A very random, but hopefully useful, bit on movement. Stairs.
I take the subway everyday in Seoul. Train boarding platforms are two or three, sometimes up to six floors underground. So there’s a lot of staircases.
Most of them are automated, AKA the escalator. Some of them are not. So everyone who takes the rail here has lots of time on stairs.
Going up the stairs is obviously the dreaded part for many people. It’s hard, it’s hot in the summer, and there’s hundreds of people crowded against each other. But in a physiological sense, going up is usually the same every time. It’s like doing a bunch of one-legged squats. Going down is the tricky part.
I noticed that sometimes going down stairs is easy and effortless. It feels like I’m gliding down. I’m quick and quiet and smooth, like Bagheera. And then other times, it’s choppy. My feet are stomping, my body is jarring, and I can’t seem to get in a good rhythm. I’m the Tin Man before Dorothy pumps oil into his joints. So what’s the deal?
It’s all about centering. I wrote you about staying close to the center, in a meta sense. This is the physical counterpart to that. Whether we stand, squat, or deadlift, we’ve got to stay close to our center of gravity and balance for optimal movement. When we’re walking, running, or going down stairs, though, we have to keep that center just ahead of us.
Take walking, for example. Try to walk slowly with a perfectly upright posture. Head above shoulders above hips above feet. Try to speed up the walk a bit. You’ll start to feel awkward. If you’ve ever dreamed of running through invisible molasses, it’s kind of like that. Hard to propel yourself forward.
Lean slightly forward, and you feel the balance shift forward. It’s a natural thing we do. When we run it’s more extreme. And when we go down stairs, it’s also the same. But I seem to have trouble with this every once in a while. And when I look around, I see a lot of people with the same issue: stompy, jarring, awkward movement down the stairs.
It’s probably because we don’t have much practice on stairs. I started to pay attention to my body as I descended into the stations. If I leaned forward with my upper body and kept my head in line with my spine, I noticed things got more natural. My steps were timed better, I was landing with the ball of my foot rather than the heel, and I was able to engage into the next step down more easily. The panther was back.
When I forgot this, if I was tired, or distracted, I would find myself sloppily crashing down again. Feet slapping against the steps, hips jarring, and timing all off. If I examined myself, I would find my head and shoulders too far back, as if I were still walking on flat ground. Readjusting to lean slightly forward not only fixed my mechanics, it also caused me to be mentally engaged with the task of going downstairs. Being present to our movement is just as important as being physically strong or nimble.
And this last part is important to the long game. We know about the geriatric population being prone to falls. Well, guess what. We are all part of the geriatric population, now or later. I think younger people are just lucky that they are slightly more nimble, slightly quicker and avoid disasters when they aren’t paying attention. We all have the opportunity to develop better movement skills.
Be mindful of your body mechanics the next time you approach a staircase. No matter how big or small it is, make each step smooth and quiet. Take each step down with intention. This counts for sidewalk curbs as well. When crossing the street, make that first step off the curb with focus. Our attention to the smallest things scales to the biggest things in life.