I am an acupuncturist and massage therapist who specializes in assisting individuals with chronic pain. Over my 30 years in the profession I had been exposed to hundreds of continuing education classes but had never heard of the Gokhale Method®.
I suffered with cervical stenosis, multiple herniations, and bone spurs
My battle with cervical stenosis (a narrowing of the neural canal in the neck, causing compression of the nerves), multiple cervical herniations, and osteophytes (bone spurs) began 40 years ago, all of which progressively worsened over time.
As you can see in this photograph, I had become used to hunching and compressing my neck. I believe this was the cause of my neck problems.
My life had become restricted due to the increasing pain in my head, neck, tingling in my arms and hands, and the severe migraines which I suffered if I moved my neck too much or tried to look down or carry packages. I took migraine medications in order to function, which I was grateful for even though I didn’t want to take them. It’s no exaggeration to say that pain had closed my life down.
It had been years since I worked a normal patient load; one or two patients every other day allowed me to do what I loved while I did my best to manage my symptoms. I consulted two neurosurgeons five years ago and after serious consideration I chose against a recommended fusion of three cervical vertebrae. This was because I had seen many patients after a fusion and observed firsthand the difficulties they endured. According to my observations usually one or more discs above or below the fusion would end up herniating due to the rigidity of the fusion. Neck mobility was often severely decreased, and headaches, tingling, and numbness were common. Certain patients were referred to me if they got nauseous with physical therapy. It was often a long haul for them to get better.
Many of the therapies I tried for my neck problems made my pain worse; few helped me at all. I have spent the last 40 years learning to support myself and advising those sent to me on how to live in a body that experiences various levels of pain on a constant basis.
Me as a baby in 1955. As an adult I could barely remember what it was like to be free of neck pain. How had it crept up on me? Where did the problem begin? I wanted to wind the clock back to the beginning!
As a 10-year-old I enjoyed physical games and happily let my behind behind me and kept my shoulders back, though perhaps I was beginning to sway my back. . .
Me with my Aunt Tilde (left) when I graduated from massage school. It was 1990 and I was 36 years old. I can see that my head is forward and that my legs internally rotate. In my twenties I had learned tai chi in a style that taught me to tuck my pelvis. I now realize this encouraged a poor biomechanical position for bending over my massage clients.
Treating pain as a massage therapist
My focus in treating patients in severe, acute, and chronic pain evolved when I realized massage treatments were a somewhat temporary fix—people experienced relief for a while, but the same aches returned. After a year of practice, I branched out to include craniosacral therapy and was blessed to study with Dr. John E. Upledger, the developer of CST. Over ten years I took a half dozen seminars and began incorporating the techniques into my treatments with much greater success. I also began doing the techniques on myself, getting some relief from the migraine episodes I suffered. Many times I was able to alleviate the nausea and severe pain through the gentle guiding and “unwinding” of my cranial bones and the sacral joint.
In 1993 I was excited to begin acupuncture school. Acupuncture gave additional assistance to my patients on their healing journey. One of the great benefits of acupuncture is the opening of stagnant energy pathways which have become blocked due to physical and emotional trauma. The release of neurotransmitters (endorphins) from the insertion of needles begins the process of pain reduction and allows the fascia to begin to “unwind.” I always thought the major advantage of acupuncture over acupressure was its ability to affect many points at the same time, allowing the body to unwind in ways that do not occur using just our two hands. While the needles are doing their work, I begin the CST work as well as manual traction.
During the first session with a patient I would advise, “We accept all miracles, but healing is usually a process—sometimes a longer and more multidimensional process than we initially anticipate.” Of course, patients referred to me were very relieved that they could become pain-free for periods of time; but I was still frustrated that their treatment was more of a Band-Aid—a better Band-Aid, but still not a solution to the cause of their problem. At that time my patients and I did not realize that they had work to do in this healing process too. I now believe that healthy posture is the “missing piece” that not only enables the benefits of therapeutic treatments to be preserved, but also allows the body to heal itself. I wish I had known of the Gokhale Method all those years ago.
Finding the Gokhale Method
Thankfully, my local paper printed an interview a couple of years ago with Joan Baez (longtime peace activist and folk song writer/singer). Joan was asked the secret of her ability to continue performing concerts around the world at 77 years of age. She responded that she studies with Esther Gokhale and consistently uses the principles of good posture taught in the Gokhale Method.
Joan Baez in Esther Gokhale’s garden, preparing to pick some calendula with a deep, healthy hip-hinge and her behind well behind. You can read more about Joan Baez learning the Gokhale Method here.
The pandemic prevented me from attending a Gokhale Method Foundations Course scheduled for March 2020, but later that year, I revisited all the instructional materials I had and began active self-directed study. Once again I felt a sense of hope.
Beginning my journey home
During the pandemic I was thrilled to see Esther was offering numerous Online Free Workshops. You could improve your posture by working on your stance, ribcage position, neck strength, and glutes. (Who doesn’t want a tighter bum, right?). I quickly signed up and began my journey home. I say home because you learn to return to a place of comfort in your body that was there naturally for you as a child.
At about seven years old, I still had a nice open chest and outward facing feet. Both these things changed as I became an adult.
Each workshop built upon the last with wonderful, simple insights. In November 2020 I also joined the 123 Move Gokhale Exercise Program which remains incredibly healing. Awakening each day I look forward to improving how I move through simple, healthy dance moves (I even learned the Samba). I saw improvement in my posture—I could look in a mirror and see noticeable changes to the hunching in my shoulders and the forward protrusion of my neck.
As a 32-year-old office worker, look how forward my head and shoulders are as I hunch my back!
I continue to learn from the questions students ask as well as the clear explanations and demonstrations by the teacher. If I can’t watch live, no problem—there is always a catch-up available until the next class. And I just love when I get an added bonus—learning new dance moves is apparently as beneficial for the brain as learning a new language, and there is music to enjoy from all around the world. There is also Esther’s generous sharing of her vast knowledge of diverse cultures and their artifacts.
My neck pain reduced within months of starting the Gokhale Method
Within a month or so of practicing the Gokhale Method, I began having less pain. I immediately felt a difference when sitting and using a wedge to antevert my pelvis, so no more tucking my tail under. This is called stacksitting. I now could sit for prolonged periods of time with NO neck pain. I could physically do more and psychologically was significantly less depressed. I saw a future with fewer restrictions and life seemed filled with endless possibilities.
My 2020 Christmas list consisted of an Online Initial Consultation with Gokhale Method teacher Kathleen O’Donohue. I prepared with photos of myself in a few positions so Kathleen could evaluate how best to help me before our meeting. We worked on a couple of key points and I was astonished and very excited to see how simple tasks could be done with no pain.
Taking the online Elements course
During the pandemic I was initially skeptical about navigating my way online through the Gokhale Method Elements course. Could I set the camera up well enough for the teacher to be able to see and correct the details of each technique? Would I be able to make the postural corrections without the touch of a teacher’s hand guiding me through the experience? I had so many questions before I felt able to make this significant commitment. I had several more online consultations with Kathleen and was amazed as she picked up the smallest detail and guided me to healthy posture.
Here I am in my current massaging stance, which is healthier for my feet, glutes, hips, back, shoulders and neck. Applying the Gokhale Method techniques, I can continue to tease out residual sway and rounding in my spine as I massage my clients!
The online experience had several advantages for me. It allowed me flexibility scheduling and pacing my lessons and individualized attention. Another feature is that Elements allows you to learn over 18 lessons of bite-sized information, rather than a weekend immersion. I can see advantages to both, but for me, learning one move at a time, or even a part of an activity, such as walking, registers in my brain significantly more easily. I worked hard to learn each step before I moved forward. Luckily, absolute mastery is not required!
My nerve pain and hyperreflexia are all but gone
I have come to a point where if I am not in healthy posture, I notice the discomfort and immediately want to pause and reset. The nausea I lived with every day is a rare occurrence only experienced momentarily these days if I am doing some very taxing activity. As soon as I correct my stance, I am relieved of any pain or nerve sensation. Life has become a dance with increased strength and grace, rather than a challenge.
One of my neurological problems had been hyperreflexia, which meant that my reflexes were overactive. I was looking forward to seeing how my reflexes checked out when I saw my neurologist a few months ago. (I had seen her six months previously, when they tested significantly better, but still hyper). To our amazement they were normal.
Here I am working on tallstanding. In daily life I can take a more relaxed stance but checking in with points to attend to boosts my progress. You can learn about tallstanding in Esther Gokhale’s book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, Lesson 6.
As an Alumna of the Elements course, I am a member of the Gokhale Online University (and will be forever!), where I get ongoing support and continue my progress. I am thoroughly amazed at how much Esther shares with us. I just LOVE it all. It is such a rich resource. Even though I practiced tai chi and qigong for almost forty years, Kathleen and Roberta’s Moving Meditation has enhanced my understanding significantly. The forms they teach incorporate the Gokhale principles beautifully and I am enthused to be doing it once again. A wonderful way to begin and end each day; energizing, or relaxing and meditative.
Eric's Gokhale Fitness class is challenging and insightful. His calm nature sets the stage as he provides several ways to perform each exercise depending on one’s aptitude. Gentle breathing techniques have provided a new focus for me and are very effective in reducing stress in our structure. The Gokhale principles are always emphasized, so it is a great review. I notice increased strength and vitality as the weeks go by.
When I first came to the Gokhale Method I had a very rounded upper back when bending.
Over time I have improved my form in bending. Here I am practicing the cues I have learned to make bending health-promoting rather than harmful.
I am forever grateful to Esther and all the teachers for my continued progress and for proving we are never too old to learn new tricks and grow in our understanding of moving in healthy ways. I am looking forward to continuing my posture journey—standing taller as I age gracefully. Hope lights the way.