This is an overview of my year so far. I don't apologise for its inconsistency or the fact that I originally started writing it exactly 2 months ago today. Read it and weep. If you're the emotional type.
This year my ideas about Parkour have changed many times over along with my training habits, but I consider this a natural process. I think that everyone goes through the same thing provided they continue long enough, and especially if they frequently train alone.
Earlier in the year I was struggling to stay motivated and felt uninspired within my new surroundings. Being accustomed to the architecture, inexplicably placed walls and random structures of London, my only obstacle seemed to be locating a suitable place to practice. Faced with forests of fir trees, rocks at every turn, and an eternal network of gravel paths I found myself questioning what it is I should be training.
My motivation for training has never really been for escape or reach purposes in an emergency situation, although I feel that the things I train should be beneficial if that was ever my objective. But having a sudden and marked change in my immediate environment made me see things from another perspective. I decided that seeing as I had yet to find the obstacles on which to practice familiar movements, I would instead go about exploring ways I could move fastest through this seemingly less complex terrain. Lots of flat ground meant lots of running, and rocky hills meant either climbing or a mixture of the two, using hands wherever necessary. To me this was a lot simpler than the Parkour that I had previously known, as there are no set techniques and the goal was just to be as fast and efficient as possible. With this in mind, it was harder to judge any sort of progression as I didn't time any runs I made and there was no need for techniques like the traditional climb up or precision jump for example, where progress could more easily be seen and felt.
During these times I was out exploring and trying to reach the top of a slippery slope as quickly as I could, when I realized that what I was slipping on was a thick layer of moss, and every step I was taking I was destroying something that had previously been undisturbed. It then occurred to me that I was being selfish, and in my selfishness I had been completely unaware of the millions upon millions of other lives around me. The plants, the trees, the insects, all the lifeforms both visible and invisible to the naked eye.
I know people don't like to consider themselves selfish, but there have been times when I look at my own training and also the training of others as such. One thought I have had whilst looking at others train is that they are merely using or abusing the structures they train on, in order to further their own gains. I find this hard to put into words because what I really want to say is that these structures are being treated like objects. Which of course they clearly are, but my meaning is that they are taken for granted, disrespected and often not even considered when we are so focused on ourselves, our training and what we want to get out of it. Walls, trees, fences, rocks, whatever you choose to use, it has no say in the matter, so I feel that as human beings, as beings of a higher consciousness it is our duty to protect and respect such things. You might say to yourself that a little scratch here, or a missing piece of brick there doesn't matter, or that trees and plants can grow back, and besides they have no feelings. But suppose that everyone in life took that attitude towards everything. I believe that your attitude in your training, your Parkour philosophy is inseparable from the rest of your life, and is a reflection of it.
That day I decided to myself that training in such a way was not worth the price, knowing that I had destroyed something in the name of my own progression. Because isn't that what everyone hates? The big guy stepping on the little guy to get what he wants. It seems so ironic now.
Spending time outdoors, training in more natural surroundings was a blessing in many ways. It calms the mind. I found that the stillness of the forest and of nature itself tends to have a knock on effect, and that my training in such a place is less hurried, aggressive and urgent. I've noticed at various times throughout this year, that I feel uptight about training and that I must get everything done as if I have no time to rest or take things easy. I think that's a good sign that you should take a break to at least evaluate your life and the place of Parkour within it, as I'm sure I'm not the only one who has or will experience similar feelings. So take time out, go and sit on the grass and count the bees, but not the dead ones. Just try to exist without looking at things in terms of how you can use them or benefit from them. I think most people would find this difficult. I certainly do.
After all these thoughts, and ideas about what I should be training I felt quite bogged down with the over complication and rationality of it all, and remembered that it seemed pointless to continue if I wasn't enjoying myself. So simple and so easy to forget.
Sometime after my adventures in the woods, trying to stay sane, and even resorting to doing push ups for the first time just to remain active in the winter darkness, I found a gym where I could train out of the snow. This was a godsend for me, as not only was it cheap, but it allowed me to finally spend time learning gymnastics orientated moves at the same time as working on Parkour specific techniques and just movement in general.
Whenever I train I am always consciously aware of my fears, but in the gymnasium this seemed even more apparent, and I was determined to face and overcome these as I came to them. Before all of this though, at some point I had come to the conclusion that the things I avoided training and were scared of, were precisely the sort of things that I would benefit most from focusing on. This was the method that I experimented with using while I was training in the gym. At first I found it easy to avoid pushing myself as there were so many things to do, so many pieces of equipment to play on that I just felt like a kid in a monkey store, buying them all. Something that has stuck with me and helped me to challenge myself was said to me by my good friend Bobby some time ago. What it amounts to is the idea that there is no better time to challenge your fear then now. Obviously with certain moves you can build up to them, but when the risk is low and you are physically capable you must push yourself to get over the barrier. Using this method I saw how my mind reacted whenever I challenged it's comfort zone. Generally this involved worrying about the endless number of possible outcomes and reeling off a list of reasons why I should wait for a more suitable time. As if my fear of a back somersault could be extinguished by doing hundreds of front somersaults!
I developed the habit of listening to all of the fears and excuses my mind churned out, and then going against them with the knowledge that listening to them is what gives them power. The more you regularly train in this manner, the easier it becomes as you get used to actually feeling fear and letting it be, instead of giving in to it's demands. I feel it is only fear that inhibits you when you are actually physically capable of doing much more, so I hope to expand the boundaries of what is physically possible, by first challenging these fears.
In my relatively short time in the gym I feel I achieved so much more than if had trained in the usual way. I also rediscovered the importance of going back to basics, or rather the importance of being humble enough to do so. This gave me a feeling of freedom to try things I saw other people doing, and learn the old fashioned way by simply watching and attempting to copy. It also introduced me to moves or movements that I might have otherwise avoided or ignored.
I feel that sometimes we can be so focused on training Parkour that everything else is viewed as either something to aid us, or as an obstacle to the training we want to do. My point is that if you were to live with the values of Parkour in your everyday life, then nothing would ever be seen as a threat, rather as a different learning experience. I feel that if you maintain this way of living, then that is by far the most important thing even if you do not train so often in a physical way, because I feel that if your mind and attitude is right then learning physically will come easy. It's as if we feel by putting more energy into training we will get better results than if we were to train less, but by definition efficiency requires less effort and not more. I really feel that when I am trouble free and happy within myself, those are the days when I move my best and it is effortless. Other times I may have stress or some kind anger inside me which may give me an energy to drive myself to train hard and long, but I wonder how effective it really is in that situation. For me the secret of longevity is all in feeling light, and when you feel light that is how you carry yourself.
Instead of training specific moves that can be categorized and easily repeated, my aim is to develop my methods of training so that I train adaptability as the ultimate skill to learn and work upon. The problem is that is it not something fixed or easy to define and therefore to focus upon, but if you get good at adapting, then that alone will encompass every technique, movement or action you may ever need to use or take on the spur of the moment (and a lot more).
This is where that 'lightness' comes in again, it's as if you have to let go of the past and future, all of your emotional baggage, attachments, preconceptions and expectations of how things should be when you are learning in order to learn efficiently and to your greatest capacity.
Keeping things fresh. By that I am once again referring to that 'lightness'. Breaking habits, just being aware of all habits, and noticing when the way we feel or the way we move is because of habit. Experimenting and just continually moving. Children learn through imitation and I have been trying the same approach when going to the gym and watching the gymnasts, both younger and older. I feel as an adult there seems to be almost some sort of taboo for openly copying something that you see someone else doing, when it is precisely what we need to do in order to begin learning something new. So I have just been trying gymnastic techniques and exercises which not only help develop my skills in moving, but also more importantly in learning. I guess that's part of what I meant by training adaptability.
During my sessions in the gym my training came together into some sort of identifiable pattern, which may have been because it was the first time I have been training regularly for more than 2 days a week. It became apparent that I was training using 3 main methods;
1. Drilling techniques as single moves so that I can focus largely on one factor, i.e foot placement on takeoff or landing. (although I may be trying to train just one move, it is never just that move I am doing, I feel that we must become more aware of these things in order to train more efficiently. For example, you may want to train just one jump, but there is always the landing and the way in which you return to your starting point to jump again) Here I tend to set myself targets, like 100 jumps before I change any of the variables, like taking off of only one foot for example.
2. Linking movements in a route, for example I begin by taking a single jump I have been drilling, and then choose a path that places the jump in the middle so that the jump is now in a loop with no clear ending or beginning, and I must do whatever movements fit as I try the route at different speeds. (This tends to overlap with number 3 as when I move in a route new things will spontaneously open up and spring to mind, and I may suddenly decide (or be forced) to move in a new way or new direction, depending on how and where I land during the route, thus creating a bigger space in which to move)
3. Experimenting and playing, which would include trying things I'm scared of doing. Movement in an unfixed direction without any fixed criteria, i.e no limit to what parts of my body I use or how I use them, just moving, experimenting, sometimes just on the floor, sometimes just with a single obstacle like the beam for example, and alternating between everything. Doing what feels good. This is the part that least look likes Parkour or even Parkour training, but I think it is the most beneficial. This method also includes the features of parts 1 and 2, but the difference here is that I tend not to set goals or have any timescale, as I don't think the emphasis is on any outcome as such, but more to focus on having fun moving in the moment. That said, I think it is the lessons learned here that are of most importance, and the need to keep things spontaneous and fun is exercised.
Sometime this spring while there was a break in the snow cycle and the ground was dry I ventured outside again to practice on the roof of a nearby car park. Working on my balance and vaulting within a sequence as fast as possible. This was a new experience as I usually focus on being as smooth and as light-footed as I can be. I found that it was more difficult to fluidly enter and exit vaults when moving close to top speed for the given area. It was as if there was an inner conflict between the natural instinct to just run as fast as you can and the methodical thought process of tracing a route using the safest and smoothest techniques available.
I remember thinking to myself that there must be hundreds if not thousands of people with less experience than me that are able to do the same run better than I was doing. I was frustrated by the fact that on one hand I considered the task simple and easy to complete, but on the other hand it seemed to be a big problem. I became very weighed down by the idea and also caught up in thinking about what other people might do if they were training there as well.
The next day my knees felt sore and it brought my mood down further, feeling that I hadn't progressed or been successful in my attempts to train safely and systematically. I vented my frustrations in an email which I sent to my friend Binary, and felt better for simply getting it all off my chest. It was while I was waiting for his response that I came to my senses again. I had managed to forget that one of the reasons I have trained in the way I do is because it is most suited to my body's strengths and weaknesses, and that it wasn't wise to try and change it so suddenly in the ways I did. More importantly I realized that like many other times in my life I was needlessly comparing myself, my abilities and my choices to those of other people.
It is an injustice to compare yourself to anyone, but it is easy to get caught up in the illusions that it brings. When you begin comparing yourself your focus immediately shifts to what you do not have and towards what you want to have, and the beauty of what you actually do have is forgotten. A similar thing happens when you compare your current self to your past self, but the the effect is always the same.
You may think to yourself that if you could do what he or she can do then you could have even more fun, that you could be happier, that you could be complete or more complete than you are now. It's an illusion that I constantly find myself caught up in, and I have to remind myself how destructive it is. We forget to just have fun doing what we are doing regardless of what anyone else is choosing to do.
With the rise of the internet we are now more capable than ever of glimpsing into the lives of others to see what they are doing with their time, imagination and skills, which can be quite depressing if we are in the habit of comparing ourselves, because inevitably we will come across people we see as being better than us. Sometimes I look at all the amazing artists, photographers, writers and dancers out there and I feel small and insignificant in comparison. As if what I do all of a sudden becomes meaningless and loses its value. But I strive to constantly remind myself that I am on a journey of my own choosing and that I love what I do, with the knowledge that the motivation behind what I do is more important than the action itself. I think this is one reason why I like to train alone and why I recommend it as one of the greatest tests of character. I believe that the competitive tendencies of people when training in groups stems from this comparing and contrasting, and I think the larger the group, the greater the chances of getting caught up in that thought process and the actions that result from it. Training alone should teach you to be happy with what you do and give you the confidence to do it wherever and whenever you feel, without having to hide behind a group of friends or people who are doing the same.
For me spring came early, as the sun rays melted away the darkness and I felt my energy levels growing all the time. While everyone was still wrapped in layers of clothing I was the first to ditch my coat and discard my sweatshirt, feeling warm from the inside out. Before summer arrived I had exchanged my training in the gym for the outdoors, as regardless of what I was doing I wanted to take every opportunity to be out in the sun, with the wind.
Over the following months I took time to explore my surroundings both on foot and by bike, sometimes with shoes. One particular experience I remember was where I went for a barefoot walk starting at my house and ended up at the local river. I don't recall whether I had any deliberate direction in mind, but I found myself walking many paths I had never been on before, with no idea where any of them were headed. By the river I made my way along the stones that stood out of the water until I reached a wide section where I could go no further without getting wet. Without knowing how deep or strong the current was I rolled my trousers up as far as they would go and began to slowly cross, gripping the stones with my toes. Shortly after leaving the safety of my rock I could feel the force of river testing my own strength, trying to topple me and at various points doubts in my mind arose as to whether this really was a good idea. I think I even considered turning back, but at the same time I knew that I didn't come this far to give up, and so I went slower, calming the fears in my mind. The toughest stage came about midway through as watching the flow of the water began to make me feel dizzy, and seeing myself in the middle of a river, in the middle of a forest on my own, with nothing but my backpack for company summed up this journey for me.
This has also been the year I rediscovered cycling. I think that cycling places as a kid with my older brother, my friends and on my own was one of the many things that gave me the great sense of freedom and adventure that remains with me today. At some stage though, around the age of 15 I went from being someone who was interested in doing anything active from roller blading, gymnastics, running and swimming, to someone who barely got any exercise at all. Fast forward 10 years and I found myself with access to a bike, acres upon acres of forest and country roads to explore in a place that seems infinitely more suited to cyclists than London.
Contrary to popular belief I felt that cycling again after so long was not actually like riding a bike – I did forget. But having unearthed the joy of traveling on two wheels again I quickly found my confidence and was soon riding my bike at every available opportunity.
One of my personal success stories of this year has to be learning to ride with no hands. It may seem insignificant and perhaps funny to some people, but in all my years cycling I never did gain that skill. What was even more of an achievement was the fact that it literally took me a few days learn and now I do it all the time for the fun of it. I feel like such a kid again on my bike!
In the summer I used my bike to travel around and discover new training grounds but I also just rode for the experience of it and to take in the scenery along the way. I had planned on camping out while cycling along the west coast to Turku which I estimated would take a minimum of 3 days. Seeing as I had never undertaken anything of that magnitude before and wasn't the most confident or experienced with map reading, I saw the best course of action was to do a shorter journey as a test. My chosen destination was Porvoo, a small town to the east to where I would ride and return from within the same day. On my first attempt I decided to ride from our home in Vantaa, into Helsinki to join route 170, which appeared to be the straightest and most straight forward option. Simply put it rained, my map got wet, I got lost several times without even reaching route 170 and when I finally did seem to be making progress the lack of signs coupled with the huge choice of direction meant that after riding for hours I followed a path that lead me back to where I had already came from and decided to call it a day. Feeling slightly beaten but not deterred, on my next attempt I took a different route that avoided Helsinki and took me through Sipoo instead. This time my journey went without so much as a hitch, even though I was unaware of what sort of roads lay ahead and whether I would have to ride on motorways next to high speed lorries. Although I had previously been to Porvoo, it was by car and I had no recollection of what the roads were like, and remembered little of the town itself. I had no hint as to how much further I was to ride and every hill seemed as if it was hiding my destination on the other side. It was a journey of faith, and as I've come to expect and become accustomed to, it was a journey alone.
For the most part the ride was peaceful and I saw very few cars let alone other cyclists or pedestrians. By the time I reached Porvoo it was so late that I only had time to briefly stop for something to eat and stock up on supplies before I had to come straight back again. The round trip took about 8 hours in total and was probably the hardest mental and physical challenge I have put myself through so far. Knowing that I am capable of making such a journey without any real training or preparation has given me more insight into the things I am capable of doing if I am mentally strong enough to put myself in those situations in the first place. I think that is a valuable lesson for anyone feeling stagnant or trapped in life.
Upon reflection I have often thought that the mortal nature of our bodies is forgotten or overlooked when we perform dangerous movements such as the techniques in Parkour or gymnastics on a regular basis without incident. Obviously everyone who chooses to do such things is aware on some level that these things involve putting yourself in situations that are somewhat dangerous, but I feel that often it takes an injury to really make us take this danger into account, and perhaps maybe keep it in the forefront of our consciousness. Something else that had me thinking along these lines was training barefoot. Most things are made harder when you remove your shoes, and you must be even more mindful of where and how you tread. To me it felt as if using shoes was giving a false impression of my abilities and the situation in which I was training. I have greater confidence in my sense of touch and grip when barefoot, but I am at the same time more aware of how careful I need to be, not just when landing but also when moving in any way. I think that it's not that the dangers of practicing are increased by being barefoot, but rather the dangers are hidden better when we wear shoes.
Sometime after all these thoughts I fell during training when one of my hands slipped while I was vaulting to a precision landing. It all happened so quickly but I managed to put both hands out in front of myself while falling overbalanced and head first towards the landing area. The shock of the incident was what I felt first and was able to immediately climb back up to where I was vaulting from, but at some point during the fall I had hit my leg above the knee and felt the pain getting progressively worse as I sat there. Eventually through all the hobbling I made it home, where I stayed and completely rested my leg and also went slightly crazy through being housebound for the next week. Initially the pain was so bad that for the first few days or so I had put all thoughts of training again out of my mind and just wanted to be able to walk again, simply so I could get outside. They were difficult times and I lost sleep because the pain was worst when I lay down and would find myself waking in pain. I didn't take any painkillers or see a doctor, but I iced and elevated my leg in intervals and I went from feeling like I may never train again to actually training again within maybe two weeks, as I felt myself recovering dramatically.
During those days inside I completely filmed and edited one video from start to finish and also edited the footage that I had captured so far for my second Parkour film. It didn't turn out as I had expected but at the time I thought it would be at least 2009 by the time I was fit enough to train again let alone film any of the things I wanted. Here it is:
This was what I would consider my second Parkour related injury, and I would think that hurting yourself to that extent is enough to make anyone reconsider what they are doing. Sometime later I came across a video on youtube which sparked a debate over whether Parkour was safe and whether or not enough is being done to teach people the correct or safest methods in which to practice and progress. What stood out for me was the fact that there were replies from people who said that Parkour is safe and that unexpected situations could all be trained for. As if you should be expecting the unexpected and that adequate training will eliminate any risk factor. I believe it is true that you will hurt yourself less once you improve your coordination, reflexes and strength, but in any activity in any situation in life, no matter how many years of training you have behind you, you cannot prepare yourself for things beyond your control. And I think as we progress and make less mistakes we can fall into the habit of thinking that we are less vulnerable than before, that the dangers are disappearing. From what I have seen it is almost always the case that when someone progresses in terms of strength, skill and confidence, they begin to try bigger moves, at greater heights with greater risk. If this is naturally the next step, the next stage in the evolution of your training, then it seems quite ironic that the more you improve, the more you begin to risk.
The question that I ask myself and anyone who is reading is this; do you really want to put your life on the line every time you train?
One belief I have noticed that some people who practice Parkour seem to have is the notion that perfection can never be reached, but at the same time it is what is constantly striven for. For me the realization of perfection can come at any time, and is not dependent on how much you have practiced any particular physical skill. To me it is the realization that any perceived imperfection is the result of your own expectation. When you learn to accept everything there is in life without wishing it to be any other way, every mistake is no longer something wrong, but something to learn and grow from. In that way, life is, was, and always will be perfect, regardless of what you do to try and change it in your pursuit of happiness or perfection. Real progress and growth cannot to stem from a point of imperfection. If you believe that life and what ever you are doing in life is in some way flawed, then you have automatically set yourself up for failure.
Now I'm a machine hating other machines.
One thing that attracts me to the arts so much is the idea that art gives people the freedom to live as their true selves, or in the skin of their choosing. And that the art itself is what adapts to the characteristics of the individual rather than the other way around. For me, this is a fundamental and defining aspect of the philosophy of art. When someone doesn't live these words, but instead tries to recreate the products of a particular art form, for me it is clear. I feel that society, as an intangible, ever changing idea, made up of the minds of millions, is very materialistic in many ways. What I specifically mean by this is that people have a great tendency to see something, but not look beyond it. To elaborate further, someone may see a beautiful dance, a wonderful painting, or hear a great piece of music and attempt to imitate its greatness, without realizing the state of mind or intention behind is what makes it great. It seems that the very act of trying to reproduce this greatness or its fruits is the very thing that makes an art lifeless and contrived. I feel compelled to write about such things because I feel so strongly when I see people who appear to be caught up in that way of thinking and acting.
When you are young or have only just discovered a particular art, I think it is to be expected that you cannot see beyond the basics, but I think this too is a natural process. I think that if you understand something or even just have the desire to understand, you will always find your way. I think the intensity of your desire and efforts to understand something will always dictate the speed at which you evolve in your understanding.
When people misinterpret or have no real concept of an art I feel they become mechanical and machine like, simply following a process or acting out a perceived role without exploring the expanse of their own input.
When I first started training I did a lot of balancing and rail precisions, and from what I remember it was common practice to simply look for bigger or harder jumps to do, and attempt them until they became possible, and then comfortable or repeatable. This is how I trained and managed to build up my confidence and skill level quite quickly. The problem is that, just because you are physically able to jump a 12 foot gap and land in balance on a rail, it in no way means that your body is ready to deal with the forces involved, especially when you should be aiming to repeat everything you do in order to gain confidence on deeper levels for example.
This leads me to my next point which is the c word. Conditioning. I think it was probably about one year after I first began my training that I heard about conditioning, and to this day I am still struggling to get along with the idea. I don't think I can properly explain why it doesn't sit well with me, but it is partly because I feel it is a lifeless exercise, like going to the gym to 'get fit' for the sake of being fit. Obviously, conditioning has a clear goal and higher purpose, but it is just a means to an end, and maybe that's just it.
Recently I stumbled across the answer to that nagging question when reading a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of doing physical conditioning alone. It occurred to me that the reason I didn't want to do conditioning like everyone else was because to me it always seemed like taking a shortcut. As if simply getting strong enough to be fast and perform moves was the goal of Parkour. If all it takes to make a great traceur is strength and techniques, then you could take any well conditioned athlete like a gymnast and teach them Parkour in no time at all. But I don't believe this is it. The mental training is not something you can supplement with more hours spent getting physically fitter. You can show someone safe ways in which to train and progress, but I believe that the actual Parkour is something you can only find yourself. It is a path you can be shown, but ultimately you must walk it alone.
Strangely enough though, after coming to these conclusions I have actually begun a strength conditioning program. I'm not sure what it was exactly that prompted me to do so, but I had been reading more of coach Sommers' methods for training his gymnasts as I have long been interested in gymnastics and learning skills like planche and front lever. I was also interested in learning these strength based holds as I see them as being very beneficial in relation to Parkour and the way I wish to dance or move in general.
I have also been reading some books I have by a guy named Pavel. One of them has been my guide for stretching, and the other titled The Naked Warrior, is a book written solely about building strength through bodyweight exercises and learning body tension. And this body tension is exactly what gymnasts use, both in static and dynamic movements.
I haven't really taken an interest in the science of what I do until recently, as I didn't see it as being relevant to someone whose focus was on having fun and seeing how progress could be made through challenging fear.
This summer while training in my local area I met a number of enthusiastic kids that all know the name Parkour, and even mistook me for being David Belle which was a nice complement, but their energy is mainly misguided into just jumping off things. I have always been aware that one of the best ways to teach something is to live it and demonstrate it without words, but having only basic knowledge of the science behind the movements made me feel that although I am somewhat confident and competent in what I do, I am by no means the best person to turn to for solid advice in any other respect. My desire to learn about the body again comes from the need to share knowledge gathered from my own experiences in a more complete manner. Even If I choose not to actively pursue teaching as a career, in my experience I will always come across people who are interested in learning, and I wish to advise them as best I can. Trial and error has been my main teacher since I began dancing and then training Parkour, and knowing that this isn't the safest way to train in the long run has opened my eyes to things further afield.
My training methods have changed many times this year alone, and more than ever do I see the importance of being flexible, not just physically, but also mentally in our attitudes towards training and the things we choose to do in life. Allowing changes to happen naturally.
Something I really relished this year more than ever was training, travelling and simply being outside barefoot and shirtless, being in physical connection with the elements around me, with the earth between my toes and the rain on my skin. The more I lived like this, the more it became the only way to live, and the more clothes I wore the less freedom I felt, as if the clothes themselves have some sort of dampening effect on the energies of the world. For me just going outside and feeling the ground on the soles of my feet is akin to waking from a long dream and seeing everything for the first time. I liken the act of wearing shoes when training to climbing while wearing boxing gloves. I find it a wholly more spiritual experience and at the same time I feel more focused when my toes are in the fresh air. My feet actually got a suntan this year, and to me they are grateful. Remove the shoes and do something beautiful!