Esther Gokhale is not a stalker, but she has pursued hundreds, even thousands of people around the world, mimicking their body alignment and walking style until her shadow matched theirs. She has studied men and women in isolated African, Brazilian and Indian villages where back pain is virtually unknown, despite long hours spent harvesting, weaving, cooking and toting heavy loads.
What she learned inspired her to open the Esther Gokhale Wellness Center in Palo Alto CA a decade ago, to help others better understand the difference proper posture can make. The web site is www.egwellness.com.
While many blame stress, sedentary lifestyles and biology for back pain, she found a simpler answer: “We forgot how natural posture looks and feels.”
In her light-filled Wellness Center, photos of men, women and children she has studied on her global treks line the walls, statues from India cluster on book-shelves, and mobiles of tiny figures from Africa hang from the ceiling all illustrating one of Gokhale’s primary beliefs about posture: It’s all about the pelvis.
“Ducky butt, not tucky butt,” she said, “Picture Donald Duck.” She knows her admonition to “get our behinds behind us,” contradicts the “tuck your tailbone” instructions of many yoga, dance and fitness teachers; but as a 30-year yoga instructor, she is convinced of its effectiveness.
“Tucked tailbones create depressed postures, rounding the shoulders and upper back,” she says. “Like a dog when it’s anxious, with its tail between its legs. Better structure means less pain, more confidence in your health. You look better and people respond to you differently.”
Click here to view an introductory video by Esther Gokhale.
Her book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back” (Pendo Press), published in 2008, illustrates her posture techniques and the history behind them. The book has won raves from repeat Wimbledon winner Billie Jean King, the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, doctors from the Mayo Clinic and Stanford Medical Center and even a Nobel Prize winner.
Gokhale points out that the results are not always immediate and that she sometimes recommends acupuncture and massage to achieve faster relief.
“For a person in really bad shape, a cortisone shot can create a window of opportunity to learn better structure and movement patterns,” she said, adding that she considers surgery rarely but occasionally necessary.
And while Gokhale said she feels it’s never too late to learn good posture, her goal is to prevent back problems in the first place.
That is why she encourages parents to bring in their newborns. She teaches moms and dads how to carry infants in a traditional fashion, elongating their babies’ spines. She rails against the design of modern baby furniture, umbrella strollers and car seats that are “setting kids up to slump.”
A reviewer states” “8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back shows readers how to overcome back pain through better posture. Her approach features an original blend of user-friendly exercises, physiological expertise, and in-depth historical analysis. Users will not only experience pain-relief; they will also understand why they feel so much better. The potential applications of this book are enormous. Because the Gokhale method is a holistic program for returning the body to its natural posture, her system reaches out beyond the epidemic of back pain to address dozens of other multoskeletal maladies including repetitive stress injuries and pain of the neck, foot, knee, shoulders, and hip.
“The book guides the reader through a series of disarmingly simple changes in posture that take up eight one-hour sessions. These movements involve an anteverted pelvis and use the muscles to decompress the spine, support motion, protect the joints and bones, reduce stress, and improve circulation. The relief comes right away. Unlike most back-pain books, this one does not require any special equipment, cumbersome physical exercises, expertise in Yoga or Pilates, or changes in diet or daily routine. Instead, the steps are designed to integrate easily into everyday life. One can perform them while sleeping, driving, walking, sitting in a meeting, standing in line, or bending over to pick up an object.
“Gokhale begins by asking why the epidemic of back pain has been largely confined to adults living in Europe and North America during the twentieth century. Using history and anthropology, she leads her readers through a series of key factors, culminating in the French fashion industry during the 1920′s that encouraged a tucked pelvis and habitual slouching. To counter this trend, she reproduces and analyzes over a thousand high-quality photographs and pictures of infants, and of men and women from Africa, Asia, South America, rural Europe, and from pre-industrial societies, together with many anatomical drawings. These images provide incontrovertible proof of the author’s fundamental claim that the way out of back pain leads back to the body’s natural posture.“
Another fan is Kim Scott, a 41-year-old Google senior manager and mother of 3-month-old twins who came to Gokhale after suffering a herniated disc. “I had back pain all my life,” said Scott. “Working with Esther changed the way I lay down to sleep, sit at my desk and walk. After the babies arrived, I came back to learn how to sit while breastfeeding.”
Gokhale’s posture pointers
A healthy back is a gentle J, not S, shape. Upper back is straight; relaxed shoulders slope downward; a defined groove runs the length of the spine from the neck to the “ducky butt.”
Fashion: Posture-perfect fashion means pants with less fabric in front, more in the rear. Shirts just the opposite, more fabric in front for open, relaxed chests.
Book availability: The book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back can be purchased from Esther Gokhale’s web site or online book vendor.
Credit: This text was adapted from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle as written by Noelle Robbins.
Images: All images are courtesy of Esther Gokhale.
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