Posture, Perception, and Presence with Mary Bond (LBP 069)

Posture, Perception, and Presence with Mary Bond (LBP 069)

You may know Mary Bond best for her book The New Rules of Posture. In today’s conversation we’re talking about her forthcoming book: Your Body Mandala: Posture, Perception, and Presence. And her mission, which, much to my delight, is to contribute to humanity’s deeper embodiment.

Mary Bond: Posture is an Exploration (LBP 028)

Mary Bond, author of The New Rules of Posture, talks about how and why the word “posture” is problematic, how poor posture becomes chronic, what muscular armoring is and how it interferes with our functioning, the distinction between support and stabilization, the relationship between facial and spinal tension, and what it means to be a tongue gripper and how that affects people.




Show notes

Brooke: You wrote the excellent book, The New Rules of Posture. I was wondering if, for contrast, if you could explain the old rules of posture and why we need new ones.

Mary:The book is about posture in name only because that’s what people think is wrong with them. When they look at their body or they assess their body, they think, “Oh, my posture is terrible and that if I could just fix my posture, then everything will be wonderful.”

What I’m interested in is movement and perception. Posture is just one of the outcomes of movement and also of the way that we perceive the world. The book is really a book about body awareness. The publisher didn’t think that would sell books. They put The New Rules of Posture.

On page 12, what you see is a couple of bullet points and it just says that posture is a process of self-study. That’s the first rule. The second part of it is that posture is dynamic. It’s not a static position that you get yourself into and then you’re all perfect.

Mary: Even Ida Rolf said: top of the head, waistline back, that was a rule when I studied with her, (Ida Rolf, the founder of Rolfing). A more common one is spine straight, shoulders back, head up, chin in.

These are all just postures laid on top of our positions laid on top of an organism that is moving and perceiving its environment and responding in the very best way that it can moment to moment. How can you tell what it’s supposed to look like? It’s very visual and static, the old point of view.

Brooke: That's a big passion of mine- that we can’t fix ourselves into the right shape. I don’t think that gets discussed all that often.

Mary: What interests me in working with people is I can assess them. I can assess their posture and movement because I’ve spent 34 years looking at bodies. I have a good eye but I know that if I tell them something to do to change the way they are, it will be an artifact laid on top of their own investigation of the world. What I’m interested in doing is finding the experience with the question that they can internally meditate on to discover the thing I want them to discover.

Brooke:What are some of the ways that poor posture can become chronic?

Mary: How it becomes chronic one way is that it works.We’re responding. We’re organisms responding to a scary world really. When there are threats of any type, we try to protect the vulnerable visceral parts of our bodies. We curl in. That turns into something that society calls bad posture but we keep it that way because it worked. We survived. That’s one way that posture becomes chronic is it’s a habituated response to some kind of threat or trauma or instability.

The other way that it becomes chronic is as a structural compensation. If a person has come out of the womb with feet that don’t mature well and don’t learn how to meet the earth well for one reason or another, then quite often, you’ll get compensation in the knees, for example, locked knees.

A structural compensation like using the knees as if they were the feet, then that becomes a habit. It works. She stays upright with these locked knees until one of these days, the knees are not going to work.

Brooke: There’s also this attempt to feel less vulnerable by becoming more solid but that this solidity actually interferes with our functioning.

Mary: First of all, I’d like to make a distinction between support and stabilization. Support is something we receive. We allow ourselves to be supported. Lots of times, that’s a problem.

We can’t, for some reason or another because of habituation. It makes it difficult for us to trust that we could allow ourselves to be supported by the ground or by another human, by the table. Support is something that we take in and allow.

Stabilization is something that we do. We stabilize the core in order to push off from the ground and lean into the air, for example. We need stabilization but in this culture of hyper-fitness, there’s too much emphasis on stabilization. I think it’s because we lack support and people don’t see that. They don’t see that distinction.

The more we stabilize ourselves and compress ourselves, getting back to your question, we become over-muscled and then, we’re compressing our joints without realizing it.

The freedom to allow our organisms to move as a intricately, complexly integrated system moment to moment through our lives is diminished because our joints don’t work the way they should. We no longer have three planes of motion, for example, in the hip. We have girdles hips and then we totter along from side to side.

Brooke: It’s brilliant. I’m so glad you’re differentiating between support and stabilization because I think in the same way that we’ve stopped distinguishing between movement and exercise which is crazy, we also don’t distinguish between support and stabilization.

Mary: People are running around desperate to feel more relaxed. The essence of relaxation is allowing oneself to be supported. That’s what it is. It’s not something you get from outside.Relaxation is built into the system. It’s the pause in the middle of your breath. It’s allowing your buttocks to feel that the chair underneath you is really there and you could really allow your buttocks and your thighs and your feet …

Mary: That’s what I think you and I are on the same page about is that we want to share that option with more people because it’s precious understanding. It’s the key to life in a way.

Brooke: You already talked about how you’re not looking at posture as a still thing. One of the very common movement patterns that you get into a lot is walking. What are some of the features of healthy walking?

Mary: I think maybe the first thing is beauty. Healthy walking is beautiful to look at. It pleases your mirror neurons. It’s like your body responds as you watch some kind of grace. As we look at a nature movie, for example, we go, “Oh, look at that cat. Look at that elephant how incredibly slowly and yet connectedly it can move.”

It’s the same with people. Watching a beautiful walk is a pretty rare occurrence in our culture at the moment. We’re walking on flat surfaces. Our feet don’t articulate. We’re wearing God knows what kind of shoes, either overly constructed to substitute for the ability of the foot or they’re just decorative. They’re something like earrings that you put on your feet and then you stumble around in them.

From the ground up, there’s a helical motion. The foot actually rotates inward and outward around its own midline. Instead, we put our feet in … One of my colleagues, Philip Beach, calls shoes sensory deprivation devices.

Mary: From the ground up, we’re not rotating. I have a run-through of features of helical walking that I could share with you but I can’t give you an overall picture except to say that it’s beautiful. The foot comes down through the calcaneus and talus and then rotates through the transverse arch across towards the navicular and into the cuneiforms and metatarsals and pushes through and actually bounces off the transverse arch. That’s when all those joints are working well.

Then, there’s a spiraling that occurs through the leg as it sits down through the lateral arch of the foot, the calcaneus and cuboid. There’s a slight external rotation in the hip joint. Then, as the weight translates through the transverse arch and pushes off, there’s a gradual inward rotation of the whole lower extremity into the push-off. When that push-off happens, it lengthens the psoas so that the next leg swing happens without the necessity to pick up the thigh. It just swings.

Meanwhile, the joints of the pelvis are torquing. The pelvis actually twists back and forth like an infinity sign. If you could hold a figure eight between your hands and twist the two loops forward and back, the innominate bones alternately go anterior and posterior in response to what the lower leg has done.

The sacrum of course is following that movement and the lumbars are following the sacrum. Then, up around T8, T9, maybe T10, it depends on the person, there’s a counter rotation in the thoracics.

Of course, up at the juncture between the head and neck, there’s slight movement also because otherwise, the head will be going side to side when this helical motion is taking place underneath. There has to be motion available in the neck in order for the gait to really manifest as beautiful.

Mary: I was lucky to study or to co-teach a class years ago with David Clark, who together with Gael Ohlgren, wrote a study called Natural Walking. I got it firsthand from David.

I should also mention that without the support of the ground, the ability for that body to rest into the ground and the capacity for the senses to open to the space, then none of that can happen because the joints will be too compressed. That spaciousness is actually awareness of space or the use of peripheral vision, peripheral hearing. Awareness of our environment is actually a lifting force that gives span to the joints so that they can rotate in the direction they were designed to do.

Brooke: You recently held a workshop about the face and spine tension relationships. You discussed that that kind of tension in the face and neck can affect the AO joint, which for those who aren’t in the field, it’s the joint where the head and neck meet, and that this can affect the movement of the whole spine.

Mary:The reason that I put that together was that I’ve been invited to teach at some Pilates studios. I really wanted to do this because I feel that the kinds of things that the structural integration community understands about the body and especially about the Rolf Movement community, our understanding of the body would be very useful to the Pilates studios because they’re so alignment oriented.

But they seem to be limited, in my opinion, in understanding of the body in the context of life in general. It’s goal oriented. It’s like you try to do these particular things either with the machines or on a mat class. You do these maneuvers. Y

Where we’ll often stabilize ourselves in order to achieve a strong effort towards a goal is in the jaw, the masseter, the pterygoids, they just clench and the eyes of course yet very, very focused, over focused in this sagittal direction. We’re just trying to achieve that goal.

When that happens, the tension in the face creates a lid on the spine, is how I think of it. It’s like the movement of the energy through the system up through the head and back down into the ground, that then is blocked right there at the juncture of chin and neck.

You have a situation where the spine is compressed. I think in that workshop, the first thing I did was ask them to do a forward roll down. Then, we went through various explorations to open and soften the oral cavity. I was just really working with the temporomandibular joint, the feeling of breath across the maxilla and space behind the uvula and just everything that’s in front of C2, C3.

Then, towards the end of the class, we did that forward roll down again. Sure enough, there’s more perception of spinal freedom even though we didn’t do any exercise in the spine. Then, we applied it to the Pilates sit-up thing where the body is supine and you come up into something they call teaser or forward roll or the hundreds.

The challenge then is can you do that and keep that spatial opening in the face. To do that successfully requires a sense of spaciousness through the whole body. The whole, the feet, the head, the arms, everything needs to perceive the space around it in order to maintain the spaciousness within.

The people at that studio, it’s in North Carolina, they have an online school. It’s called Fusion Fitness Online. They have filmed that class,

Brooke:We live in the age of screens. We’re talking about this kind of face and eye tension, how it affects everything. How do you think the screens are maybe affecting us?

Mary: It’s not good. When you narrow your visual perception that way, it diminishes your peripheral awareness. Your spatial awareness goes bye-bye. The body compresses. The joints compress and pretty soon, you’re stiff because fascia is very agreeable. If you want to be compressed, it will lay down more fiber and let you be more compressed.

It takes the head forward. It compresses the spine. The thing that I think is even worse, it makes us less aware of the wider world. This is odd to think about because with all the connectivity of the internet and this is what you and I are making use of right now, is that sense of being able to reach out globally.

At the same time, the perceptual diminishment that’s involved in doing that makes us less friendly, less aware of one another as organisms in the same boat. We’re both more connected and less connected across the horizon in an embodied way.

I think that’s a threat to the human spirit. Hopefully, there are enough of us who are interested in combatting it, bringing it to awareness and there will be maybe a hundredth monkey place where people wake up and realize that we need to learn to use these tools rather than have them use us. We become enthralled to the electronic device.

Brooke:I want to dive a little more deeply into some of the face-spine tension stuff. Maybe it’s just my personal bias because I’m a lifelong tongue gripper. I’m a tongue gripper in recovery- but I think that it’s really a common pattern. People don’t really think about what’s up with their tongues. You’ve linked this to some things that people do think about more frequently like tension headaches and shoulder gripping, shoulder tension.

Mary: In my book, I have an exercise where I suggest that the tongue should rest in the floor of the mouth. After working with this new information, I went, “Oh, no. That’s wrong.” Apologized to everybody as I’m reading this book but actually, when I went back to check in the book, it was an exercise. I don’t have scientific proof but in my own experience, and I think in the experience of so many people that I’ve taught now, that the tongue rests slightly in the roof of the mouth, not pressing however.

That’s a big distinction because lots of people are pressing the roof of the mouth with the tip of their tongue or doing different things that make the tongue narrow. What I’m talking about is a wide, soft tongue. The back of the tongue is at rest, broadly resting against the molars.

When you do that with yourself, it’s as if you’re smiling inside your mouth. There’s a width that takes place. That width also supports the breadth and width of the maxilla which is this very thin, micro thin arch of bone that is the floor of the nose and the eyes, the roof of the mouth but it’s the floor of the top part of the face.

That tongue maxilla structure is really the place where the whole gut tube is suspended from. When you feel that, you feel that breadth. You also will sense that it’s easier to breathe in through the nose. The widening of the maxilla, the widening of the tongue supports more space in the nasal concha.

It’s easier for nose breathing to occur which takes you into the benefit of breathing through the nose as a stimulus to the diaphragm and an opening of the lower lung where the better oxygen exchange more capillaries. Better oxygen exchange takes place in the lower lung whereas mouth breathing tends to bring the air quickly.

Mary: It’s like a real different energy in your face and also in the sense of how you look out of this face. There’s a different kind of interior support that occurs when you have the tongue in this place.

Brooke: If I push and do the opposite of what you’re describing and really pushing through the roof of my mouth, there is this really narrowing and hardening that I can feel quite a lot in my eyes as well as in my jaw.

Mary: That’s right and also in your nose. Notice what happens to the breath then.

Brooke: It’s true. Breath gets a lot more shallow.

Mary:What’s really fun in classes is to have people model those different places, those three that we just mentioned and notice the change in gait. It’s really very visible because it contributes to decompression of the spine.

Brooke: You have a new online course called Know Your Feet. You were talking earlier about a lot of nuance in the feet with gait pattern. What are some of the other things that that covers that it gets into?

Mary: What I wanted to do with this idea of my foot workshop is to just inform people about the complexity of their feet and give them a few things to assess their own feet and understand their own feet. It’s simple biomechanics, and also an introduction to the relationship between the feet and the body as a whole, when you stand in your feet in a pronated position, how your body feels in that way versus if you stand with your feet in a high arched rigid position and which is your tendency.

Then, also woven into the class is how to feel and receive support because the feet have to be in relationship to the ground, not just on the ground in order for them to work optimally. I couldn’t teach this class without also teaching about gravity and support. Then, there’s some self-help exercises to correct faulty foot habits. There’s some exercises for flat feet and high arches, different ways to work with yourself to improve your functions.

Brooke: Is there anything that you are currently playing with or fascinated by in your own practice these days?

Mary: I practice yoga, not strenuously but I find that it helps me on many levels. Recently, I’ve been trying to build into my home practice of that as well as when I’m in a class the sense of aliveness, homogeneous aliveness inside my skin.

Instead of thinking about the correctness of the asana or how to arrange or contract my muscles in order to do a particular pose, I’m trying, before I began to feel where I can feel myself through everything finger, every toe, my liver, just a quick scan in my all there and then I go into the pose.

I’m trying also to work with finding that balance between working the pose too hard and not working it hard enough. That’s a fine line but interestingly, I found that that practice has started to come across into my Rolfing practice. I am a habitual over-worker.

Brooke: I can relate.

Mary: Backing off to just the right amount within a specified practice, that seems to be beneficial to me. I also do a practice called dance meditation. There’s no structure to the movement but it’s, for me, a similar journey of embodied movement on any particular day that’s different. What it feels like to be embodied today is different from yesterday. It’s nice to know that.

Home play!

Want to play with all kind of good stuff related to the neck/head relationship? I love this exploration from Mary Bond; check it out!


Mary Bond's website/blog: Heal Your Posture

Book, The New Rules of Posture

Mary Bond's Healthy Posture DVD

Dr. Ida P. Rolf

Rolfing® Structural Integration

Mary Bond's workshop on face/spine relationships at Fusion Fitness Online

Mary Bond's Know Your Feet workshop

Dance Meditation

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

Constance Clare-Newman: Alexander Technique

Steve Haines: Body Maps and Interoception

Bo Forbes: Mindfulness Expressed in the Body

Jonathan FitzGordon: Psoas Release Party! (LBP 018)


Jonathan FitzGordon, creator of the CoreWalking Method, talks about the uniqueness of the psoas muscle, how its connected to trauma and uprightness, and how and why to release it. He also gets into gait patterns, what the most common dysfunctional gait pattern is these days, and how changing your walk can actually resolve your pain and discomfort issues, as well as unlocking emotional patterns. Last but not least we also get into one of my favorite topics- why we all need to stick our butts out more and what that means.




Show notes:

CoreWalking is teaching people how to walk, or re-teaching them. Jonathan has been teaching yoga for 15 years and when he had his own studio he had an interest in helping people to take yoga off the mat. He used to think people came to yoga to change their bodies or their posture, and I realized that people really came to yoga to reinforce their movement patterns.

[the rest in Jonathan's voice except where noted]

Walking is a fundamental thing that we all do, but we don't really think about it. No one is taught how to walk, you usually imitate your parents and grandparents, and their patterns might not be great.

As I created this program right away it started helping people with back pain, which was a nice reaction that I wasn't looking for, but I began to pay attention to it.

If you know how your body works, it's going to work much better for you. I teach anatomy in a basic way, but if you understand how your foot is supposed to fall in every step you take, you're more likely to do it.

The root of the CoreWalking Program is that if you change physical patterns you can unlock emotional patterns or blocks that you have carried around without realizing it. I see that when people change their physical patterns emotional patterns change too.

In New York (where Jonathan works) there are bodyworkers everywhere, so I wanted to create an online program where people who live in places where there aren't a ton of practitioners can get help. They can send me a video and I mark it up and we talk about what's going on.

I am shocked by how effective it can be at changing patterns. I'm not doing anything. I believe in bodywork, but it's not what I happen to do, and I'm amazed at watching these people do all the work themselves.

It's as simple as moving differently. I have to emphasize that I'm not hung up in being "correct" or getting it "right" so much as moving differently.

I [Brooke] mention the Amy Cuddy TED talk: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (in resources).

I spend way too much time watching people move in the parks, and you can watch someone and you can really read what they are going through by the way they carry themselves.

How can working on your gait pattern help your pain issues?

The body is a self-healing machine, but only if it is working somewhat well. We don't think much about how we walk, we don't align our bones well. If our bones are misaligned our muscles are going to have to work to hold us upright. Overworked muscles don't allow us to move well, and if we aren't moving well the nerves don't flow as well. If we can bring these things together the healing takes place naturally.

Everyone listening can just go outside today and start watching people walk.

Most people when they stand they lean slightly backwards, and when they walk the legs lead, the pelvis is pulled forward and the upper body is pulled backwards. When we do that, we lose the most important part of the gait pattern which is a spinal twist with every step.

So many muscles are involved in a body that walks better from head to toe, so when the spinal twist gets involved that's when we get the core involved. Every step twists and turns and massages your organ body, it affects the lungs, your urogential function... the idea of the body as a self-healing mechanism is the essence of what I'm working with.

You have injuries and you walk and sometimes compensate for them. The way we walk most of the time exacerbates the injury pattern. The way you compensate is fine, but you didn't come back to the way you walked, so you get problems somewhere else.

It's all about movement. The more we move the better. When we do that there is going to be so much less pain.

The Psoas Release Party is an ongoing workshop and a book that Jonathan has written (both in resources). Why all the attention for the psoas? What makes it unique?

The psoas is an important muscle for three reasons: 1) It's the muscle that brought us up to stand 2) It is the muscle that walks us through life and 3) It is the muscle of trauma, or the muscle that warehouses the unprocessed energy.

One of the things that makes us distinctly human is that we have a lumbar curve, that's what allows us to stand upright, it's what transfers weight through the spine, it's what allows us to walk bipedally, and the psoas created the lumbar curve.

When we came up to stand the gluteus maximus is formed- it pulls down on the pelvis to pull it upright. As it does that, the psoas major crosses the pelvis and tension is created and its engagement creates the lumbar curve.

Once the spine is upright, there are only a few muscles- the  psoas major, the piriformis, the gluteus maximus are working front to back to stabilize the pelvis.

I love the concept of walking as falling. What prevents us from falling completely is the psoas. When we lead with the legs instead of the core the psoas isn't aligned correctly at the back half of the inner thigh. When this doesn't happen the back half of the body doesn't activate.

When the psoas is engaged with every step the entire back body lengthens. There are certain muscles that support the extension of the spine. If the psoas is not engaging to walk us through life the whole posterior chain is going to collapse.

The trauma piece is incredible to me. Psoas is the main hip flexor in the body and what I mean by that is that the psoas is involved in every response of fear. We're all stuck in our fear response. Every time we're afraid we flex; Fear is flexion. Your psoas is involved every time.

We have the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system which work together to create homeostasis of the body. Sympathetic is in sympathy with our fear, parasympathetic is what brings us back to relaxation.

People who cannot relax as quickly as someone else, that gets into PTSD. I'm not trying to minimize PTSD, but I think we are all traumatized to one degree or another. We're here to be traumatized and to work hard to develop a support system to integrate that trauma.

When the psoas cannot release out of the fear response, we get stuck in the sympathetic nervous system.

I don't know why I'm interested in this stuff, I have the longest psoas in the world. I think  the fact that I'm fairly chill helps me to work with people in trauma.

What are some ways to release the psoas?

You can stretch your psoas but you only feel it when it's unhappy. I don't think psoas is a muscle we need to strengthen. I am interested in strengthening the muscles that support the psoas.

When you look at psoas and piriformis, a lot of muscles in the body don't work all the time, like the biceps. The psoas and piriformis are working a lot.

What happens when you do give these muscles a break? I think it's a lot about the level of trauma in the body. How do you let that go?

One thing I'm doing is constructive rest position (in resources). It is popular across many different techniques like Alexander Technique. It was invented by a woman called Lulu Sweigard who wrote a book called Human Movement Potential [resource]. It allows gravity to relax and release the psoas. I also do one with a foot on the block and one leg hangs off. I want to put the psoas into a place where it can relax.

What's fascinating is what happens when you do that. Every Psoas Release Party starts with 15 or 20 minutes of constructive rest. Some people have nothing happen. Some people will have their legs flop over to one side, and over and over again it happens. I have seen bodies convulse completely, I have seen feet stamp hard on the floor.

I love that the body takes care of itself when it is ready. It has to feel ok.

I think people are very messed up in their quads particularly the rectus femoris, and I feel like people sometimes can't get to the psoas until the quads get better. I do a pose block lunges for that (in resources).

There are all different ways around it, but the idea of release is to put the muscle into a non-working state to get it to let go.

David Berceli does TRE, Trauma Release Exercises (in resources), and is really interesting to me. His work is about inducing tremors in the body in release positions.

Stick your butt out- why might that be worth harping on?

When I set out to teach people to walk I love that walking is a basic, big concept. I like using big images rather than the subtle. I love the subtle, and I love these really smart people who write about or teach really complex stuff. But I want it to be simple. It doesn't get more simple than "stick your butt out".

I don't feel like you need to be able to do subtle work to change your body.

The main thing is using that cue to get your legs under your pelvis. Everyone leans forward in their thighs and back in their trunk. It doesn't always pull the pelvis into a tuck, but often it does. So when I'm saying stick your butt out, I want their legs under their hip sockets.

"Relax your butt" is another one I use a lot. If gluteus maximus needs to be turned on, it's only a little bit. When you're just standing, relax your butt.

"Give your butt a room of its own." It's not meant to sit on your hamstrings, it's meant to have it's own space. We all need bigger butts.

It's all simple imagery. I get into more subtle things with kegels, mula bandha, and uddiyhana bandha.

You're not saying, "arch your low back more."

We need to have a curve in our lower back, but you want the smallest possible curve. It is essential, but it does not need to be large. If the curve is too big or does not exist, the spine is not going to work well.

The keep on truckin' cartoon is a good exaggeration of the walking pattern Jonathan is describing. His whole upper body is way behind him with the leg out in front.

In his own practice Jonathan is playing with how to spread the fingers in down dog. When he had been doing it, he was spreading them as much as he could. So the pinky was wider than the edge of the palm. I read a blog and the woman who wrote it said to move the pinky in line with the outer edge of the palm. It resonates all the way up into the arm, head, neck, and shoulder. (video in resources)

Home play!


Where is your leg in your gait pattern? We have an image of our friend, the keep on truckin' guy here, it's clearly a gross exaggeration, but how much are you walking like him? Is your leg way out in front of you? Does your trunk trail behind? Does your leg ever get behind your midline into extension in your walk? How much does it move behind you? Can you use your toe hinge/toe off- that moment when your heel is up and your toes are on the ground? Or do you pick up your whole foot like it's a block? See what you notice!



Psoas Release Party DVD (coming soon)

Psoas Release Party book

free ebook How Walking Can Change Your Life

Amy Cuddy TED talk: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Jonathan's video on how to do constructive rest

Jonathan's video on block lunges

Lulu Sweigard Human Movement Potential

David Berceli Trauma Release Exercises (TRE)

Jonathan's aligning your pinky finger video

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

Eric Goodman: Resolving Back Pain

Valerie Berg: Structural Aging At Any Age

Steve Haines: Body Maps and Interoception

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