Last week when I heard on the news that it was the day for the Empire State Building Race I immediately emailed my student Ben Oliner to see if he was participating in the 86 flight race as he did last year. A few minutes later I received an email that he had won the race for amateurs. (Who knew there are professional stair climbers.) Ben is a professional squash player so is in exceptionally good shape physically. In any case, racing up 86 flights of stairs is no small feat. Go Ben!
Ben and I agreed that his work with the Alexander Technique helps him with both squash and the stairs. He literally flew up the stairs taking several stair steps at one time keeping his focus on going up up up – following the lead of his head.
Although most of us go up the stairs one step at a time, the same head leading- body following principle that worked for Ben will work for us non-racers. The head leading and the body following is one of the main principles of the Alexander Technique.
This is the same principle that applies to a fish as it swims or a baby as it crawls. The whole body organizes itself around the eyes and the head.
Try this while you are going up any sort of step; a curb, subway steps, stairs in your house, or 86 floors in the Empire State Building.
The key is to take a moment to notice what you are doing and to think about what you are doing BEFORE you take your step. Notice what you are doing with your head and neck. If you are preparing to take the step by tightening in any way or shrinking in stature, chances are that you are going to feel heavy and you will have to push with your legs to get you up the stairs. (Obviously your legs and whole body are muscularly engaging in some way – but there is a difference between pushing with your legs to go upstairs and letting your legs carry your torso from one step to the next). If you are shortening yourself, you are effectively pushing yourself down into the ground and making yourself heavier. Then you are trying to go up the stairs with a heavier body and are pushing up against a downward pressure that you are creating. It doesn’t really make any logical sense to do such a thing, but that is exactly what most of us do when we go up even one step.
Try using yourself as an experiment and see what happens when you keep yourself free and easy in the neck, gently send your head up, and let your body follow your head up the step. Allow yourself to move in a new way and see what happens. This really works.
You may not fly up the stairs like Ben did but it WILL be easier. Perhaps one of you will give him some competition next year!
One more thought: Make sure your tongue is also easy and free and not pushing down along with your head and neck.