"Do I have to wear shoes?"
I can hear myself asking this question every time mom or dad would tell pre-adolescent Eric that we were off to run an errand or visit a relative. When you're a child, it isn't defying social conventions to show up barefoot, but we eventually learn that covering and protecting our feet is expected. A few years later, when I was 17 and accustomed to wearing shoes everywhere, I remember how nervous I was about my teammates seeing my feet at the hotel pool while we were away for a track competition.
It took a decade or so but I'm back on the barefoot bandwagon. Dr. Irene Davis, professor in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School says that "We have lulled ourselves into thinking that our feet need cushioning and support to survive and to withstand the loads of walking and running. It’s very hard for people to make this paradigm shift back to really the way that we were running for the majority of our evolutionary history."
The human foot has vast capabilities when allowed to function in its natural form. This is the beginning of a powerful inquiry: What else has vast capabilities when allowed to function in its natural form? For starters...
For many modern yogis, the concept of heart opening begins with backbends. And while I wholeheartedly agree that these poses directly affect the energy of the heart and our ability to relate, asana is only the beginning of lasting Heart Opening.
When we are young and a little bit wild, we don't bother protecting our feet or our hearts. As they become more protected, they lose their dynamic qualities and strengths. The range of acceptable experiences becomes increasingly constricted. From a young age, we are barraged with messages that indicate we are somehow not good enough just as we are. We are told that to be loved, we need to constantly prove our worthiness or somehow change and disguise innate elements of our Selves. Eventually we believe it.
Walking barefoot after decades is initially alarming and uncomfortable. But I can promise you, with practice, the tiny stones and twigs eventually feel less like pain and more like information.
When we open ourselves to uncomfortable experiences, when we take the exquisite risk of showing up just as we are, what once terrified us becomes less like pain and more like information.
There is joy in walking barefoot on fresh grass and cool sand.
There is a joy when you live authentically. I can't promise you what will be on the other side, but I do believe we are all innately worthy of being ourselves. Living from this place informs meaningful connection to others. It inspires empathy, compassion, and trust.
While I believe this from a theoretical perspective, a pervasive fear resides within me that says, "Don't do it. This won't end well." It is because of this voice that I am still shocked and relieved that every time I act with an open heart it actually ends well. Sometimes I get the outcome I wanted and sometimes I do not. But I never regret it.
I still do backbends. I still love to teach backbends. My own heart opening practice shifts beneath my feet, as does the way I teach it.