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Fiona’s Journey out of Back Ache, via French Byways, to Gokhale Teacher Training

August, 2023

The Question 

Can I get Gokhale-fit in 9 weeks (for a long overseas trip) via the online Gokhale Elements course?

The Dream

The trip of a lifetime is looming: 3 months in France in Spring 2023—something I’ve dreamed of for a long time. As a 67-year-old Australian, this means a lot of dreaming and a lot of planning! We’re not walking the Camino, though there’ll be lots of walking…it's more about an immersion in beauty and daily life in French towns and countryside. 

Colorful map of the World drawn for children.
We're off in search of lush French beauty to top up our more arid and windswept Australian variety—and hopefully shine a light on an elusive French ancestor trail. Freepik

The Reality

Excitement’s building, home-front preparations are ratcheting up, French lessons take on more urgency…but I’ve been aware for a while of anxiety about how my body will cope. In particular I worry about the nitty gritty of travel: hoicking heavy suitcases into cars and taxis and onto airline scales, up and down stairwells and elevators, the sitting for hours…and hours and hours (around 24 each way) in uncomfortable airport lounges and aeroplanes—and the unfamiliar beds, tiny crowded footpaths, ankle-testing cobblestones, showers in baths—and all that walking. 

Osteoporosis

I’ve travelled lots, and well off the beaten track—but for the first time I’m aware that my body isn’t as young as it used to be and I wonder how I’ll cope with it all this time around. I’m generally healthy but have inherited thyroid and bone density issues. My current osteoporosis DEXA-scan score is -3 in the worst area—gradually drifting downward over the years despite regular daily exercise of various sorts, a very good diet, and various trials of medication. My back issues have been slowly increasing. Six-monthly injections were the only intervention producing slightly increased bone density but I had to switch medications due to side effects. 

Osteoporosis features strongly in my extended family, and I’d seen my own wonderful mum gradually defeated by increasing back aches and its psychological impact, and by inadequate healing and gradual decline after falling, despite her exceptional commitment (well into her 80s) to preventative and post-op exercise and diet.

Dexa scan of lumbar spine, Fiona Nichols.
My lumbar spine DEXA scan showed a high risk of fracture due to low bone density.

I could see—and feel—myself heading in the same direction, albeit 30 years behind her. An increasingly common ache in my back, low energy, increasing need for afternoon naps (something I’d thought was for people much older than me), difficulty sleeping comfortably at night due to back stiffness, and needing to sit with my knees up, whenever decent, to feel comfortable. I’d given up on household and garden jobs requiring back work. My mood and outlook were affected. 

Feedback from previous Gokhale Method course participants 

Someone I knew had had a remarkable and quick turnaround from severe, crippling, intractable back pain following a Gokhale Method Foundations Course in Sydney, with teacher Michelle Ball in 2017. Her back issue was disc protrusion, not osteoporosis, but like me she’d tried everything recommended to her by conventional medicine and a range of alternative approaches, without success. However, almost immediately on starting the 6-lesson Foundations Course she felt improvement—and since then has had no further back issues. She says, 

It saved my life. I have zero pain today and the best posture! Esther is my hero! 

Myriam Glorieux, Australia, 2023.

On the Gokhale Method website I’d also read Sheila Terry’s blog: How Correct Posture and a Holistic Approach Helped My Osteoporosis, written after a deep immersion in Gokhale Method training and practice. I was inspired. I dithered for a while because of the expense and the time commitment, neither of which I could manage easily in the lead-up to going away for so long. But I knew the increasing ache in my back—and the movements it was beginning to restrict—would impact a lot on our time away and all the trip preparations. 

Drawing of effect of osteoporosis on the thoracic and cervical spine and bone close-up.
Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bone and a reduction in its density. The Gokhale Method considers that healthy posture may well be key to the skeleton weight-bearing correctly and maintaining bone density. Image from Wikimedia Commons

My Online Initial Consultation 

I had an Online Initial Consultation with Esther Gokhale. She felt that based on the posture photos and medical reports I’d sent, and from what she could see of my movements and posture on Zoom, I had problem areas which if not addressed would likely get worse—but if addressed would improve. I dithered again, but in the end decided my health and my quality of life (and the lives of those around me) were worth the investment in time and money.

The Gokhale Elements Course 

By this stage our trip was only 9 weeks away. Travelling to do the in-person Foundations Course was out of the question given time limitations, but I could do the online Elements course from home on a schedule that fitted me. I also decided to buy the Gokhale PostureTracker™, thinking that without a hands-on teacher who could physically check my posture, it’d be the next best thing. Wearing its two sensors told me (via an app) when my spine was or wasn’t in proper alignment. It’s been well worth the outlay—it was so reassuring to have the figure on the screen show green whenever my posture was in correct alignment, or turn to other colours if my body drifted away from this. It can be set to beep or buzz if you can’t watch the screen. PostureTracker™ can help with almost every position.

The Elements course is 18 sessions, each 13 minutes long. I knew my learning style and that to absorb things well (and make the most of my financial and time investment) I’d need several days between each lesson to do the required pre-reading/video-watching/lesson prep, and then the practise/fine-tuning afterwards. By spacing things this way (I chose Tuesday and Friday mornings at 7.30am my time) I could factor everything into daily life. The helpful Customer Support staff were able to lock in all lessons at times that fitted well for me. This way I’d finish the 18 sessions the day before we flew to France. Pretty good motivation I thought. 

The Elements course covers the key components required for re-establishing the basis of natural, healthy human posture with regard to standing, sitting, bending, walking, and lying. The 18 online classes teach Gokhale Method techniques such as the rib anchor, shoulder roll, and stretchsitting, and many more, in detail and tailored to each person.

The short, free Gokhale Moments videos can get you started with key techniques like rib anchor, shoulder roll, and stretchsitting.

Each Elements student has a private log-in User Dashboard on the Gokhale website, containing all their student records, submitted photos, PostureTracker™ data (if used), Student Notes etc. At the end of each Elements lesson, I did 510 mins of practice to lock in what I’d learnt, then logged into the Dashboard to write a brief summary, for my own benefit, of my key learning or queries—plus comments about body changes I was noticing. 

These notes were also a way to send progress reports and questions to Esther (who, as my teacher, was notified every time I posted). Sometimes she answered these online and sometimes during lessons.

Lesson 2.  Shoulder roll 

Very helpful to see the shoulder anatomy slide for visualising this busy space—and importance of allowing everything adequate room. This visual stuff is very helpful to me.

Lesson 3.  Stretchsitting

V good to have Esther's fine-tuning on this—hadn't realised how much I put my head down throughout the whole movement. Good to see the videos Esther sent since our session: hair pull, stretchsitting, placement of the Stretchsit® Cushion…all these components helping refine the movement.

Lesson 6.  Kidney bean shaped feet

Body changes: Back feeling better both day and night (tho still wake most days with some degree of lumbar stiffness—not every day, significantly less stiff than pre-Gokhale). Back much better when sitting—not feeling the need to bend knees and put feet up. Back generally feeling both more stable & more flexible (still uncomfortable bending to put things in low drawers/bottom of fridge, etc.—but less so). Whole body feels lighter/more breezy (great sensation!), shoulders and chest feel broader and more upright (some clothes already tighter across front of shoulders). I have more energy, get more done, gut working more efficiently, less likely to wake up to wee at night, sleeping much more soundly, outlook brighter…progress, hooray!

Lesson 8.  Inner corset and tall-standing review

Note to me: Purpose of inner corset: to brace the spine against damage, particularly when lifting, carrying, running/jumping etc. Reserve strongest inner corset action for the most potentially disc-damaging movements.

Body changes: Doing Tai Chi today, noticed all movements felt much easier, lighter—body felt more flexible and fluid—great feeling. 

Diagrams and photo of Esther Gokhale showing engagement of the inner corset.
My Elements Handbook 'inner corset' pictures showed me how engaging key trunk muscles lengthens and protects my spine. 

Lesson 9. Gluteus medius strengthening (1st of 4 glidewalking lessons)

Body changes: Woke this morning with a spine that felt 'loose'/flexible—such a dramatic change from waking tight, clenched and stiff. More of this please! 

Lesson 10.  Glidewalking

Note to me: The cross-country skiing analogy helps me a LOT in getting movements right—a gliding, tangential pushing-off from outward-pointing foot, then other outward-pointing foot, back knee straight but not locked, front leg bent, body slightly forward, head in alignment with back. PostureTracker™ on ‘piston walking’ setting helpful. 

The PostureTracker™ setting ‘piston walking’ shows healthy back leg straightening and harmful hyperextension. 
The PostureTracker™ setting ‘piston walking’ can be used to check for healthy back leg straightening (a.), and alert users to hyperextension (b.) in walking.

Lesson 12.  Glidewalking with front knee bent

Body: The light and fluid feelings remain. Sleeping more deeply, waking feeling more flexible??… we shall see. Background headache I've had for 612 months, especially when bending forward, seems to have gone! 

Lesson 13.  Stretchlying on the side

Note to me: This one's been a challenge for me—wish Esther was here, to put hands-on and tweak the bits I’m not sure of. I think the main issue is I’m still arching my back…but angling the laptop screen for an 'aerial view' of the body, when lying on the floor, can help show the full body posture. Sometimes I get it right and sleep through the night…gradually finding what works for me. 

Lessons 15 & 16. Hip-hinging & Glidewalking revisited

Note to me: Keep rolling shoulders back into position as arms are heavy, and if not in healthy position their weight can pull thoracic spine out of alignment. We're nearly finished—16 sessions so far! Reassuring to be plugged into Alumni offerings and opportunities for Q&As, etc. Gokhale Method by now so integrated into everyday movements that I’m confident they’ll all continue. 

 A New Reality? (am hoping so!) 

It was almost spooky how quickly my body responded to these subtle changes. Esther talks about body parts (once Gokhaled) “coming home to where they belong”—and that’s how it feels. I’m taller, straighter, firmer, stronger, and I’m walking, standing, sitting, and bending better. I’m more energetic, powering along pathways on daily walks (glidewalking is amazing!), and feel back in sync with my body. 


I finished the Elements course the day before we flew to France. My body felt so much stronger and I can see it in the “After” photos. 

I’ve had to remove the books under my desktop computer screen because the angle of my chin (and line of sight) has shifted slightly downwards without my being conscious of it, to a more comfortable position. Maybe this has something to do with the disappearance of the background headache I’ve had for the past year or so. 

I’m gradually sleeping better (i.e. more comfortably), with stretchlying on the side still to be fully mastered. The increasing discomfort I’d had for many months prior to the course has disappeared. My head is clear and I’ve got my mojo back. I feel more positive. Significant and wonderful changes. 

Of course, having France on the horizon no doubt helped (!), but it couldn’t account for the physical changes, or the confidence I felt about managing upcoming travel challenges. I skipped off into the French “coucher de soleil” (sunset) feeling ready for just about anything.

A view looking down on the Bridge at Cirque de Navacelles, France.
Bridge at Cirque de Navacelles, near Montpellier, southern France.

I felt Gokhale-fit—and sailed through pretty much everything on our trip. We’ve just arrived home after a wonderful three months: stunning landscapes, beauty-reservoirs full to overflowing, layers of history, French lessons given full workout, replete with delicious food, shoes worn thin, walking muscles well and truly toned. What a country! 

A view of a bridge spanning the river Seine in Paris, France.
The Seine river, in the heart of Paris.

A photo of “Zeitenwende,” anonymous street art in Paris, France.
This curious little fish-chef artwork kept appearing (in different poses) on walls all over Paris— generally without text—but on this one was the German word “zeitenwende,” which translates as “turning point.” It seems to fit, so I’m taking it as a sign for my posture journey:)

Gratitude

I’m very grateful to Esther and her team for what she’s created and made available in the Gokhale Method. It’s extraordinary stuff. At times it feels too good to be true…and yet it is. Such subtle changes, yet such profound impact. All delivered in such an engaging, very human, immensely skilful and positive way. This gift is life-changing.   

PS: The Gokhale Method in Australia

As we were flying into Australia, I saw on the Gokhale website that Tegan Kahn (one of Australia’s 2 Gokhale teachers) was running a Foundations Course in Canberra that weekend. It was a hands-on opportunity (too timely to miss) for tweaking my still problematic stretchlying on the side. 

I detoured and spent 2 days with Tegan, who took me through all 6 Foundations lessons—with extra attention to stretchlying on the side. She was impressed by my Gokhale-fit posture” and only small refinements were generally needed, but with stretchlying on the side some extra input and hands-on clarified the changes I needed to make. These are progressively becoming part of my “muscle memory” and a side-lying posture that works for me. Thank you, Tegan!

Gokhale Method student Fiona Nichols stretchlying on her side, Foundations Course. 
Tegan refined my stretchlying on the side position (I'd been overdoing most of the steps) and it felt great. The tricky bit is being able to repeat it at home… bit by bit training my muscle memory.

Gokhale Method student Fiona Nichols hip-hinging, Foundations Course. 
My results from practising the Gokhale Method keep growing. After my Foundations Course I was able to nestle my pelvis even deeper and align my upper back and neck straighter in hip-hinging.

Teacher Training—possibly in Australia!

I’d been wondering while away if I could apply to do Gokhale Teacher Training—as a way to deepen my own understanding and help others (including family members) out of long-term back pain.

And…a golden opportunity has come up. Esther is considering coming to Australia to run a teacher training course in early 2024! This would make the teacher-training process so much more accessible and affordable for those of us in the Australasia region. A minimum of 46 teacher trainees are needed. The Gokhale Method team is already in the process of contacting all Gokhale Alumni in Australia, India, Singapore and New Zealand, and inviting anyone interested to contact them for information. I’ve put my hand up and have nearly completed the application process.

If you live in our region of the world and are inspired to train in Australia to become a Gokhale Method Teacher, please contact [email protected]. I hope to see you there!

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Comments

Working with a straight back helps you maintain a longer lifespan than people with a hunchback. Even when playing geometry dash online , you must sit up straight.

When compared to persons who have a hunchback, those who work with a straight back have a greater chance of seeing a longer lifespan. basketball stars

Admiring Fiona's tenacity. The methods bob the robber offers and the treatment regimen are also extremely reasonable

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