Let’s face it: I’m not going to walk barefoot in New York. Neither are you. We’re going to wear shoes. So even if shoes are the enemies of our feet, what have we really learned?
When I met with Amy Matthews, my standing-up-properly guru, I found out that, as a yoga teacher, she goes barefoot when she can, and the rest of the time she wears supportive shoes like Keens or Merrells. “The most important thing is to change up your shoes as much as possible,” she says. “And let your foot do the walking rather than your shoe do the walking.” Even Galahad Clark still makes and sells regular shoes along with Vivos because, as he says, there are a whole host of reasons people buy shoes, most of which have nothing to do with comfort. So weaning people—especially New Yorkers—off shoes is “a bit like trying to wean people off sex. It ain’t going to happen,” he says. “My girlfriend loves to put on heels at night. Then the next day she puts her Vivos back on, to recover.”
What you can do, though, is stop taking walking for granted and start thinking of it like any other physical activity: as something you can learn to do better. Don’t think of your feet as fleshy blocks to be bound up or noisy animals that need to be muzzled. (Oh, my barking dogs!) In one of the Rush Medical College knee-adduction experiments, barefoot walking yielded the lowest knee load, but a flat sneaker, like a pair of Pumas, also offered significantly less load than the overly padded walking shoes.
My new Vivo Barefoots aren’t perfect—they’re more or less useless in rain or snow, and they make me look like I’m off to dance in The Nutcracker. But when I don’t wear them now, I kind of miss them. Not because they’re supposedly making my feet healthier, but because they truly make walking more fun. It’s like driving a stick shift after years at the wheel of an automatic—you suddenly feel in control of an intricate machine, rather than coasting on cruise control. Now I better understand what Walt Whitman meant when he wrote (and I hate to quote another Transcendentalist, but they were serious walking enthusiasts): “The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections.”
It might be hard to imagine that the press of your foot to the New York pavement could yield anything other than pain or disgust. But if you free your mind, and your feet, you might find yourself strolling through a very different New York, the one Whitman rightly described as a city of “walks and joys.”