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Journey with Joan Baez

July, 2019


Feeling happy after a lesson. 

If you ask Joan Baez what keeps her in good enough shape to do worldwide musical tours at age 78, she will hand you a little brown card that says “Esther Gokhale, Creator of the Gokhale Method.”


My wooden business card.

Joan has used various kinds of bodywork throughout her career. Music tours invariably involve bumpy bus rides, late-night performances, uncomfortable beds, and other challenges to the human frame, and Joan, like most seasoned musicians, has experienced her share of neck and back strain. Joan lives in California, the mecca of massage therapists, chiropractors,... Read more

How to Sit on the Floor, Part 2: Squatting

June, 2019

This is the second post in our multi-part series on floor sitting. For Part 1 on floor sitting, click here.

Why squat? Squatting isn’t something we do much in industrialized societies beyond childhood, but if you can do it healthfully, it is an eminently practical posture for resting the body while keeping the backside elevated off the ground and the clothing clean, as this woman from Orissa demonstrates.


This woman from Orissa demonstrates a healthy, full squat with foot arches intact and a long, straight spine.

It is also the posture used for toilet activities in places with floor toilets, a trend which has recently made its way to the industrialized realm in the... Read more

Why Does the Oldest Chinese Buddha Figure Slump?

June, 2019

 


The oldest surviving dated Chinese Buddha figure shows surprisingly slumped posture. Note the forward head, absence of a stacked spine, and tucked pelvis. He would not look out of place with a smartphone in his hand!

This surprisingly hunched Chinese Buddha figure is the oldest dated Chinese Buddha figure that has survived into modern times. The inscription on its base dates it to 338 AD, 500 years after Buddhism came to China from India. Compare the Chinese Buddha figure with this Indian Buddha figure from roughly 800-1000 AD…
 


This North Indian Buddha figure from the post-Gupta period (7th - 8th century AD) shows... Read more

Improving Your Neck Placement: a New Technique

May, 2019

I’ve taught stretchlying on the side for decades. So it’s a (welcome) surprise to discover a way of arranging the neck that is both more effective in adding additional neck length and more relaxing for the neck muscles.

 


It takes good form to be able to get rest on a surface this hard.
 


In July, reindeer herders in Samiland corral their reindeer to mark the ears of the unbranded calves. This involves stretches of waiting, some of it done reclining on the side, as above.

 

To date, I’ve taught... Read more

Is Belly Breathing Good for You?

April, 2019

It’s common for students to arrive at our classes with strong notions about breathing. Among these is “Belly breathing is good breathing; chest breathing is bad breathing.” I disagree with this widespread belief and present varying amounts of pushback, counterargument, or hints about disagreement depending on the context and how much time I have.


Top: Chest lowered with exhalation. Bottom: Chest expanded with inhalation.

Sometimes I use a hand-waving argument: “Your lungs are housed in your chest; why wouldn’t they expand the chest on inhalation?” Sometimes I argue that if just the belly expands on breathing, that’s usually because the abdominal wall muscles are lax, the long back muscles (erector... Read more

How to Sit on the Floor, Part 1: Cross-legged Sitting

March, 2019

This is the first post in our multi-part series on floor sitting. For Part 2 on squatting, click here.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor is common in many cultures around the world, and has become popular in some segments of modern Western societies.

 


This Druze woman who I met in Israel has sat cross-legged all her life. She runs a hospitality business — all the food is laid out on the floor and the guests sit along the periphery of the room. She is at ease in this position for extended periods with her back remaining upright and relaxed.
 


In this temple in Bhubaneswar,... Read more

Baby Massage, Traditional Indian Style

March, 2019

My students sometimes lead me to particularly juicy nuggets that enrich my understanding of posture-related practices in other cultures. Sometimes they simply send me a link to an article; sometimes it is an introduction to a special person. Recently, my private Gokhale Method Foundations Course student Alpana informed me that her friend had a visitor I might be interested in meeting. She was right.

Two days later, my daughter Monisha and I showed up at Nirmala’s host’s home in Saratoga. I was immediately struck by the woman’s presence, regal carriage, slender and strong frame, and sparky energy, especially for a 60-year-old. Nirmala does traditional Indian baby and post-natal massage on newly delivered babies and their mothers in Surat, India. She speaks no English. Thanks to Alpana’s fluent Marathi and my broken Hindi, I was able to communicate very effectively with her.

 ... Read more

When, Why, and How to Use a Back Brace

February, 2019

A back brace can be an invaluable support that staves away compression in the spine, and spares a vulnerable person significant damage and back pain. A back brace can also become a crutch that allows you to become weaker, less able to support your own structure, and heading into a downward spiral of dysfunction.

Ideally, your inner corset is strong enough and has enough endurance to protect your spine during all your activities. In this case, no external corset or brace is required. But there are situations in which an external device is useful or necessary.

 


There are many different kinds of back braces out there.

 

A back brace as a training device or coach

Back braces can be pretty snug, especially the ones with built-in pulley systems (see recommendations... Read more

Posture Alone Does Not a Healthy Body Make

February, 2019

In my experience, there are four important pillars of wellness: healthy diet, exercise/movement, posture, and community. In the general population, posture is the least recognized of these pillars. Gokhale Method aficionados don’t have this blindspot; they understand the importance of healthy posture well. What is sometimes not understood is that you need more than healthy posture to cover your musculoskeletal needs. Healthy posture is a base on which you need to build an active life. Especially in modern contexts, which sometimes allow you to fulfill almost all your duties from behind a computer screen, it takes some reflection on how you can supplement, edit, and weave healthy movement into your life.

I was originally trained in a posture tradition that looked down upon exercise as a juvenile and unnecessary pursuit. I would frequently hear that “sport is for kids” and that I “shouldn’t have time for things like running and swimming.”... Read more

What's the Best Way to Stretch Your Hamstrings?

January, 2019

I get this question quite often. The answer is two-fold:

  1. Maintain a healthy baseline length in your hamstrings/glutes by learning to tip your pelvis forward in stacksitting, tallstanding, and glidewalking. When you tuck your pelvis, you bring your ischial tuberosities (sitz bones) in closer to where these muscles attach on the leg. This allows the hamstrings/glutes to adapt to a short resting length. Short hamstrings make you more vulnerable to hamstring injuries when you perform motions that require normal or elongated hamstrings. Tears can happen within the muscle, or, more commonly, where the hamstrings attach to the ischial tuberosities.

 ... Read more