Moving Barefoot Improves Your Mental and Emotional Fitness too? An Interview with Dr. Emily Splichal
Hey everyone, Darius here. I’m excited to introduce Dr. Emily Splichal. I felt like Dr. Splichal has great insights into how being barefoot can increase both athletic and mental performance. She’s had a wide-ranging set of clients ranging from Wall Street Bankers to NFL players and we’re lucky to have had the opportunity to interview her. Without further ado, here’s part one of the our interview.
Darius - Hey Emily, thanks for joining us! Can you quickly introduce yourself to our audience?
Emily: Sure. My name is Dr. Emily Splichal. I am a functional podiatrist and a human movement specialist from New York City. In addition to being a clinician, I’m also a barefoot science educator and consultant for various companies. I teach globally under my education company EBFA Global or Evidence-Based Fitness Academy, with our barefoot strong education or program in 35 countries and translated to 15 languages.
Outside of the above, I am also the inventor of Naboso Technology which is the first ever textured insoles that uniquely designed to stimulate the nerves in the bottom of the feet. Our nervous system uses texture discrimination to maintain upright posture and to control foot placement during dynamic movement. Essentially the more information that is fed through the skin in the bottom of the feet, the more efficient and precise our movements will be. Naboso Technology is used by my clients and patients, such as NFL players & marathon runners, to train their nervous system to anticipate movements faster which ultimately improves their performance and reduces their injury risk.
Darius: Great, thanks for that introduction. Your work sounds interesting and I’m surprised you have any time for yourself!
I’m interested in getting your opinion on the science behind mental performance / the brain and how moving barefoot affects it. I remember reading that you believe having your feet access to a lot of stimulation (ie: the ground or a textured insole) benefits your empathy, right? Could you talk a little bit more about that? It’s something that doesn’t sound intuitive at first glance.
Emily: The way that our brain perceives and relates with the external environment is through sensory stimulation. That sensory stimulation comes through either touch, ie: the bottom of the feet or the palm of the hands but it also comes from vision and the vestibular system (ears).
The more sensory information that we have coming in, the more accurate our movements will be, the faster we will stabilize during dynamic movement and the lower the risk of injury.
Interestingly, our brain also uses sensory information to lay the foundation to allow cognitive processing and emotional flexibility. Optimal brain function is really built around IQ (cognitive), EQ (emotional flexibility) and MQ (motor control).
We set this pattern or foundation for brain function when we are young. When children are first learning and developing associations, the more sensory information that comes in, the stronger the foundation for higher processing.
Often times when a child has insufficient sensory stimulation or they have a sensory spectrum disorder, such as Autism or ADHD, that ultimately starts to affect their intellectual ability and emotional flexibility.
An example of an child that is not emotionally flexible due to a lack of sensory stimulation would be one that is quick to get angry or has sudden outbursts.
Darius: Got it - I can see why touch would be so important in helping a child enhance their cognitive processing. So that leads me to my next question - how does sensory stimulation affect adults?
Emily: It would be similar. Sensory stimulation is always going to affect movement, intellect, and emotion. Remember the IQ, EQ and MQ.
There’s a book that is called “Smart Moves” by Carla Hannaford which I would recommend to everyone. She goes into all of the research related to children, sensory stimulation, the reptilian brain and the limbic system. It’s primarily centered around children, but it applies to all ages. When we are adults, we still want to think about our sensory stimulation and how it’s affecting higher brain processing. This is especially important for those who want to optimize their performance at work!
My first practice in New York City was down on Wall Street which means I had many patients in finance. Many would complain of decreased focus at work. I’d start to integrate the barefoot science and sensory stimulation with them. Many would come back saying “Doc, I notice I have more focus and am more productive at work. Does this make sense?”
Of course it did because barefoot and foot is sensory and sensory wakes up the brain If you don’t stimulate the brain with sensory input (eyes, ears, skin), it can only push so much.
Darius: The increased mental performance definitely makes sense, especially given the evidence behind sensory stimulation and increase cognitive processing ability. You had told me about an interesting partnership with some sort of Multiple Sclerosis group - I bet our readers would love to hear about that.
Emily: So the International Multiple Sclerosis Management Practice is a large treatment and research institute here in New York City. Many of the neurologists and physical therapists use our Naboso Technology products with so many of their patients getting amazing results. That gives me so much fulfillment to see the impact Naboso Technology Insoles are having on these patients.
Darius: What kind of results are they getting?
Emily: They are exhibiting an improvement in balance and coordination when they walk. They are also reporting an improvement in movement confidence. To give someone with MS back the gift of movement, is so rewarding.. This was a big driver to why I developed Naboso Technology as I knew it could have a big impact in the neuro-rehabilitation industry.
Darius: So, is it like accelerating their time to better coordination or is it giving them coordination that they probably would have almost never gotten if they didn’t have this sort of sensory stimulation?
Emily: Unfortunately in many case MS is progressive, which means patients start to lose the control of voluntary movement. A lot of them will trip and stumble or not be able to do any of the things that they like to do. As soon as they bring back the sensory stimulation they immediately notice a difference in their movement patterns.
That’s a pretty good place for us to conclude the first part of the interview. To recap, we learned about:
- Emily Splichal, her background, and her current pursuits
- How sensory feedback can affect IQ, EQ, and motor control
- A stunning example of how improved sensory feedback can help MS patients.
We actually were able to get a quote from Dr. Stephen Kanter (Physical Therapist and Director of Rehabilitation Services, International Multiple Sclerosis Management Practice) regarding Dr. Emily’s Naboso insoles with her patients. Here’s what he had to say:
“ The Naboso insoles have allowed me to advance patients’ gait and balance programs faster than before. We're able to advance our patients’ balance training that could not be done with traditional physical therapy exercises alone.
In fact, the Naboso insoles Dr. Splichal’s Naboso insoles are so popular that the neurologists at the IMSMP needed their own insoles to use to stop them from continually borrowing them from the PT Department."
It's incredibly how much of an impact creating more sensory input can affect our mental and physical performance.
In the next piece, we’ll discuss Emily’s work with weight lifters, NFL players, triathletes, and marathon runners. Stay tuned.
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