Book reviews

Book Review: Whole Body Barefoot

Title : Whole Body Barefoot – Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear

Author: Katy Bowman

Date of Publication: 2015

Pages: 117

Availability: Yes, amazon may be evil, but I do love amazon prime next day delivery.  I wait impatiently for the delivery person, checking my mailbox incessantly, like a teenager waiting to catch a glimpse of Justin Bieber.  My excuse is that my local bookstore does not carry books in English, but I confess to ordering even French books from amazon.


When I was in college, I was a bit short of money and I had a habit to feed.  No, not drugs.  I was running up huge phone bills from calling my then-boyfriend, (my now-husband of 24 years) in France.  So, in addition to my pizzeria job and work-study, I had to find other ways to make money.  No, not stripping or prostitution.  Geez, people, get your mind out of the gutter.  I participated in some medical and psychological experiments run by the medical school.  So you see, I can fully empathize with the need to participate in potentially harmful experiments for money.  What about you?  What if I asked you to participate in an activity that was proven to be harmful to your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and back, which in turn would cause problems for shoulders and neck as well, from compensation.  What if this activity was risky not only because of the greater potential to trip and sprain or fracture a limb, but also caused unsightly deformities and often led to long-term pain?  How much would you ask before you undertook the risk?  What if I said that you would not even receive monetary compensation, but that during this activity, you would look (temporarily) fabulous with mile-long legs and that would be the ONLY compensation you would receive?  Does that sound crazy?  If not, then throw on a pair of vertiginous Louboutins.  The idea makes me shudder, especially since today’s heels are so darn high – at a size 5 1/2 to 6, those heels are not made for small feet.  Lest I sound judge-y, let me say that some of my favorite people wear heels.  I know of some amazing Pilates teachers who wear towering heels on a regular basis.  I would rather be barefoot.  That is not to say that I do not succumb to siren call of vanity on a regular basis.  I would not be caught dead wearing the gladiator things that Bowman recommends and ballet flats give me cankles.  The horror.  The horror.

So – the book.  This is actually one of three Katy Bowman books addressing the feet.  She seems to have a thing about feet.  I have not yet read Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet or Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet, but have plans to do so.  The problem is that Katy is such a prolific writer, I just cannot catch up to her.  I just received her latest book, Movement Matters (planning to review), as well as last year’s Diastasis Recti, which was reviewed by Christopher Roberts. (We have also reviewed Alignment Matters and Move your DNA – In case you haven’t figured it out, we are big Katy fans on this forum.).  It turns out that she has yet another book coming out next month.  Damn it, Katy (I am calling her Katy because her blog is called “Katy says”), how is it that you can write books faster than I can read them?  Katy’s bio in Diastasis Recti says that, in addition to her books, her award-winning blog and her dvds, she “directs and teaches at the Nutritious Movement Center Northwest, travels the globe (…), and spends as much time outside as possible with her husband and two young children.”  Um Katy, in addition to helping me with my posture, feet and pelvic floor, can you please send me some time management tips, because I rarely have time to drag a comb through my hair and my beauty routine is limited to the most basic personal hygiene.

Katy first addressed the issue of foot alignment in her first publication, Alignment Matters, offering very compelling arguments against wearing heeled shoes, not just women’s high heels, but also the lesser heels in men’s and children’s shoes and women’s “flats”. Katy repeats this assertion in Whole Body Barefoot, exploring it in greater detail.  One of Bowman’s strong points is to take biomechanical concepts and to break them down so they are easy to understand, using layman’s words and basic illustrations in lieu of complex diagrams or mathematical equations.  In the first part of the book, “Think”, Katy explains the problems that shoes cause, including something she describes as “ankle shmear”.  Now, I found some definitions of shmear in urban – either “a small amount of condiment applied to a food item or “to rub one’s (usually naked) rear against any surface such as the carpet, wall, chair in a smooth -flow flick movement.”  Ew.  I will let you read the book to learn what Katy means by shmear.  She asserts that our feet are designed to be barefoot for the most part, but minimal footwear may be necessary to protect the feet from the elements.  After a lifetime of confining feet in shoes, it would be foolhardy and cause injury to immediately begin wearing minimal footwear without preparation.  The solution is to transition to minimal footwear by wearing progressively lower heels and by performing exercises to strengthen and stretch the feet.

The second part of the book is entitled Move.  This section describes the correct stance and (except for the parallel v. slightly turned out feet position) pretty much aligns with how Pilates teaches us to stand, lengthening the back, untucking the pelvis and softening the ribs.  I am not entirely convinced by Katy’s assertion that the proper alignment of the foot is with the outer edge parallel, resulting in a slightly pigeon-toed look.  This contradicts what we have learned in Pilates as well as Esther Gokhale’s stance that feet should be very slightly turned out as that as the stance of in the indigenous populations in Africa and South America, where there are virtually no back problems (see our review of Gokhale’s book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back).  However, Katy’s arguments (they are set out in more detail in Alignment Matters) are compelling and Katy is after all, a biomechanist. I will leave you to form your own opinion.

Katy then describes about a dozen exercises to strengthen and stretch the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the feet.  She suggests walking on uneven terrain as often possible because limiting our movement to flat, man-made surfaces such as concrete does not allow us to develop maximal strength, flexibility or adaptability.  A reduction in any of these, as we know, will eventually have negative consequences further up the chain – the knees, hips or back are often the victims of crimes against the feet.  Lastly, Katy provides a lengthy list of websites from which to procure minimal footwear.

Pilates teachers – do you need this book?  Well, we have the Pilates foot corrector and the toe gizmo, but this little book provides some great ideas for additional ways to work the feet, including pillows, towels, books, yoga blocks.  This is a great addition to your wellness library.  I did not enjoy it as much as Alignment Matters, which literally had me lol’ing from beginning to end (there was a little part on the passing of gas, for example and Katy insisted that we not shy away from using the word vagina.  I recall that she even said vagina, vagina, vagina just to make her point).   However, while I did not lol as much as I did upon reading Alignment, I found the book very helpful and very user -friendly, a nice book to own and to recommend to your students.  I know of no one who tootsies could not use a little lovin’.