Go Barefoot To Alter Your Nervous System's Stress Status
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
"No shirt, no shoes, no service" After living in Bali for almost a year where you are welcomed into every cafe in nothing but a bathing suit, these signs posted to the storefronts in NJ make me cringe. My feet now slightly wider and toes like antennae able to sense the world around me in a more accurate way, were offended. People have come up to me and ask how I can stand being barefoot as if I am walking on needles or hot coal. The fact is, I am more comfortable than ever being barefoot and have more confidence when my feet are directly connected to the Earth.
"Your comfortability of being barefoot may be an indicator of your ability to feel your emotions and handle stress"
As a Jersey Shore native and professional dancer, I've always naturally enjoyed being barefoot. When we were younger, we would call it getting your "summer feet". After wearing shoes all winter and the early summer screams of "Ow! Ooch! Ah!" walking on the fresh, sometimes sharp Earth was humbling. By August, we were running on these grounds, smiling, tanned and unfazed or surprised by the landscape below. As a dancer, all it took were a few barefoot rehearsals, skin tares and callouses and soon enough, we were spinning barefoot like we had socks on. Moral of the story- we are resilient beings and can adapt.
We are alive, so we can change. You can build resiliency by getting closer to nature.
We have all heard of Earthing ( being barefoot on the Earth) and the multitude of benefits to regulate our endocrine and nervous systems. Earthing can:
Lower blood pressure
Strengthen our feet muscles
Decrease blood glucose levels
It will allow us to connect back to nature physically, emotionally and spiritually. When we are connected to nature we can manage our stress better. You innately know this. When you are angry, you may go for a walk outside to cool off and notice you are less likely to bite someone's head off. Why? Because nature knows how to dissipate tension. When we allow ourselves to surrender to the greater intelligence of nature, we ourselves become more accurately responsive and alive.
Why the Feet are so Receptive
Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and a network of more than 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments. One quarter of all the bones in the human body are in your feet. There are over 7,000 nerve endings in each foot. The feet send sensory afferent nerve signals up the spinal cord to the brain. The body is informing the brain. There can be a lot of emotions and feelings when it comes to feet from avoidant to sensual ( The feet and genitals are mapped adjacent to one another on the somatosensory cortex in the brain which may explain the foot fetish phenomenon- we will end this topic here for the purpose of this article)
Disconnection out of Fear and Safety
Wearing shoes gives us a sense of safety. We are protected, separate and in control. Anyone who has experienced anxiety understands the comfort of these words. Our bare feet touching the Earth, is vulnerable, raw and emotional. Opening up to a tactile foot to ground relationship with the Earth, exposes our DNA to a possible threat. Whether nail, thorn, or emotional feeling, it is uncomfortable.
Our feet have been designed by the limbic (emotional) system of the brain to detect threats in the environment around us as a survival mechanism. This sensitivity allows us to be aware and able to stand strong, run away, or defend in case of an emergency. Watch people's feet gestures and you can gain a lot about their internal feelings. If two people are talking and you decide to join them, notice if they move their feet towards you to welcome you in or just turn from the torso. If the latter, don't waste your time.
We in the Western World have been taught "Be careful! Put your shoes on, you may step on something!" And while this is true, you MAY step on something- in fact I stepped on a piece of glass in Bali, but that did not scare me from connecting to the Earth. Connecting to the Earth will actually CALM your nervous system as shown in Figure 1.
Living out of fear is a set up for an overactive nervous system.
When our nervous system is functioning from fear, we are spending more time in the anxious fight, flight, freeze or flee state. This programs our neural chemistry to pump out signals to the body that a threat is present. Our blood moves away from digesting and into our extremities. Cortisol is being produced by the adrenal glands, and our heart rate is increased... just in case. We are now hyper sensitive to pain and touch or shut down and become completely numb. Have you ever been very stressed and someone taps you on the shoulder? You either jump out of your pants or don't feel a thing, depending on your sympathetic (alert) response.
Emotions can be uncomfortable and sometimes seems easier to just not bother. You may have heard the new term "spiritual bypass".
We will distract and numb ourselves through alcohol, food, unhealthy yet familiar relationships, self inflicting pain, self help books all to avoid digesting our unavoidable emotions.
The longer we do this, the more detached from our self we become and more reactive to external stimuli or completely unaware we become. Now, our ability to make sense of our selves and the world around us seems unmanageable and we become even more anxious, depressed, lost, confused and alone.
Breathe Move Recover To Better Regulate Your Emotions and Foot Sensitivity
Go outside and mindfully walk barefoot on gravel, stones, or some textured Earth. If you have diabetes or other reasons for neuropathy please do so with particular care to your Earth of choice. Notice what you notice. Do you feel soothed? Pain? Energized? Nothing at all? You may have habituated your ability to listen to your body when sensation is present due to past trauma. Do you wear socks or shoes the moment you get out of bed? Wear socks to bed or while having.. okay, I've got my personal thoughts on that and will leave them out. After playing with this exercise try these Breathe. Move. Recover. techniques to balance your nervous system and connect back to nature.
Breathe: Imagine nostrils on the bottom of your feet as you inhale from the center of the earth through your body out your head. Exhale from the skies back down through your spine and like roots spreading out in the the Earth
Move: Workout Barefoot. Notice where your weight is, spread your toes and press through the entire foot.
Recover: Use a tennis ball (not a hard pipe) and massage the bottom of the foot from all angles. Use a front to back (ball of the foot to heel) motion to stimulate lymphatic flow.
That's it! Give these three tips a try and let me know how it goes. Feeling intrigued by what you have noticed about yourself? Don't stop now! Email me firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your free consultation and first appointment to diving in deeper and building nervous system resiliency to hand whatever life throws at you. I look forward to helping you Breathe, Move and Recover your way back to your best self.