Esther Gokhale: Primal Posture (LBP 003)

Body nerds who delight in an anthropological viewpoint- or who spend a lot of time pondering stuff in primal or paleo terms- are in for a treat. I am so grateful to have had this wonderful conversation with Esther Gokhale. We get into the two main culprits that are contributing to the epidemic of pain and physical erosion in our culture, and how looking to traditional cultures can get us back on track. We also get into some hotly debated topics like why sitting doesn't have to be bad, whether or not our feet are really supposed to be parallel after all, and why a J-spine is more structurally ideal than the S-spine we've all be told is the norm (and, of course, we define what that even means). Plus- why we should all work to make it fashionable to carry things on our heads.

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Show notes:

Esther tells the story of her severe herniation in her lumbar spine in her mid-twenties and how it did not respond to any of the conventional or alternative treatments she tried including a spinal surgery.

She looked especially at techniques that teach you how to use your own body and that look to functional populations. Other people doing things to her had not worked. (See the therapies she looked to in the resources section)

Immersed herself in Aplomb and then started traveling and taking photos and video clips and interviewing people.

She uses photographs because we have a very developed visual cortex- we are naturally mimics. Images help us to put that to use.

Two main culprits in the pain epidemic and physical erosion epidemic: loss of kinesthetic tradition and the fashion industry.

She doesn’t demonize sitting or even being sedentary (in moderation). It’s not that we sit, it’s how.

The  Buddha sat and all the sages. And there’s a reason they sit- when you sit that’s when your brain can be most focused. It allows for deep thinking. When we were scraping hides and making arrows we were sitting. We still need to intersperse it with movement.

There should be also somewhere in your life where you are pushing your boundaries cardiovascularly, strength-wise, etc.

However, it’s very important to sit well- that is critical.

With walking it depends how you walk as well. Walking poorly is not good for you either. How you do it is hugely important.

Bending technique correlates most closely with back health. It is a technique she does not like to introduce to beginners-especially those with back pain- because you have to first go through all the steps to lengthen and strengthen the spine, and to get the femurs in the correct position.

The feet are not meant to be parallel. It encourages internal rotation at the femur. In village cultures and in little kids their feet turn out a little and they have a characteristic kidney bean shaped foot. With that there is a small external rotation in the whole leg.

You don’t want to bend forward with any rounding at the lower back. Many people think they aren’t but at the very low back they are actually rounding some there. She recommends working with a qualified teacher.

The S-shaped spine vs. the J-shaped spine: Just because everyone believes our spines are supposed to be S-shaped doesn’t make it true. It gives rise to a lot of pathology. In a J-spine your bottom is behind you, but above that it’s pretty straight. And this comes from a time when they did not have these back problems. If you look at the fine structures within the spines the J-spine better respects the disc structure.

Head carrying is something we are not doing at all in our culture. We are really missing out from not doing this. If you have to carry on your head it keeps the rest of your spine honest. You get immediate feedback and you have to straighten out.

Putting a small weight on the head is the best way to line things up. It is a very primal experience. All the stabilizers in your neck and spine say, “We know this!” and gear into action. How she is using her head cushion while she returns emails.

In village Africa they are very still in their heads, they use their eyes more.

How to build the proprioception about where your head should be in space.

Taking breaks for movement and how to create habits for new patterns.

What Esther’s working on right now in her own movement practice and work: How not to have a backslide when you are trying to create new movement patterns- especially when you go back out into the world and you get poor input either just by what you see (slumped posture, etc), or poor instruction (in fitness classes, etc.) How to get the whole community on board and change culture.

Home play!

With a light weight can you play with head carrying? Try it while sitting in meditation, while returning emails, or while walking and see if you notice a change in your neck. Please note that it should be directly on the top of you head so that your eyes are looking straight ahead and are not looking slightly up or slightly down.

Resources:

Gokhalemethod.com

Some of Esther Gokhale’s pictures of people moving in traditional cultures

Alexander Technique

Feldenkrais

Aplomb

Mensendieck

Weston Price

Esther Gokhale's Ancestral Health Symposium talk

Gokhale head pillow