This is a guest post from our good friend Tegan Kahn. We’ve known her forever… Emma went to Pre-school with Tegan when they were 4 years old. Then primary school, then high school. Oh, life!
This is Tegan’s posture story how she went from ‘bad’ posture and pain to good posture and no pain. Anything that helps posture gets our tick of approval! She also runs sessions in Canberra, so if you have back pain get in touch with her HERE.
I remember one New Year’s Day in my early twenties when I made the ambitious resolution to ‘have better posture’. I’m sure it was the least-successful resolution I have ever made.
After three days of ‘standing up straight’, pulling my shoulders back and walking around with a book on my head (yes, I actually did that!), I gave up. It was too hard. It was too tiring. I fell back into my uncomfortable and unattractive (but familiar and easy) slump and had to come to terms with the fact I would probably never have nice posture.
Fast forward a few years and I happened upon Esther Gokhale’s TEDx Stanford talk, purely coincidentally. It lasted 6 minutes. It changed my life.
I don’t know about you, but it used to be that it didn’t matter how much I stretched or how many massages I got (at one point I was having two massages per week for 6 months for work-related RSI), the next day my muscles would be tight again. My lymph was sluggish, a calf massage was excruciating, even my big toes stuck up at a weird angle.
I’d always assumed it was genetic – my mum experienced the same problems.
I am ecstatic to say that I haven’t suffered from any of that for a couple of years now. How? The Gokhale Method®.
So what is it?
When Esther Gokhale (pronounced “go-clay”) was pregnant for the first time (about 30 years ago), she got what she describes as ‘hellish’ back and sciatic pain. She couldn’t sleep for more than 2 hours at a time, she couldn’t drive, she couldn’t do the washing.
She soldiered on for about a year, before having surgery to remove a herniated portion of her L5-S1 disc.
The pain went away…..for about a year. Then it came back just as bad as ever.
Her doctors recommended a repeat surgery. Esther (who trained as a scientist at Harvard University and is pretty big on evidence-based decisions) thought, ‘well, where’s the evidence that I won’t need a third surgery in a year’s time?’ She decided to cast an ever wider net looking for alternatives.
She travelled to India, where she grew up, and looked around at the women who spent all day bent over in the markets and in the tea fields, who told her they were tired, yes, but not in pain. And she thought, ‘what are they doing differently from me?’
She studied Aplomb® in Paris, she studied the medical literature, she travelled the world and she started to see a pattern emerge in the way most people in non-industrialised countries sit and stand and bend. And it was a very different pattern to the way most adults in western society sit and stand and bend.
The way most people bend in the non-industrialised world (see feature image) is very different to the way most people bend in the western world (see pic above)
But there was a group of people in the western world that did move like people in the non-industrialised world…
All around the world, industrialised and non-industrialised, very young children (1, 2 years old) share these patterns of movement. This was a pretty big clue to Esther that this is the natural way for humans to move. Have you ever heard of a 2-year-old with tight muscles?
Esther dubbed this our ‘Primal Posture™’ and set about re-learning the way she had moved as a 2-year-old. Along the way she cured her own back pain and developed step-by-step instructions (ie. the Gokhale Method) for other people to do the same.
The heart of the Gokhale Method is very simple: it’s a J-shaped spine rather than an S-shaped spine.
These two drawings are from medical anatomy textbooks. The S-shaped spine on the left was published in 1990; the J-shaped spine on the right was what was considered average and normal in 1911. If you look at the shape of the spaces between the vertebrae in the lumbar region (lower back) of the J-spine, you’ll see they are cylindrical, like the discs that fit into those spaces. What shape are those spaces in the S-spine? What do you think will be the effect on the cylindrical discs that go in those spaces? Hint: ouch!
All a J-spine really means is having your bottom behind you (there’s a reason they call it a behind!) and your lower back pretty straight, as opposed to the common advice of tucking the pelvis and having a curve in the lower back. While tucking your pelvis might feel good because it stretches your back muscles, it has a very undesirable effect on the lumbar discs (especially L5/S1), which can end up impinging your sciatic nerve.
Once you start to explore having a J-spine, you might be amazed by how your bones can hold you upright, and give your muscles a well-earned break.
Let’s try it right now. Find yourself a towel and fold it into a long thin strip, then fold it in half. Sit on a chair (or couch) with your bottom quite close to the back of the seat. Place the towel behind your back, just below the bra strap line. Be careful not to put it too low, where a lumbar cushion would be (this would create a sway in your spine rather than flattening it out like we are aiming for).
Roll your shoulders, one at a time: forward, up, back and relax; forward, up, back and relax. You’ll know you’ve done it right if you find your shoulders are still in position, despite the muscles between your shoulder blades being relaxed, in one minute’s time.
You now have a beautiful J-spine! Get someone to take a picture of you! How do you look? Upright? Relaxed? Elegant? Confident? Research shows posture influences your health and mood, and maybe even more important than smiling when online dating (apparently)!
For me, making the change to a J-spine has changed my life in all sorts of expected and unexpected ways. I have overcome my RSI, lower back and between-the-shoulder-blades pain, and whenever I wash my hair, unstack the dishwasher or do Zumba I know I am protecting and strengthening my body against future pain.
My experience inspired me to help others make the same changes, and I am now a qualified Gokhale Method Teacher.
The good news is, it’s easy to have healthy posture, once you know where to start.
Tegan Kahn is a Gokhale Method Teacher based in Canberra, Australia. She has a medical science degree and a masters degree from The Australian National University and a 2-year-old son who is her (posture) role model. You can contact her HERE.