The 'Posture Guru' Shares Her Tips to Relieve Back Pain

Esther Gokhale searched the world for back pain answers.

ByABC News
June 22, 2015, 6:56 AM

— -- Back pain is an epidemic. It could be caused by our more sedentary lifestyle, a few extra pounds around the middle or looking at the phone for hours each day. But Silicon Valley posture guru Esther Gokhale says in non-industrial cultures, back pain is practically non-existent. Why?

She thinks is because our spines have recently changed shape, so she has created an entire method to change that shape and reduce pain. Gohkale says it’s a method for sustainable posture that could lead to a reduction in back pain. Her fans are legion and the medical community has taken note as it searches for alternatives to pain pills, surgery and braces.

The problem, Gokhale says, is that modern life takes the top part of our back and curves it forward, creating an “S” of “C” shaped spine. Plus, she says, we’re told to tuck our pelvis and push out our chests, to create a perfectly straight spine. That differs from non-industrial cultures like Burkina Faso, Borneo and in remote parts of Brazil, where Gokhale says she observed “J” shaped spines; the base of the spine curved out to the buttocks, while the rest of the spine stacked vertically straight up to the shoulders.

She says children natively have this posture and before the industrial age, so did our great-great-grandparents. But then something changed: Activity lessened, our gaze moved to small tasks with our hands and our idea of sitting and standing properly morphed to something more erect. Gokhale channels my grandmother: “’Sit up straight.’ That’s what moms have been telling their kids for decades; usually in a frustrated way, because it clearly doesn’t work. Maybe for 10 seconds and then the kid goes back to slumping."

So Gokhale says “Sit up smart.” She has seminars, videos and books that espouse her techniques and the traditional medical community is taking note. Dr. Praveen Mummaneni, neurosurgeon and co-director of the UCSF Spinal Center says that while no studies of non-industrial populations have been done to directly support Esther Gokhale’s research, the techniques resonate. “It's a very good visual. The J-shape is a very good visual that I think a lot of people will recognize, looking at that from the side and in thinking about their own posture, and it's straight forward to remember,” Mummaneni says.

In our posture session, Gokhale taught me some basic ideas that have helped me focus on my posture. As she says, “My methods are simple, but not easy.” I agree: in the days following our session, I try to put her ideas into practice; posture is a discipline!

How to sit in a chair: the behind goes behindGokhale says we were taught to tuck our pelvis when we sit, “imagine you have a tail. The way we’ve been instructed to sit is to tuck that tail under our behinds. But I want you to push the tail out and let it go out the back of the chair.” I find this pelvic tilt is freeing, and Gokhale says you can reinforce it if you sit for long periods by using a pillow to wedge your pelvis forward and force your behind, behind.

Power your posture from the rearGokhale coaches her students to access the muscles of the gluteus maximus to hold the ”J” shape in their backs and stack their spine in vertically. “Make every step a rep.”

Gokhale says strengthening the posterior chain of muscles in the gym is good, but if you can recruit those muscles with every step, clenching the upper outside quadrant of your backside as you walk, you will do much more for your overall posture and pain reduction.