Friday, August 27, 2010

Relieving back pain {book review}

Most of us spend an uncountable number of hours bent over computers, cell phones, desks, books and the like, which often causes neck and back strain. I know I’ve often suffered from neck and back pain due to those things and chronic pain so I seldom experience relief. In “8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back,” author Esther Gokhale reveals her method for relieving all of that pain. Gokhale developed an anthropological-based method for pain based on her observations of individuals with lower back pain. This method teaches how to sit, bend and lay in the manner of those with low incidences of back pain: our ancestors and individuals in other cultures.

Honestly, I was a bit skeptical when I received the book, but – given my own suffering from back pain as well as neck strain – I was willing to give it a try. The first thing that caught my attention, and intrigued me, about the book was the references, pictures and examples of actual people with the correct posture and stance as opposed to those with the incorrect posture and stance. Gokhale quickly explains and illustrates how we are made and how that can help, not hinder our control and healing of our posture. She writes, “If we respect our natural design, our bodies heal spontaneously, and we can function well for close to a century. Indeed, there are many populations where most people live painlessly into old age (fig.F-1).”

good bending The photographs she’s referring to show an older woman bending to gather water chestnuts and an older man bending to mold clay bricks. (Pictured here is a demonstration of the correct way to bend.) Neither individual, who are both from a different culture, experiences any negative physical impact and they have been doing that type of hard labor most of their lives. She counters this by showing how we have, in our culture, taken on a slouchy posture.

Esther headshot Gokhale’s method is not a quick and easy fix. It is an adjustment and exercises meant to correct and bring awareness over time. Here is a quick overview of eight lessons comprising her method:

  1. Stretchsitting – it’s learning to put your back into gentle traction when seated. It teaches how to sit comfortably and undoes some of the damage caused by years of hunching or swaying (arching the back).
  2. Stretchlying on back – In lesson two you learn the technique of stretchlying to elongate the spine when lying on your back, which puts the spine in gentle traction.
  3. Stacksitting – This lesson teaches the art and science of sitting, and incorporates a key concept
  4. Stretchlying on side – This lesson teaches a healthy, restful and therapeutic sleep position as opposed to sleeping on one’s side, which curls the spine into a “C” shape compressing the anterior part of the discs.
  5. Using inner corset – This involves using your muscles to protect and lengthen the spine. This powerful technique can give you additional length by contracting specific muscles in the abdomen and back to make an inner corset.
  6. Tallstanding – Learning to tallstand will enable you to stand for longer period without discomfort or fidgeting. This is achieved by aligning hips over heels with the knees and the groin area remaining soft.
  7. Hip-hinging – The simplistic explanation of this is “hinging at the hips to bend.” Gokhale says, “People who bend well usually enjoy good back health.” Successful bending involves a healthy baseline back contour, which will have been achieved by following the other lessons.
  8. Glidewalking – Glidewalking strengthens butt muscles, which in turn support pelvic anteversion, and they play a key role in balance.

good way to hold a purse A good posture, which is contrary to popular belief, is relaxed, Gokhale teaches. In her book she shows readers, through lots of illustrations, pictures and examples, how to achieve proper positioning to eliminate back pain. I am just delving into the third lesson and I’m already a 100 percent convert of her method. (Pictured here is an example of the good way to hold your purse.)

The bit I’ve learned thus far, which I have to continually remind myself to be aware of, has already made a difference in my neck and back pain. That is, when I make use of it, of course. I’m already aware of when I’m positioned incorrectly because I can feel the strain on my back. Over time, and with dedication, I’m looking forward to being pain-free. Gokhale admits that this isn’t a quick-fix method, but a change of lifestyle habit that once learned and incorporated will become a natural part of everyday life/posture.

As I was reading the book there were some areas and examples that seemed to me were against assuming yoga and pilates positions. A quick question to Esther and she cleared that up for me, “Yoga is traditionally practiced without swaying the back. Backbends, even extreme backbends, happen mainly at L5-S1, as can be seen in this [reference to the illustration in the book] cobra pose by BKS Iyengar. It's important to bend backwards only so far as your L5-S1 flexibility allows with a small amount of back bend distributed evenly throughout the rest of the spine. Compensating for stiffness at L5-S1 by arching the upper lumbar spine is counterproductive and not in the spirit of yoga.” 

She went on to explain, “Pilates is a more recent construct, and does encourage an unnatural pelvic tuck (even the instructors who teach ‘neutral spine’ teach a tucked, though less tucked pelvis). Pilates also tends to result in a lot of neck strain. One of our certified Gokhale Method Foundations instructors, who is also a pilates instructor, is in the process of modifying some of the pilates moves to make them compatible with the Gokhale Method. One of the problems with pilates is that their method is not trademarked so it is done in with a variety of interpretations. The good part is that we are free to interpret the approach in a posture-friendly way.”

Esther recommends people take up exercise they enjoy because that makes it sustainable and emphasizes that the exercise form should be posture-friendly. She also favors exercise approaches that satisfy a lot of needs at once because most of us are busy and adds that dance is her favorite form of exercise because it satisfies cardio, stretch, strengthening, social, creative and musical needs all at once.

We take a lot of time reading, studying, typing, texting, tweeting and a good amount of time exercising and doing other activities that put our spines in precarious positions, so let’s all take some time to study the “8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back.” It could be the difference between life and death… uh, I mean, pain and pain free.

Disclosure: This post is in no way comprehensive of the method and should not be used as a replacement to the book “8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back.” It is simply an informative review and should you wish further information on the method and the eight steps, purchase of the book is suggested. This post does not serve as a medical recommendation. If applicable, before engaging in this method please consult your physician. I received a copy of this book to facilitate my review, but that in no way influenced my opinions – those are my own. No other compensation was received. However, any links and linked images are connected to my Amazon affiliate account to which I receive a commission on purchases. Further information can be found in my complete disclosure policy.