Learning to Walk…again.

There is something humbling about taking something you already know how to do and trying to learn a new way to do it. Sometimes this is forced on us, due to an injury or other disability, and other times it is a conscious choice…to expand our awareness, skills, and abilities.

I’ve had this experience before when I taught myself to knit left-handed. I had decades of experience knitting right-handed, but as soon as I turned my knitting around, I was suddenly a novice…again. I learned patience and humility, and was reminded of the benefits of taking new things slowly – adding to your expectations as the motions start to feel more natural. As far as problems, mistakes, and frustrations go, most of them resolve on their own with additional practice. As I’ve regularly told my knitting students, we’ll just worry about the problems that won’t go away.

When I decided to kick off my shoes nearly two years ago (literally, and for as long and as much as possible), I figured I would need to allow time for my feet to toughen up, but overall I thought going barefoot would be pretty straight forward. I mean, sheesh, I already know how to walk. I’ve been doing it since I was nine months old. (It’s true. I was an early walker.) So how hard could it be to just kick off my shoes?

Well, it turns out that barefoot walking is not the same as shoe walking. In fact, the only thing the two really have in common is that you are upright and putting one foot in front of the other. Aside from that, I can point out far more differences than similarities.

The two biggest differences are stride length and how your forward foot hits the ground. When wearing shoes, we learn to take long strides and hit the ground with our heel first. When walking barefoot, your stride is shorter and the ball of your foot is what comes in contact with the ground first…your heel coming down last.

I learned pretty quickly that walking barefoot was not just about kicking off one’s shoes. I had to abandon my old ways of walking and become a novice again. I found myself reading books and watching videos to learn how to walk barefoot. As frustration and confidence have taken their turns over the past couple of years of my barefooting journey, I’ve had to tell myself the same things I regularly tell my knitting students: Relax. You can do it. It’s easy once you learn how. Find your natural rhythm and it will become second nature.

Frustration kicked in again recently when I kept getting early-stage blisters on the balls of my feet, making it painful to walk barefoot. This has been an ongoing challenge. Clearly this was a problem that wouldn’t go away until I learned something new and changed how I was walking. After a day or two of wallowing in my frustration and sore feet, I took a deep breath and did some more research.

My problems are poor posture, over-striding, and horizontal friction when the ball of my foot connects with the ground. (Thanks to Steven Sashan of Xero Shoes for the helpful info on his website!) So it’s time to take a couple of steps backwards and walk shorter distances until the adjustments I need to make start feeling more natural and become second nature.

Step-by-step we learn new things…sometimes more literally than others.

-Jenne Hiigel