Barefoot isles


Our Family Experience of Barefooting

Описание изображения

The only beauty I know of is in health. 

Heinrich Heine

Welcome, my insightful reader! Why ‘insightful'? In fact, many friends would tell me not to produce any longreads. Common Internet users have a clip thinking. They only respond to pictures. They are not able to go into details or take any insight. They will not read your article.’ Well, I produce unusual things. That is why I decided I should not listen to my friends’ advice and write a text I wish all producers were writing for their clients.

My ‘High-Heeled’ Story

My 'high-heeled' story dates back to my teenage years. "A girl must wear high heels, it's feminine, it is beautiful!", my mother, who was a doctor, used to tell me. However, she herself 'stepped down' from the high heels around her 60-ies because of her valgus distorted feet that could not fit into any shoes. Heelpieces... high, medium height, stilettos, kitten heels, whatever! But they should have been at least 7-8 cm high! And for the whole day! Dress code, up on your feet all day, but keep your standards high until the very last moment - 'I am all woman!'

                                                                                                              (Photo: Tom Schierlitz) 

My flight was broken by sharp pain in the foot. ... I just couldn't step on it. The doctor carefully examined my feet, took a look on the X-ray and announced a verdict - lateral flat feet (transverse platypodia), spread foot, Hallux valgus, right big toe joint osteoarthrosis. Next followed the individual orthopaedic insoles and farewell to the heels... In addition, the doctor added to the insole 'kit' some massage and gymnastics.Frankly, I somehow got used to the problem. I can't massively fix it any more. You cannot turn back the tide. You just have to keep what you are left with at the moment, and prevent any acute conditions or progression.

By some quirk of fate, my kid also faced the problem with the feet. Due to growth and weight spurt, the arch of the foot with the still weak ligaments could not bare it and caved in. So far, she does not find it a problem, she does not feel any extra discomfort or pain, but I do know what the consequences might be in the future. That is why, after I consulted several orthopedic doctors and studied tons of research articles by different authors from all over the world, I got down to work to correct and prevent any possible future problems.

Some might say: "Why do we need to read about it, we don't have any health problems! We are OK!" To learn more, let us dig a little deeper into the problem. 

On the Evolution of Man, on Supinator Insoles, or 'Where Does it All Come From'

Researchers studied three different groups (Soto, Zulu, and Europeans) to compare feet of the representatives of these groups with each other, as well as with legs of 2000 year old skeletons. They concluded that before shoes were invented, human feet were more healthy. 

Ironically enough, but our modern ways signal to the body that our legs developed over millions of years of evolution are no longer needed. We are surrounded by flat surfaces: asphalt, concrete, laminated or tiled floor. They are comfortable to clean, to drive on, to build, and flop along. The ancient people didn't have it. We wear comfortbale and beautiful shoes on our feet, with a cup for a heel, with the support for the arch, with the amortization system, and with the movement management. However, no baby is born in the supinated sneakers. Neither with the body developed by millions of years of evolution fit for walking on asphalt or hardwood. Baby's feet are not meant for this because our ancestors used to walk a lot on different non-flat surfaces. 

Comfort addiction rules the world. We got used to comfort, we want more of it. At the same time, feet muscles get less and less physical activity, proprioceptive sensors are locked, big toe is immobilized by the shoes that make our feet move in a more uniform and unnatural way. 

Urbanized men are lulled asleep. As years go by, the foot is getting more lazy and deformed. Then, it all goes like in clockwork - as soon as a denticle in a gearwheel fails, the entire device goes off. A living organism works more complicated than clockwork. 

Few people realize that after the musculoskeletal system is deformed it takes long and expensive to resume. Anyway, at least orthopedists, vertebrologists and surgeons have a lifelong work supply.

Photo by unknown 

Progress crucially changed the way of life of the human species, being far ahead of natural development of the body. Sharp turn into the artificial flat surface world with little movement violates the harmony of subtly tuned system of the entire body engraved in the DNA. Some might claim "Everyone lives this way!" No, not everyone does. In the countries where there is firm understanding that prevention is cheaper than costly treatment methods, barefoot movement is gaining momentum. Popular footware producers are trying to change their production philosophy. As a matter of fact, active games, in the way they are played today, and how often, fail to make up for the variety of movement. There is little activity involved, it takes place on the flat surface, with the shoes on. Orthopaedist researchers admit that even the well promoted state-of-the-art shoes are unnatural for the body. They are rather a necessity that will never substitute barefooting.  

Exciting Barefooting In Your Home

So, what can be done at home? We can at least give our feet the smallest share of their true function, such as variety of surfaces, to make up for the deficit of roughness. The body is going to tuck up, the vestibular system is strengthened. Read on to learn about the importance of the developed vestibular system.






Ligaments are going to get activated, dozens of small and large muscles will be engaged, unlike earlier when they were fading in the shoes and on the flat surface. Even the blood pressure is going to drop 5 points lower.


But in the city, especially in wintertime, you won't go far. What's more, for the most part, there is no time to look for safe rough surface without broken glass or even disposed syringes around. From a practical point of view, it is hardly possible to create an area for regular natural barefooting on rough surfaces anywhere but home. The raised area for regular walking in one's house shall be a standard of healthy surfaces for all of the family. It shall be part of the culture of healthy lifestyles, the same as brushing your teeth every day. 

 The World Health Organization did their calculations and concluded that human health is defined by genetic factors by 20%. 25% is determined by environment, 15% depends on the level of health care. The other 40% depends on the conditions and lifestyles of people.

What is the Distinction?

 There is plenty of massaging and acupressure yoga mats. I was puzzled at their densely seated bulges of different height, often too sharp even for an adult, and their wooden rolls or plastic pebble immitators. The floor mats my daughter and I managed to test offered few opportunities to change the position of feet as to horizontal surface, as it usually happens in the orthopedic treatment and preventive physical exercises recommended by experts. Because of the many toeholds of little height difference between the bulges and the base, the body turned out to be weak. That is why many leg muscles did not get as active on such mats as needed. The ligaments hardly moved. The points on the foot were getting massaged. That's it! In most cases, massage is useful, but you should not expect that muscles and ligaments are going to work out. It is exactly what is needed to develop the arch of the foot. I thought hard. Then, I decided to make mats for my daughter myself. I shifted focus from acupressure to a more expressed orthopaedic effect combined with fun.

Another experience I got is that daily 15 min routine physical exercise did not make a kid enthusiastic. Also, I got tired of playing up every time. It takes years for feet to develop, though. In this case, the use of the mat should naturally and non-intrusively help train the feet and save time and effort of parents.

Please, note that according to modern approach of international orthopedic schools, insoles are not a panacea for mobile flat foot condition. We wear them where non-flat surfaces cannot be accessed. The mat is supposed to always be "on the way" for a child, to make up for the lack of natural roughness difficult to find in the city all year round.


Not Only Wolves Alone Live by Their Legs

Although, unlike children, adults skeleton is not developing so intensely, their muscles, ligaments, and the vestibular system should be even in a better shape than in children. We do need to keep fit and strong to put our kids on their feet and to fulfil ourselves. Elegant walk would come useful, too...


An integrated approach should stop or slow down the setback of the musculoskeletal system that is unavoidable for every person in urban setting. For example, my husband, with his injured meniscus, got more confident, especially in slippery winter weather. 

The feet of high heels fans can enjoy some rest on rough surfaces. And vice versa, those who rarely walk on high heels but wish to keep themselves fit to go out, will find it easier with flexible ligaments and well-trained muscles and the vestibular system.

People realize that investment in their health at a young age would pay back and enhance competitiveness when older. Those who managed to keep their health until the middle age, would cherish it further on. Parks are introducing paths with bulgy smooth stones for barefooting.

The role of the developed vestibular apparatus and fit muscles is very important in advanced age. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans aged 65 + fall down each year. Falling down is the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. Falls result in more than 2.3 million fall injuries treated in emergency departments, including over 650,000 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 deaths. Balance disorders and weakness are common causes of falls in the elderly. Walking on a cobblestone surface resulted in improvements in balance and physical performance among adults over 60, as well as a significant reduction in blood pressure.

Paths of 


How It Feels

 Since it is hardly possible to get a detailed opinion of 3-7 year-olds, I asked their parents to share their impressions on how it felt to walk barefoot on the mats, at the beginning, and after some time. To start, initially, some dads were quite skeptical before the trial run. Here's the compilation of reviews.

"When walking on the mat, a foot assumes positions impossible to get in the sneakers, even with the supinated insoles."

"When I started walking on the mats, I felt how the arch of the foot is caved in, how connective tissues of toe joints and ankle joints are working out and stretch, the same as lower leg muscles, and even thigh muscles."

"It feels unusual, new. Shortly after, your feet get used to the difference of the level of stones and the mat base, and they start taking the surface as absolutely natural."

"I feel my legs spring and bounce, when feet seem to embrace the smooth pebbles."

"You don't feel like getting off!" My legs feel the 'muscle joy', something like after a long work-out. The feet feel nice, soft, and warm. "Your feet feel light and forget the tension!"

"Over time, I noticed that I got to move more flexibly, bouncing, swift and confident. It's weird, but sometimes, your body needs so very little." 

The trial run participants just gave to their feet something natural, something that the modern world had so cruelly taken away.

The psychological effect

 Some massage mats are unsteady when pulled, the base would wrinkle. I decided to make the mats heavier and more steady on the floor. The commercial mats look rather poor in reality, as compared to the interior pictures. A child has a natural need to be found around interesting things. In our case, these are the mats with pictures, beetles, funny faces. Some of them are even getting more popular than others. They have a different psychologic effect and feel positive. The use of the mat looks like play time, rather than boring mandatory exercising session. By the way, as much as the child, I also need cozy reassuring things around that make me feel good and inspired.

First floor mats were tested by my family. Later it tried them with friends and the people I knew. Then, there was time for other people. The kids were just excited. They gladly stepped on the mats, you could not send them away. But it was not only about kids, adults turned out to like the kind of things, too. They just have not seen them before. Tired at work in the end of the day, with loads of psychological negative to add to physical fatigue, they were not merely working out their feet but also boosting their mood. It feels like when you look at positive and friendly images and smile back, the same as you react to lovely toys in the store.

 The mat can also be used as an efficient learning tool.



A modern day person who is tired of rubber, plastic and other artificial surrogates longs for natural and safe materials whenever possible. That is why the mats are made of jute or flax fabric, gypsum, safe paint, and eco-finish. 

To sum up:


Rough surface walking helps duly develop muscular-ligamentous system and the skeleton of children. For adults, it helps to keep fit and prevent problems in the musculoskeletal system. It can help reduce blood pressure and train the vestibular apparatus.

Bas-relief mats have unique features:

(a) they have blunt pebbles, with expressed level difference to better train foot muscles, toe muscles and legs in general.

(b) they are equipped with cushion base that can sufficiently absorb some pressure on the joints and makes your walking feel like stepping on the ground;

(c) they ensure regular impact that works in all seasons, in all weathers, and in busy schedules; 

(d) they improve your coordination due to three-dimensional perception. In addition to visual and vestibular information, bulges help the brain get more diverse signals from proprioceptive sensors, rather than in shoes, or barefoot on flat surface. 

(e) they are more natural and accessible in use as compared to special training devices. They are an integral part of exercises. It saves time and parents' temper. 

(f) they contain important elements of art therapy - play of imagination, captivation, and color therapy. 

(g) eco-friendly, base cover is made of natural jute or flax, artisic pebbles are made of gypsum painted with water based paint and varnish

(h) they are handmade - sewing, molding, painting, etc.

The mats are not a magic pill for all diseases. But they can surely help prevent problems.


One does not have to wait for a sound of thunder to believe in wonder. An integrated approach, regularity and systematic application can give much bigger results – health of the system in general. For example, an elegant posture, gracious gait, healthy brain blood circulation, etc.

I'm sure that my floor mats can be useful and enjoyable not olny for my family but also could help other people and be a true decoration of their homes.