In recent months, I, as I am sure in a way not dissimilar to many of you out there, have experienced the restlessness of being stuck in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic and the wanderlust that this inspires in you to get out and to explore other countries in the world.
I therefore found myself browsing Pinterest, looking at the sorts of images that you would find in glossy brochures in the travel agents of countries as far afield from the United Kingdom as possible as the solution. Like the incomparable but the next best thing we can access in the current climate to being there in person.
I grew increasingly bleary-eyed and comatose before finding myself looking upon pictures of Thailand and its local life and culture, which is extremely religious, with over 95% of the population following the Buddhist religion, in particular, the Theravada school. An ancient and the more conservative one of the two major traditions of Buddhism, the other being the Mahayana school.
I was struck by how in nearly all the pictures of the local religious landmarks, such as the Wat Pah Nanachat monastery in Northeast Thailand, the monks seemed to be walking around barefoot. This led me to question whether there was a religious reason for this and if there are any health benefits to be found that we in the UK could learn from.
Why do monks typically not wear shoes?
There are several reasons why monks are typically seen not wearing any footwear. In the strict practices of classic times, each individual monk would only have four possessions: a bowl and three robes.
According to more general Buddhist monastic codes, a Buddhist monk must not wear footwear that covers the toes and the heels. However, monks can wear shoes that have been donated to them, which is useful to monks living in colder climates, or where the terrain is rough. So minimalism is key. Monks must not have any superfluous or excess possessions.
Also, any practicing Buddhists must remove their shoes before entering the temple. This is so the bringing in of outside dirt into the temple can be avoided. The temple must remain as clean and as pure as possible.
Benefits of walking barefoot
For many Buddhist monks, walking barefoot is a way of ensuring they keep themselves in touch with reality at all times. So for us, could walking barefoot make us more grounded?
Many believe that the answer is yes. Going barefoot can reduce stress and boost your immune system. This is supposedly because the earth has a negative charge and through walking barefoot and connecting with the earth, we can reduce our positive charge built up throughout the day by wearing shoes or walking around indoors and become more neutral. This results in present-moment awareness which can easily be found with both feet on the ground.