Natural Human Posture and Esther Gokhale’s 8 Step Method

Being able to stand or sit properly should be an easy thing for most people to do, and yet it seems that most of us have absolutely terrible posture. I don’t even need to look around outside my apartment to observe this, just by looking in the mirror I can witness the ravages of years of poor posture.

In my former life, I was a web programmer and IT support specialist. If I wasn’t scrambling under a desk to reconnect some kind of wire, I was typically planted firmly in front of a computer screen. In fact, a great deal of my life from adolescence through college was spent sitting in front of some sort of monitor, whether it was a TV or a computer screen.

Over time, my body adapted to my behavior and started to change in subtle ways. On my wrist, I have calluses from thousands of hours of using a computer mouse, and I have an instinctual lean to my upper body towards my right-handed side. If I think consciously about it I will correct it, but when relaxed I still sometimes slouch in that direction.

Perhaps even worse, is the tendency to round my back and slouch forward when sitting in a chair. This got so bad at one point, that the gradual sliding motion initiated by my chair posture had a glacier-like effect on my chair and pants. Holes in my chair’s fabric and in my paints were literally worn away by the friction of my body slowly sliding down my chair. True story.

Making the conscious decision to work at correcting our posture is one of the simplest things we can do to improve our health.

The turning point for me was when I discovered Esther Gokhale and her great book entitled 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. Certainly, before reading through her website and book, I knew that I had poor posture but I didn’t realize how bad it actually was. While looking at photos of superbly poised tribal or traditional people in their natural environment, I became keenly aware of the fact that I didn’t carry my body at all like they did.

For starters, years of slouched sitting leaves me with a tendency to tuck my pelvis forward, thus generating the S-shaped spine which is generally (and incorrectly) referred to as normal. However, in the photos of indigenous or tribal populations, you will see them universally stand with a “duck butt” as Gokhale calls it. The lower spine is kept straight, “stacking the blocks” or vertebrae vertically, with the lower sacrum angled backwards.

Just because a behavior or condition is normal (or average) does not mean that it is natural, or healthy. Modern society has forgotten more about healthy behaviors than we know. This is evidenced by the fact that about one fourth of U.S. adults will report low back pain during a three month period. [1]

The natural standing posture for humans involves having your butt sticking out behind you like a duck. If it seems unnatural, that is only because of the result of modern cultural and occupational influences.

Further, it is common to see people with their necks angled forward along with their shoulders, toward their chest. It is hard to imagine how we all walk around without gasping for breath when our chests are so visibly constricted inward. A more natural and open posture would have your neck elongated and straightened above your shoulders and spine, with your upper arms relaxed and pulled back slightly into a resting position.

I must admit, after utilizing some of Gokhale’s techniques for achieving this posture, it feels quite strange. The strangeness though is only a consequence of spending such an inordinate amount of time in a slouched position. You shouldn’t think yourself crazy for feeling a palpable change in mood or confidence after trying some of these exercises. Like a forced smile, I think posture is another modality where the body is able to alter our mental state through subtle physical changes.

It might take years of effort to undue the damage to my body from my former lifestyle, but I consider it one of the most significant challenges I am undertaking. I don’t believe I’m being melodramatic when I speak this way. The first thing people see when you approach is how you carry yourself. And, the misalignment of bones and tissues within your body can have cumulative negative effects on other parts of your body downstream.

Do yourself a favor, check out Esther Gokhale’s book, or review the video of her lecture which I linked to above. Your body will thank you, and maybe even force out a smile.