You don’t have to become a barefoot runner to enjoy the benefits of mindful running, a certain amount of barefoot time, particularly in the beginning, can greatly enhance your mindful experience.
Mindful Running at it’s essence is about increasing awareness, inside and outside of yourself. By definition, this increased awareness is “being mindful”. Now we increase awareness in many ways, by focusing on our breath, our environment, even—or especially, focusing on our thoughts and emotions. But there’s a missing element here, focusing on your body. To truly be a mindful runner, we need to separate the illusion between mind, body, and spirit, and get you right back into the thick of things.
You may already know that focusing on your breath helps you get back into your body. So does a Mindful Check-in something we’ve covered in a recent blog. But no way gets you back in your body for running more than feeling your body move over the earth. In heavy shoes, aka clunkers, or the traditional footwear we run in, it’s really hard to feel what’s going on beneath our feet. That’s why we end up heel-striking, or landing with your heel hitting the ground first, something you would never do barefoot because it’s simply too painful. Now “minimalist” or “natural” footwear may be better, making it harder to heel strike, but you can still land hard and incorrectly.
Now barefoot, that’s another story. You have thousands upon thousands of nerve endings on the bottom of your feet, and they’re there for a reason—To give you instant feedback and keep you out of trouble. For instance, if you go to step on something sharp, you’d lift your foot back up, and if you felt the foot rolling over a rock where you might twist an ankle, you’d make a near-instant correction as well.
This feedback mechanism evolved over millions of years to help keep us safe. It also evolved to keep us light on our feet. For when you feel the ground, you intuitively start to find the lightest, easiest way to land. Why? Because it feels better than hitting the ground hard.
In short, if we want you aware of your stride, aware of how your landing, and aware of what your body wants for the lightest stride possible, we need to slip off your shoes and get you in touch with the earth. Now this needn’t be forever, but should definitely integrate barefoot training at least part-time for 4-6 weeks, and preferably longer, up to 12 weeks, to get you fully in touch with your body, your stride, and the earth.
Benefits of Barefoot Training
Some amazing benefits come out of it too. First off, when you’re barefoot, you’re awarefoot, you are focused 100% on keeping your feet safe. This means you’re scanning the horizon for rocks, debris, or anything else. Because of this, your mind is fully present, and completely committed to the task at hand.
Congratulations, by going barefoot, you will unintentionally become 100% committed to the now. And that is rewiring that you can carry back with you into your shoes. It helps you relax, lower your heart-rate, get into the “zone”, and quiet the mind for your run and beyond.
The second great benefit is that by feeling the ground you feel your entire body. It’s like you’re running on a mirror, an internal one that is continuously giving you feedback on almost everything. Are you leaning too far forward? Bending at the hips? Neck dropping? Arms dropping? Running asymmetrically, or turning out a foot? When you run barefoot you get feedback that lets you know.
Now in the beginning, you won’t know what all of the feedback means. That’s alright and part of the process. In the beginning we’re simply cultivating awareness. Over time that feedback will mean more and more to you, and that’s when you’ll intuitively begin to take action…
Saying something like, “Hey, this doesn’t feel quite right, something feels like it’s slightly rotating my right knee inward. I wonder what I can do about it.”
Or even, “Wow, when I hold my head high, I suddenly feel like I’m floating along!”
That comes with the increased awareness you get as you strengthen that feedback loop between the ground, your body, and your mind.
Once that feedback loop is established, and you begin to run smoothly, you can of course, transition back into 100% shod running. However, chances are you’ll want something lighter and thinner, where you can better feel the ground and keep that feedback going. But either way, you’ll have developed healthy new habits which can carry forth for a lifetime of great running.
The Best Time for Barefoot Running
My only last suggestion, take your shoes off for at least 5-10 minutes of light jogging a week to keep in touch with how it feels. We always want to keep your awareness up, and this helps you from loosing touch.
When? I’d recommend on your recovery days. After a short jog, slip off the shoes and just go around the block or around the track barefoot. Of course, if your feet are sweaty, you’ll need to do your barefoot time first to preserve your skin.
Have fun with the barefoot time, feel that awareness grow, and see yourself discover your own, personal, best stride ever!