Barefoot Tourism association offers network of trails for “Earthing“ fans

Photo: Lorenz kerscher, CC BY-SA 3.0

The wellness trend of walking barefoot or 'Earthing' which aims to reconnect us with Nature arrived in the Czech Republic several years ago. Today it has some 3,000 enthusiastic proponents around the country and a network of barefoot tourist trails where you can try it out.

David Mrhač is not someone you are likely to come across in a shoe store. He embraced barefoot walking eight years ago and swears by the benefits. He now walks barefoot all year round, whether he’s on the metro or walking down a busy street and says you’ll never know how good it feels unless you are willing to give it a chance.

“Everyone knows how good it feels when you throw off your shoes on a hot summer’s day and walk across the lawn on foot. The uncomfortable feeling of constrain is gone and the soles of your feet are stimulated by the terrain you are walking on. The senses are awoken.  I think most people would tell you they really enjoy having a foot massage –this is a similar feeling.“

David Mrhač, photo: Veronika Hlaváčová / Czech Radio

Doctors generally agree that walking barefoot outside has certain health benefits. Some studies suggest it can help with insomnia, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases and also reduce levels of anxiety.

Prague-based physiotherapist Iva Bílková explains that walking barefoot activates all the muscles in our feet and helps them work correctly.

“In our skin, muscles and joints we have receptors which carry information to our brain about the surface we are walking on. And the brain sends the right impulses back to our muscles and tendons, making them relax or contract as needed – putting the weight on our toes, the ball or heel of our foot as needed. The receptors help the brain to set the right muscle tension and put the arches of our feet in the right position when we are standing or walking.“

However she warns that barefoot walking in the city may not be such a good idea and that, as with most things, one needs to find the right balance between the pleasure and health benefits it can bring and the dangers it can pose.

“I wouldn’t recommend walking barefoot in the city. But I do like the idea of taking off your sandals out in the country and running across a lawn or walking on sandy terrain barefoot. In the city shoes protect us from the risk of injury – sharp stones, needles or glass shreds.”

Photo: Veronika Hlaváčová / Czech Radio

David Mrhač says that while he walks barefoot even in the city there is a huge difference between natural and man-made environment and hard terrain in the city is unavoidable.

“Cement is OK, if it is smooth and you don’t have to spend too much time on it. But it is best if you can switch from one terrain to another as often as possible. I admit that I avoid certain areas, like Prague’s main railway station or places that I know are really dirty. There’s a big difference between  city dirt and natural dirt. And it is much easier to wash off the dirt from a country road than the remains of tar on your feet.”

In order to support the barefoot trend, David Mrhač established a Barefoot Tourism association which now offers advise on how to start with the practice and where to go –listing close to fifty tourist trails suitable for barefoot walking around the country – in towns and cities as well as out in the country. There are barefoot trails in Prague parks or even kindergartens for parents who want to introduce their children to the Back to Nature trend at an early age.

David suggests that people who want to try out barefoot walking should do so step by step – first going barefoot in their home, where they know they are on a safe surface and then try one of the recommended trails.

Photo: archive of Olga Vasinkevich

“People need to first try barefoot walking in a safe environment where they can savour the feeling of stepping on different types of terrain. Most people will realize they love the feeling. It has a stimulating effect. Your soles become more sensitive, the arches of your feet work better and you instinctively feel this must be good for you. Our feet can take much more than we think, especially if they are not constrained by uncomfortable shoes. They may hurt a bit at the outset, but it is a question of getting used to something new. And the danger of coming to harm is much smaller than most people think.”

For those who are not ready for such a big change there is always the newly fashionable barefoot footwear, which simulates walking without shoes. The soles of such shoes are just 6 mm thick so one has a greater sense of freedom, and the feet are stimulated by impulses from the surface, which promotes better blood circulation. And for those not willing to give up on traditional footwear doctors have one piece of advice – just walking out in Nature has many health benefits – so with shoes or without – head for one of those trails!

Authors: Daniela Lazarová , Andrea Skalická
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