We had the privilege of interviewing Esther Gokhale, acupuncturist and author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back recently. The interview was initiated due to the fact that many people suffer from back pain, especially mothers since we tend to carry our children around so much. Here is our Q & A time with Ms. Gokhale:
TFB: In the initial email we received, it mentioned that you are an acupuncturist and pain expert. I am sure most of us have heard of acupuncture, but many may have never used it or even have the knowledge of why a person would consider seeing an acupuncturist. So could you explain what exactly it is that you do?
EG: Acupuncture treats pain by relaxing muscles and reducing nerve inflammation. In the traditional Chinese medicine view, acupuncture helps restore the normal flow of Qi (bioelectric energy) and Blood through specific channels in the body. Delicate needles are inserted into precise points on the channels to trigger regulatory pathways that are only partially understood in modern medicine. Consultation with an acupuncturist includes extensive talking, observation, looking at the tongue, and taking pulses to determine how best to harmonize the system. My favorite application of acupuncture doesnâ€™t involve pain at all, but rather an electrical reset of the body that leaves patients feeling relaxed, refreshed and grounded.
Studies from Europe and Asia on the effectiveness of acupuncture emphasize its enhancement of other therapies and the benefits of this therapy in relation to more invasive techniques like surgery. Iâ€™ve found that acupuncture unleashes the bodyâ€™s natural healing power in recovering from a host of conditions.
8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back was the culmination of a long journey for me from constant pain and the looming threat of surgery, to an active life without pain or physical limitation. After years of poorly practiced yoga and my first pregnancy led me to the operating table, I hoped my back troubles were at an end. In spite of following the advice I was given, I had a relapse of unbearable sciatic pain that made sitting and lying down for extended periods impossible. Doctors advised both a second surgery and that I refrain from having any more children. Determined to find another alternative, I set out to understand and address the root causes of back pain. 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back is the result of what I learned studying cultures around the world in which back pain is virtually non-existent as well as work with experts in posture, movement and physiology.
TFB: On your website it says, “About a century ago, our culture took a wrong turn”, can you explain what has changed in the last hundred years to affect our posture in such a negative way?
EG: Muscle pain is often blamed on a change from more active to more sedentary lives, but the truth is that movement has been a major cause of our modern epidemic of back pain. The last century was an age of great migration, in which people left communities and homelands in which they had lived for countless generations to find new lives elsewhere. In this shift, important cultural knowledge about how we move was lost as parents raised their children away from grandparents and other community members who might serve as posture models. New always seemed better, and clothes, furniture, the movies we watched and the ads we saw in magazines began to reflect a new, stylish, exaggerated posture in which the hips were tucked and the rest of the body slumped, curved and swayed around this poor foundation.
Excellent posture, however, can still be found in photographs, sculpture and art from hundreds of years ago, and in communities with a link to the traditions and movements of the past.
TFB: What are ways, we as mothers, can improve the way we carry our children to prevent bad posture and subsequent back pain?
EG: The most important thing in carrying your child is to periodically lengthen the childâ€™s spine and to support a healthy forward-tipped (not tucked) pelvic position. Babies are born with excellent posture, and fantastic instincts. In fact, we can learn a lot from simply watching the way they sit, sleep and move. Unfortunately, the beds, stroller, bouncy chairs and backpacks we carry them in often distort their natural good posture. Umbrella strollers are an excellent example of this. Their rounded shape forces the babyâ€™s spine into a C-shape, encouraging the head to drop onto the chest, reducing circulation throughout the body and compressing the lungs.
Our directions to our children also need to be effective, positive and correct. â€œSit up straightâ€ is ineffective and actually damaging. We need to say things like â€œstack your blocks,â€ â€œducky butt, not tucky butt,â€ and â€œput your tail out behind youâ€ – and we need to know what those mean. You want to guide your child to stay away from a C-spine and an S-spine, but rather maintain her natural J-spine.
“Stack your blocks” refers to stacking the vertebrae face to face rather than edge to edge. In the long run this prevents osteoporosis
(weight-bearing on the bodies of the vertebrae helps keep the calcium in the bones); it also helps prevents arthritis (edge to edge stress stimulates bone spur formation.)
“Ducky butt not tucky butt” refers to anteverting (tipping forward) the pelvis as opposed to tucking the pelvis.
Tail out behind you, not under you is an image that also helps people position the pelvis well.
The best way to teach a child about posture is to show them images and point to real life examples. Children are very visual learners. 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back is filled with suitable images. Here are a few: C shape on p. 14 , fig F-16. S-shape – p. 34 lower left (but we should be able to do better), and j-spine – lower left p. 20.
More traditional societies carry babies in ways that use the motherâ€™s skeleton as a support for an upright spine above a forward tilted pelvis.
TFB: I noticed that you are offering free online courses and have one coming up on May 1, could you tell us more about what it will be about and how it could help us?
EG: It helps a great deal for parents to have knowledge of what constitutes healthy posture. Our online courses give an overview of this as well as instruction in the first steps to take to restore healthy spinal architecture. The teleseminars allow for questions and answers, image display and even video communication between participants.
TFB: Are their any other tips that you would like to share with our readers or any closing remarks?
EG: We are born with near perfect posture. As parents, the best thing we can do is stayed attuned to the magical ways in which our children find comfortable, natural ways of moving, sitting and sleeping, and then provide support for them to retain those healthy habits. As they grow older, this often means addressing our own poor posture, so that we can give our children healthy models to copy in a society where those models are difficult to find.
Thank you. I enjoyed reading chapter 5 of Ms. Gokhale’s book that I received as a freebie when I signed up for her newsletter:
This book distills the Gokhale MethodSM in self-help form for those who cannot attend the course at the Center. In 8 simple lessons, with no special equipment and no tedious exercises, you will address the root cause of your pain. Whether you spend most of your day in a chair on or on your feet, you can reclaim the pain-free back you were born with. Remember when it didnâ€™t hurt? You can feel that way again!
If you go to Esther’s website www.egwellness.com, you can sign up for her newsletter and also receive a free chapter from her book.
About Esther Gokhale
Esther Gokhale (go-clay) graduated from Princeton with a degree in biochemistry and earned her C.A. from the San Francisco College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. After personal struggles with back pain, unsuccessful back surgery, and a dismal prognosis, she began what would become a lifelong dedication to understanding and addressing the root causes of pain. After a five-year study and certification in AplombÂ®, a French movement re-education technique, Esther traveled to Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America to study posture and movement in populations with a low incidence of back pain. She also continued her academic studies, taking courses in anatomy and anthropology at Stanford. Her education, training, and research enabled her to develop a unique, systematic method of restoring pain-free posture and movement, which she teaches at her Palo Alto clinic. Her technique is now detailed in her first book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. She currently divides her time between her family, teaching and training in the Gokhale MethodSM, the design of products to support healthy movement, speaking engagements, and ongoing research and data collection.
To purchase her book visit: http://wellstackedback.com/products/products.html
Resources to check out: