We spent a wonderful day in the company of the radiant Katy to talk about her books — "Walking Barefoot", "Move your DNA" and "Healthy Feet. Step by Step".
For decades we’ve been told that doing more sport is the way to go for an overall sense of well-being. But then along comes Katy saying that maybe it's not that simple? Maybe there's more to it than simply exhausting our bodies for the promise of better health?
As a biomechanist she digs beyond common practice, explores new areas of human movement and behaviour and challenges some of the basic ideas we’re all familiar with.
After a wild barefoot venture through mud, crushed (and smoothed!) glass, peat, acorns and tree bark, we had the privilege to sit down for a chat with Katy to talk about her unique perspective on what is the right movement for humans. Here are some of the topics that came up:
Image: Wildling Shoes | Maaike (Internationalisation), Katy and Melanie (Diversity) standing together
Hi Katy, thanks for a wonderful walk – how did you come to realize that barefoot is the way to go?
I've worked with so many people who suffer from knee pain, hip pain, back pain that seems to arise from posture issues. During the hard work on changing to a better pattern of movement, I noticed that the second they put their shoes back on, their bodies seemed to fall back, literally, into their old habits. It was becoming more obvious to me that shoes are a big part of many musculoskeletal problems.
I've also worked with women who suffered such excruciating pain in their feet that they couldn’t go for a simple walk because of it.
So I had this in mind, and we would go to the gym to strengthen this or that muscle in the upper body and legs. But what about our feet? Where can we exercise our feet? With so many muscles, joints, ligaments and nerve endings, putting them inside cast-like shoes seems a bad idea.
So over the years I developed numerous exercises, built around the movements we do while running barefoot - like a gym program, only designed for our feet – different kinds of movement and exterion, applied in a variety of ways.
The results were almost immediate.
But bare feet are only one part of what you call Natural or Nutritious Movement. Can you please elaborate on that a bit?
Sure, I believe that movement is a way to provide our bodies and brains with nutrition. And in a similar way, eating just one or two kinds of food, even if they are very nutritious, probably won't be ideal for our health. Doing one or two kinds of sport, like jogging for example, can have benefits, but will be lacking in some other way.
Just as our bodies need a wide range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, there is also a need for a wide range of exercise.
Interestingly enough, professional athletes who move repeatedly in the same way for years can suffer from the same symptoms shown by those who are generally sedentary.
I believe much of it has to do with modern shoes, which are restrictive and deformed, together with an almost sterile environment that is very monotonous and overprotective. So the result is movement that is limited to what is absolutely necessary, and even those few movements will be made in a way that changes how our body performs the functions it was designed for. A classic mismatch – our bodies are probably the most movable ones in the animal kingdom, yet we’re living in the most restrictive environment imaginable.
So natural movement involves moving outside, sitting on the ground and getting back up, walking longer distances, carrying things, climbing over or climbing on something.
Image: Wildling Shoes | Katy Bowman smiling, being in nature
What’s the difference between training and Natural Movement?
Intention – whether it's dancing, basketball, or even parcours, it’s done with the intention to get better, stronger. To improve a certain kind of discipline.
But when my daughter starts to dance on her way home, or throws pebbles, she's not trying to improve her throw, she's simply moving and letting her body do what its DNA tells it. Less consciously. And that's what's missing in everyday life – mentally and physically.
But if you take a closer look you'll find bringing this back to our daily routine is easier than you might think.
I find that one of the trickiest things to implement is making the point clear that "nutritious movement workout" is not an athletic program, but more of a mental attitude, and it’s my personal task to convey that.
Can you give us some tips and ideas based on natural movement that we can implement in everyday life for our kids and ourselves?
Sure thing! In our home, for example, we cleared out all our furniture, we've replaced our sofa with cushions, which creates more space. More space will naturally create more movement and less sitting around. Kids in particular will take advantage of this and will find their place in a more varied way, rather than sitting passively in a chair.
Also, simply get out of the house. Once you're out stuff happens. Whether it’s “only” a walk or some runs in between, discovering an interesting stone, getting to know the neighbor's dog, who knows? But going out the door is step one.
Maybe there’s a nice playground in your area? Always choose to walk there, even if it takes more time and even if it means you have to carry your kid part of the way. All the exertion you can find that is spontaneous and fun, can only do you good.
A small park or a simple green space offers countless opportunities for natural movement. The barriers regarding what to do and where are to a large extent mental ones, so try switching into child mode. Suddenly the options become clearer and are smiling at you from every corner. On a daily basis.
Thank you Katy for the wonderful time and inspiration!
Header Image: ©aralierae | A child in nature wearing minimal shoes