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by Tao, Carrboro, NC
I’ve always told my yoga students that the worst thing that ever happened to our feet was the invention of really, really sturdy shoes. We became addicts, buying expensive running, biking, walking shoes and our feet became weaker and less flexible. We bought shoes and arch supports to correct supination or pronation and/or many of the other things that feet are usually meant to do. In fact, a recent article in the NY Times says, “the injury rate among runners is virtually unchanged since the 1970s, when the modern running shoe was introduced. Some ailments, like those involving the knee and Achilles’ tendon, have increased.”
Although I highly covet my hiking boots, I go minimalist on my other shoes and make sure to be barefoot when possible. Of course, yoga is a great prevention and cure for foot health (and much much more) and can balance out the effects of time spent in shoes, if done consisitently (that would be close to everyday, yoginis!). As a teacher, I’ve seen weak or fallen arches come back, bunions disappear and ankles straighten. Once your feet are doing what they’re supposed to, your entire body will feel better. My own feet are genetically a bit wacky (dropped metatarsals) but after starting yoga, the pain that used to cause is 100% gone, despite the fact that I still run, jump and play on them.
But it sounds like I could do even more for my feet, like toss (recycle, actually), my cushy running shoes – there’s a group of runners who advocate running barefoot – claiming that foot, knee and other issues disappear when the feet have natural form and function. Go slow and you can build up your soles to handle trails or pavement, or you can opt (and splurge) on the back to basics design of the new shoes that protect your skin but allow you the benefits of being bare. I found the five-toe styles a bit too ridiculous to look down at, but I admit to loving the styles of Terra Plana, a shoe company which also strives for eco-sustainability.
Not a cheap price tag on the latest and greatest, but when it comes to shoes, I like to keep just a few pair of sturdy, functional shoes around that I wear for years at a stretch, instead of a closet full of fad followers, so in the end, it makes sense. Wearing Earth shoes the past several years (with recessed or “negative” heel design) already has me convinced that elevating our heels in shoes is not logical for our feet or spines, so it’s not a big stretch to take the next step to a more natural gait in another way.
What is the moral of the story? Our bodies know what they are doing and our technology is not always as smart as we think it is. It’s going to be more and more logical and important to think nature-based not only when it comes to our environment, but our health and bodies, too.
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As you might guess, minimalist footwear means just what the name implies: the absolute minimal covering you can get by with short of leaving your feet naked. Typically, the underside of this style of shoe is very thin and flexible, made of some kind of fabricated (and usually puncture-resistant) rubber just a few millimeters thick. There’s no heel, no midfoot cushioning, no arch support, and nothing to give the shoes structure; in fact, most shoes of this variety can be rolled upon themselves like a sleeping bag.
There’s a lot of variation in this category of footwear, however, with some models designed for running, and others for everyday use. Some of the more prominent players are:
Vivo Barefoot: A small subdivision of Terra Plana, which is itself an eco-friendly offshoot of the very successful Clark brand footwear. They emphasize socially responsible manufacturing and have the most extensive product line among minimalist shoemakers. Some of their styles are formal enough to be worn to church or at the office, while others are perfect for casual get-togethers. They don’t have a running-specific model yet, but are developing a line of performance shoes scheduled for release in spring of 2010.
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My latest adventure climbing through the jungles of the World Wide Web sent me in search of the ever elusive eco-shoe… (and here’s the catch) that is actually cute. A few clicks and not-quite-rights later, I stumbled upon Terra Plana. The script read right for the eco part of eco-couture- “Inspired by ecological survival, TERRA PLANA believes in a variety of non-generic products supporting ideas of sustainability: lightness, anatomic design, disassembly and durability,” but could these shoes walk the catwalk?
In my humble opinion the answer is yes yes and yes. On top of that, I think that these peep toe sling-back high heels you see up top could hop right off the catwalk and make the walk to work with their recycled memory foam lining. High heels with memory foam lining? Recycled??? We really are getting somewhere, folks.
What made these shoes my favorite, if anyone was asking, is that they pack a colorful punch and ecological soul power from incorporating recycled Pakistani quilts in their upper. This makes each of these gorgeous ladies unique in their own way, as if they weren’t unique enough already.
Terra Plana makes mens and kids shoes too, as well as a series that mocks what it’s like to go barefoot, so you can get the health benefits of walking the way nature intended (without exposure to all that street funk you don’t need between your toes). With at least one part of every shoe design coming from recycled material and an attention to wise and healthy material use, Terra Plana aims to come closer to the true sustainable shoe with each collection. Now that’s something to put on your party shoes and dance to.