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Lost Posture: Why Indigenous Cultures Don't Have Back Pain

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Gokhale took photos and videos of people who walked with water buckets on their heads, collected firewood or sat on the ground weaving, for hours.

"I have a picture in my book of these two women who spend seven to nine hours everyday, bent over, gathering water chestnuts," Gokhale says. "They're quite old. But the truth is they don't have a back pain."

She tried to figure out what all these different people had in common. The first thing that popped out was the shape of their spines. "They have this regal posture, and it's very compelling."

And it's quite different than American spines.

If you look at an American's spine from the side, or profile, it's shaped like the letter S. It curves at the top and then back again at the bottom.

But Gokhale didn't see those two big curves in people who don't have back pain. "That S shape is actually not natural," she says. "It's a J-shaped spine that you want."

In fact, if you look at drawings from Leonardo da Vinci — or a Gray's Anatomy book from 1901 — the spine isn't shaped like a sharp, curvy S. It's much flatter, all the way down the back. Then at the bottom, it curves to stick the buttocks out. So the spine looks more like the letter J.

"The J-shaped spine is what you see in Greek statues. It's what you see in young children. It's good design," Gokhale says.

So Gokhale worked to get her spine into the J shape. And gradually her back pain went away.

Then Gokhale realized she could help others. She developed a set of exercises, wrote a book and set up a studio in downtown Palo Alto.

Now her list of clients is impressive. She's helped YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report. She has given classes at Google, Facebook and companies across the country. In Silicon Valley, she's known as the "posture guru."

Each year, doctors in the Bay Area refer hundreds of patients to Gokhale. One of them is Dr. Neeta Jain, an internist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. She puts Gokhale's method in the same category as Pilates and yoga for back pain. And it doesn't bother her that the method hasn't been tested in a clinical trial.


Everyone knows that weak abdominal muscles can cause back pain. In fact, Mummaneni says, stronger muscles might be the secret to Gokhale's success.

In other words, it's not that the J-shaped spine is the ideal one — or the healthiest. It's what goes into making the J-shaped spine that matters: "You have to use muscle strength to get your spine to look like a J shape," he says.

Esther Gokhale's Five Tips For Better Posture And Less Back Pain

Try these exercises while you're working at your desk, sitting at the dinner table or walking around, Esther Gokhale recommends.

1. Do a shoulder roll: Americans tend to scrunch their shoulders forward, so our arms are in front of our bodies. That's not how people in indigenous cultures carry their arms, Gokhale says. To fix that, gently pull your shoulders up, push them back and then let them drop — like a shoulder roll. Now your arms should dangle by your side, with your thumbs pointing out. "This is the way all your ancestors parked their shoulders," she says. "This is a natural architecture for our species."

2. Lengthen your spine:Adding extra length to your spine is easy, Gokhale says. Being careful not to arch your back, take a deep breath in and grow tall. Then maintain that height as you exhale. Repeat: Breathe in, grow even taller and maintain that new height as you exhale. "It takes some effort, but it really strengthens your abdominal muscles," Gokhale says.

3. Squeeze, squeeze your glute muscles when you walk: In many indigenous cultures, people squeeze their gluteus medius muscles every time they take a step. That's one reason they have such shapely buttocks muscles that support their lower backs. Gokhale says you can start developing the same type of derrière by tightening the buttocks muscles when you take each step. "The gluteus medius is the one you're after here. It's the one high up on your bum," Gokhale says. "It's the muscle that keeps you perky, at any age."

4. Don't put your chin up: Instead, add length to your neck by taking a lightweight object, like a bean bag or folded washcloth, and balance it on the top of your crown. Try to push your head against the object. "This will lengthen the back of your neck and allow your chin to angle down — not in an exaggerated way, but in a relaxed manner," Gokhale says.

5. Don't sit up straight!"That's just arching your back and getting you into all sorts of trouble," Gokhale says. Instead do a shoulder roll to open up the chest and take a deep breath to stretch and lengthen the spine.

It's funny, this used to simply be a way of hard living.  So entertaining to read how far technologically bestowed leisure has removed our memory from what is natural and wild and organic in humans ... at least we can still agree such animal existence works and is useful.  But maybe just for a little longer:

Physical work is something first world citizens only read about in books or protest against regarding labor relations of their big consumer companies.  

In these interesting times we live in, our age of virtual empires has been accelerating the off-lining of our bodies.  This trend will continue well beyond Oculus Rift.  And it won't be limited to the designing elite pursuing bleeding edge technologies... every successful industry compels the requisite consumption of their offerings on a grand a scale as possible ...

... so in the Matrix you really won't need to tighten your ass with every step to eliminate back pain ... you'll just intend virtually shapely glutes and – bam! – you have them ... for $150 / month on Google Fiber.

Daleks... the future of humanity, or at least those plugged into the matrix... we don't need no stinkin' spines.

dalek on the inside

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