Esther Gokhale is on a mission to help you rediscover the kinesthetic wisdom of your youth that has gotten lost in today’s computer and smartphone lifestyle. Her technique, called the Gokhale Method, is a natural posture solution to back pain that has been heralded as an extraordinary application of ancient wisdom to solve modern back problems and one of the greatest contributions ever made to nonsurgical back-pain treatment.
Despite the fact that 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time and that more than 60 percent of all adolescents by age 15 have complained of back and neck pain, we’re not born with skeletal trouble. In fact, children initially have naturally good posture. (Look at your toddler pictures and you’ll see.) “Unfortunately, we’re poorly molded by misguided furniture design and modeled by inadequate or extreme examples in the media and public life,” Gokhale said.
Based on anthropological evidence from back-pain-free cultures, the Gokhale Method has helped an exceedingly diverse range of people of all ages and cultures, with clients that include Desmond Tutu, Joan Baez, Paul Erlich, Billie Jean King, most of Silicon Valley, and even conservative pundit Matt Drudge. “It’s like remembering a forgotten language that you spoke when you were two years old,” she explained.
“Posture is a missing cornerstone of well-being,” Gokhale continued. “We understand the importance of diet, exercise, and emotional relationships, but posture tends to be trivialized or made unattainable.” She feels humans are capable of being naturally elegant, graceful, and pain free. “It took us a long time to understand the value of diet and exercise. Posture belongs on that list.”
Gokhale’s method isn’t just a healing strategy; it is also a daily therapeutic practice — everyday activities such as walking, sitting, stooping, and sleeping become a form of exercise and remedy instead of contributing to wear and tear. “We’re used to the idea that you have to take time out from your life to exercise,” she said. “This is a different philosophy — [using] your everyday life to move and feel better.”
Like many healers, Gokhale’s technique was born from her own experience. She was working as a yoga teacher and dancer when she started having problems at age 26 during her first pregnancy. “Eventually I could not lie down for more than two hours at a time,” she writes in the preface of her best-selling book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. “I spent the midnight hours walking to alleviate the pain.” She opted for surgery to quell the discomfort, but shortly after the operation, the pain returned. So she started doing research and found that the back pain we experience is a relatively recent development in our evolutionary history. In her travels, she noticed that workers in Portugal and potters and weavers in Burkina Faso and India maintained straight-arrow postures without lower-back aches that plague most office workers. “These people live by their bodies. They didn’t have Advil or sick days or Workers’ Comp,” she said.
With a desire to share her method, Gokhale developed a foundation system that she teaches in six one-and-a-half hour, hands-on sessions and has laid it out in her book. And although she is based in Palo Alto, Gokhale is making a considerable effort to introduce her method to Santa Barbara and is scheduled to teach a course next weekend. (Although that event is already sold out, she plans to return in the fall. Private sessions are also available.) She hopes to find and train teachers from this area. Even if you can’t take the workshop, there are free videos and interactive web sessions available online on her website as well as her free newsletter and book.
“It’s never too late to change,” she said. “The principals are universally relevant.”
A free workshop is on Saturday, May 17, at 10 a.m., at CenterPoint Pilates, 1 West Victoria Street. The Gokhale Method Foundations Course will begin later that day at Brasil Arts Café (1230 State St.) and run through the weekend. Visit the Gokhale Method Institute website at gokhalemethod.com and click on classes for Santa Barbara for specific details.