Are you a “Stair Master”?
When people begin studying the Alexander Technique, they are generally fascinated to apply what they are learning to walking. And when they’ve got a good handle on that, there’s a fun bonus activity: stairs! I was reminded of the pitfalls of stairs in this piece from yesterday’s New York Times about “Aging in Place.” It outlines how people want to stay in their homes as they get older, but that stairs are one of the biggest impediments as mobility and stability decline. (This article shares some great ideas for adapting your home for “universal design” — design elements that promote independence for disabled and older people and prove useful for everyone else, too. Hear, hear!)
But many people who do not have mobility issues still have trouble with stairs. As we head out of our (well-designed or not) homes, stairs are everywhere. Exiting the subway. Entering your child’s school. At the theater. It’s worth considering how we approach stairs, and some common myths.
‘GOING UP’ PITFALL: Pushing through your legs.
This is inefficient: when you grind a lot of weight down into a stair tread, you are essentially expending effort to push the stair away from your body – trying to push the earth away!
Easier choice: use your mind to direct your body UP, so your anti-gravitational support musculature is already releasing up and away from the stair, and your leg joint can move freely.
So, what’s the thought? Your head releases off the top of your spine, your whole torso lightens in an upward direction, then your stepping knee releases forward. Watch that you are not leaning forward in your torso – stay fairly vertical. You direct UP to go UP. There’s a natural spring in your step.
‘GOING DOWN’ PITFALL: Plopping to go down.
A common misconception is that you’re going down anyway, doesn’t your weight just drop down with each step?
Easier choice: use your mind to direct your body UP, (wait, up again??) so you’re not coming down hard on your leg joints, and they can move with ease.
So, what’s the thought again? Your head releases off the top of your spine, your whole torso lightens in an upward direction, then your stepping knee releases forward. You direct UP to go DOWN. There’s buoyancy rather than collapsing, as you direct up even while you move down in space.
WAIT – it’s the same thought, whether you are coming up or going down???
YES. You think “up to go up” and “up to come down.”
That’s it. Try it next time you see stairs!