I am very pleased to announce that Maya White of the Esther Gokhale Wellness Center will be leading a breakout session at PrimalCon 2010. If you’ve ever wondered what it means to sit, stand and walk like Grok you’ll want to attend this event. Maya will be offering instruction on Primal body mechanics to help you correct years of poor posture and get you moving like you’re meant to.
Maya has graciously written the following guest post for Mark’s Daily Apple readers. Read on to learn why posture is an integral part of health and wellness and how you might be doing something as simple as sitting or standing all wrong.
We all know that Grok ate well, moved frequently, and sometimes engaged in strenuous physical activities. One other piece that Grok had going for him was excellent form and optimized body mechanics. If you really want to live a long, healthy life, and not end up with back pain, joint pain, and a spine that looks like a question mark, you need to know about posture.
If your idea of good posture involves holding yourself upright rigidly, get rid of that idea. If you think that good posture is useful only for curing back pain, get rid of that idea too. Grok’s naturally upright posture allowed him to avoid musculoskeletal ailments and stay active well into old age, to mostly avoid and quickly recover from acute injuries, to be alert and ready to deal with challenges (physical and psychological), to enjoy good circulation and high blood oxygen levels from full, deep breaths, and to feel and look happy and confident. How do I know what natural posture for our species is? Because the norm for humans, until very recently, was terrific structure. Whereas diet changed for the worse about 10,000 years ago with the explosion of agriculture, posture changed only about 100 years ago. We have photographs and scientific evidence that our ancestors until early in the 20th century used their bodies well in everyday positions and movements. And in fact, there still exist populations in much of the pre-industrial world where everyone has beautiful posture and strong, graceful physiques.
The flapper age in the 1920s, the breakdown of kinesthetic transmission across generations with family members no longer living close to each other, and the poor design of most modern furniture have all contributed to the disastrous habit that most of us have of tucking the pelvis (curling our tails under us). Realizing this was causing people to hunch, someone came up with the idea of lumbar support and lumbar curvature. Well, terrific – now we have two problems instead of one. Now not only are most people still sitting with a tucked pelvis (which is damaging for the L5-S1 disc and indirectly leads to a whole host of other problems, including hunched shoulders, forward head, misaligned legs, and muscle imbalances), but they are also ending up with swaybacks. Conventional wisdom has come up with all sorts of devices and exercises to promote the S-shape spine, which is now considered the normal shape for the spine. Well, just because S shape is the norm in our culture does not mean it’s healthy! We have to stop mistaking average for normal. And we certainly have to stop mistaking average for ideal! After all, would you settle for the average body fat percentage in our culture? I didn’t think so.
So what is the natural shape for the spine and what does good posture mean? Mark touched on this the first time he wrote about posture and the Gokhale Method (How to Improve Your Posture). For a really clear in-depth explanation and hundreds of photos showing good posture and how to get there, check out Esther Gokhale’s book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. It is much more than just a way to get rid of back pain, just as the Primal Blueprint is much more than a weight loss program. Gokhale’s book has extremely valuable information for anyone who wants to optimize his or her health.
This photo from her book is one of my favorites, as it epitomizes fantastic posture:
These hunter-gatherers are about as close to Grok as we can find today. Note the J-shaped spine (straight all the way to the sacrum, with just the bottom angled back – not exaggeratedly stuck back, but rather naturally back due to a healthy balance between gluteus tone and abdominal relaxation (yes, strong doesn’t mean tense!) The Ubong tribesmen are long, lean, upright and relaxed simultaneously. Their amazing structure and alignment puts their muscles into mechanically advantageous positions – this allows the muscles to relax during standing, sitting, and lying positions, to engage effortlessly for simple movements like bending, walking, and reaching, and to quickly activate strongly for challenging activities like lifting, carrying, and of course, the occasional all-out sprint.
The Ubong tribesmen (as well as tribal Africans, rural Brazilians, village Indians etc.) do not have to consciously learn healthy posture – they have all the right environmental influences – their parents hold them the right way as babies, they have very basic but healthy sitting arrangements, they have good role models to copy – and they never un-learned natural habits. We are all born with excellent structure. Check out the perfect J-shaped spine of this baby:
The bottom line is that posture counts. Not only does it significantly decrease your risk of pain and injuries and deterioration of your musculoskeletal system as you age, it sets you up for optimal athletic performance, it allows for proper blood circulation and more powerful breathing, it promotes emotional well-being, and it looks relaxed, confident, and strong. In our society where we have so many factors working against us, it takes some awareness and re-learning good habits until they become your default.
I will be attending PrimalCon 2010 as a guest speaker and will be leading a breakout session on healthy, natural ways of sitting, standing, and walking. It is never too late to learn – the right body mechanics are patterned into your genes; but you need to learn how to best express them in our environment that promotes such poor patterns. And for those of you who have young children, in addition to improving your own structure, you will take with you important tips that will help promote healthy form in your children. I will also be happy to address questions and concerns about proper form during exercises.
For those of you who are not able to make it to PrimalCon 2010 (and those of you who are, for that matter), I encourage you to check out the free download of Chapter 5 of Esther Gokhale’s 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back on the home page of EGWellness.com. That chapter, entitled “Inner Corset” describes the best way of using the abdominal muscles to protect your spine. It involves using the right muscles in the right way, especially during activities like your Primal sprints and Primal lifts. And it’s not about just tightening your “core” – I avoid using the word core because so often people over-engage the rectus abdominis muscle and don’t use the deeper abdominal muscles – the transverses abdominis and the internal and external obliques) enough when working their abdominal muscles, and they usually end up tucking the pelvis. Using the abdominal muscles as needed in everyday activities and strongly during physical exertion will give you the strength and tone you need. You can also watch Esther Gokhale’s Authors@Google talk about the Gokhale Method and natural posture on YouTube here.
Maya White is the lead certified Gokhale Method instructor in Palo Alto and the Bay Area. She also teaches intensive posture courses across the United States.
Maya received her B.S. in Biomechanical Engineering at Stanford University in 2008. She is a member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering honors society. While at Stanford, she developed an interest in nutrition, gait and other aspects of the human body and decided to pursue a career in medicine. She will be starting medical school this coming fall, and plans to focus on preventive medicine. Maya has been involved in athletics since childhood. She played for the Stanford Women’s Rugby team and won the Division I national championship in 2008.
As the daughter of Esther Gokhale, founder of the Gokhale Method, Maya has received informal training in posture since age two. She has traveled extensively to Thailand, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Europe. Her formal training in the Gokhale Method began in 2005; she received her certification in 2007.