Book Review: 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back

Author: Esther Gokhale, L.Ac.
Publisher: Pendo Press
Book Publication: 2008

Back pain is an extremely prevalent condition among North Americans, and as a frequent sufferer of lower back, shoulder, and neck pain, I’m not happy to report that I’m included in that statistic. Always looking for treatment suggestions, I jumped at the chance to determine Esther Gokhale’s solution, outlined in 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back.

Gokhale notes that there are many supposed causes of bad backs – we weren’t meant to stand upright, we’re too sedentary, we’re too stressed, etc. – but that the real cause is far more simple than that:  “…the biggest risk factor for back pain, as yet unidentified and underappreciated, is posture.”

Think about how often you’ve been told to sit or stand up straight, and this seemingly easy answer starts to make sense. And, when you consider how long we sit at desks and computers all day, or sit behind the wheel of a car, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that how we sit is having a huge impact on our poor little backs.

Gokhale says that, as the years progress, our posture is only getting worse, so we need to address the problem and learn the proper way to sit, sleep, and stand before we cause severe damage to our bodies: “By re-establishing natural posture and movement patterns, you will be addressing the root cause of your pain, regaining and maintaining a pain-free back.”

So we know we need to improve our posture, but what exactly is the correct posture? Gokhale makes it easy on us, providing us with eight important lessons, each lesson involving several steps. And, if you want to see proper posture in action, there are photographs from around the world depicting people in the correct form. Each lesson also offers benefits of the method, indications of improvement, troubleshooting, and further information sections, along with a quick recap of the steps.

The lessons include Stretchsitting (sitting with a lengthened back), Stretchlying on Your Back (lying with a lengthened back), Stacksitting (positioning your pelvis as the foundation for your spine), Stretchlying on Your Side (lying with a lengthened back), Using Your Inner Corset (using your muscles to protect and lengthen your spine), Tallstanding (stacking your bones), Hip-hinging (hinging at the hips to bend), and Glidewalking (walking as a series of forward propulsions, not falls).

With my tense back looking for reprieve, I decided to test out Gokhale’s method in an attempt to correct my own terrible posture. The end result of following the steps was a lot of discomfort, mostly in my neck, where the majority of my tension has taken up residence. The fact that I could feel a difference, however, made me think that this was really how my body was supposed to be manipulated, and it was just struggling to do what I had never really told it to do before.

The most important lesson to adhere to is stretchsitting, the initial segment of Gokhale’s method. Gokhale states that “the cumulative benefits from stretchsitting are much more significant than those from back stretches,” and it doesn’t even take any extra time out of your day to sit using the correct posture.

Another lesson that I took to heart was stretchlying, wherein you learn the best way to sleep on your back or on your side. I have a tendency to wake up with terrible kinks in my neck and back, and when I examined the diagrams in this lesson, it wasn’t hard to see why. Gokhale asserts that re-examining the way you sleep can greatly improve your quality of sleep, so this is something that’s definitely worth the slight amount of effort it requires.

Gokhale assures me that with repeated work, my back will eventually get used to this correct positioning, and my initial distress will certainly be worth it in the long run. I like to believe her, but it sure doesn’t feel that great right now. The important thing, though, is that even if I don’t follow her directions exactly all the time, I now know the benefits of paying closer attention to posture, and will strive to sit, walk, and sleep as correctly as my body will allow.

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