Running Barefoot

I read this article yesterday, published in the New York Times, discussing the pros and cons of running barefoot.

Daniel Lieberman, a professor at Harvard University, studies barefoot running. He says that there “is good evidence that humans have been running long distances for millions of years, and most of that was probably done barefoot.”

Dr. Lieberman himself runs barefoot periodically.

Running barefoot is becoming quite popular, nowadays, with many groups advocating it. It is said to be ‘more healthy’ than running wearing shoes. Some advise running barefoot simply because it is more enjoyable!

Abebe Bikila was a two-time Olympic marathon champion from Ethiopia. He competed in the 1960 Olympics in Rome as part of the Ethiopian Olympic team.

Adidas was the sponsor for shoes at the Olympics and Bikila was given a pair of shoes by them that didn’t fit comfortably. “A couple of hours before the race the decision was taken by Abebe to run barefoot, the way he’d trained for the race.”

And he went on to win that race in record time, becoming the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal. The runner from Ethiopia, who ran barefoot, beat all the other competitors running in fancy sports shoes.

In India, poverty is widespread, with one third of the world’s poor estimated to be here in India. India’s people are barefoot, not out of choice, but out of necessity.

There are great disparities in income resulting in a small percentage of people living in luxury while the majority both in urban and rural areas subsisting in poverty.

It is heartening, therefore, to read about the Barefoot College, which began its activities in 1972.

Have any of you heard about this initiative? This is the first time I have come across information about this.

It has created a non-formal education process for children and adults which assists students to develop a sustainable community. Their barefoot process has radiated to surrounding villages and taken root in thirteen Indian States. The College has influenced local, state and national policies regarding education and development.”

The Barefoot College believes that the solutions to rural problems, like unavailability of drinking water, education of the girl child, health and sanitation, lie within the community itself.

It encourages practical knowledge or skills rather than formal education. The College works towards improving the quality of life of the rural poor.

I was particularly interested to read its Code of Conduct which includes-

Have respect for collective, traditional knowledge, beliefs, wisdom and practices of the community.”

Be committed to the preservation of natural resources and not endorse processes that destroy, exploit or abuse natural resources.”

Use appropriate technologies that sustain the community and not encourage technologies that deprive people of their livelihoods.”

These seem to be guidelines that would well suit the needs of rural India today.

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22 thoughts on “Running Barefoot”

  1. The Barefoot College is such an interesting concept. It makes perfect sense.The code of conduct sums it up beautifully and I think, that it is applicable everywhere – be it rural or urban areas..

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  2. Besides this business of "approving" barefoot running, from time to time, they also come up with the thing about "walking barefoot on grass" and say its good for you. In most African and Asian countries, running somewhere barefoot was a necessity, and not an athletic statement. And running, per se, has never been part of an Asian lifestyle. In the sense , that most of the household exercise,(bending, stretching, twisting) was achieved through housework and fieldwork without automatic implements. And its very clear that the footwear companies are succeeding very well in business today. Majority of Indian youth invest in high end shoes for show; so few actually run. Like everything else (neem, turmeric), we will latch on to something which was actually ours, after we get it from the west. The Barefoot College seems a truly laudable concept. Hopefully our politicians will understand it.

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  3. I think we have forgotten that Milkha Singh ran barefoot in the 1960 Olympics when he broke the record but came fourth. India's hockey team too played barefoot for a number of years as did our football team in the Helsinki Olympics of 1952.I have read somewhere that one must walk barefoot on grass every morning; helps improve eyesight. But I have never heard of the Barefoot College at all. Its goals make a lot of sense.

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  4. Barefoot can be soothing, more grounded so to speak except in cases where the earth is strewn with hazardous matter or thorny.If nothing else at least the soles will come to some good.

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  5. Smitha– Yes, it is interesting, isn't it? I wonder why I never read about it before now.Ugich Konitari– Now that you mention it- I think that is true- running has never been part of our lifestyle, unlike Africa perhaps.Yes, footwear companies should be doing well- considering the price of sport shoes, etc!

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  6. Vinodji– I did not know that Milkha Singh also ran barefoot in the 1960 games when he just missed the bronze medal.It is such a shame that Indian athletes in sports other than cricket had to put up with such hardships- and frequently still do.Anil P– Welcome!Yes, I suppose running barefoot would be soothing and seem more natural.

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  7. I am hearing about this Barefoot College for the first time, Manju. I liked their Code of Conduct. These points, if applied, will give good results to our future generation, at least.Walking barefoot on grass, beach sand etc. is good for health, my mother used to say. I think the olden days' practice of going to the temple in the morning and making 3, 5, 7, 9…21 pradhakshinas(rounds) is one way of exercise, esp. for old people. Their will power will help them, because they are doing it for their gods.

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  8. I was planning a post on the same topic! There was this article in The Mint quoting Mike Stroud – British Physician in his book Survival of the Fittest, who has said that humans are not suited for cold climate and if they had not moved to cooler climes, would not even have needed shoes for their feet. And some amazing facts – quarter of our bones in the body are in the feet, 26 on each foot. They have 33 joints, more than 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons and 250000 sweat glands to cool them. These are made redundant when one wears shoes. The soles contain more nerve endings than any other part of the body. The ankle serves as a shock absorber. So the author of the article( Rajat Chauhan ) asks whether we were designed to walk barefoot. And a lot of hype is because of footwear companies trying to sell their products. Just like they say the beauty pageants and the crowning of queens from India is to promote sale cosmetics in the third world. Ah well!

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  9. Excuse the long comment.. I knew nothing of this and this is very interesting.. I have one incident to relate from personal life and it will interest you surely manju if you remember an earlier post.. I was in 11th when I was to sprint for 100 meters from our school… in Bharuch City.. I won and represented at District Level.. where all runners from all the taluka;s came… incidentally a taluka Dediapada which was a very backward village then the taluka had lots of wide spread village with the area with the bus stop hardly having about 2000 as their population.. they had a Missionary school, St Xaviers. The sprinter from their school and I stood next to each other.. his name was Jason Vasava …while I sported by sandoz vest and shorts in bare foot from a city… !!! He stood glowing in spikes and a proper runner vest and shorts something that people use in actual sports and athletic competitions… !!!! dunno if it relates but I had to tell this… the facilities the missionary schoools provided to these kids in villages was AWESOME !!!!!

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  10. Sandhya– I think you are right- the practice of making pradakshinas must be for the purpose of exercise. Seems many of our rituals had a scientific purpose.BTW- Nikhil Mundra on his blog explains the science behind Hindu rituals. Do have a look.Radha– The article sounds very interesting. Do write the post- I'm sure it will be quite different from this one.I agree about the hype just being sales tactics!

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  11. i do walk barefoot whenever i am on grass and love to walk barefoot where i can. – the sand on the beach or the sand dunes – it feels like t the feet is singing a song :)radha brings up some great points growing up my father walked bare foot not out of choice, but of necessity. it was expensive for his farmer father to buy chappals for him.but one is always scared that there is broken glass somewhere in the grass. don't you think. where we stay – many have picnics on the grass and have beer or wine and sometimes the bottle or glass accidentally break and it is left there – that prevents me manytimes. the tar on the road can only scorch your feet during walking – hence my grandfather who walked barefoot late into his 60's started wearing footwear.

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  12. Barefoot college indeed seems like something. I have been trying running for sometime now. And i can tell you, it is tough. With shoes et al !Barefoot will take it to another level. On another note, i am quite impressed with the code of conduct. Especially point number one !Wish it was part of every human on this planet..

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  13. to me its coming back to roots..first we go westwards in the name of progress and then when they look to us , we comeback to our roots..be it herbal medicine, cosmetics or this bare foot.

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  14. Anrosh– Yes, there is the possibility of injuring your feet while walking on the grass.I read about 'Five Fingers' shoes/slippers which are advertised to be like walking barefoot, but protect your feet. Have you seen these?Kavi– Are you still keeping up your running pratice? Good for you!Yes, I was impressed with their code of conduct, too. I wonder how successful it is practically? I would really like to hear from someone who knows about this Barefoot College personally!Antarman– I agree, we come back to our roots via the west!

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  15. yes manju, i have seen these with people who hike/run in the woods.but did not know the name and nor have i stopped anyone to ask what it is. i will have to check these out myself in the store sometime – will let you know

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  16. This was informative, Manju ji. As Mr. Sharma mentioned, India's flying Sikh Milkha Singh ran barefoot and so did many at that time. I can't walk barefoot but now I have a place in our garden where I have put some stones and I walk on it barefoot as an exercise. Actually it works similar to acupressure and gives huge relief to some nerves.

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  17. Very interesting read..nd Indian were walking barefoot for a long time.. nd they say applying pressure on your foot is good for your health.."Have respect for collective, traditional knowledge, beliefs, wisdom and practices of the community."sadly this respect comes only when someone outside India promotes it…

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  18. Mavin– Yes, I thought the idea of the Barefoot College interesting, too. And they appear to be trying to address pressing needs of the local rural people. Happy Kitten– Yes, many agree that walking barefoot is good for your health. Difficult to do so in the cities, though.It must have been easier in earlier days…

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