Why I Love My Minimalist Shoes

...and other crazy Patti ideas

Someone recently told me of an exciting “new thing” they had just learned, and it’s something I have taught and talked about for many years.  In fact, how someone could know me and not know about some of the things I feel strongly about amazes me.  It also occurred to me that I do quite a number of things that many consider a bit “odd” and they don’t really want to ask why.  Sometimes the things I do are so normal to me that I even forget why I do them, so it may be a good refresher to explain them.

I thought I’d write a series of articles that I could possibly call “the basics”, but these would be my basics in life, not usually anyone else’s.  With these articles, I’d like the chance to explain why I do some of the things I do, and perhaps you might be intrigued enough to try them yourself.  I thought I would start with my minimalist shoes.

For sake of length, I will skip my whole transition from barefoot as much as possible, to Vibram Five finger shoes, and  “Happy Feet” socks, to minimalist shoes.  They are all based on the same assumptions: that our feet were made to provide us with all the support we need; we don’t need to rely on “support” from our shoes; and most of all, healthy feet and even healthy bodies rely on foot flexibility.  If you are interested in my transition, feel free to ask me about it.

Welcome Katie Bowman

I am so happy that I don’t really have to explain the science behind why flexible feet create the healthiest body support.  Katie Bowman of NutritiousMovement.com  has many books on the subject.  Katy is a biomechanist; they are the scientists who study gait and the physics of movement; basically, the scientific experts of body mechanics.  Let me specifically recommend two books: Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief , and since I am all about aging with health, Dynamic Aging.  She also has many blog posts and podcasts where she explains why flexible feet are vital in our health.  

In addition, how your feet are positioned also has a great bearing on the alignment of your entire body, which can account for many of the aches and pains that many people face as they age.  Hips, knees, low back and even the head and neck are strongly affected by how we stand, walk and move during our day.  In massage school we learned that “your feet are your foundation”; biomechanist Katy Bowman would agree.

Why I Love My Minimalist Shoes

I know they aren’t “sexy”, like the spiked heels people love to wear, but my back thanks me everyday that I don’t put raised heeled shoes on my feet.  I figured out years ago that most of my back issues are caused by heeled shoes.  Why I would have back problems when I was in my 20’s always confused me; I wish someone would have said if I flattened my heels, I would cut my back aches at least in half, if not altogether.  So I am saying this now, to anyone who will listen…backaches?  Check your shoes.

It’s not just the heels that make a difference; flexibility of the toes is essential.  I have a toe that looks like it’s trying very hard to become a bunion.  The one time I went to a pediatrist (foot doctor) about another issue altogether, he mentioned that as long as my toes are pressed together, my foot will move to the side and I will walk on the part that looks like a bunion, and eventually it will turn into a bunion; and I will keep getting calluses in the middle of the ball of my foot.  I found that fascinating; no one had ever said that to me.  He told me exactly what Katy Bowman says, your toes need to spread out for you to walk on them properly, and allow them to work as they are designed.  I don’t want bunions, so I make sure I provide the flexibility of movement my feet crave.

Transitioning is the Trick

Keep in mind, most people can’t simply take off their old shoes and go straight to minimalist shoes; not if they are used to having their feet confined, or “supported”.  If your bones are too “boney” (not enough “meat” on them), you may need to have some padding underneath the boney protuberances, but aside from that, the 66 bones in your feet provide all the support your body requires.  Your toes may still cling together, so you may need to encourage them to spread apart.  Most people that could not wear Vibram Five Finger shoes, just couldn’t spend any time with their toes spread; it was just too uncomfortable (think foot cramp).  So something in between was needed.  Modern minimalist shoes don’t forcibly separate your toes, but they do give you lots of room for them to move on their own.

Happy Feet

Transitioning may take some time, and some special encouragement of your feet.  Happy Feet toe realignment socks are definitely a great place to start.  Ultimately, you should be able to sleep all night while wearing them.  Surprising to me, many people cannot wear them for more than a few minutes.  Their toes are so cramped together after so many years of “casted shoes”, that their toes need slow transitioning to be able to work the way they were designed.  When I see pointed toes in shoes, I equate them to the treatment the Chinese used to do to their infant girls:  turning the toes under until the toes were essentially useless, ensuring the child bride could not run away from a cruel husband.  We consider that antiquated, but still design shoes that do nearly the same thing.

Minimalist Shoe Wear

I know minimalist shoe wear is not as “sexy” or maybe not as “pretty” as those pointed toes and stacked heels; so if you refuse to change, I accept and respect your choice.  In my sixth decade of life, other things are much more important to me than “looking sexy” (which I probably never achieved even with the spiked heels).  I also understand that it sends a message that you may be a bit “different” than what others expect of you.  In this time of my life, people almost expect me to be a bit different, so I am fortunate not to be hindered by these constraints.

I would suggest, though, that you try going barefoot on the grass, on a warm summer day.  The feeling of freedom for your feet, and the natural bend of the foot is an amazing feeling.  That’s the feeling of minimalist footwear; you just don’t have to worry about stepping on a bee or a rock, you are still protected.  The soles of the shoes are very thin, but still often made by Vibram, who are the leaders in hiking boot soles.  Minimalist soles are thin rubber soles that can be rolled into a small circle; thin enough for comfort, thick enough for support.  

Since the minimalist footwear movement has been in existence long enough, there are companies who cater to those who would like better looking shoes than the Vibram five Finger shoes.  They may not spread your toes apart, but they allow movement of your toes with much larger toe boxes, but still look a bit more “normal”. 

The Shoe Report

I am no expert in all the minimalist shoes; I have found a few companies that I love, and I stick to them.  The shoes are a bit more expensive, but they last for years; so I haven’t needed to purchase many different ones.  Mostly I buy different ones for different seasons.

My most beloved company is called Softstar shoes ;  these are the shoes you inevitable see me in. I use these shoes for work, for walking my dogs, and I have used them at the gym (agast!).  I often use “regular” shoes at the gym, because there is such a myth around that if you aren’t wearing “running shoes”, you will injure yourself.   I got tired of being lectured when I wore my Vibram five Finger shoes, so I caved in and bought some “traditional” shoes, just to spare myself the lectures.  (Even I am subject to compromise from time to time.)

My second favorite are Unshoes from Unshoes USA .  These can be more conventionally designed, so you may want to start there.  Again, I adore my Unshoes, and love the feeling of the flexible sole.  I tend to catch these shoes when they are on sale.

The traditional minimalist “running shoe” is from a company called Luna Sandals.  If you are a runner, these are the shoes that were designed for marathon runners.  Again, transitioning is key if you want to start running in these.  I believe the company would be glad to give you all the information you need to transition from traditional shoes to Luna Sandals.  In fact, I would strongly suggest that you wait to try running any distance in minimalist running shoes until you have worn regular minimalist shoes for at least a year or two.  Too many people decide to try the running shoes, but keep their traditional shoes during the rest of the day;  I personally don’t think that works at all.  

As for other companies, I know there are many, but I have never tried any of them.  Here is an article about shoes by Katy Bowman, who is the one I go to for information on these types of shoes.

How about you?

I understand if you aren’t ready to make the switch, but at least spend as much time outdoors, barefoot, as possible.  I’ll explain why in my next article.  Barefoot is still my favorite way of living my life, but I can’t do that very much in this world; so I rely on my minimalist shoes.  I hope you decide to try them for yourself.

If you know anyone that would benefit from this article, please feel free to send it to them.  Be sure to like me on Facebook and sign up for my emails.

My shoes

To your health!

Patti Bealer
Heath Coach and Health Advocate