Being Me: A Journey to Barefoot

*Disclosure – Anya’s Reviews is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.


*I am a barefoot shoe blogger, not a medical professional and this is not a substitute for medical advice. Always seek the advice of a licensed professional if you need care*

I have over 100 minimalist shoe reviews on my blog, but the thing that piques your interest most is not shoes. The one question I’m asked over and over is this: HOW did I go from collapsed feet and crooked spine to a strong, functioning body? Great question! I’m just a normal person. Not an athlete. Not certified in anything. I still can’t do anything impressive. And the truth is complicated.

But if I get outside myself for a minute, I see that people are struggling. A few years ago I would have devoured this post, taking notes, and bookmarking all the recommendations. SO many of us are in pain. And maybe the story of a normal person is just what normal people need to hear.

In case you’d like to cut to the chase, I’ve broken this post down to 1. my background, 2. the specific details of my injury, 3. the steps I took to recover, and 4. my favorite exercises.

Table of Contents

  1. My Background
  2. My Pain
  3. My Healing
  4. My Exercises

My Background

Firstly, every body is incredibly unique, so I will start with some background on what I come to the table with.

I’m small, low energy, have low-ish muscle tone, and lax ligaments. These things might never have been an issue for me had I been active my whole life, but I was pretty sedentary as a kid and had a diet high in sugar and low in nutrients (not good for building tissue). I started wearing orthotics for ankle tendinitis at the age of 9, had torticollis at 13, and sprained my ankle at 16. I first remember having back pain at the age of 12 when my class sat on the carpet and I didn’t have a chair to lean on. These relatively small injuries never quite healed and I was plagued with minor complaints (not enough to be heard by a doctor, but enough to make life difficult).

As I got older and life got more complicated I had less and less time to exercise. The weaker I got, the more impossible exercising became. Then I had children, and my body just became more discombobulated.

It’s worth mentioning that I developed symptoms of a connective tissue autioimmune disorder (either Lupus or Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder) in 2016 and have been in a pre-diagnostic state ever since: ie I test positive for antibodies every year and have some symptoms, but it isn’t getting worse.

I also was under intense stress in the years leading up to the main issue with my foot which undoubtedly contributed in many ways to my poor state.

The main inciting event, the reason I ended up finding barefoot shoes, occurred while I was pregnant with my second child.

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My Pain

When I was pregnant with my second child I wore these damned boots to a birthday dinner. Pregnancy hormones combined with naturally lax ligaments set the stage for what suddenly became functional hallux limitus.

My big toe became jammed up underneath the first ray (the bone that connects to the big toe) and when I had weight on my foot it wouldn’t bend. I had full range of motion in the toe when there was no weight on it, hence the “functional” part. This resulted in acute pain while walking. Of course I didn’t know the mechanics of this at the time, I only knew that I was hurting. I hobbled around the rest of my pregnancy and a few weeks after before going to the podiatrist.

My podiatrist put me in thick, stiff shoes and a custom orthotic so that I wouldn’t have to bend my toe while I walked. While this did get me out of acute pain, it did not solve the issue (obvi). I kept waiting for things to get better, but they did not and I could never be without shoes. If I wasn’t wearing them, I crawled on my hands and knees. I wasn’t really ok with this, so I went back to the podiatrist after about 6 months. She ordered an MRI and discovered that I had bone marrow edema (swelling and fluid inside the bone). Because of this, she ordered me off my foot for 6 weeks to let it heal.

What had been a comedy of errors before now turned into a horror show. It’s difficult for me to describe this time of my life. I had a tiny baby, a toddler, and a home business that I managed while my husband was at work. My body was already very weak and I had postpartum depression. In addition, close members of my family were experiencing their own health crises that I needed to help with. I was simply not ok. I like to say that mobility is freedom. Not having mobility? That is captivity.

During this 6 weeks I was in a boot, then a knee scooter, then a cast. All in efforts to get me completely off the foot because supposedly that would get me out of pain. Let’s just take a second to imagine me carrying my baby in my arms while I walked around on my knees to tend to my family’s needs. Somehow, I survived the 6 weeks. But to my dismay the troubles didn’t stop there. Despite all that effort, my foot still hurt SO BADLY. But now I also had severe back pain, ankle pain, and was so weak and messed up I couldn’t remember how to walk.

Soaking my feet to help with the pain.

By this point I had decided not to go back to the podiatrist. I started doing research and peppering anyone I could find with questions. I discovered a Gonstead chiropractor who adjusted external joints and I booked an appointment ASAP. He was the one who properly diagnosed me with functional hallux limitus and told me it was completely fixable. He also was the one who showed me I had scoliosis and kyphosis in an x-ray. For the first time I was being told that something could be done.

My best friend Mir and I. See how wide my stance is? I always felt unstable so I spread my feet out.

Around this time my best friend and soulmate suggested I read Whole Body Barefoot, by Katy Bowman. She sent me a free copy of it on Audible, and I started listening to it right away. That book along with the findings of my chiropractor put an end to my downward spiral. It was all up from there, baby.

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My Healing

Now for the good stuff. This is what you all came for, right? In an effort to make this as succinct as possible, I’ve broken it down into the main steps. At the very end you will find links to videos of my favorite exercises for posture and alignment.


Weren’t expecting a pep talk, were you? We’ll get to the exercises and all that, but the most important thing I have learned about healing is that YOU MUST HAVE THE RIGHT MINDSET. When I read Whole Body Barefoot a fire was ignited inside of me. I would not settle for this, I would not be told what I could and could not do, and I WOULD NOT STOP. My life was changed in a moment, all because I believed I could do it.

While I pivot and readjust frequently, my fundamental mindset is simple: My body is my friend. It has my best interest in mind, and is only responding to the input it’s getting. Changing the input changes my body over time. My job is to get acquainted with my body and learn what input it needs. Because I want to live my best life, this is what I always come back to.

2. Education

Enthusiasm only gets you so far. The next step was educating myself about the body. You can see my list of suggested resources here, but at the time I didn’t know all of these. I started out by reading several Katy Bowman books, watching lots of Mobility Mastery videos, and in general getting my hands on everything I could find relating to the body. The Body Keeps the Score was another life-altering book for me, and I highly recommend it.

At this time I also completely changed my lifestyle. My education is on-going: I expect to be learning how my body works the rest of my life and I make no claims to having it all figured out. But getting enough sleep, learning to let go of stress, lots of time in nature, and eating a super nutritious diet were key changes I made.

3. Practitioners

You have to understand that when I first read the Katy Bowman book I was taking about 1,100 steps A DAY. I was VERY limited and in a lot of pain. I believed, but I also wanted to get back to life as soon as possible. Finding the right practitioners were an important part of my journey, and you should always check with a doctor if your pain is persistent or unexplained.

Shoes all day every day!

Gonstead chiropractors were key in helping me get my big toe functioning again and in treating my scoliosis. Another PT noticed my hips were incredibly tight and started doing manual therapy, which brought noticeable relief. But my progress was slow. I was still reliant on the chiropractic adjustments, and I still looked incredibly awkward when I walked. At this point it had been a year and a half since my initial injury and I was in near constant pain.

Thanks to the advice of a good PT I started focusing on general movement and blood flow. This really kickstarted things and I noticed a significant decrease in pain by simply moving more. It was around this time that I felt ready to ditch the orthotics and was fully transitioned to minimalist shoes.

The feet the pelvic floor are closely connected, so it could greatly benefit you to see a pelvic floor physical therapist. Read this if you’re wondering what to expect from a pelvic floor PT.

4. Pilates

After this phase, I hit another point where I felt like I was kind of stalled. I was getting more mobile but I didn’t really feel that much stronger. My physical activity was not quite enough to promote muscle building. I tried yoga and ended up with a lot of joint pain, so I moved to Pilates. I went out on a limb and got a punch card for a local studio, and have never looked back.

Me and Jane, my Pilates teacher

I was fortunate to find a studio that is focused on healing and function and not so much on getting washboard abs. It’s a beautiful environment, and the teachers thoughtfully teach to their students’ needs. My own teacher is a bad-ass 69 year old, a living example of dynamic aging.

I had to start out very slow, but I worked hard and over a couple months I noticed that many things in my life were getting easier. I could stand for longer periods of time, my knees weren’t bugging me, I had more energy. My feet also started changing. My arch lifted up off the ground and my toes began to spread as my hips got stronger. It was around this time another truth lit up my brain. If you want your body to get stronger, you must LOAD it.

I learned the value of pushing myself to the point where my body built muscle, but not to the point were I was inflamed and in pain. I looked after my body, resting when I needed and pushing myself once I had recovered. After a lifetime of being sedentary I had somehow become one of “those” people. You know, the ones who actually like to exercise.

5. Gait Happens

As I got stronger my focus shifted. I started working hard on correcting my kyphosis and dealing with the intermittent low back pain. I made a lot of progress with the kyphosis by doing targeted exercises (the photo at the top of the post and below shows this change), but the back pain was persistent. I thought it was because of the scoliosis I had a few years earlier, but the exercises I tried didn’t help.

May 2019 vs May 2020

I decided it was time to try something new (also the covid-19 pandemic stopped my Pilates classes) and I booked a virtual consultation with Gait Happens (you can see more details about that here). Dr. Perez picked up on a whole bunch of stuff in my body and shed light on the issues I was still experiencing. That back pain? Probably not scoliosis (that is practically gone at this point). Instead, it seemed to be an anterior tilt and winging to my pelvis that was shifting me forward and not allowing my glutes to fire properly.

I was both relieved that I had found someone who could help me, but also somewhat disturbed that everything I had done up to this point hadn’t fixed my pelvis. It was a reminder that even though I had made huge strides, the work was far from over and I can’t always do it on my own.

She prescribed me several exercises, and after a short time I noticed changes in my body. New muscles were firing and I felt a noticeable difference in the way I moved. A follow up with Dr. Perez showed that my body was already responding to this new input and I received a new set of exercises as well as ways to build on them.

This brings me to the present day.

6. The Future

If you’ve made it all the way to the end, you might be thinking my life has been something of a marathon the last few years. It sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? And yes, I have worked hard, and yes it’s been years and I still have hard work to do. But it hasn’t really felt like work. Most of the time I’m happy and excited. I rest when I need to. I do what I love. Sometimes I’m frustrated, sometimes I push myself, but this is not a grind. This is my life. I need movement, I love movement, and I don’t distinguish it from the other things that I need and love.

There is no understating the impact that moving more and moving better has had on me. Everything about my life has gotten easier. So if there’s one thing I want you to take from this, it’s that it’s worth it. YOU are worth it.

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My Favorite Exercises

For regular content about movement and barefoot shoes, follow me on Instagram. But here is a collection of my favorites.

Head to Toe Alignment Adjust

Upper Body/Kyphosis Exercises

More Upper body moves

W exercise for upper body strength

Simple Walking Mechanics

Lauren Ohayon’s Neck and Shoulders Release – Lauren does an amazing job leading you through tension release and helping you mobilize a stiff upper back. This video is GOLD!

Another Lauren Ohayon flow for inner thigh tension

Gait Happens Breathing exercise for an anterior pelvic tilt

Gait Happens Arch Strengthening Exercise

Gait Happens Stability Exercise

Gait Happens Lift Spread Reach for toe

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32 thoughts on “Being Me: A Journey to Barefoot”

  1. Wow. Thank you SO much for sharing this! This really is a remarkable story, and I love your positive but realistic attitude. I have forward head/rounded shoulders, plus weak glutes and flat feet, so your progress is very inspiring. I was already a Katy Bowman fan, but having everything in one place like this about correcting (almost) the exact problems I have is so helpful and I think will make a huge difference in me actually making these changes. I’m excited to dig into all the links you shared!

  2. …wow, what an amazing story. Thank you very much for sharing. I experienced many years of lower back pain after a rugby accident. I truly believe it was ‘fixed’ by tai chi, yoga and an excellent physio (very narrowly twice missed having an op) all focused on posture and movement. Now like you I’ve found barefoot walking and make my own moccs (I just wish this had happened years ago!). Thank you so much

  3. Really excited to find your blog. I have been slowly moving towards zero drop / minimalist shoes ever since doing the mutu program after having my first baby. Living in a smaller town in Canada, it’s hard to find minimalist shoes, and even harder to find cute ones!
    I am really happy to see your progress and look forward to checking out the rest of your blog.

    1. Good job mama! I have some resources about barefoot shoes on Amazon that might help, I know sometimes shipping can be a real challenge since so many brands are across the ocean. Good luck!

  4. I realize its already been said, but thanks for sharing your journey! I love origin stories 🙂
    I think we can all relate on some level, either tight back, weak glutes or sore feet. It takes time to work on your strength and posture, but it starts from the ground up. The biggest favor I did for my body is to lose the shoes. Its like the time I discovered intermittant fasting, “less is more”. I wish I’d done it sooner, oh well, better late than never
    Keep doing what you do!

  5. Hello,

    I noticed in one of your pictures that you can sit in a squat. We’re you always able to do that? I want to be able to but while I can get into the position, I can’t hold it very long without having to hold onto something or coming out of it. Random question, I know 🤦‍♀️ Thank you for your posts. I have started doing foot exercises and am going to order some Correct Toes 🙂

    1. Hey! When I first started into natural movement and barefoot shoes I could not squat well at all. Just like you, I could get down into the position but it was really uncomfortable and I had to get out of it quickly or I would either be in agony or fall over. Now I can squat for fairly long periods of time and still be comfortable! But I do have lax ligaments and so being flexible comes naturally to me.

  6. I got interested in barefoot shoes after I started having pain in my arches and noticing that it was worse in my stiff dress shoes, better in running shoes, and best while barefoot. Your story inspired me and over time I’ve started feeling much more confident walking without shoes and it’s improved my view of my body too.
    I still have some pain in the arches, where it feels like there’s soreness when a big tendon stretches, though I’m worried that some medical practitioners will take the stiff cast route like what happened to you. Do you have any recommendations for what kinds of people to visit and things I could try by myself?

  7. Hi Anya! Truly inspiring story. I was ALMOST put in custom orthotics after a foot surgery. I pleaded for him to send me to physical therapy first before spending $$$ on those things. Luckily, he complied. I’m all about barefoot, so I’m wondering…which brands/shoes were your first pairs? And how did you feel in them?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Cynthia! My very first pair of minimalist shoes was Altra. My first pair of true barefoot shoes was the Vivobarefoot Gobi. I stuck with Vivobarefoot for a while and then got a pair of Drifter Leather sandals and Unshoes Terra Vidas (both of which I own and love today!). While I loved the toe space they all felt very thin at first and I struggled walking in them. Once I found NorthSole insoles that helped a ton, and after another year I was able to remove the insoles and felt fine walking barefoot or in thin soles.

  8. I noticed your lateral Malleous is a bit bigger, do you know what that’s from? I have it too, (after a couple sprained ankles awhile ago, and one recently) I was just worried about mine. It did swell a bit but since has gone down to look like yours, and was just curious about it.


    1. I did have an ankle sprain almost 20 years ago that caused me trouble for many years. It might have caused the area to get bigger. Otherwise, I think it’s just how I’m built. Best thing to do is rehab the area so it’s not being stressed.

  9. Thank you for sharing this comprehensive version of your story. I had no idea that you were dx with hallux limitus. It’s encouraging that through all of your hard work and using resources, that you’ve been able to address it. Thanks for all you do to help all of us.

  10. Hi Anya, thank you so much for sharing your story and exercises, I’m impressed by your perseverance. I also developed hallux limitus when I was pregnant with my second one and got prescribed orthotics at age 30. I walked in them 3 times and decided that was not for me and after some research landed on barefoot shoes. Two years later I’m fully transitioned into barefoot shoes, and also started running longer distances again. Unfortunately my hallux limitus is structural instead of functional. I’m sure this is caused by walking on heels for over 10 years. On the fortunate side I hardly experience any pain during normal walking and shorter runs since strengthening my feet by walking in barefoot shoes and doing exercises, but I get so annoyed that I can’t move my left big too much. Hopefully the exercises will help somewhat in regaining mobility there.

    1. I hope so too! Sometimes you can really improve that mobility with effort. Banded toe raises are also really helpful. Best of luck to you, and glad you found your way here!

  11. Hi Anya. I am reading you from Spain, where there isn’t much information about barefoot shoes. I’ve got very rigid cavus foot, I am trying orthotics inside barefoot shoes, but I need a brand with enough space to introduce orthotics in it. Could you help me? Thanks!!!

  12. Hi Anya, I just read this after perusing your site for the last couple of years. Very glad to know you’ve been able to heal! I’m still looking for barefoot shoe brands that cater more to wide feet. Bohempia has been a Godsend. I dream of a combat boot, and other style options-still searching. Perhaps you can offer feedback to companies to offer wide width barefoot styles?

  13. Hi Anya!

    Just curious to know what type/severity of knee pain that you had? I only recently started having knee stiffness in my right knee (started in April)…. it comes and goes, but flares up when my knee is bent for a long period of time, so extending it helps. I’m baffled though as to what the cause could be (I’ve seen some stuff online about how weak hips may cause knee pain, but IDK).


    1. Mine was in the front above and in the knee cap, and it still flares up occasionally. I have to keep my hips well lubricated and I roll out my quads and IT band on a foam roller to keep it under control. Joe LaVacca has some great stuff on hips on his social media, I use it often!

  14. This sounds like me…. I’m at a point where things are managed and maintained. I was always super active however, but I became used to moving in ways that let muscles overcompensate because others weren’t firing. I was fine until I hit 30. And then I collected a chronic injury each year for the next few years. I’ve worked with many different people. Some were amazing. (Some were less amazing, offering advice like, ‘Don’t lift weights/get orthotics and rigid shoes/you just need to stretch.’) I also found an amazing pilates teacher who is well into her 50s.

    My glutes seem to fire a lot more these days. The neck and knee problems don’t plague me anymore. But I still have issues and I can feel I’m very wonky in my hips.

    I’m going to have session with Gait Happens – hopefully in the new year when I should get an extra freelance contract come through. I’ve spent so much on fixing myself in the last 5 years. But I’m very certain the GH team will be an excellent next step, especially after learning that you have also had sessions with them 🙂

  15. Hi Anya,

    I have a foot saga too (hahaha)! In fact I was thinking about starting a blog and then I found you. Which is really really cool because that means my idea wasn’t a bad one to begin with but I have so many ideas why duplicate what you have already done (and so well too!) Good on you and on to the next idea for me.

    My point in writing you is to seek out advice because you have contact with so many people and their stories / medical histories.

    After a prolonged recovery of a R-ankle sprain, my podiatrist says that I must wear arch supports forever now that my R-arch completely collapsed which led to acute plantar fasciitis. Of course part of the treatments that I was given no doubt contributed to that collapse. However, it isn’t clear if there are some underlying autoimmune/ soft tissue issues. I tested negative on all the inflammation markers but US Rheumatology is really behind the curve on inflammation marker testing (50% of all people who test negative have false negatives and 85% of people who test positive are false positive) for autoimmune disease. And yet Rheumatologists carry on as if inflammation marker testing is a gold standard.

    Anyway, After a deluge drenched my athletic shoes and in an attempt to dry them quickly I accidentally burned them on the radiator. This led me to looking for replacements and questioning if I couldn’t find something better, then I stumbled on the concept of heel drop, which led me to look into what my recently burned athletic shoes were. I discovered that they had a 10mm heel drop. I didn’t sign up for that. I bought extra supportive shoes thinking that it would help stabilize my ankles but I didn’t realize there was a hidden heel. The thing is, never in my life had I ever used a super supportive tennise shoe. They were always old school models with low heal drops. In addition, I was putting an arch support into a 10mm heeled athletic shoe and arch supports are meant to be worn in flat shoes, nothing with a heel rise. This isn’t something that my podiatrist seems to be clued into. After researching the demise of foot binding visa-vi post-moccasin footwear, I realized I had some serious damage to undo, and then somehow I stumbled onto your amazing website. What a blessing in disguise, the burning of my top-of-the-line athletic shoes!

    I don’t believe my podiatrist regarding the fact that I will have to wear arch supports the rest of my life or else my arches will continue to collapse (but not necessarily) along with my knees and other joints. I do; however, need to heal my soft tissues and an arch support relieves the pressure on the soft tissues aggravated by the plantar fasciitis. I see now the importance of 0-drop heels. I see that my transition will be very very slow.

    Currently, I wear arch supports in barefoot shoes. Soon I will add Correct Toes toe spacers. Currently, I practice the feet/toe exercises as described on your website. Getting the big toes up and the other eight down is soooo difficult: I practice 3X a day and still I’m lousy at it. I can’t will the motor units to direct the movement in that direction, yet. “Yet” being the operative word. For the record, with the big toes down and eight toes up, I’m an A+ player at that game. Currently I walk around the house barefoot for a few minutes at time before the plantar pain starts up. I also practice yoga barefoot on a 6mm mat. As my feet and ankles strengthen I will spend time out and about without arch supports and slowly build up time without them. I will eventually use a Naboso mat in my house. When I transition out of arch supports, I will transition into a heel cup, and then out of the heel cup eventually. I will always do maintenance feet exercises. If I have soft tissue issues in the future I can always back up a step or two for a while, but continue to wear barefoot shoes. Baby steps!

    1) What do you think of my game plan?

    2) Do you know of anyone who fully recovered from plantar fasciitis caused by collapsed arches and what their healing trajectory was like and/or how they went about it?

    In gratitude,


    1. Hi Lisa! That sounds like a thoughtful transition you have planned out! I do know of some people who healed fully from PF, but I don’t know the details unfortunately. However, taking a stepwise approach to all this seems like a reasonable course of action. You might as well try to improve your foot function and see where it takes you!

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Hi. I'm Anya.

Hi. I'm Anya.

I first discovered barefoot shoes after a long history of foot issues. By changing my footwear and strengthening my body I was able to completely transform my life. Anya’s Reviews is my way of sharing with the world that healthy feet are happy feet!

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