This review covers the book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot by Esther Gokhale, as well as Esther Gokhale Method and its associated products as a whole.
Esther Gokhale Method is a system of exercises for improving posture and relieving back pain. The method is described in full in Esther Gokhale’s seminal book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. The premise of the book is straightforward: Around 90% of people in post-industrial countries will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. However, in some pre-industrial societies, back pain is virtually unheard of. Esther Gokhale (pronounced “Go-clay”) travelled to these societies to find out what they do differently to mean they don’t get back pain. Her travels took her to Burkina Faso, rural Portugal and fishing villages in Brazil. She took lots of photographs while she was there which are presented in the book to show us what “proper” posture should look like.
I was not sceptical of Gokhale’s message going in. I have suffered back pain in some form since my late teens (I am now 27). This pain has become progressively worse over the last few years as my computer use has increased due to my work. Esther Gokhale was first brought to my attention by Personal Power Meditation forum user realitygrill. I found the following video of a talk Esther gave at Google about her method, and I recommend you watch it from start to finish if back pain and bad posture is something you suffer from. This video gives a detailed overview of her method and philosophy, and she also teaches the “Stretchsitting” technique for good, pain-free posture while sitting down for long periods.
On watching this video, one thing I was immediately impressed by is that Esther Gokhale herself clearly embodies her own principles regarding good posture and appears healthy and vivacious as a result. The rule I gleaned from this is simple: good posture increases human attractiveness.
Upon receiving the book, this rule came to play a bigger role in my life than I ever predicted. The book is so effective at drilling into you the basics of good posture that, for the next several weeks, posture came to be a lens through which I viewed the world. I began seeing anyone who entered my visual field in terms of “good posture”/”bad posture”. This was interesting because I found that the people I saw as having “good posture” happened generally to be the same people I would have rated highly for attractiveness and personal power anyway. In other words, I came to realize just how much my first impressions of people were influenced by my (until now) unconscious analysis of their posture.
Personal Power and Mood
This postural investigation had huge personal repercussions as well. Once I began implementing the new techniques I had learned from the book (and the publicly-available YouTube videos) I felt a new sense of personal power and improved emotional management stemming directly from my adjusted posture. I talked about these psychological changes in several posts on the forum, but I will summarize them here: Standing up properly seems to improve emotional flow on a vertical axis running from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. When standing up properly, thinking becomes far more clear. Emotions seem to flow and be better understood with fewer “blocks”. Threat assessment is decreased significantly. Feelings of personal power arise when interacting with other people. My mood also improved a lot as a consequence of reduced physical pain.
In the book, Esther Gokhale hints that there is a direct correlation between poor (or “submissive”) posture and “submissive” tendencies such as depression and anxiety. She fails to commit to this statement however, and for good reason: such a statement is practically impossible to prove scientifically, and I feel she is keen to protect her method from being seen as drifting into the realm of pseudoscience. I suspect however that Esther is well aware of the link between posture and mood, and that this was a primary motivator for getting her method into the public domain in such a well thought through and polished form.
Another astonishing benefit of the postural exercises taught in the book were my increase in height. In two weeks following the book’s arrival, I gained 2.2cm (just under an inch). This height increase came purely as a result of straightening my post-industrial “S-shaped” spine to a more Esther Gokhale-approved “J-shaped” spine.
Most importantly, I have experienced reduced pain in my life from ingraining the new postural habits taught in the book and by performing exercises such as Stretchlying and Stretchsitting daily. The book has therefore succeeded in its core goal of reducing pain.
One area where fixing my posture has really helped is in my learning to enjoy exercise. I have a history of joining gyms then stopping going because I don’t enjoy it. It turned out that my sloppy posture while exercising was causing me pain which was stifling my pleasure and therefore stopping me creating the psychological connection between exercise and feeling good. Since I had recently joined a gym around the time I received the book, I began putting my new postural technique into practice while at the gym. This was very successful. I stopped hurting myself while running, using the cross-trainer and lifting weights. I was able to begin enjoying exercise, and lost a whopping 10kg (22lbs) in around a month and a half. I didn’t even adjust my diet to lose this much weight (in fact, my diet actually became worse since I had recently moved to France and begun eating crêpes every day :)); I just lifted extremely heavy weights and did 20-40 minutes of cardio three times a week. Good posture helped me avoid injury, especially during running, where I had a history of tendinitis.
The exercises are the all-important part of the book. They are laid out in picture form, which meant I had to turn some of the more complex exercises into short mental movies in order to figure them out. Luckily, Esther Gokhale does offer a DVD of the exercises on her website for people who would rather just watch them being performed by real people.
Esther Gokhale also has several videos on YouTube, and I will post links to a couple I found really helpful:
Stretchlying — This an exercise you do at bedtime, and if you find the position relaxing like I do, you may well fall asleep in this position, allowing your spine to be gently stretched throughout the night. This stretching helps decompress discs in the spine. After a few nights spent in this position, I began to wake up without immediate back pain in the morning for the first time since I could remember.
Stretchsitting — This exercise allows a comfortable sitting position which gently stretches the spine as you sit. This exercise is particularly valuable for computer users like myself who wish to minimize damage caused by long periods spent sitting in front of a screen.
I haven’t seen the DVD set so I can’t personally review it at this time. However, its sales blurb says it is simply live action recordings of the exercises in the book, so it likely delivers on this.
Esther’s friendly website team however did agree to send me a Stretchsit cushion. If you watched the Stretchsitting video mentioned earlier, you will note that she instructs students to place a folded towel over the back of a standard folding chair. The purpose of this towel is to keep the spine in traction (in other words being gently stretched) while sitting in the designated healthy posture position. The Stretchsit cushion is Esther Gokhale’s own personal invention, and is designed to replace the towel in order to provide more reliable traction. It is essentially a foam pad covered in rubber protrusions which grip the spine in order to keep it in place. It comes with a long, adjustable strap in order to be able to attach it to any chair. I personally found that it required some ingenuity to attach the cushion to a standard folding chair using the strap, and it might be a good idea for a future issue of the cushion to come with an additional form of attachment for standard chair designs. The purpose of the strap as specified in the cushion’s documentation however is to allow the cushion to be attached to car seats. It would, in this case, be attached by wrapping the strap around the headrest, which makes a lot more sense, since it would be difficult to attach the cushion to a car seat without a strap. In any case, I don’t have a car so I couldn’t test this out.
One more idea Esther Gokhale mentioned in the book in the ‘Learning to Use Your Inner Corset’ chapter was to somehow acquire an actual corset. This point is made as a passing suggestion, and she does not currently offer a corset in her product range. However, I was able to find a medical corset quite quickly on eBay. Click here to see the exact product I bought. I found wearing the corset to be extremely comfortable, and it definitely provides extra support during sitting, walking and running. Wearing the corset also helped maintain the good postural habits I learned from the book, especially in the early days before they became ingrained.
If you want to become taller, move and stand with more grace and be more attractive, and install healthy postural habits to effectively treat back pain, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back is the book for you. The Esther Gokhale Method has had a profound positive impact on my own personal health and postural habits, and on the way I have come to view the psychological role of posture on both the individual and societal level.
I consider 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back essential reading for anyone serious about personal development who has back pain or postural issues, or who simply wants to learn more about this somewhat overlooked and under-taught topic.