Question: How do you explain the fact that elderly mountain farmers climb up steep hillsides effortlessly every day without experiencing knee problems, or that Sherpas carry heavy loads to base camps without any prior physical training? Why do so many young people have knee problems and lack endurance?
Little by little we will provide answers to these and other questions. Today, however, we would like to disclose a secret that, at first glance, seems hardly to be headline material. Still, you will understand its significance immediately. In the long term it will have a positive effect on your daily life. The secret that mountain farmers and Sherpas know, next to healthy living, is the correct way of climbing!
Whether it is mountains or stairs, over the years we observed just how little is known about this technique. Even in mountain regions today, the “art of climbing” is frequently unknown among young people. When we are young, there are no serious consequences. Our body is strong and can tolerate bad posture and unnatural moves. Only in the evening we may notice that we have overexerted ourselves. Discs, muscles, tendons, bones and cartilage may have been overtaxed, but the true long-term effect is often not felt until our thirtieth birthday has passed. By then, the old habits are so ingrained that correct climbing must be learned anew.
Let’s put it in a different way: If you were to know how to climb correctly, you could climb the endless stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower without aching knees, without breaking into a sweat, and with no risk of a heart attack. And you could do that at any age. That is a promise. We could, of course, better show you this miracle technique with photos or in a video, but let’s try it here anyway. Its most important element is a “mental trick”, a feeling that you should take a look at.
Let’s start with an exercise in sensing. We are asking for your personal body awareness. Stand totally relaxed – knees slightly bent. Keep your body from your hips up balanced and straight in such a way that you do not need to tense any muscles above your hips in order to remain upright. Slightly move your upper body back and forth in order to find this center. You found it? Wonderful!
Keep reminding yourself that you never need to leave this center, whether you are climbing steep or shallow steps, gently sloping roads or steep terrain. If you climb without this technique, you can still do it, but you will need strength and lots of it!
So you are now focusing on the center. Combine the feeling of the center with the movement of climbing. Here, too, you need to learn only a feeling. It does not require a special performance or physical effort. This is how it is best done:
You are standing at the bottom of a staircase. You are standing straight and centered. Raise the leg with which you would normally begin climbing stairs and put it on the first step. Remain upright and relaxed. Do not bend forward, not even slightly. Remain centered and balanced – mentally and physically. And here is the “trick” that for centuries has allowed mountain dwellers, young and old, to climb the highest heights. Instruct the leg that is resting on the first step and therefore slightly bent to “straighten slowly”. Don’t tell it “lift me” – only tell it “straighten”.
Now, straighten the leg and remain centered. You have already conquered the first step. Put the other leg on the next step and repeat the thought “straighten slowly”. The second step is reached. You are essentially using natural hydraulics to steer your knee joint. Please continue slowly until you feel “I am centered and my legs must only straighten in order to lift me.”
There is no effort involved, no exertion, no burden, no groaning. Simply put, it is not difficult for your leg to straighten from a slightly bent position to lift your weight, even if it is a lot of weight. Meanwhile, your other leg can relax, since it must only lift its own weight to the next step.
Practice this for a little while – straighten your slightly bent legs. Your upper body need not do anything other than to feel balanced (and keep the balance) and to pick the spot for the next step or to enjoy the view. Practice and enjoy what you are experiencing. For many people this is an eye opener.
Experiment also to see what happens when you don’t tell your leg to straighten. Instead tell it to lift your entire body. Feel the difference that these two thoughts bring about, even though your leg appears to be doing the same thing. It is important that you never take two steps at once even if you can do so effortlessly. We tend to do this when we are young, often as a sign of exuberance and strength. However, this creates unnecessary stress on muscles and tendons, and is a waste of energy. In the long run, this practice leads to overexertion.
Some time ago a 92-year old participant in Johanna’s wellness week mentioned that he had been feeling great since he started following our recommendation not to eat animal protein. The only problem he had was climbing the stairs in the hotel, since there was no elevator. Johanna showed him how to climb properly. He was so excited that he was not out of breath that he climbed the stairs of the four-story hotel twice – from cellar to attic.
Some things are so simple that they are very difficult to grasp. We think too much and observe to little. Once correct climbing has become second nature to you (and your body will see to that), then you most likely will take a closer look when you see in old movies how a Sherpa or a true mountain farmer moves and works.