086. Jessi Stensland: Feet, reflection, and nature

Episode summary

Jessi Stensland LINK (250)
Jessi Stensland

How does a professional tri-athlete become a barefoot nomad? The path has never been clearer to Jessi Stensland. She discusses the role of movement in her life, before diving into her passion: feet. Jessi unpacks her own journey of foot discovery, and shares foot recommendations for others. She describes her personal reflective practices, and her focus of prioritizing nature in her life.

Jessi Stensland is a Nature-based, movement-inspired, wild and free human currently in living in Oaxaca, Mexico. She has a background in human performance, was a college swimmer, professional triathlete and mountain sport athlete who more recently began exploring parkour and dance. Jessi is working on a concept designed to inspire a rerooting of our collective core values within Nature. She is passionate about living with Nature, moving in Nature, and about permaculture, foraging, growing food, floor sleeping and, as always: free feet.

Highlight [0:00]

Jessi: So I like to challenge people. That’s a good example, too, of just challenging people in that moment, like are you in or are you not? And it’s always fun to come up with people who are just like on it, even more than they sometimes know sometimes that they are prepared to even do something like that. Just like run with feet anywhere.

Introduction [0:24]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Episode summary
  • Jessi’s background and bio
  • Shout out to Ric for supporting MM on Patreon!

Role of childhood movement [2:15]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Currently watching parents parent, with grandparents
  • Parents were athletes and young parents, so very active
  • Learning to swim at 4, competing by 6, and competing regularly at 8
  • Competitive was part of how she was raised
  • Playing with friends, with balls on courts, but making up their own rules
  • Swimming was her main sport through college, and then became triathlon
  • Fear of open water, ocean, part of her triathlon career.

Jessi: Yes. What’s really amazing is that I’m getting to watch my parents parent almost right now. Because my sister had three kids, exactly like my brother and sister and I, three of us very close in age, all within two and a half years total. And my parents had us at ages 21 to 24, so if you can imagine they’re super young, they’re super active, they were athletes themselves in high school years. And yeah, and now they’re very young, 65. Well, at the time it’s 55 to 65 years old now with the kids and I get to watch them parent.

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Jessi: So I can tell you that we were very active for those reasons, period. They were very young parents. They were athletes at the swim team and the swim club from age four, learning how to swim, competitive by age six., at least going into competitions and little races at six, and by eight we were like ferocious competitive people. And that’s exactly what my nieces and nephews are. It’s incredible. In interesting ways because now I get to observe whether I feel what the competition is actually a thing anymore, because for me, it’s not a thing. But she was so rooted in the fact that you wanted to win. I would say they’re doing it in a very healthy way. I think it was a healthy-ish way. I will just say it’s a lot, and it was, and now I get to see why I was so competitive because of that.

Jessi: So if I could fast forward, so swimming and competitive at six to eight and then really swimming was my core sports. Not that we didn’t do other things, but mostly that turned into things like my swimmer friends playing crazy ball on the basketball court or the tennis court. We used balls and we used courts, but we just did it so that we could run around and hit each other and play with balls. It’s a good memory, because I love the fact that it was so random, there was no rules and that was a lot of our movement. So yeah, we played if we weren’t swimming. And we had the freedom to do that, that’s true.

Jessi: I would say we were quite like that through high school, actually, because we had our Summer League at the swim club. So the swim club was just a free for all if we weren’t just swimming those hour or two for the day, and we did that long, long time. And then it was college swimming, which started, I would say, to be more of the only thing I do is this. So it’s which… Then I turned to… Yeah.

Craig: True. And it’s says then you turned into triathlon.

Jessi: And then triathlon, and it wasn’t until-

Craig: If swimming isn’t hard enough, swimming in open water…

Jessi: Oh my God.

Craig: Swimming in open water is a whole different animal. Yeah that’s a different-

Jessi: We should talk about that. I was talking about fear that I don’t have anymore. It was thanks to getting over the fear of swimming in the water in the ocean. Because I have fear, like Dan Edward says is a visceral response, but I don’t live in fear, but I was afraid in open water. And that lasted about seven years of my triathlon career. No, I wouldn’t say… Very potent in the beginning and I forgot I had it, but I still needed to be around people. I couldn’t just be out there by myself. And it was really seven years in or way late that I realized, “Oh, I’m okay out here in this same body of water I always resented,” nothing changed but my mind. Okay. That’s a side note, but yeah, [crosstalk 00:06:23] the ocean has been there forever. So yeah, it was a big deal. It was a big deal.

Feet [7:38]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Rendezvous 2016, barefoot, where Craig and Jessi met
  • Sasa Sevo accidental race, challenging people to see if they’re ‘in,’ ‘prepared’x
  • Barefoot benefits, kinesiology. Banned word list (constructive vocabulary); barefoot is on the list
  • ‘Barefoot’ implies that shoes are normal
  • Defaulting to feet, rather than shoes, and only using shoes as needed
  • Self exploration and awareness, especially through Triathlon injuries, all led to the feet
  • Noticed muscular difference in feet herself, visited specialists who couldn’t give answers
  • Eventually started explore it herself, intuitively doing her own physical therapy

Jessi: In other words, if people come up to the trail on me and they say, “Do you run barefoot?” And I said, “I don’t run barefoot, I run. You run in shoes.” And why? Because we have a shoe company called Vivobarefoot, live barefoot. The first time someone asked me, “What does barefoot mean to you, Jessi?” And I was like whoa.

Craig: They mean shoes.

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Jessi: Meaning if someone has to ask me, very, very wholeheartedly asked me what I think the word barefoot means, though something’s wrong with that word in our day and age now so unfortunately. It’s just fine, so I just worked through context of feet. So in other words, I would reframe the question to say something like, “How did you get into feet?” And that’s the point, which is to say, I put feet at the center. I default to feet. How that came about instead of defaulting to shoes in other words. I’ll soon go out without gloves on, unless I have a reason to put gloves on. It’s the same way. I don’t think I’m going out the door, I got to put something on my foot. No, I walk out the door, I’m like, “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa.” Or if I go to do a trail walk or run or hike, I bring the Fivefingers with me and put them on as needed, and only at the speed I want to run. If I just want to walk and tiptoe, that’s fine, but if I want to move faster than I’m going to put them on. But I don’t often just put them on.

Jessi: So that’s the default to feet context. How I got into it was through self… You guys all know this, self exploration, self-awareness of that which brought me even to the sport of triathlon in general, the triathlon, the repetitive movements. I didn’t know my body until later when I was broken. I got broken down, had to crawl back out, like why is this happening to my body? Why does that hurt? I kept seeking those answers. And eventually they led me to the foot, which nobody in my world could really lead me to. So my human performance specialists, we still all wear shoes. They might’ve said engage your big toe, but they couldn’t see it. And I wasn’t doing it. So they would say it, they went so far as to say, engage your toe because my leg was unstable, I couldn’t stand on one leg. And they’re like, “Engage your big toe.” But it was in a shoe. And they have the right idea-

Craig: You are standing on marshmallows so you’re not connected to the ground.

Jessi: Yeah. Which I always think back like they missed it. No, actually they didn’t miss it. They knew to say it, but we weren’t taking the shoe off and actually looking at it happen. So when that happened was in the shower after swim session. When, again, I wasn’t in the shower like, “I’m going to figure this out.” I just was observant. I looked down at my feet that day, maybe it’s not as usual. And I saw that one foot was really less defined than the other, like smaller. So my right big toe was smaller than my left big toe. I had more veins in my left foot than my right foot. It must’ve pointed out… Yeah it was very, very obvious I guess. I had to remember that exact day, it was now in 2008, but I went home and I looked and that was the day I realized that this big toe on my left side could do that by itself-

Craig: Yeah different range of motion.

Foot recommendations [17:21]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Erwan Le Corre’s quote about instant gratification
  • Feeling good in the moment, you don’t have to feel like crap before your workout is over
  • Just starting with standing, in nature, observing the texture
  • Don’t just start with “backing down” to minimal footwear, just actually use your feet!
  • Include your feet in your playing, your adventures, your life
  • Building up your foot, variability of surfaces in running
  • Craig’s foot history; Feiyue, Saucony Bullets (without inserts), hip and spine flexibility allows for better response while running
  • Taking the trash out in the snow, without shoes

Retreats, change, nature [26:31]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Inspired by the place; living daily in harmony with nature, fruits falling from trees, moving, dancing, free
  • Changed since the retreats; now living in Oaxaca
  • More comfortable, local, rooted. Here for herself this time
  • Coast Rica, Punta Mona permaculture retreat
  • Learning about nature, how to live with and cultivate it
  • Currently in Oaxaca to find serenity to process what she’s learned
  • Life, people, but also a lot of nature, jungle, beach

Reflective practices [31:06]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Jessi’s banned word list; should
  • First she was all about feet, now expanded to nature
  • Various scopes of nature
  • We are all nature; simplest way of looking at things, to the very complex
  • She doesn’t separate mental and physical so much, but mental care is going to nature
  • Thought process: childlike interest in nature; just touching everything, enjoying how things feel
  • Moving to feel good, enjoying nature, connecting with nature
  • Sensory, bio-mechanical experiences, finding stillness and comfort
  • Self care and meditation; Yes, meditating, but not how we usually mean it
  • Cycles, finding stillness in being present
  • Meditating in a “box”; 20 min in the morning, but for Jessi, waking up on the roof, being present, sensing, thinking, stretching naturally
  • Yes, journalling, writing, but the naturally occurring processes most important

Final thoughts [43:03]

  • Chapter transcript…
  • Make nature a priority; whatever you think that means
  • Define it in your core values
  • Is it a core value in your life, your movement?
  • Are you aware of when you’re in contact with nature?
  • Foraging: There is so much around you constantly, if you learn to look
  • You’ll be able to see these journeys on Jessi’s instagram (@wildsoulja 1)

Further info

Jessi’s website, Feet Freex 5, has more info about feet, movement, and science. She is also a Vibram five finger 1 ambassador.