Barefoot Running Part II – Graphic Evidence

One would think a foot is a foot. But not so. If you had never worn shoes in your life, your own foot might be unrecognizable to you because it certainly wouldn’t look like the foot you use today.

20179356-ILCMA Feet Shoes












In 1905 an orthopedist wrote an article entitled “Conclusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing People”.

Using photos from his paper as a reference, we are providing two sketches. The sketch A shows the foot of a man who had been wearing the classic dress shoe of his time. When comparing the shape of his shoe to the shape of his foot, we can see that the shoe itself became a kind of mold. (Hoffman)

Ready for a visually breathtaking comparison to someone who had never worn shoes and lived close to the earth? Sketch B illustrates the foot a Bagobo tribesman who had never worn shoes.

The first response of a westernized shoe wearer might be “Ugh–how primitive.” But that would be the point. Feet were designed to be in connection with the earth. Nowhere else in the human body will you find 26 bones, 33 joints and myriads of muscles, tendons and ligaments designed to marvelously adapt to a changing terrain under a load.

In Part I: The Incredible Human Foot of this series, we delved into the evolution of the human need (perceived or otherwise) for footwear. This article continues a bit further along these lines. The difference between a more “original model” foot that is shaped by its direct contact with the earth and a foot that bears the wear and tear of a mold causes us to consider when and how we shoe our ourselves and our children.

“Shoes are the problem. No matter what type of shoe. Shoes are bad for you.” (Sternbergh)

This quote rather shocked me when I read it a few years ago because it was made by Galahad Clark, a member of the Clark family long known for creating comfortable shoes and founder of his own successful shoe company, Terra Planna. Clark was one of the first on the scene with the natural shoe. When a team that included an Alexander Technique teacher proposed a shoe that was micro thin, Clark began production.

It seems like Hoffman, the 1905 orthopedist, already knew what we are discovering: there are pluses and minuses to covering the foot.

If you read Part I, you already know my position is not either/or but both. Yet, I am inclined to believe that most of us (myself included) wear shoes far more of the day than is helpful for a healthy skeletal system and perhaps even mental state.

How much of the day do you wear shoes or go barefoot? What are your thoughts on children and shoes? If you are a runner, have you been exploring the barefoot running possibilities? We enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Part III?  Coming in a few days.

By the way, the 1905 article is well worth reading.  It takes a while to load but follow the reference below if more interests you. It also contains more graphic evidence through pictures.

____________________Cynthia Allen is a Feldenkrais Practitioner and Bones for Life Teacher/Trainer. She is co-creator of the Integral Human Gait Theory and teacher of Gait for Wild Human Potential workshops. ___________________


Read Part I and Part III of this series.



Hoffman, P. (1905). Conclusions drawn from a comparative study of the feet of barefooted and shoe-wearing peoples, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 2 (3), 105-136.

Sternbergh, A. (2008, April 21) You walk wrong.

Retrieved 01/15/10 from


The Elegant Squat | Free Video

by Cynthia M. Allen, GCFP, BFLT/T

If you think sitting on a toilet or at a desk or watching TV is a luxury, think again. Squatting may be a human’s friend.

“Did I hear you right?!”

You sure did. That pelvic floor of yours is missing nature’s natural workout. But there is more…squatting maybe helping with bone density. The action of getting up and down is one if the most intense anti-gravity movements a human can do. When your brain feels the required power to get you up and down, it builds muscle which exert tension on the bones of the leg and pelvis and lower back. A entire cascade of chemical messages respond to say, “Hey this person is serious about needing his bones. Let’s make sure he has good ones.”

Edward Tanner, author of “Our Own Devices — The Past and Future of Body Technology” shares:

“The spread of chair-sitting may reflect world prosperity, but it also may be hazardous to our health. Chair-level societies have higher rates of varicose veins; sitting to defecate seems to promote hemorrhoids. Japanese children who have grown up kneeling on tatami mats and using traditional squat toilets have higher thighbone densities than others, and Japan has half the thighbone fractures seen in Western countries.

And although the Japanese have lower calcium intake and lower bone density than Westerners, they experience only 40 percent the rate of American hip fracture.

Some Japanese scientists believe that frequent kneeling and rising of the older generation of Japanese along with exercise of the pelvic musculature in traditional toilets, have developed both strength and agility that persist in old age…”

In Bones for Life, we gradually and safely restore the capacity to squat. From getting up and down from the floor to simply rising from the toilet or getting out of a low riding car, the fundamentals of an elegant squat are needed. We also have a series of lessons for the pelvic floor. We have ways to help virtually anyone improve their health in this area.

Moshe Feldenkrais said one cure for chronic constipation was squatting for elimination. It is interesting how us humans sometimes evolve against nature’s patterns. However having the experience of traveling to countries where even public toilets require squatting, I agree this would help a great many Americans.

From my Feldenkrais perspective, incontinence; erectile dysfunction; groaning while getting up and down; poor elimination; and bad bones are all connected to the elegant squat.

The Squat Song
from Denise Kaufman on Vimeo.

Barefoot Running Part I

BarefootRunningDuring the last couple years, barefoot running has become a hot topic. If you are following social media, you may be seeing tweet after tweet on the topic. In view of my interest in reconnecting individuals to a life-supporting gait or walk, I’ve decided to join the discussion with an attempt to shine an integral light on the subject.

The discussion really revolves around the fact that shoes didn’t come with the original make and model. Obviously, many things in this world are not part of the original human structure. Walking sticks, gloves, bras, and jock straps, like shoes, were invented to support and/or protect the human being. And like most things, there is a time and place for them.

As a somatic educator, I’ve had an interest in the topic for a while now, and especially since the day when I asked a new client with balance problems to remove her shoes for a private Feldenkrais® session. The 80-something-year-old woman began to sob as she told me could not stand without shoes. Her balance—what little of it she had left—would be gone.

I was struck by both the statement and by the palpable fear she had of going without shoes. It is a fear I have witnessed more than a handful of times in the years since this touching moment.  Considering the number of people I see who have deformed, painful feet, it is hard not to ponder why conditions such as bunions, hammer toes and stress fractures are so common. Shoes have long seemed to me to be one of the likely culprits. Of course the waywe walk makes a huge impact, but what we wear also changes the way we walk.

Are shoes a convenience with a bite?
Maybe. In 2009, researchers compared barefoot and shod runners. They found that the knees of the runners in shoes experienced over 36% more impact than the knees of the life-long barefoot runners. (Kerrigan, et al, 2009) Surprisingly, this showed a greater effect than earlier research that found a 20-26% increase in knee torque when walking with high heeled shoes.

Before I jump onto the barefoot- for-all bandwagon, it’s important to note that the creation of shoes began a long time before Nikes came along, and even a long time before Native Americans fashioned moccasins. According to paleoanthropological evidence, shoes came on the scene about 40,000 years ago. See the oldest recovered shoe.

There is even a theory that footwear was sported by the creative Neanderthal. Archeologist Erik Trinkhaus proposes that some Middle Paleolithic feet display changes in the toes consistent with “localized mechanical insulation from ground reaction forces during heel-off and toe-off.” According to Trinkhaus, this means the use of shoes. (Trinkaus, 2005)

The Nukaks, a nomadic Amazonian tribe, left the Colombian jungle in 2006, apparently driven out by drug wars. Among the Nukak’s modern civilization wish list: Pots, pants, shoes, and caps. A young mother, named Bachanede, said, “When you walk in the jungle your feet hurt a lot.”(Forero, 2006)

This seems to fly in the face somewhat of the recent studies which herald the biomechanical benefits of barefoot running. But it leads us back to the age-old truth that the more we grow, the more we know: Either/or answers seldom hold up under scrutiny. We are generally healthier when we sometimes use option A, other times option B, and occasionally option C.

Truly, the engineering of the human foot is literally the basis of the architecture that makes great and massive cathedrals possible. Moreover, because the foot has mobility, spring, and shape changing qualities, it contains characteristics of which architects can only dream. But each time we surround the foot with a structure, we limit its shape changing quality. Yet, the impulse for footwear goes back a tremendously long time, which begs the question, “Why?” Or perhaps the most important question is, “When does protection or support cross the line and become too much, and in what contexts?”

Biological beings are continually remaking their own physical structure according to patterns of use. Thus it seems obvious that what we wear on our feet has an impact on the structure of the foot, and really on the entire human being. For the elderly woman who cried in my office, I am inclined to think of her situation as a foot binding that over time truly limited her options. Previous use of footwear to address her concerns about ankle and knee stability eventually became a chronic solution that also resulted in a whole host of problems, including a real balance challenge with or without shoes.

In my role in coaching others on how to improve their movement, I find again and again that the second most important thing I do is this: to help people explore options, and to help them discover which is the best option for a given situation in a constantly changing world. Compassion for the fchallenge of being human and not knowing is the first.

Cynthia Allen is Feldenkrais(r) Practitioner and Bones for Life(r) Teacher/Trainer. She is co-creator of the Integral Human Gait(tm) Theory and teacher of Gait for Wild Human Potential workshops.

Read Part II and Part III of this series.



Forero, J. (2006, May 11). Amazonian tribe suddenly leaves jungle home. Retrieved January 11, 2011, from

Kerrigan, D. C. et al (2009). The effect of running shoes on lower extremity joint torques,PM&R: The journal of injury function, and rehabilitation, 12, 1058-63.

Lieberman, D. E. et al, 28 (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners, Nature, 463 (1), 531-535.

Trinkaus, E. (2005). Anatomical evidence for the antiquity of human footwear use. Journal of Archaeological Science, 32(10), 1515-1526.

Posted January 12 2011, 11:29 AM  by Integrative Learning Center


by Cynthia M. Allen  (first published at Integrative Learning Center; used by permission)

CarolMontgomerAfricanWaterCarrierThis has become a favorite phrase in the Bones for Life community. And why not? Look at the apparent ease with which the woman at left carries her load.Of course, it isn’t easy, yet studies show Luo and Kikuyu women are supremely well organized, even outperforming male U.S. soldiers with loaded rucksacks. She can carry up to 20% of her body weight on her head before she begins to need more oxygen or burn additional calories.

Carrying a Load for Free. Just to put this in context, if you weigh 150 pounds, this means you would be carrying 30 pounds. Can you imagine balancing even 20 pounds on your head and, say, walking around the block? Much less without needing additional air? Scientists call the capacity to carry this weight without needing more air “carrying for free.” In fact, she may add to her load up to 50% or more of her body weight and head into town. While her “free energy” zone has been passed, she will still carry her load at a lower metabolic cost to herself than to you or even to our beloved Army guys and gals.

skeletonWalk Like an Upside-Down Pendulum. In the 1990s gait researchers mapped the movement of the human center of mass in space and discovered the trajectory is like that of an upside-down pendulum swinging. Instead of a curve down, it curves upward with the crest being at the point when you are completely balanced on one foot and the other foot has lifted away from the ground and is swinging forward.

Rhythm Matters. In the change over between steps, most of us will lose height faster than we gain speed with a few millisecond lurch. But loaded African women pause less in the middle of the step and in fact some women do not pause at all. Another way to say it might be that the rhythm of the walk is uninterrupted.
Unfortunately we don’t have access to any video to include in this newsletter. But the grace and ease of the live motion is truly stunning to see. The beauty of such an efficient load bearing walk caught the attention of Ruthy Alon some years ago along with two other factoids of the time: West African women had low fracture rates (statistics still support the low fracture rates–see table below) and low bone densities (these studies need to be validated).

2004 Report from the World Health Organization Estimated percentage of osteoporotic fractures,in men and women aged 50 years or older, by region:

Region Percentage
Africa .8
Americas 15.7
Southeast Asia 17.4
Europe 34.8
Eastern Mediterranean 2.9
Western Pacific 28.6


The reason Africans have significantly lower fracture rates than Americans is likely multi-variant. Climate, diet, genes, bone geometry, daily movement requirements and movement patterns are all possible, even likely,contributors. In Bones for Life® we take the position that it sure couldn’t hurt to be more active in our daily life and to move in the direction of a free energy gait pattern. Alon studied the alignment and the gait of African women, and created movement exercises in her Bones for Life® program that allow us to incorporate aspects of this unique organization as our bodies find it useful. When skeletal alignment, stability and flexibility in the curves of spine, and rhythm improve, there is less loss of energy between steps. That is, the peak moment of rest in the pendulum swing is more fully converted back into energy. You are no longer falling as you walk but remaining tall and balanced.

A Bones for Life® class is for anyone. Take it to walk with elegance and ease. Take it to improve bones and joint health. Take it Because There is No Pill for Posture.


Happiness – A Feldenkrias® side-effect?

By Cynthia Allen

Imagine free falling in space while hearing whispers in the ether that change your life. This is how it began, or maybe it is the middle of the story.

Though successful in my career in medical management, as I turned 30 the physical and emotional pain which had been present since early childhood was increasingly hard to ignore. Out of sheer desperation (my best teacher, frankly) I turned towards finding new ways to care for myself, first through psychotherapy and then through massage, spiritual direction, energetic healing and shamanic practice. All opened a new world of possibility, one in which past trauma and harsh religious beliefs began to lose their hold on me. I felt that maybe there was some grace in this world after all, and some reason for me to choose to live in it.

I had begun to grow into the person I truly was meant to be. Yet, despite this new portal, physical pain was still very limiting and, truthfully, I still didn’t believe happiness was possible.

During this time, I was blessed to be referred to the Feldenkrais Method by several people. It took a couple years before I actually attended a class and the impact was immediate. While I disliked the class, my sleep after that first night was filled with a healing luminous butterfly unwinding along my spine. I continued attending classes off and on over the next year. Eventually I was handed an application for a training program that would soon begin in Northern Kentucky. As Larry and I got in our car that evening with me clutching a blank application, I spoke with a halting, emotion filled voice, “Oh my gosh, I am coming home.”

I wan’t yet enjoying the classes but the benefits were too hard too ignore. Although I was about to begin a training program, I actually knew very little about the work. In fact I didn’t even know I would be training to use my hands to help other people. However I did know that the calling to use this work in at least my own life was too strong to ignore.

During the next four years of training, I gradually became more physically comfortable. I even had my first clear thought of happiness while driving on Winton road on a windy, sunny summer day. I was smiling and heard myself say out loud “I am happy.” It was a shocking and blissful moment.

One night I had the most delicious dream in which I was free falling in slow motion somersaults in Awareness Through Movement style while my shamanic teacher, Alberto Villodo along with Moshe Feldenkrais, and the father of modern hypnosis, Milton Erikson whispered, “You know….you know…” over and over. The dream lasted through the night and stays with me to this day.

Post traumatic flashbacks and nightmares decreased. I became able to trust myself and others. My creative spirit soared. I could walk through a grocery story without feeling like I wouldn’t make it. I even had energy at the end of the day for cooking and gardening.  My reactive nature began to decrease. Perhaps most importantly I was increasingly becoming a nicer person. To this day I would say this is one of the largest benefits for me. I am learning every day how to become a nicer person.

Eighteen years after beginning the Feldenkrais aspect of my journey, I am blessed to also continue improving in the physical realm at a time when others complain of feeling older with increased limitations.  The reason most people come to see me is for a specific physical ailment and I will be part of their journey for a very short time. Others may have a significant life-long challenge and may use The Feldenkrais Method for many years.

Among those that try this somatic approach, there will be a few that like myself will feel the depth of their own need and the power of this simple approach to help them grow beyond stuck, seemingly intractable walls. Like me they may not even enjoy those first classes. But to know oneself without judgment is an empowering thing and is curative in and of itself.


Video tutorial on functional, somatic rehab for people in wheelchairs

Over the past few years I have watched a fair number of rehab or restorative sessions in LTC facilities and outpatient clinics. These sessions have, more than not, been comprised of the patients doing upper body exercises with weights as a major portion of their occupational therapy and lower body strengthening exercises using resistance, usually therabands, and assisted standing and walking where possible for the physical therapy portion.

I also see, at times, the patient is left to do the repetitions without supervision or with few clues on how to do the movement safely. One could say that the patient already knows how to do the exercise but unfortunately this is not what I see from a biomechanic perspective.

Given that these appear to be the go to exercises, I asked myself how might I be able to help improve the quality of these exercises without asking therapists to do something entirely different. I believe good arguments could be made that these standard exercises are questionable in certain situations but I don’t want to argue that at this . Instead I wish to offer a way to make the chosen exercises safer, more valuable and start connecting all of them to standing and walking right from the get go.

I think this video provides that opportunity without intending to turn traditional therapists into Feldenkrais practitioners. The fast paced environments with incredible amounts of time spent on charting do not easily lend themselves to creativity in sessions, but perhaps there are ways we can get more with the resources that are available.

Besides the Feldenkrais Method, I have drawn on Bones for Life and the Integral Human Gait theory as well.

Let me know what you think. And if you find it worth while, please pass along. LTC rehab in particular needs support from my exposure here in Cincinnati although I think this is useable information for therapists in all environments. Personal trainers will also benefit. I am also offering a workshop in June on this topic. Let me know if you are interested.

Wheelchair Rehab with Feldenkrais Method from Future Life Now on Vimeo