Esther Gokhale

My 20 Favorite Moments from Season One (Part 2)

56237885_1824693367_zMore! More! So many more jewels! I won’t bore you with an intro- you get the idea. I am sharing my favorite 20 moments from season one- courtesy of these gorgeous people who shared their wisdom with all of us. Part one of that post (with 1 through 10) is here. Other learnings from season one are here. And... 11 through 20 is…. Here! 11. Dissociation, or a limited/confused body map, is often the root cause of pain. Steve Haines: “The sense of being outside of our body is a common theme actually... people don’t know that there is this much richer experience of the body. It’s really not a given. People with pain commonly have more of this kind of dissociation. Dissociation comes first likely due to the responses to being overwhelmed..Dissociation is a last ditch survival strategy, and often the root cause of more pain.

Your brain is expecting you to have a body, so if we’re beginning to cut ourselves off from that, if we’re flooding bits of the spinal cord with endorphins to limit the incoming signals, then you’ve got a big absence. And the absence of something when your brain is expecting it to be there is a threat. It may be that we fill that absence with pain to say, ‘Do something about this.’”

12. “We are an under-grieved society” Oof. When Judith Hanson Lasater said this to me it just pierced right through me. Cleary it’s because I had stuff to grieve, but it’s also because on a larger society-wide scale she’s right. Perhaps it pierced through you too? : “We all experience loss in tiny ways every day. When people have a loss in their lives we try to fix that and say, ‘Don’t be sad. Here take this drug, or let’s go for a run…’ depression follows from that. Depression is anger without enthusiasm. Depression is not feeling sad. People who can feel sadness are deeply alive, because it’s an intense feeling that balances joy.

There is something spiritually profound about being still and watching your mind. Most of our unhappiness is not created by what happens to us but by what we tell ourselves about it. With Restorative Yoga you create a space to watch the rising and falling of thoughts. And then the most important thing we can do can happen- we can dis-identify with our thoughts, ‘I am having a thought of anger, a thought of sadness, but it’s not who I am.’”

13. Redesigning your life to be less convenient can have huge benefits. Valerie Berg, in talking about structural aging and the shoulder pain and immobility that can result from not raising your arms above our heads mentioned, “Years ago I had my kitchen redone and I had them make the cabinets really high, so every day I have to reach really high to get bowls and things.” I love that! We should start a design movement around objects that make life less convenient and therefore make us move more... who’s with me? (P.S. I know Valerie in the real world- not super well but we’ve been in the same place at the same time together- and she is one of the most sparkly personalities. It’s like she’s always got some secret she is delighted by, or some fun-loving prank she might pull at any moment. So to picture her telling a kitchen designer/contractor that she wanted to make it hard for her to reach her things in the cabinets just gave me a special kind of giggle and satisfaction.)

14. Oh fascia. Why won’t anyone give you the cred you deserve? Fortunately for us people like Thomas Myers are on the case. And he’s spreading the concept of fascia as the 3rd big auto-regulatory system: “So I’ve put forth this idea that the fascia is the 3rd big auto-regulatory system. The nervous system is an amazing auto-regulatory system, and circulatory system ever since the 1600′s has been seen as just that- we add in the lymph and the cerebrospinal fluid and we have an idea of how the fluids work in the body.

After 500 years of anatomy we still don’t have this image of the fascia as a whole system. Every time I go to Equinox in NY I see someone on a foam rolling out their iliotibial band. It’s really of limited value, and it’s really quite painful, and if someone could see this as a part of this larger system they might not do it- but the predominating vision in a lot of people’s minds is that we think of ourselves as put together like a Ford or a Dell computer. We live in an industrial society, and so we think of ourselves in these terms. But it’s a really inadequate view.

15. Let’s examine the openness bias, shall we? Matthew Remski: “The openness bias- of flexibility as the goal- is harmful not only to those who are hypermobile, but also to those who are less mobile as well. The studio culture often tells us that more open is more virtuous. Those who identify as “bendy types” were praised for going deep into poses which weren’t really hard for them. And as they were being asked to demonstrate and practicing they were injuring themselves. Women within the hypermobile category are showing the highest rate of lumbar spine injuries.

The other thing about the openness bias is that there is this unspoken connection between joint mobility and emotional openness. Looking at back-bends: when called heart-opening, it suggests that a particular thoracic movement will have a particular emotional effect. Openness in the joints is often associated with an ability to be placid and accepting. First, are these virtues we actually want? And second, is that actually true? I don’t have statistics, but I’ve met plenty of bendy people who are as emotionally closed as anybody else I know.

16. What the hell is stretching anyway!? Jules Mitchell totally blew my mind when the work she did for her Master’s Thesis confirmed what I had been experiencing my whole life: “The concept of stretching in itself, at least in the yoga community, this idea that if you stretch more and stretch harder that it will get longer and you will increase your range and you will get more flexible has very little truth to it. In reality that’s just damaging it [the tissue]. If you hold a rubber band and stretch it, then you release that- you release the load- it goes back to its original shape.

Lack of range of motion is not realty about lengthening. It’s much more an issue of tolerance. It’ s a use it or lose it thing. If you never work in that range of motion your body doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want to go there.

So your nervous system limits your range of motion. That argument is the hardest one to come to terms with- that for the most part range of motion is an issue of tolerance and not mechanical length. “Tolerance” means can they go there? When they hit the end of their range, that’s their nervous system limiting their range. If they were under anesthesia, they would have a full range of motion.”

17. Compression doesn’t just make your back feel cranky. Eric Goodman: “The modern body is super compressed- we are losing the war against gravity terribly. What about the digestive issues, the depression, the mood issues- these are just other forms of compression.”

18. The wolf and the Chihuahua. I asked Erwan LeCorre, “What are zoo humans?” And he responded, “It is a metaphor. Some people are insulted by it- a different metaphor would be that we’re farm animals, or domesticated animals. We’re a little bit like pets. All dog species come from the wolf, which means the Chihuahua and the wolf are related. The Chihuahua would die within hours or days in a wild environment. We are fabricating a form of a “human breed”. We are to our ancestors what the Chihuahua is to a wolf. It’s not about giving people a hard time- but it’s an observation that most people have become alien to the body and are in a state of physical neglect.”

19. A return to head carrying? Esther Gokhale, “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. “

20. Can you re-visit your infancy to get super strong as an adult? Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert of Original Strength enlightened us about the bridge between movement and brain development, and how we’re actually regressing our brain development in our under-moving culture. Tim and Geoff developed their work by looking at information that had been previously been applied in the areas of learning disabilities, brain development, and brain rehabilitation.


As always, I am hugely grateful to all the smarties who have shared their work and passion with all of us. Thank you. This is the end of my indulging in nostalgia for season one (well in print anyway), and season 2 will arrive on (Liberated) Tuesday, April 21st. Yes! For reals! More nuggets of wisdom!

Additionally, April is a challenge- aka movement cleanse- month for us, so if you have been curious to try out the Liberated Body 30-Day Challenge, there just isn’t a better season (in my opinion) to dive in than glorious springtime. And if you have been a challenger in the past, you’re still in and can rejoin the group for fun kinesthetic exploring again. If you have no idea what I’m talking avbout of course, you can visit the challenge page to read up on all the details. Doors open this Saturday the 28th. Let’s play this April!

image by Leo Reynolds

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.




And while you're there please leave a review if you are so inclined. Your input on what you want and what you're into helps me to make the show better. Thank you muchly!!

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.


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

Alexander Technique




Weston Price

Esther Gokhale's Ancestral Health Symposium talk

Gokhale head pillow