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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

No shirt, No shoes, No service.

"No shirt, no shoes, no service." It's a common enough sign in store windows and other establishments, though, who would ever be seen without shoes? Shoes are essential to civilized life, and they bring with them a distinctly civilized manner of walking: lock the knee, and brace a controlled fall on the heel; roll the foot forward, rocking into another locked-knee heel-fall. It's difficult to walk any other way while wearing shoes, and you'll often find this described as the way humans walk. But of course, humans are not born with shoes on, nor did we evolve in shoes. Every human begins walking a different way, and needs to be meticulously trained to walk like this.
Cover of The Tracker, vol. 4, no. 1

Cover of The Tracker magazine, vol. 4, no. 1, published in 1985, illustrates fox walking.

Tom Brown, Jr. put it quite starkly: "Our walk is devastating, not natural. Little babies have shoes like cement boots. Our feet are ruined from the first step we take in shoes." Walking barefoot, most of us naturally adopt a very different step: the knees are bent, rather than locked; the outside ball of the foot touches the ground to test it first, before applying any weight; then, if it's safe, we roll the rest of the ball in and flatten the heel; only then does the weight come down. This is what Tom Brown and his students called "fox walking."

This kind of walking can be difficult for people who've spent much of their lives in shoes. It uses muscles that "cow walking" has allowed to atrophy, perhaps most notably the gluteus maximus.1 The largest muscle in the human body is barely involved in civilized walking, but exercised with each step in a "fox walk." It is similar to the "empty stepping" of t'ai chi.2 You might also notice similarities to models on the catwalk; we still have an innate response to this kind of walking as "sexy." This kind of walking will reduce the strain on your body and the damage to the countryside you walk over; beyond ecological footprint, it will lighten your own body's footprint. Children who learn to walk like this can walk much farther.

Corns, bunyans, and in-grown toenails can only grow inside the dark dampness of shoes. We have to watch where we step, and even so frequently step on people or hazards like nails, thumbtacks or just sharp, pointy rocks. We trip, fall and have accidents because the very first movement in the "cow walk" commits our total weight to the step. Fox walking commits weight only at the end, after the foot has touched the ground and knows what's there. For that reason alone, fox walking practically eliminates the accidents, trips, falls and other problems we so often encounter in our "cow walk." Moreover, fox walking develops a keen sense of balance that cow walking neglects.3 There are more systemic health problems associated with it beyond accidents, though. With each step in our normal "cow walk" we pound our legs into the earth, sending shocks up the leg and into the lower back. Back pain and foot pain follow from that kind of constant pressure; fox walking helps alleviate both.

Fox Walking has affected me in several simple but profound ways. When fox walking my lower back, which was injured, seems to relax and in turn relieves the pain. Even more profound is the feeling of soft energy currents that seem to flow down my legs. I feel my feet make contact with the ground in a new and pleasurable way. The energy literally flows from my feet into the ground. With this new grounding of the energy to the earth it brings with it a new awareness or "contact" both with my own body sensations and my surroundings. In this relaxed and energetically flowing state I simply function in the moment, in the pulsation as it were. Not thinking in the future or in the past and not thinking at all as we normally think of thinking. The fox walk is like what church people call walking in grace, a feeling of gratitude in each step, an intense alive feeling, a deep understanding that comes from your entire organism.

The subjective difference between fox walking and regular walking is analogous to two men at work. One man hates his work from 8 to 5 and dreads the thought of ever coming back. He leaves work at five exhausted and without experiencing any pleasure in his day. The second man loves his work, does not want to leave after 8 hours, is in the groove, and has more energy after work than he did when he started. Being "in the groove", so to speak, with fox walking might shed some light as to why the Indian scouts could fox walk or fox run such long distances, and not only not be tired, but be exhilarated at the end. It was not simply that they were in good shape but that they were energetically "in the groove" or "pulsation". (Akido is another clear example of this.)4

There is certainly plenty of accounts of native populations that could perform feats that seem almost superhuman to us with our modern "cow walk." In his 1966 Gospel of the Redman, Ernest Thompson Seton, who largely started the "Scouting" movement (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts), wrote:

The most famous runner of ancient Greece was Pheidippides, whose record run from Athens to Sparta was 140 miles in 36 hours. Among our Indians, such a feat would have been considered very second-rate. In 1882, at Fort Ellice, I saw a young Cree who, on foot, had just brought in despatches from Fort Qu'Appelle (125 miles away) in 25 hours. It created almost no comment. I heard little from the traders but cool remarks like, "a good boy", "pretty good run". It was obviously a very usual exploit, among Indians. The two Indian runners, Thomas Zafiro and Leonicio San Miguel, ran 62 1/2 miles, i.e. from Pachuca to Mexico City, in 9 hours, 37 minutes, November 8, 1926, according to the El Paso Times, February 14, 1932. This was 9 1/4 minutes to the mile. The Zunis have a race called, "Kicked Stick." In this, the contestants each kick a stick before them as they run. Dr. F. W. Hodge tells me that there is a record of 20 miles covered in 2 hours by one of the kickers. The Tarahumare mail carrier runs 70 miles a day, every day in the week, carrying a heavy mailbag, and he doesn't know that he is doing an exploit. In addition, we are told: "The Tarahumare mail carrier from Chihuahua to Batopiles, Mexico, runs regularly more than 500 miles a week; a Hopi messenger has been known to run 120 miles in 15 hours."

If our modern walk is maladaptive, then this begins to make sense; rather than such feats being superhuman, we can see that they are perfectly human, and it is we, domesticated humans, who have been diminished. And why not? Homo sapiens has been as finely tuned to bipedalism as a shark to hunting underwater.

The noted anthropologist Frederick Wood-Jones states, "Man's foot is all his own and unlike any other foot. It is the most distinctive part of his whole anatomical makeup. It is a human specialization; it is his hallmark, and so long as man has been man, it is by his feet that he will be known from all other creatures of the animal kingdom. It is his feet that will confer upon him his only real distinction and provide his only valid claim to human status." To that, Donald C. Johanson, paleoanthropologist and chief of the Institute of Human Origins, Berkeley, California, adds, "Bipedalism is what made us human," Thus, man stands alone because only man stands.5

Horses and dogs can easily beat humans in an initial sprint, but over long distances, humans prevail as endurance runners by keeping up our pace long after faster animals have stopped.5 Many hunter-gatherers, particularly before atlatl, bows or slings, ran their prey to death. The key to such feats is walking properly, the way we evolved to walk. That largely means walking barefoot; it is almost impossible to fox walk in shoes, and when barefoot, most of us naturally begin to slide into fox walking. It is certainly possible to fox walk in shoes, although some have compared that feat to teaching the deaf to speak, since you lack the tactile feedback of the nerve endings in your feet. The physiological effect of shoes is similar to that of a cast.

Shoes act like casts, holding the bones of the foot so rigid that they can't move fluidly, Steven Robbins [MD and adjunct associate professor of mechanical engineering at Concordia University, Montreal] explains. "The foot becomes passive from wearing shoes and loses the ability to support itself."6

A comparison of wild and domesticated human feet

A comparison of wild and domesticated human feet. Notice any familiar differences? Source

Another doctor describes his own revelation about the effect shoes have on the human foot:

At last I began to understand the cause of fallen arches and the origin of foot trouble. With his toes continually pressed together in his shoes, his body had to improvise a brace—instead of leaning on his weakened, squeezed-together toes, the inner sides of his feet were turned outward for balance. I realized then why people persist in leaning on their strained inner arches, which were never meant to support continuous leaning, and why they have to push off painfully from their arches instead of their toes, at the end of each step.
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