Win a Winner!
Writers & Photographers
Berlitz Summer Camp
by Angela Geiser
When Esther Gokhale was nine months pregnant, she experienced intense pain along the sciatic nerve in her lower back. Doctors expected it to go away when the baby was born, but it continued, so painfully that she sometimes had to walk around the block in between the baby’s nighttime feedings to relieve severe back spasms.
Gokhale tried acupuncture and physical and chiropractic therapy. She had little success, and a day before baby Maya’s first birthday, she underwent surgery for a herniated disk. But the pain returned, setting Gokhale on a yearlong quest for a solution to back pain.
She traveled around the world and found the answer in an unlikely place – in traditional societies, and in the way they stand, sit and position their bodies.
She learned of L’Institut d’Aplomb in Paris, where instructor Noelle Perez taught an anthropologically based posture technique. Perez noticed that certain traditional cultures have a much lower incidence of back pain than those in industrialized countries, and theorized that the latter have lost age-old techniques for using their bodies safely.
Gokhale studied with Perez, learning to mimic the everyday movements of these villagers and tribal members. Her back pain eased. Inspired, she visited India, Brazil, Portugal and Burkina Faso in Africa to observe, photograph and interview people without back pain. She saw that people in these communities do strenuous work, but stay safe due to good posture and skeletal structure.
Many of us in modern societies have lost this natural architecture. Gokhale believes this is why 90 percent of the U.S. population suffers back and neck pain at some point, according to the World Health Organization, even while spending $100 billion a year to avoid or treat it. We stand, sit, bend and walk poorly, developing distortions in our backs, necks, hips and feet, says Gokhale, who went on to develop a method to restore proper posture and relieve pain, which she has taught since 1992.
Baby Adds to the Burden
Adding pregnancy on top of distortions caused by poor posture is often “more than our systems can bear,” she says.
Still, pregnancy doesn’t have to be that way. In the traditional villages she visited, Gokhale marveled at how expecting and new mothers carried the extra weight not only painlessly, but gracefully.
“What I’ve realized is that pregnancy and maternity are indeed stresses on the system, but they are stresses that we are capable of withstanding if we have healthy baseline body architecture and movement patterns,” Gokhale says.
Her series of unique posture methods for normal daily movements – including sitting, standing and walking – is documented in her Nautilus Award-winning book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. The book is packed with photos and detailed step-by-step instructions, but the basic tenets are fairly simple to follow:
• Stand and sit straight. Tip the pelvis and buttocks back slightly, rather than tucking them forward, to avoid slumping and compressing the discs of the lower back. Keep most of your weight over your heels.
• Hold the shoulders back. The arms should hang near the back of the torso and the thumbs or palms face forward. Push the top of the head upward to lengthen the spine and decompress the vertebrae.
• Use your “inner corset.” This method forms a brace to make the torso tall and slender instead of short and squat, much like the support belts that some people wear to move heavy objects.
1. Stand in a relaxed, balanced position with most of your weight on your heels.
2. Place the fingertips of your left hand on your spinal groove.
3. With your right hand, reach upward and a little forward. Lengthen your back and maintain your spinal groove.
4. Reach up with your left hand. Keep your arms parallel and stretch upward as far as you can. Become aware of the muscles in your abdomen. Contract these muscles so your abdomen feels sleeker than usual. Don’t sway the back by moving the shoulders and rear too far back.
5. Lower your arms and relax your shoulders while maintaining the abdominal support established in step four.
While no studies have been done to rate the effectiveness of her methods, the anecdotal evidence is strong. Gokhale includes rave reviews in her book from dozens of clients, as well as doctors from the Mayo Clinic, Stanford University and Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Gokhale’s methods have had a profound impact on her own motherhood experience. While suffering from the herniated disc following Maya’s birth, doctors advised her against having any more children. However, as she transformed her posture and healed her back, she felt the confidence to have two more children. Both experiences, to Gokhale’s great delight, were pain free.
Steven Spielberg: Director Dad|
The legendary filmmaker’s Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, an adrenaline-pumping, motion-capture animated adventure, is enjoying a successful run in movie theaters across the United States.