Sue and I had exchanged a message or two and I became fascinated by her tales of pilgrimage in Spain and her Dragon’s Den adventure. What interesting lives we barefooters lead.
Hi Sue, thanks for taking part. I am looking forward to hearing about your barefoot journey. We will delve in to that in a moment but first up can you tell us what a typical barefoot week is for you. Do you walk, run barefoot regularly?
Photo courtesy of Amanda Stillemunkes
In a typical week, I am barefoot or at least wearing sole-less shoes pretty much all the time. At some point everyday, I walk, run, go on my SUP (stand up paddleboard), do yoga or some other activity while barefoot. My favourite place to go is a 6 kilometer trail in the forest where I usually run, unless I am introducing someone else to barefooting, in which case I walk. For business meetings, shopping or going into establishments that don’t allow barefeet, I wear the soleless shoes that I designed for this reason. Occasionally I will put on a pair of heels if I am dressed up, just cause.
At the age of 40 I decided to start rowing as a way to deal with the death of my younger sister. After a couple of years of training with the Argonaut Rowing Club in Toronto, I started competing as a Masters rower. At the age of 45 I was selected as part of a crew of eight women (average age of 43) and we won a gold medal at the FISA World Masters Rowing Championships. This sport gave me a great appreciation for being disciplined, working through physical exhaustion and I developed incredible focus. Throughout my life I have always been active in various sports and dance like canoeing, running, SUP, tango, salsa, mountain biking, ice skating and swimming. I discovered yoga in 1991 and took up Bikram Yoga in 2001 and I still practice yoga. An important part of my life has been Vipassana meditation. Over a couple of years I did five – 10 day silent meditation retreats and this profoundly impacted my ability to be still.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Stillemunkes
Walking is clearly a central part of your life and I know that you now guide others. The Camino Trail sounds amazing. It is an ancient Pilgrim’s way in Spain that you have walked numerous times. I know that you describe yourself as a Pilgrim. How do you define the term and how does that translate into your everyday life?
After I was downsized from my corporate telecom position I walked 780 kilometers across the north of Spain, alone in the winter. I came to understand some basic virtues of being a pilgrim and decided to focus on them in my everyday life. Pilgrims live a simple life that involves carrying all they need on their back, walking in nature, sharing food and stories, being accommodated by strangers and helping others, displaying respect, as well as being compassionate and loving to others on their journey. When I came home I started by sharing stories. I wrote My Camino, a best-selling book about my first journey and followed it with another book as a way to inspire others on their life journey. Each spring I coach and guide a group of pilgrims on the Camino and this year will be my 9th group and the third time I have walked barefoot. I offer workshops, lead others on barefoot walks, do talks and offer advice. Mostly, I look for ways to serve others and graciously accept when I am being served.
I read about your barefoot awakening in the woods and how you felt your feet had become so tender whilst encased in shoes. For those who haven’t heard could you describe it for us.
Over the many years of walking since the first Camino, I noticed that the soles of my feet were very tender while in my boots and whenever I was barefoot at home. I thought the solution was to buy boots with thicker soles and more support, and I did. I also wore slippers and shoes all the time because it was so painful for me to expose the soles of my feet. At that time I had been walking in the forest a few times a week for several years. I received a message ‘in my mind’ to be still. One day while sitting still by the water on granite rock, I decided to take my shoes and socks off. I immediately felt a surge of energy enter my body. At that moment I knew I should connect my feet to the Great Mother Earth and that changed the course of my life. I started walking barefoot and read every book I could find.
It took several months for the sensory nerve endings on the bottom of my feet to trust that I was going to let them do their job: read the terrain, temperature, moisture etc. to adjust the systems in my body to adapt to what was being experienced. Walking in the forest helped me to adjust quickly because my feet were forced to respond to the constantly changing terrain. Once they did, the nerve endings ‘pulled away’ from the edge of the skin so that it wasn’t painful to step on rugged ground anymore. Shortly after. a layer of fat developed on the bottom of my feet. I felt more free than I had since I was a child. I soon learned that I could walk in the forest and not look down at the ground to see where I was going because my feet had become a new set of ‘eyes’ that longed to explore and adapt to whatever terrain presented itself. As well, my allergies to dogs and cats virtually disappeared. I’ve had asthma for about 30 years and since I’ve been barefoot, my lung capacity has increased and the asthma is gone. Because of this, I regained confidence that my body was capable of healing itself and could be adapt to any environment, as long as my feet were bare.
It is that time of year again. Any advice for those thinking of barefooting in the cold?
Go slowly! I live in Canada and we have four distinct seasons. I find if I go outside everyday then my feet and body adapt slowly to the shift in temperature. I also spend a lot of my time on a lake so every couple of days in the fall/early winter I go in the water and walk lifting my feet up out of the water with each step. It’s called Kneipping and it is one of the oldest forms of naturopathic healing.
I recommend newcomers to winter barefooting start with a few minutes at a time. Always carry socks and shoes when the weather is around freezing or below and stay close to home. Start off my taking the garbage out, shovel the walk, brush off the car and anything else that doesn’t take a long time.
Once a layer of fat builds on the soles of my feet and I am confident I can handle more cold, then I start walking in the snow for longer periods of time. I stay away from salt, melted snow and ice cold water.
Don’t hesitate to carry Hot Shots too. Be very careful and aware that freezing cold weather is not something to take lightly when barefoot. Be cautious and at the same time, you can have a lot of fun experiencing this season.
Firstly, I believe that being barefoot will not necessarily heal you but it will help your body to heal itself. When we are barefoot our posture, balance, flexibility and core strength improves. That alone is enough to go barefoot indoors. Better posture means we look younger, our spine is aligned, our feet (the foundation of our body) get stronger and so much more.
As well, I believe that a holistic approach to life is not just about eating organic, meditation, yoga or exercise and naturopathic healing methods. We are missing an important ingredient and that is connecting our feet to the Great Mother Earth. After a few months of barefooting in the forest my allergies to dogs and cats, and my asthma virtually disappeared! There are minerals and negatively charged ions that our body needs to help to heal itself. I believe it was because inflammation was reduced, my body was able to adapt to that environment and heal itself. We also become more environmentally aware when we notice what we are stepping on in our bare feet.
I also use life or personal coaching in my work. Are there any lessons you have learned from barefooting that translate into wider life?
Barefooting teaches us about trust, discerning judgment and making choices. They are the three fundamental principles I use in my coaching. It also provides a way to focus on being aware of where we are on our life journey, physically, spiritually and metaphorically.
Grounding is a controversial area. What do you believe?
As I said earlier, I believe that because our body is bio-electrical and there are negatively charged ions in the ground and our body needs to manage over-inflammation. This has contributed to my own personal healing. We know asthma is inflammation and my symptoms disappeared after going barefoot on the grass/ground/rock. I’m never sure about believing research because it is often funded by parties vested in the outcome, but I can trust in my personal experience.
More importantly, almost everyone I talk to has a fond memory about being a child and running around barefoot. It brings a smile to their face almost immediately. I believe the essence of connecting with the ground is primal for us and not everything has to be proven scientifically for me to believe in it’s healing power.
I also see that you speak about efficient thinking. Is that one of changes that you see in pilgrims as you guide groups on the Camino?
Yes. Efficient thinking is all about letting go of the thoughts that no longer serve us and instead focusing on what we want to create. When we walk, we sort through thoughts (consciously and unconsciously) and we become more creative. That’s has to be good.
I have a million and one ideas going round in my head. Where on earth should I begin?
Write them down and then read them out loud. As a writer I have learned that ideas are a dime a dozen and everyone has them. If you write them down and they still look good, that’s a start. If you then read them out loud or have someone else read them to you and you still like it, you are on your way. Hearing the ideas out loud will help you to self edit them as good or bad. That will get your list down from a million and one to about 10 to 20.
Dragon’s Den. More than just a little exciting. Tell us more.
Earlier this year I auditioned for the hit CBC TV series Dragons Den. I pitched a business concept idea for Barebottoms, a sole-less shoe I designed because I wanted to get into stores/restaurants while still being barefoot. I passed the audition and made it to the next stage to be filmed pitching to the investors they call Dragons. Since the true barefooter’s market would be seen as too small in the eyes of these investors, I decided to include the yoga/dance market of people who are presently barefoot indoors with a strategy to get them to eventually go outdoors bare-soled. I took the shoes to the Toronto Yoga Show to secure some sales and prove it as a potential market for yoga shoes since they provide grip. In April I was filmed as one of 200 pitches made to the Dragons. They pick 60 to edit and broadcast on the show sometime before he end of April 2014. I can’t divulge the outcome of my pitch until after that time. My fingers and toes are crossed.
My strategy with Barebottom shoes is to introduce people who presently go barefoot indoors to taking a step outdoors. So I am showing them to the yoga and dance crowd. So far I had 2 yogis who were a part of my photo shoot after a yoga class, decide not to take their shoes off and went outside in their Barebottoms! For some, it’s a huge adjustment just to walk barefoot indoors.
If barefooters want to find out more about Camino or your other work, where should they look?
My philosophy about barefooting is really more about the fact that it makes common sense to me. I don’t need all the research to convince me about what I have personally experienced from being barefoot. It feels right.
Order Barebottoms on line at www.barebottomshoes.com
Twitter @caminoperegrina or @barebottomshoes
Thanks Sue – For more interviews with real barefooters, see our archive page.
Sue is a member of our Barefoot Beginner facebook group. Come and join in the chat, you will be made very welcome.