Is it coincidence that this morning I looked at my bare feet, amazed at how the bright pink nail varnish that I had applied in Ubud almost two months ago was still there – reminding me daily of the warm love of Bali.
It is coincidence that upon walking over Waterloo Bridge and across The Strand and around the curve of Aldwych that I was thinking about being barefoot, feeling the sand beneath and between my toes and how I really should re-read and possibly post something I wrote back in December when I was staying on a desert island with no roads and no motorised transport.
Is it coincidence that upon arriving in the office today I reached into my bag to discover to my surprise that I had forgotten to pack my heeled shoes and instead had to spend the day in my ‘Barefoot’ shoes.
And finally is it coincidence that I should find myself in conversation with two women in the office about how our feet were not designed to be cramped up and rammed in at an angle all day.
I consider these as fairly big signs that today, of all days I am meant to be sharing something I wrote back in December 2014. It is called Barefoot.
And here it is…
I have been barefoot for the best part of 4 days now and initially was surprised by just how much more I notice in the world as a result of it.
First and foremost I have realised that I really don’t like the colour I had my toenails painted in Ubud and I really need to find somewhere with nail varnish remover! But beyond that little essence of vanity I am loving the world I am finding quite literally at my feet.
It began as I heard, underneath a thick Indonesian accent, something that resembled my name being called repeatedly. I had just got out of the shower and called back ‘me?’. Yes, Lorraine, LIZARD! I grabbed a dress, pulled it over my head and ran outside. I followed Sam across the garden and into the coconut groves. He was pointing behind a pile of breeze blocks, it’s gone behind there and he ushered me forward as he returned to the building he is working on.
I carefully crept forward, not wanting to frighten away the lizard that I couldn’t yet see, stepping across the fallen palm fronds, not really sure of where I was going, what I was looking for or where I would find it. I realised then, I hadn’t got any shoes on. By shoes, I mean flip flops. Shoes haven’t really featured in my life this year. I have only worn shoes Monday to Wednesday through the months of April to October and for social occasions that have required them – I openly admit that I do love a decent pair of heels and pretty dress. The rest of the time I have mostly been in flip flops, socks or barefoot. I appreciate that for someone who has grown up in the world’s greatest city this could be considered by most as a little odd, hey ho!
The quest to find the Lizard continued across earth, leaves, spiky fronds, excess building materials, discarded bottles, through mud and general bracken. Initially fearful of hurting myself I quickly realised that as long as I paid attention to where I was placing my feet then I was at little risk of injury. Where solid ground was covered by leaves and bracken I could feel little spikes tickle my soles – a fairly pleasant sensation that moved upwards through my feet and to my ankles. At times is was easier and more comfortable to stand on the scattered cut logs – the roughness of the saw cuts feeling almost spongy underfoot.
It took me back to about 4 years ago when I visited a barfuss spa in Germany. An outdoors foot experience set in the countryside, you arrived, removed your shoes and stepped into a long trough of mud to about knee height. This was the start of a foot sensory treatment circuit which included stepping on wine corks, cones, stones, walking across a river, rope bridges and balance planks. It was a fun afternoon, but there was a resounding message about the importance of our feet and what we can feel through them – when we allow ourselves. I was now really appreciating that concept and thinking how I really haven’t been appreciating not just what my body offers me, but what the world does and how my body interacts with it.
When snorkelling I had been reminded that life exists in the more unlikeliest of places and that the shallows I was gliding through – I could equally be walking through. When I entered the water next I really paid attention to what was underfoot. A small spiky worm like creature and a spiky sea cucumber, both just there on the sandy bottom. There are vibrantly coloured sea urchins wrapped up in the grasses which if trodden on, I would know about it! A cluster of coral jutting up from the sea bed, standing only about 30 centimetres tall, maybe 10 centimetres of it above water, a movement caught my eye. I crouched down – a baby moray eel was struggling to devour a shrimp and upon seeing me, retreated into the crevices of the coral. I stepped back out of his view, he overcame his shyness and slithered forward out of the darkness, changing his grasp on the shrimp and continued to enjoy his meal.
Walking down the main road (a term used in the loosest of senses) my feet feeling the coolness of the damp sand and earth mix, there is no real need to wear shoes here. You can easily avoid the dollops of horse manure and what does it matter if you stand in a muddy puddle as you move to the side to allow a horse and cart through? I only really need my flipflops for when the ground is too hot – I know, this is a nice problem to have! I remember how I used to walk barefoot home from the nightclubs along the painted lines on the road as it was more comfortable than walking on the tarmac or wearing the heels that I had danced the night away in.
To access the beach I sometimes need to walk over some small boulders – I have way more control on the variety of angles that each presents and can steady myself on the wobbles far more when I am barefoot as opposed to when I am wearing flip flops. I can sense when there is something sharp under foot and can quickly retract from it, choosing a safer location to place my weight. I have been finding that my ‘shoes’ actually hinder the effectiveness of the perfectly designed product which rather conveniently find themselves at the bottom of my legs.
My amazement at their design grew as I stood (barefoot of course) in the coconut groves watching two small framed men scale the heights of the tree trunks. Every three months they come to the island to cut down the coconuts which are then piled up by two elderly, almost entirely toothless, ladies. The coconuts will be taken to Lombok and enter the process to create the ever popular coconut oil. The men, wow the men! Think petite and dark versions of Greek Adonis’s. Every single muscle is perfectly formed and defined, a slight sheen of sweat extenuates the shadows, their shoulders and chests scattered with the darkness of fallen husks. Wearing just a pair of shorts and sythe across their lower backs, they can scale a perfectly vertical tree some 25 metres high as swiftly as I can chase up my 13 step staircase back home. Their feet! Their feet twist inwards at the ankle so that they grip either side of the tree trunk and their arms just seem to keep reaching upwards as their feet do all the work in elevating to the dizzy heights. There are no super expensive, malleable terrain shoes in use here. They are feeling all they need to, through their own products at the bottom of their legs – designed and produced by Mother Nature, Made on Planet Earth.
If you think about it, pretty much everything in nature is designed to serve its purpose perfectly. Mother Nature is a fantastic product designer and engineer. Take a plant – its leaves designed to direct rainfall to its roots – its roots designed to spread and suck in water sources. As a yogi (a term for a person who practices yoga) I am ashamed of my feet, for they are telling of my disregard towards them in the past, a past in which I have forced them to take on situations that they just weren’t designed for… I’ve dropped heavy items on them, kicked into things and crammed them into pointy toed, high heeled shoes and as a result my feet had taken on this shape.
A yogi aspires to having used the muscles of their feet like a plant – sending down firm roots to the ground to hold us steady as we gracefully transition between poses. Using our feet properly has an abundance of positive outcomes. It’s the start of our postural alignment – if we’re doing something a bit different at our feet we can be certain that has some knock on effect further up our bodies, maybe rather than standing displacing my weight evenly, I put all the weight into one foot and stand with one leg forward, hands on hips, uh oh now I have a slightly wonky hip…A spine that is compensating for it – leading to impingement’s along the spinal chord. There is ofcourse that funny song our toe bone is connected to our foot bone, the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone etc. But in its jest, there is a strong message that I really don’t think was stressed to me enough as I was growing up. All our bones, muscles and tissues are connected. Misuse or damage in one area is going to upset things in other places. I have experienced, for years a loud clonk behind my right ear which sends a hot pain to the front of my head, blinding me for a split second. When it happens I fight back the urge to throw up or faint. I am pretty certain this is due to my posture and I am working to correct it, ensuring I placing my feet down and distributing my weight evenly, aligning my hips, pulling my pelvis forward and pulling my shoulders back and down.
We generally take care of expensive products that we have bought and keep them out of harms way – but let’s not forget the value of our bodies for if we look after them and use them as intended then they will serve us well. Love for our bodies, health and happiness as Mother Nature designed, created and produced some pretty unique products, whose values are priceless.
I was finding that as I took more concern over where I was placing my bare feet, I was experiencing our planet in a different way. I was really valuing other forms of life, sensations and the value of the human form. Since returning to the UK a world, society and weather system that requires shoes, it is the one thing I have really struggled with. I miss the freedom my feet and body had, I miss the sensations underfoot. I miss being barefoot.