaning supplies by your front door and wipe off your feet when you get home.
About the Author
MICHAEL SANDLER is a barefoot-running and -walking coach and motivational speaker who has coached athletes, business executives, and medical professionals for nearly 20 years. With coauthor JESSICA LEE, he travels around the world, teaching people how to rediscover the joy of running. Michael and Jessica are the cofounders of RunBare Company.