Physician, Heal Thyself

 

Gokhale Method® for a Pain-Free Back

By: Esther Gokhale listed in Positive Health Online back pain, originally published in issue 213 – April 2014

Physician, Heal Thyself

Physician heal thyselfIf you are a health and wellness professional, sitting, standing, bending and lifting likely constitute a large part of your work life. Are these positions comfortable for you or do you experience the same aches and pains that your clients seek help with? Do you have concerns about how age and time will affect your future ability to work, live and enjoy life? If so, you are not alone.

The anaesthesiologist pictured above, for example, suffers significant back pain.Back pain, at the top of the list of musculoskeletal problems, is a very democratic affliction. According to BackCare, the UK national charity for back pain, almost half the adult population of the UK (49%) report low back pain lasting for at least 24 hours in the year, and it is estimated that four out of every five adults  in industrialized countries will experience it at some stage in their life. Though back pain peaks in adults of 35 to 55 years of age, it is increasingly common among children and adolescents. Interestingly, in about 85% of all cases, no clear pathology can be identified, and conventional medical wisdom finds it very difficult to identify a single cause for lower back pain.

While it is good news is that most back pain resolves within six weeks, the not-so-good news is that such bouts often recur, developing into an ‘intermittent’ or chronic condition. No surprise then that NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines cite a report saying that 62% of people still experience pain one year after a first episode of back pain. Doctors offer symptomatic relief with anti-inflammatory and pain-killing drugs. A range of musculo-skeletal treatments are available which may get people out of trouble in the short term and also help with long-term management. However, sufferers often feel that these responses fall short of getting to the root of the problem. large number of people, having tried numerous approaches without seeing long-term results, give up on even looking for solutions and accept pain as a part of the natural course of ageing, work stresses, sedentism, or being inadequately adapted to bipedal living. These people constitute a silent contingent of the population that has downward adjusted their activities, expectations, and enjoyment of life. They don’t even show up in our statistics on pain.

Anesthesiologistpoorposture

I photographed her at work as part of my research for the Neurosurgery Grand Rounds I presented at Stanford in 1998. As she held her back and winced with pain, she remarked “I’m looking forward to when I retire and won’t have to bend anymore.” What a sad, low bar this signifies! This physician is a young woman, a well-trained medical professional, and the only way she can see herself out of pain is to wait until retirement and quit bending. Such a lacking solution and one that she will have to wait decades for. She sees no other options that hold promise on her radar.

 

For those of us living in the industrialized world the experience of musculo-skeletal pain, malfunction and joint degeneration is becoming more common. We rely increasingly on orthotics, joint replacements, disability aids and pain medication, as we become increasingly resigned to the inability of our bodies to find their own solutions. Ailments that used to be associated with old age in our culture, such as back, hip, knee, neck, shoulder and foot problems, are affecting people at an increasingly young age. In this article I would like to present some insights that, though contrarian, extend hope to those who suffer pain.

African Woman beautiful posture

Learning from the Pain-Free

I took the picture right in Burkina Faso, a country off the tourist track in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

 

 

WomenbendingAfricaThe women pictured here were collecting a chestnut-like fruit that grows under water. I had my guide halt the motorcycle and began observing this duo from afar. They stayed bent over for long periods, over 10 minutes long, coming upright only occasionally to languorously survey the landscape and then return to collecting fruit. We approached until we were close enough to begin a conversation with them, explain what I was doing, ask permission to photograph and film them, and ask my usual questions about back pain, their way of life, etc. They live with their sons, they pick water chestnuts every day for 7-9 hours, beginning around 10 am when the water is warm enough to wade in. They sell the fruit in the market so they have pocket money (their sons provide for their basic living expenses), and they wish they could sit in chairs all day. Do they have pains? Yes, by the end of the day they get sore. Does the pain stay with them? Does it travel down their legs ever? No and no. The soreness they described was what any of us might feel after using a set of muscles all day. Nothing very significant, and nothing pathological. I tried to explain to them that where I come from people sit in chairs all day and don’t have it so good…I don’t believe I got the concept across.

All around the world people from non-industrial cultures bend to wash, cook, clean and gather in much the way these two women do. They are active into old age and they do not suffer pathological pains the way we do. What’s striking about their form is not only that it is different from what do in modern industrial societies, but also that it is different from what we are taught to do. This last part is surprising. It’s one thing for us to be slack in our form; it’s another to be making efforts to head in the wrong direction.

Carpenter

 

I believe we need to take a fresh look at what constitutes ideal form and body mechanics for our species. Much of what we describe as normal is informed by the average in modern culture (a poor standard by any reckoning) and by an over-reliance on our inadequate engineering assessment of our complex frames. These are flawed approaches indeed, and account for the fact that most of the popular guidelines for improving posture are, in fact, counterproductive. ‘Chin up’, ‘chest out’, ‘tuck your pelvis’, S-shaped spine, are sure-fire ways to destroy discs, impinge spinal nerves, and wear and tear all spinal structures. I suggest that until we have a much more advanced understanding of the biomechanics of our bodies, we should approach the problem anthropologically and historically. We should use well-functioning specimens of our UbongTribesmengreatposturespecies as models, and figure out why their ways of moving make sense. In this way, I believe that we as a society could find our way back to our natural heritage of pain-free, fully functional, and beautiful bodies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s compare and contrast the posture characteristics of people in nonindustrial cultures with those most commonly found in our own modern culture.

           Non-industrial cultures            Industrial Cultures
The pelvis is anteverted at the lumbar-sacral junction, as if with your tail is behind you. The pelvis is held in a retroverted, or        tucked under position, as if with your tail tucked between your legs.
The spine is aligned in a ‘J’-shape (the bottom of the ‘J’ being a posterior sacral angle) while standing, walking and sitting. An “S” shape is considered the ideal shape for the spine..
The spine remains aligned in a ‘J’-shape while walking, sitting and bending. The spine tends to slump forward in a ‘C’ shape while sitting, standing and bending. From time to time, in a misguided effort to become upright, the spine overarches in the lumbar area.
The cervical spine (neck) remains vertically stacked over the vertebrae below, with the head centrally balanced. The neck and chin jut forward, the weight of the head held by shortened neck muscles which arch the cervical spine.
The shoulders and arms are positioned far back along the torso, with the chest open. The shoulders and arms drift forward, rounding the upper back and collapsing the chest.
The feet and legs are externally rotated by 10 – 15 °. Feet are active and arches lifted. The feet and legs are parallel or internally rotated. Arches are flat and ankles pronated.

Why Have these Postural Distortions Occurred?

Since the industrial revolution and economic migration, families have become more geographically dispersed, with parents often raising smaller families many miles away from grandparents and other extended family. This has led to a break in all sorts of cultural transmission, including the handing down of tried and tested body movement traditions. Unlike some types of learning, the kinaesthetic patterns of human movement need physical proximity and repeated visual cueing to be acquired. Traditionally, elders show the younger generation how to carry infants, who then learn how to sit, bend and walk using appropriate postural patterns that have evolved over many thousands of years. When the ancestral line is broken, the disconnected generation is more likely to be, sometimes literally, shaped by the twentieth century developments of mass media culture and mass-produced consumer goods.

The Western feel for Fashion1920fashionslouching

Probably the most significant postural shift occurred in the 1920s. A new, post–war generation redefined the ‘tall but relaxed’ traditional standing posture as stiff and passé. For the first time it became widely fashionable to tuck the pelvis and tail under and droop the shoulders forward, a position reflected in furniture such as the Mies van der Rohe chair and the ‘flapper-girl’ fashions.

Over successive generations this tucked posture has increasingly come to be viewed as normal. Open any fashion magazine or people-watch in any shopping mall, and that is what you find. Unfortunately, we even unwittingly undermine the healthy instincts that our infants are born with because of our modern misconceptions about the human form. For example, because we now think it is normal to tuck the pelvis under, you see babies slumped in car seats or held with the parent’s forearm tucking baby’s bottom under, which prevents her from naturally stacking her spine vertically. We just don’t realize we can ‘wire in’ these poor habits for our children.

Infants naturally stand with their behinds behind them.Babyperfectpostue

Modern attempts at standing with an erect posture include arching the lumbar spine in an attempt to get upright, again throwing our structure out of alignment and producing the S-shaped spine now regarded as normal. Most people in our culture will replicate these same problematic patterns in sitting, usually alternating between slumping forward and tensing the back to “sit up”. If we are unable to sit or stand well, we are also unable to walk or bend properly. Such poor patterns of posture and movement mean that the body no longer functions as a balanced and integrated whole.

 

Does Posture Really Matter that Much?

Everybody understands the correlation of good nutrition and exercise with wellbeing, but, even for many health and wellness professionals, posture does not yet feature on their radar. I regard postural health as something of a cultural blind spot and a neglected health issue that is every bit as important as diet, exercise, and emotional health.

If we recognize the body as a weight-bearing structure, then we can appreciate that poor alignment of the bones in gravity will result in forces that are not distributed where they should be. This causes excessive wear and tear in the joints, the growth of bone spurs (osteoarthritis) and impingements, bulging discs, and poor range of movement. Soft tissues around the bones, including the ligaments, fascia and muscles, will suffer corresponding stresses, typically becoming shorter and tighter on one side of the structure and over-stretched and weaker on the other.

Other common symptoms of poor alignment include RSI-type problems such as inflammation, tingling and numbness caused by constriction around nerves, and poor circulation from unnecessary muscular holding and bracing.

The Way Forward

Fortunately it is possible to unlearn our bad habits and restore our primal posture and movement patterns. My book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back charts an effective and efficient way to help people restructure their bodies. The steps are logically explained and accompanied by high quality photographs and illustrations. They require no expensive equipment, or frequent, ongoing appointments. If you have classes near you, the best way to rediscover your natural posture is to take the Gokhale Method Foundation course.

 

Gokhale Method Foundation course.

 

The course can be taken individually or in small groups and consists of six 1.5 hour lessons. Taking the course brings the additional benefits of teacher demonstration, hands-on help, guided repetition by students to develop muscle memory, exercises and visualization. Teachers all have prior professional experience in a field of bodywork, therapy or medicine.

Like the book, the Foundation course communicates its points clearly with inspiring photographs. Students are encouraged to make full use of the GM website, with links to their fellow students, blogs and webinars. People often experience benefits from the very first lesson, and, having completed the Foundation course, can access local classes and on-line offerings to help maintain and build on their progress.

 

Comments:

  1. 8StepsToaPainFreeBackDr. Christine Andrew said..

I regularly give postural guidance based on this excellent book, and often recommend it to patients who are keen to support their own recovery. It clearly explains: a. what they need to do for themselves posturally to avoid back pain, and b. that it is exactly how they are sitting, bending, standing and lying in daily life that has the greatest impact on their musculo-skeletal system. I have also received very positive reports from patients who have recently chosen to take the course.

The Gokhale Method Foundation course and Free Workshops are available in various towns and cities. See http://www.gokhalemethod.com  for full details.

In Australia

Contact: Michelle Ball-Certified Gokhale Method®Teacher. Ph: 0428223271 mailto:michelle@gokhalemethod.com                              www.gokhalemethod.com/biography/Michelle_Ball

 

Holiday Traditions…What’s Yours?

The Holidays are full of traditions. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA. We had snow at Christmas time. The tradition of choosing the Christmas-tree-lot-snowperfect Christmas tree was daunting. Every year, I remember going out in sub-zero weather in search of the perfect fir. We didn’t actually have to cut one down. They had Christmas tree lots, where for a price, you could get any kind of conifer you wanted. Finding the right one however seemed to be a task that took my dad to at least 3 tree lots and several hours in, did I mention, sub-zero weather. There was a lot of scrutinizing before the purchase was actually made. There was a great deal of shaking and fluffing as the trees were covered in snow and mostly frozen stiff. After finding a tree as close to perfect as possible, we’d strap it to the roof of our Chevy and drive home. Inevitably this near perfect specimen would fill half of our living room. It was always too tall for my mother to fit her beautiful Christmas angel on top of. In fact we usually had to cut the bottom and the top off of the tree to make it fit. It appeared as if it had grown in our basement, up through our living room and out through the roof of our house. My dad would beam with pride at how impressive it was. After the new centerpiece of our living room had been resized and put up, the ritual of decorating it began. Hours of sorting out the lights, which included untangling and finding the culprit burnt out bulbs. This was inevitably accompanied with a few choice words from dad. Then embellishing the tree with 100’s of ornaments followed. There couldn’t be too many of the same colored ornaments in one spot for heaven sake! Tinsel had to be placed on the branches one piece at a time! It all sounds very taxing. But the shear delight of falling in a heap exhausted and taking in the magnificence of this shining masterpiece, was truly wonderful. Our tree was glowing so bright you could see it through the window two blocks away!

Now that I live in Tasmania and there is no snow. I have over the years developed new traditions and rituals around the holidays. They are much simpler. A Christmas BBQ and a trip to the beach is more in the cards these days.

So whether you follow old traditions or create new traditions it is a special time of the year for most people. Kids are out of school and our little town swells and triples it’s population. It is a time when no matter what you believe or don’t believe you some how get pulled into your own traditions or someone else’s. There seems to be a conspiracy that you must celebrate some treasured tradition with someone at this time of year.

It’s slightly different for everyone. I remember a story of how one family used to bake a ham for dinner to celebrate the holidays. They would cut off the end of the ham before putting it into the oven. Finally someone asked, “Why do you cut the end of the ham off?” The daughter, who was cooking replied, “Because it’s tradition. Our family has always done it this way.” So she decided to ask her mum. “Why do we cut the end off of the ham?” Mum replied, “Well, I don’t know, but it’s tradition. Lets ask grandma.” “Grandma, why cut the end off of the ham?” Grandma said, quite surprised by the question, “Well, because it’s tradition! Our family has always cut the end of the ham off before baking it. It’s just what we have always done.” Still not really having the question answered, there was one more generation present for that dinner, Great Grandma. Surely she must know the answer. So they all went to her and asked the question once again. Great Grandma, after contemplating the question replied. “I don’t know, but my mother used to cut the end of the ham off because she didn’t have a pan big enough to fit the ham into.” Ha! There you have it. Surely a tradition that must never be broken!

I believe that what ever your background or your traditions are, the key is to relish and enjoy them. Take time to savor and remember the people and the good times around them. If you find yourself in an unfamiliar place or with people who have different traditions than you, be open and accepting of them. You may find their rituals to be unusual or even silly. But you never know, you may embrace some of these new traditions as your own. You may even decide to pass them on to others in the years to come. Whatever you do, remember to revel in the moment. It is not what happens in our life that matters it’s how we respond. Give yourself permission to have fun! Make that your new tradition if it’s not yours already. Laugh often, it lowers cortisol levels and stimulates production of the happy hormone, serotonin, lowers both your heart rate and your blood pressure. Hug a lot. It can instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger. Share your memorable stories. They too can increase your feelings of happiness and connectedness. Happiest of Holidays to you…no matter whose tradition you find yourself in this year.

christmas-holiday-decoration-vector-304926Contributed by Michelle “Mickie” Ball, Massage Therapist and Gokhale Method Teacher 0428223271

 

 

 

 

5 Tips to Help Eliminate a Pain In The Neck?

Now I am not talking about how to deal with an irritating neighbor or an in-law that you may not see eye to eye with. I am talking about the pain we feel in our own body, primarily in our necks. Did you ever wake up in the morning with a “stiff neck” or feel neck tightness after working on the computer for a few too many hours. Well you are not alone. So here are some tips to consider.

  1. Pillows: If you are a back sleeper make sure the pillow is placed just under your shoulders to help keep the cervical spine (neck) and thoracic spine (upper back) flat. This will help elongate your neck and low back. Sleeping with a pillow under your head onlyStretchlying and not your shoulders will tilt the head forward and put strain on the discs and could compromise breathing. I had one student say that this helped stop her husband’s snoring. Worth it’s weight right there!
  2. If you sleep on your side. Make sure your pillow fills the gap between your head and shoulder. You do not want it under your shoulders in this case. You may need to use 2 pillows to accomplish this. What you are trying to prevent is the trapezius muscles to be over stretched with your head dangling down. This will cause tight traps and pain in the neck. You can also raise your head slightly off the pillow and glide your head back and up to lengthen the back of your neck. Always aim to lengthen the back of the neck not the front. Be moderate in this action as a gentle stretch is good. A sudden or harsh stretch can cause the muscles to tighten or spasm.
  3. Sitting, whether at a computer, a desk or at the dinner table, many of us have a bad habit of tucking our pelvis. This directly correlates to a rounded back and a protruding head. Once the head protrudes forward you put double the weight on your neck with every single inch forward. You may have heard of the term “text neck.” TNeckstretchry using a wedge to sit on. This will help antevert the pelvis to keep you from tucking. In turn this helps lengthen the back with each breath you take. Be careful “Not to sway” the back when doing this.                Next, lengthen your neck by gently pulling on the back of your hair or moving your head back and up keeping the chin relaxed and down. Stretching the back of the neck not the front.(*Use caution here if you have a suspected herniated disc at L5-S1. Anteverting the pelvis could possibly pinch off the herniated portion of your disc.)
  4. Use your eyes to look down and not your neck and head. This takes a bit of practice. Instead of moving the head forward when looking down train your eyes to look down. You may need to change your glasses prescription if you have bifocals to accommodate this new healthy posture. The neck remains tall and your eyes do the work. Training yourself to do this will eliminate extra strain on the neck from a heavy head. Do this on a regular basis and you’ll be creating a new healthy habit that will serve you anytime while typing, texting, cooking and more.
  5. Stretch the Traps: If you find your trapezius muscles get tight you can try a stretch to help relieve some of the tension. Do a shTrapstretchoulder roll to relax the shoulders back and into a healthy position. Place the palm of your right hand over your head near your left ear. Use your hand to lengthen the neck then gently ease the head towards the right shoulder. Push down with the heel of your left hand to augment the stretch. Hold for 20 – 30 seconds. Change sides and repeat. !!! DO NOT do this stretch if you have herniated, bulging or compromised discs in your neck.

For further information on these techniques you can call Michelle or go to http://www.gokhalemethod.com

Contributed by Michelle “Mickie” Ball – Massage Therapist and Gokhale Method® Teacher 0428 223 271

 

How do children develop poor posture?

How do children develop poor posture?

images-7Have you ever observed a baby sitting on the floor. They have perfect posture. Nobody is telling them to “sit up straight!” They just do this automatically. If you observe their movements you will notice something quite beautiful. They sit upright effortlessly with their pelvis positioned well to perfectly stack the spinal discs and vertebrae up above it. Their shoulders are well back and their necks are long and straight. When they bend to reach for a toy or some other object, they hinge forward from their hips and reach using their entire body moving from the hips toward the object. Their shoulders remaining well back while performing this task.

If you look at a toddler standing, you will notice the same type of posture. It’s perfect! They have very straight spines and they don’t have much of a curve at all until you get to the very 3 postures of standingbottom of the vertebral stack. Then there is a significant curve at L5- S1 on the spinal chart. You will again notice that this posture is natural and not at all strained. They carry their weight over their heels and weight bearing bones. The body is remarkably well aligned. If you think about it, babies are experts at finding the right balance and plumb line to keep their rather heavy heads aligned over their spines, the equivalent of a bowling ball, perfectly aligned on a stick. If you look at our ancestors, ancient civilizations or non-westernised cultures you will notice that this posture stays in tact into adulthood. The key is the alignment of the pelvis.

Babies are role models for natural healthy posture. So when do they lose this and become the slouch potatoes that we see so often in school aged children? How does a child born with perfect posture become bent over when sitting at a desk or watching TV? It pays to look at how we handle them as babies. How do we carrying 2 babies sitting (1)them? What types of baby furniture are we placing them into? If you look at the photo of the two babies, you will notice the difference between the one sitting naturally up right with her pelvis out behind her (Right) versus the baby on the left who’s pelvis is being tucked. The one on the right is being perfectly supported by her mother’s forearm providing a platform for the child to sit on. You will notice that her upper back is straight and her pelvis is anteverted and her behind is behind her. This way of holding a child lets them align naturally. It also saves the parent from developing RSI or carpal tunnel syndrome because they are using the larger group of muscles found in the forearm to support their baby. The baby on the left is being forced to round her back because the parent is using his hand to tuck her pelvis underneath her. She has no choice but to round her back to stay upright. Dad is also putting himself at risk of RSI and tendinitis if this is his default carrying position.

Another example of creating poor posture for our children would be placing them into strollers or car seats that don’t support them. Many strollers have hammock like bottoms that cause the baby to tuck their pelvis and

Newborn baby girl slouched over and sound asleep in her car seat.
Newborn baby girl slouched over and sound asleep in her car seat.

round their back. This can cause all sorts of issues now and later in life, slouching, digestive problems, breathing problems and more. It is best that we add some support to the furniture to get them more into an “L” shape rather than a banana shape. It is never wise to leave a baby sleep in a stroller or car seat. Always get them out of there ASAP and put them in a crib or on a blanket on the floor to sleep. Leaving a child in an unhealthy position can cause all sorts of postural issues not to mention it could compromise their airway.

There are many causes as to why our kids are sitting poorly. But baby furniture and the way we carry them are very real culprits. We need to be more vigilant in re-educating ourselves, parents, teachers and other influencers of our children on proper posture and alignment. The correlation between posture and back pain has been a real blind spot in today’s society. We need to become role models for our kids. The old “sit up straight or put you shoulders back” isn’t going to cut it. These commands are not sustainable and can cause more harm than good.

I offer workshops and courses in Australia to address these issues and more check out my bio page

Contributed by: Michelle “Mickie” Ball Massage Therapist and Gokhale Method® Teacher 0428 223 271

Preventative vs Curative

Well-Being for the Open-Minded Sceptic #23 – Preventative vs Curative

I recently finished teaching a Gokhale Method posture course. In it, I teach people how to sit, lie down, stand, bend and walk. Ha! You say, “I knew how to do all of those things from a very young age. I don’t need someone to teach me such elementary stuff!” Well so far I have been teaching doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, dentists and many other people from all walks of life to do just that.

Why you ask? Well that is a good question. I teach the basics of posture and alignment. Ultimately I would like to teach healthy posture as a matter of prevention as opposed to teaching it because so many people are already suffering from back, neck and shoulder pain.

I was having a discussion with a doctor, who attended my last course. (I’ll call him Ben-not his real name), He suffers from neck and low back pain. He is not immune to these types of problems just because he’s a doctor. You see doctors like many other health professionals spend their very busy days doing things like sitting, standing and bending over patients. As a primary healthcare professional he sees patients every 15 minutes. He also does a lot of skin cancer surgeries. His work is primarily curative as the people he sees day in and day out are already in trouble. They are sick, hurting or in need of treatment for an existing ailment. Well you say, “That’s what doctors are for isn’t it?” That is how most people view healthcare today. If I have something wrong with me, I go to the doctor to get it fixed.

Ben would like to spend more time with his patients helping them figure out how to live healthier lives before they get sick. In his words. “Western society is a bit of a mess really. You have unending ‘busyness’ leading to poor lifestyle choices, unending population growth, corporations with shareholder models for unending growth, endless suburbs with only McDonald’s and shopping malls nearby curbing outer urban ghetto growth with no public transport resulting in long commute days in cars.” Whew! I felt sorry for him. I felt like he was not taking time to even take care of himself.

Ben’s dream is to see primary healthcare practitioners being rewarded if they decide to spend more time with patients and discuss prevention aspects, rather than more lucrative non-preventative specialties. “One more thing,” he says, “Did you know that most ‘integrative’- preventative healthcare clinics in the US struggle to stay financially viable as people and Government funding are not really willing to pay for a long 1 hour consult?”

Yes I did actually know that having grown up in the US. I felt his frustration. But my response to this was. Adversity can sometimes open people’s eyes to seek out preventative solutions. In an extreme example, according to economist Bill Bonner in his book “Hormegeddon.” In Cuba under Castro’s rule in 1990 to about 2000, people were on food rations with very little to eat and no healthcare. There was no money to support clinics and hospitals. This could be viewed as disastrous! However in a report by the Guardian on this “special period” it indicted that it had actually forced people to lead healthier lifestyles. People were forced to slash their calorie intake. Many grew their own food. They didn’t have access to fuel so they had to walk and ride bicycles to travel. This was horrible indeed. However during this time there was a steep decline in deaths linked to being overweight. Deaths caused by diabetes declined by 51%, coronary heart disease mortality dropped by 35% and stroke mortality by 20%. The overall life expectancy increased every year!

Now I am not saying that we have to experience such extremes to get healthy. But perhaps we can have a good look at our own situations. Maybe we could choose to educate ourselves on ways to prevent certain conditions that we view as just part of life or getting older. As a massage therapist I hear so many people say to me, “Oh it’s just old age. I can’t do anything about that! ” I always cringe a little when I hear this. I am hopeful that people will take some of their own power back and start re-learning some of the “elementary” things we as homo sapiens actually intuitively know how to do. We can make better more natural food choices and do a bit more exercise like our hunter-gatherer ancestors used to do. Perhaps we can slow down a bit and breathe deeply once in awhile. Oxygen is good for us. Most people breathe just enough to stay alive. Maybe we can move in a way that is more natural to our species instead of walking into things because we are viewing our smart phones. I don’t think someone else has to devise elaborate solutions for us. I believe that people can make good decisions as to what feels right to them. Taking back some of their own power and looking closer at what is making them sick or causing them pain. Sometimes it’s getting back to raw primal basics.

Ben smiled as I told him to relax his chin, breathe deeply and roll his shoulders back. “Do this before you go in to treat your patients.” Leading by example is a really good place to start to teach preventative medicine.

Contributed my Michelle “Mickie” Ball – Massage therapist and Gokhale Method Teacher 0428 223 271

“Some Things to Avoid if You Want to Maintain a Healthy Back.”

People recognize that the body has a natural ability to heal and they seek ways to increase that ability. When it comes to back pain. You control your body. You can have good control when you pay attention to the messages and information you receive. You can put out fires as soon as they happen and prevent them. Or you can let small problems become big problems. You can make healthy eating, exercising and resting decisions.

Here are a few tips and things to avoid in order to spare your back!

  1. Don’t Sit on your wallet. Bad idea. Sitting on your wallet, even if there’s no money in it, causes a shift in every bone in your spine. Long term, it creates uneven wear and tear on your back. Good idea: Switch it to the front.
  1. Avoid carrying a heavy purse on one side It’s a great way to throw your shoulders out of alignment…Which in turn throws the spine out of alignment. Carrying that heavy purse can cause the trapezius muscle, which sits on top of your shoulders, to spasm and therefore tighten, along with the muscles that go from your shoulder to the base of your neck. “When that happens, it can cause a lot of stiffness in the upper back, the shoulder area and the neck…Try just carrying your wallet or use a small backpack.
  2. Crossing your legs. When you cross your legs. Long timages 10.30.09 amerm doing it day after day, causes stretching of ligaments, and muscles causing asymmetries and misalignment in the spine, hips & pelvis.
  3. Standing with your weight shifted. If you are a long time back pain sufferer, you have probably developed little compensations you do throughout your day to minimize your pain. One such error is putting more weight on one side than the other when you are standing. Keep it even.
  4. Poor lifting techniques. Avoid rounding the back when bending. Try hinging from the hips with a flat back instead. This is a method used by traditional people in non-westernised countries around the world. People who don’t expMango-Vendor-hip-hinging-300x200 copyerience back pain. You used to do it as a baby. You bend from the hips with a straight back and an anteverted pelvis as opposed to a tucked pelvis. You can find some information on this technique here : http://www.gokhalemethod.com
  5. Hunched Shoulders. Hunching your shoulders creates all sorts of problems. It inhibits circulation and pinches nerves and arteries that run down the arms. It causes the pelvis to tuck, which creates an unhealthy pelvic position and compresses spinal discs. It can cause the neck to protrude, which can lead to kyphosis or Dowager’s hump. Rolling your shoulders back one at a time while you sit or stand will help you keep the chest open and improve your lung capacity and breathing. When you do this try not to sway the back and stick your chest out. There should be a slight arch in your lower back where the lumbar meets the sacrum not in the upper lumbar and thoracic area.
  6. Sitting in a seat with your knees above your hips. If your knees are slightly higher than your hips it will cause you to tuck your pelvis. Which in turn causes you to compress your discs. Not what you want. Try to sit with your knees below your hips. You can use a pillow to help achieve this or sit on the edge of your chair with your legs slightly externally rotated out and angled downward.
  7. Sleeping on your stomach. It is best to sleep on your back. You can use a pillow under your knees if you have tight hamstrings. Second best option is to sleep on your side. Sleeping on your stomach speeds up the process of developing lower back problems.
  8. Lifting and twisting. The combination of lifting something and twisting at the same time puts stress on the discs in your lower back. Best to get closer to your subject and move your whole body hinging from the hips with a straight back.

I hope that you find these tips helpful to your health and well-being! Michelle 🙂

Weak Pelvic Floor/Prolapse – How to keep things where they belong.

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This is a subject that I hope I can shed some light on for those dedicated to kegel muscle exercises or those suffering from pelvic organ prolapse. Most people have no idea that pelvic alignment is essential for pelvic floor function. *1. The pelvic organ support system is actually a postural system not a gynecological one. Restoring natural primal posture repositions the pelvic organs where they belong, up against the lower front abdominal wall and over the pubic bones (which is key.) Strengthening the pubo-coccygeal, or “Kegel” muscle may enhance sexual experience, but can actually make pelvic organ prolapse worse. Kegel exercise actually pulls the organs in the direction of prolapse by pulling the tailbone closer to the pubic bone and tucking the pelvis. These exercises may work in the beginning as they contract the muscle. But they do not lengthen it. Example: a bicep curl. A strong muscle contracts and then lengthens. By only contracting the muscle, it actually becomes shorter and weaker. Many women have reported increased prolapse symptoms after engaging in prolonged Kegel exercise. If the abdominal wall is not constantly pulled in (as we are taught to hold our stomachs in) and the pelvis not tucked, the breath and the diaphragm can work to push the organs forward and into the hollow of the lower belly where they are safely positioned by the forces of intra-abdominal pressure. Prolapse is caused by organs falling back not down. A “tucked pelvis” places the pelvic organs on top of the pelvic floor muscles or the kegel muscle. Women are told to do kegel exercises, but this muscle is just not cut out to do the job of supporting all the pelvic organs. Positioning the pelvis this way is an invitation to have the pelvic organs fall out of you. In our society we see a lot of organ prolapse especially in women who have more to loose there in the form of uterine and bladder prolapse and urinary incontinence. Both genders can suffer hemorrhoids and rectal prolapse. So I highly encourage you to consider an anteverted or forward facing pelvis. With an anteverted pelvis as opposed to a tucked pelvis, you have the pubic bone underneath these organs supporting them perfectly well. The pubic bones are our true pelvic floor. I personally would rather have bone supporting my organs than a relatively weak trampoline of muscles. A realignment of posture returns us to natural pelvic organ support and can help us in some cases avoid surgery. The word pelvis means “bowl.” But this pelvic bowl should be tipped forward on its’ rim which is the pubic bone. You can keep your bones under you by picturing a bowl filled with water. But you want the water spilling out the front. As I have mentioned before a really great way to help antervert the pelvis is by walking using and developing the glutes as you go. Leaning forward slightly in the beginning can help you engage the proper gluteal muscles and place the bones where they should be. Also sitting and standing with your “behind” behind you being careful not to sway the upper lumbar area while doing this. (See *2) If you had a tail you would want it out behind you and not in between your legs or sitting on it. Keep the shoulders open and think tall as you breath creating more space for all of your organs. *1.)Christine Kent www.wholewoman.com. *2.)Esther Gokhale – http://www.gokhalemethod.com Article written by: Michelle “Mickie” Ball Gokhale Method® Teacher and massage therapist 0428223271

Back pain: is your yoga practice hurting you?

This is great information for those of you doing yoga or… running, walking or hiking. Pelvic anteversion is key!

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The statistics on back pain are staggering. A whopping 85% of the U.S. population will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. Ninety percent of these cases will involve low back pain. Back pain is one of the top reasons why Americans stay home from work, and the second-leading surgical procedure. Yoga is known for its healing qualities, but is it possible that yoga postures may also contribute to back pain?

As a seasoned yoga teacher with a reputation for smart practice, students have long come to me for help recovering from and avoiding yoga injuries. Complaints and concerns about back pain are particularly common, especially with yoga styles that involved extreme and sometimes vigorous forward and backward bending, as well as rapid or asymmetrical twisting. As a teacher, I emphasize safe yogaand effective practices based on anatomically optimal alignment and individual modification.

As an advanced yoga…

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Traveling -Out of your comfort zone

I have once again just returned from an overseas adventure. This time it was a trip to India for a wedding and site-seeing tour. It has always been on my bucket list of things to do. All I can say is that India is an assault on the senses! It puts you immediately out of your comfort zone and into a whirlwind of adventure! The sites the smells the sounds are all exciting and all overwhelming! I must say I had a lot of good advice before I left as to what to expect. But until you’re actually there experiencing driving down narrow roads weaving in and out of lanes between tuk tuks, rickshaws, millions of motorcycles, cars, trucks, bicycles, people, cows, camels, dogs and the occasional elephant you really have no idea. And that was just the drive from the airport to our hotel.

Being out of one’s comfort zone can be challenging. The advice I received before I left consisted of Things like: Only drink sealed bottled water; Eat only cooked foods or fruits that you can peel; Take probiotics to help maintain good gut bacteria to help prevent diarrhea (thanks Karen for that one); take out travel insurance etc. This was all good advice as I am back with only a mild dose of jet lag. I’m feeling quite good otherwise. The things I have referenced mostly have to do with inner health. Personally I would recommend all of these things plus a few more.

However having just become certified as a Gokhale Method™ teacher with a focus on posture, I would like to address things from that point of view. When I am traveling I put my body through stresses that I normally wouldn’t encounter. Stresses that before might have lead to backaches and strains. Let’s start with luggage. You might say, “oh there are wheels for that.” But there are things like putting carry-on into the overhead lockers, maneuvering your carry-on in between very narrow aisles and getting your souvenir stuffed bags off of the carousel from baggage claim. I saw some pretty interesting postures on the last one. You may be required to sit for extended periods of time on airplanes or in a bus or car. In India you can add things like sitting on an Elephant or Camel. You may find yourself walking a lot more than usual. This may include a lot of stairs! There were more interesting things for me this trip like Squat toilets dressed in a full sari and sitting cross legged on the floor for an extended period of time because you are part of a very long Indian wedding ceremony! I may address those in another issue J

What ever it is that puts you out of your physical comfort zone, I can offer a few suggestions from my travel experience. You may find these tips handy in other similar situations in your life.

  1. Lifting things over your head. Remember to engage the internal abdominal muscles. I am not talking the “six pack” rectus abs. I am referring to the internal and external obliques. These are the muscles you can feel if you put your hand on your side and cough or sneeze. When you engage these muscles it helps protect the spinal discs when under stress. Also use your eyes to look up trying not to bend the neck all the way back. This protects the cervical spine. Keep the shoulders rolled back and try not to over extend the arms straining the shoulders.
  2. Maneuvering in tight spaces. Try to hold things close to your body in front of you if you can. Avoid twisting to pull your bag behind you. Perhaps try pushing it instead. You may try something so bold as to carry your bag on your head. That is how a porter carried my bag down 4 flights of stairs. But I recommend you leave that to the pros and only carry light objects in the beginning.
  3. Reaching for heavy objects. Try to avoid this if possible. However if there is no other way. Make sure you bend from the hips with a flat back and bent knees getting as close as you possible can to the object you are trying to lift. Definitely engage the inner abdominal muscles to protect your spine in this instance.
  4. Sitting for long periods of time. Make sure you have support behind your mid back to make sitting healthy. Avoid tucking the pelvis. Check out stretch-sitting at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9CDhcVTAdc. Also get up often to promote circulation and other health benefits. There are many articles available today on the subject. Try to get up at least 3 times per hour if you can. (I just stood up and did some stretching) If you find yourself on a bumpy road or riding a bicycle or an elephant, engaging the oblique muscles helps prevent disc damage.
  5. Walking & Stairs: I advise comfortable shoes with good arch support. I also recommend using the gluteal muscles to help move you forward. Squeezing the glutes helps develop great posture while walking. Plus it helps provide stability and it positions the body in a healthy alignment. Strong glutes are also preferable to a saggy backside. Stairs can become easier to maneuver if you engage the lower leg and foot muscles to push up to the next stair when going up or engage the upper leg to lower your body down to the landing foot when going down.

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact me. Wishing you health and happiness in your all of your adventures. Michelle Ph: 0428 223 271  Email: michelle@gokhalemethod.com

The Holidays

Well-Being for the Open-Minded Sceptic #15 – The Holidays!

The Holidays for some, lets call them “Group A”, is a bustling time full of activity, merriment and joy combined with a bit of over-indulgence and over spending. For others, “Group B.” The holidays are a non-event. This group turns a blind eye to holiday merriment, an out of sight out of mind concept. And then there is “Group C.” For this group it can be quite a lonely or stressful time of year. There is a big contrast here between the groups. But I will try to touch on some ideas to make it all a bit easier to handle no matter which group you fall under. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.

Group A: A number of factors can cause stress and anxiety at holiday time with this group, including unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, and too many commitments: parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. Headaches, excessive drinking, overeating, and insomnia are some of the possible consequences of poorly managed holiday stress. For this group, try setting realistic goals and expectations, reaching out to friends, sharing tasks with family members and finding inexpensive ways to enjoy yourself. Stick to a budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Food shopping, maybe you don’t have to make Aunt Betty’s famous green bean casserole this year. Have everyone bring a healthy dish to share. Let someone else help think of a game or two to play with the kids to keep them happy. Have a scavenger hunt, family charades, egg and spoon races etc. Do some brainstorming! Create some new traditions that are not all geared around presents and food!

Group B.) For this group, it seems like the Holidays are an excuse for people to act differently than any other time of the year. And this is true. For many (esp. Group A’s) the holidays are a time to unite old friends and family. Heck holiday songs and decorations have stopped wars for a day during World War I. But Group B people tend to see themselves as being more spontaneous or maybe just too busy! They don’t need a holiday, that doesn’t really matter to them, to do something special. In fact they might purposely do nothing just to prove a point. For this group, if you don’t decide to travel to some far away place, maybe you can try to make it more spontaneous! Try reaching out for friends or family members and give them your time instead of a fancy gift. Maybe you haven’t taken the time to reach out to people all year? Or perhaps you know someone who could use your friendship at this time because they are feeling lonely. You can try it on and see how it feels. Making others happy boosts your Oxytocin levels! Heck you can invite someone to dinner and cook Indian food, wear orange and play a sitar! Now that’s the Spirit!

Group C.) For this group there could be a number of reasons that the holidays make them sad. Perhaps someone close to them has recently died or they can’t be with loved ones. It helps to acknowledge these feelings and realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. But you could try to reach out to people if you feel lonely or isolated. You can seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Helping others even when you are feeling down lifts Serotonin levels and that alone will make you feel better.

What it all boils down to is pretty much this… as said in a Facebook post that I saw the other day. I know! I know! How trivial, that I should refer back to social media for inspiration. But if you have or haven’t seen it, for me it pretty much nails it! So here it is a Holiday shopping list for all groups. This is a slightly modified version from the one on Facebook. So if you want it or not…It’s lifting my Oxytocin levels to share it with you!

Holiday To Do List: Buy Presents – Be Present – Better for the soul • Wrap Gifts – Wrap someone in a hug – Makes you and the recipient feel better • Send Gifts – Send Peace – Raises the vibration of the planet  • Shop for Food – Donate Food – Spread the love Make cookies – Make Love – Better for the waistline!See the lights – Be the Light – Better for everyone!