I have been practicing massage therapy and bodywork for over 19 years. I believe in the value of massage and love my work. But over the years I noticed many clients kept returning with the same, or related complaints/injuries, over and over again. And this happened even though they diligently performed PT exercises, stretched, practiced yoga etc. I felt there was something missing, something that could help clients retain the benefits of therapeutic work and maintain their good health. For me that answer came when I learned about the Gokhale Method®, a postural re-education method created by Esther Gokhale, author of the bestseller 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back.
My introduction to the Gokhale Method came through my massage client Susan, a former competitive figure skater and modern dancer who had experience with several forms of bodywork. When she excitedly told me about a wonderful article she had just read in the New York Times about the Gokhale Method, I listened. The whole concept of posture re-education as a means to become free of pain made sense, but with so many different approaches and techniques already out there, I just filed it away to look into later. My “later” came much sooner than I expected. In a few weeks Susan came back for her regular massage and shared with me that she was taking the Gokhale Method Foundations course and how helpful it was. What I noticed right away in our session were the changes in Susan’s body. The most pronounced improvement was in her lower back. Her spine and pelvis were much more balanced and open, and her hamstrings were no longer tight and congested. I literally felt like I was working on a different person. And what was even more impressive, these improvements persisted over the weeks. That was enough to motivate me to sign up for the course to learn more.
My original intention was to simply experience the work to see if this was something I could recommend to my clients. I didn’t anticipate how deeply the work would affect me. First, what I learned in the course turned my “body worker’s world” upside down. It completely changed my understanding of healthy posture. Instead of the popular S-spine, considered normal in our society, Esther teaches something very different. She teaches a shape and body architecture shared by our ancestors, some isolated populations today, and young children the world over. She calls this shape a J-spine. And populations with this type of spinal architecture do not experience as much back pain as modern populations do. The lesson is that if individuals get their body parts lined up correctly, they become resistant to injuries and general wear and tear. The Gokhale Method techniques are simple and performed with everyday activities such as standing, bending, sitting, lying down, and walking. The beauty of the method is that once you learn how to apply the knowledge, every task can become therapeutic, whether sitting in a chair, or cleaning house, or standing in a check out line.
Anatomy textbooks from 1911 (right) showed healthier spine shapes than more recent textbooks (left).
Another unexpected benefit of taking the course was the improvement of my overall health. I noticed that my tension headaches decreased considerably. All of a sudden, I found myself with extra time on my hands since I didn’t need to lie down to nurse headaches. I had more energy. Also, my functionally shorter leg evened out and I no longer needed to trim and hem my “long” pant leg.
Before I was introduced to the Gokhale Method, the concept of good posture was confusing. To sit and stand up straight with shoulders pulled back was tiring and very uncomfortable. Popular guidelines on how to attend to the lumbar and cervical curves, and how to walk did not help me. The Gokhale Method clarified posture for me. I learned that good posture is mainly relaxed, very comfortable, and available to everyone. Now if I feel a headache coming on, it’s a cue to check my head and neck position, and to lengthen the back of my neck. If my pant leg starts to drag on the floor, I am reminded to work my glutes more in glidewalking…
Healthy posture (right), learned through the Gokhale Method, results in a presence that is more upright, more confident, and more open.
So yes, healthy posture is an ongoing project for me, but having the right tools has made it very empowering and rewarding. Practicing my posture helps me center myself — I feel grounded and find I move more gently and mindfully throughout the day.