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Esther Gokhale's blog

Is Belly Breathing Good for You?

April, 2019

It’s common for students to arrive at our classes with strong notions about breathing. Among these is “Belly breathing is good breathing; chest breathing is bad breathing.” I disagree with this widespread belief and present varying amounts of pushback, counterargument, or hints about disagreement depending on the context and how much time I have.


Top: Chest lowered with exhalation. Bottom: Chest expanded with inhalation.

Sometimes I use a hand-waving argument: “Your lungs are housed in your chest; why wouldn’t they expand the chest on inhalation?” Sometimes I argue that if just the belly expands on breathing, that’s usually because the abdominal wall muscles are lax, the long back muscles (erector... Read more

How to Sit on the Floor, Part 1: Cross-legged Sitting

March, 2019

Sitting cross-legged on the floor is common in many cultures around the world, and has become popular in some segments of modern Western societies.

 


This Druze woman who I met in Israel has sat cross-legged all her life. She runs a hospitality business — all the food is laid out on the floor and the guests sit along the periphery of the room. She is at ease in this position for extended periods with her back remaining upright and relaxed.
 


In this temple in Bhubaneswar, devotees sit cross-legged for extended periods in performing rituals.
 

... Read more

Baby Massage, Traditional Indian Style

March, 2019

My students sometimes lead me to particularly juicy nuggets that enrich my understanding of posture-related practices in other cultures. Sometimes they simply send me a link to an article; sometimes it is an introduction to a special person. Recently, my private Gokhale Method Foundations Course student Alpana informed me that her friend had a visitor I might be interested in meeting. She was right.

Two days later, my daughter Monisha and I showed up at Nirmala’s host’s home in Saratoga. I was immediately struck by the woman’s presence, regal carriage, slender and strong frame, and sparky energy, especially for a 60-year-old. Nirmala does traditional Indian baby and post-natal massage on newly delivered babies and their mothers in Surat, India. She speaks no English. Thanks to Alpana’s fluent Marathi and my broken Hindi, I was able to communicate very effectively with her.

 ... Read more

When, Why, and How to Use a Back Brace

February, 2019

A back brace can be an invaluable support that staves away compression in the spine, and spares a vulnerable person significant damage and back pain. A back brace can also become a crutch that allows you to become weaker, less able to support your own structure, and heading into a downward spiral of dysfunction.

Ideally, your inner corset is strong enough and has enough endurance to protect your spine during all your activities. In this case, no external corset or brace is required. But there are situations in which an external device is useful or necessary.

 


There are many different kinds of back braces out there.

 

A back brace as a training device or coach

Back braces can be pretty snug, especially the ones with built-in pulley systems (see recommendations... Read more

Posture Alone Does Not a Healthy Body Make

February, 2019

In my experience, there are four important pillars of wellness: healthy diet, exercise/movement, posture, and community. In the general population, posture is the least recognized of these pillars. Gokhale Method aficionados don’t have this blindspot; they understand the importance of healthy posture well. What is sometimes not understood is that you need more than healthy posture to cover your musculoskeletal needs. Healthy posture is a base on which you need to build an active life. Especially in modern contexts, which sometimes allow you to fulfill almost all your duties from behind a computer screen, it takes some reflection on how you can supplement, edit, and weave healthy movement into your life.

I was originally trained in a posture tradition that looked down upon exercise as a juvenile and unnecessary pursuit. I would frequently hear that “sport is for kids” and that I “shouldn’t have time for things like running and swimming.”... Read more

What's the Best Way to Stretch Your Hamstrings?

January, 2019

I get this question quite often. The answer is two-fold:

  1. Maintain a healthy baseline length in your hamstrings/glutes by learning to tip your pelvis forward in stacksitting, tallstanding, and glidewalking. When you tuck your pelvis, you bring your ischial tuberosities (sitz bones) in closer to where these muscles attach on the leg. This allows the hamstrings/glutes to adapt to a short resting length. Short hamstrings make you more vulnerable to hamstring injuries when you perform motions that require normal or elongated hamstrings. Tears can happen within the muscle, or, more commonly, where the hamstrings attach to the ischial tuberosities.

 ... Read more

The Tale Your Feet Tell

December, 2018

If you lead an active lifestyle, you are probably familiar with buildups of toughened skin, most commonly on your feet. Besides giving your pedicurist a measurable and objective occupation, those leathery, flaky patches of skin tell a tale of how you bear weight in standing, walking, and other activities.

 


Your feet’s visible signs of buildup and abrasion can give insight into your gait and stance. Photo courtesy Unsplash.

 

Skin and bones toughen in response to stress. Appropriate stress causes appropriate toughening (strong bones and thick skin), while undue stress causes undue toughness (arthritic spurs in bones, calluses and corns in skin). If we are knowledgeable we can read into our habits by examining our skin and bones.

Take a look at your feet. The most common areas... Read more

How to Improve the Outcome of Spine Surgery (When It’s Needed)

November, 2018

Spinal surgery has come under a lot of flak in recent years for being an expensive and invasive treatment for back pain that yields poor results. Not many people see improvement in their pain a year after surgery, and many are worse off. Recovery from surgery can be also be very difficult.

Surgery should indeed be a last resort for most kinds of back pain. But sometimes surgery is needed to treat damage to spinal nerves, discs, or surrounding tissues, and we are very fortunate that there are people who have gone to school for years / decades and honed the necessary skills to right some wrongs in our bodies. The question then becomes, what can we do around the surgery to support the handiwork of the surgeon? To answer that question, it helps to understand some of the problems facing surgical patients post-surgery:

  1. After surgery and during recovery, people tend to return to the same old practices which got them into trouble in the first place. Most people (and

  2. ... Read more

J-spine Validated?

November, 2018

It’s rare to find well-preserved Neanderthal skeletal fragments. It’s especially rare to find well-preserved Neanderthal ribs and vertebrae since these bones are more fragile than skulls and limb bones. But ribs and vertebrae are particularly helpful for discerning the shape of this related species’s thoracic cage and spine.

The recent Kebara 2 Neanderthal find (nicknamed “Moshe”), with very well-preserved vertebrae and ribs, was a particularly exciting find. Patricia Kramer, professor and chair of anthropology at University of Washington, has created a 3-D image deducing what the shape of Moshe’s thorax must have been, and there are some surprises. One surprise is especially interesting: the Neanderthal lumbar spine was practically straight! This was a great surprise to the researchers since they were expecting that Neanderthals, who are quite... Read more

Don’t Stick Your Behind Out; It’ll Sway Your Back

November, 2018

My book has a lot of images of village Africans. This is because I travelled to Africa, which is in turn related to the fact that primal posture is better preserved in Africa than in most places, and certainly you find better posture in village Africa than in modern, industrial societies.

 


This woman’s J-spine is well intact; her L5-S1 curve is pronounced. L5-S1 curve varies by race and social posture influences.

 

Readers of my book sometimes have the mistaken impression that the work is about replicating the baseline shape of a village African. Though I state explicitly that the amount of L5-S1 curve varies by race and is also very individual, newcomers to... Read more