How the Samba Can Teach You How to Use Your Body

The following is a guest post from Esther Gokhale. Healthy posture practitioner extraordinaire, we are honored to have her as a presenter at this year’s PrimalCon. By day, she will lecture on posture and movement, and by night she will give the “Gokhale Method” a spicy twist by presenting a clinic on Samba dancing (she claims Samba is the best way to learn and implement the posture and movement technique principles!). PrimalCon kicks off next week, Friday, April 15, and there are still a few remaining spots, so reserve your spot today and come out for the 3-day weekend retreat of Primal lectures, play and feasting with fellow Grok stars. I hope to see you there!

A dance form originating in Africa, the Brazilian Samba has become a cultural icon for the Latin American country famous for sun, sand, and beautiful physiques. As a posture teacher and founder of the Gokhale Method, I’ve found that learning the Samba is also a great way to learn how to use your body well.

Old dance forms are like a time capsule. They give us a peek at how our ancestors used their bodies and encourage us to respect our structure as well.

The Samba in particular has helped my students strengthen the abdominal and back muscles (PDF) most able to protect the spine, engage their glutes when they walk, and increase their hip mobility, which correlates with back health.

The samba provides unique benefits to the regimens of even very active people – popular exercises in our culture involve moving mostly from front to back, not side to side, and the Samba is a fun way to mobilize this area. The shoulders and hips, areas where many of us store tension, are also loosened and emotional stress along with physical tenseness melt away.

In Brazil, people of all ages embrace samba dance and music as an expression of life and emotion. It can be danced with or without a partner, fast or slow, and the execution can change every time you dance.

Try the samba:

  1. Take a small step back with the right leg and press the heel into the ground, straightening the right leg and tightening the right buttock muscles. You will need to bend the left (front) knee a little to enable the back heel to reach the floor. This is the first beat.
  2. Hold that position for a second beat.
  3. Move the right leg forward to return to the starting position.
  4. Perform the same motions with the left leg: step back, press the heel into the floor, straighten the leg, and contract the buttock muscle; hold for a beat; return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat, alternating left and right legs until the movement becomes natural and familiar.

Lastly, since dancing frequently involves impact, twisting, or swaying the spine, don’t forget to engage your inner corset (PDF). These are the muscles around the torso that help stabilize and lengthen the spine, not the six-pack muscles. Using your inner corset makes potentially damaging movements healthy, allowing you to safely stretch your back muscles, and they impart that svelte, thin and tall look as a bonus.

To learn more about 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, visit us at Cheers and looking forward to sharing more at PrimalCon!

Esther Gokhale

Founder, Esther Gokhale Wellness Center

2439 Birch Street, Palo Alto, CA 94306

Phone: 650-324-3244

Author, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back

TAGS:  guest post

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

49 thoughts on “How the Samba Can Teach You How to Use Your Body”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. This is very interesting, Esther. I’ve often thought about learning to dance for the physical training it provides. Thank you for posting.

    And you are just down the street from me so maybe I’ll pay you a visit! 🙂

    1. Fabulous! I hope to see you, at a dance class perhaps. Dance is absolutely my favorite way to get exercise, stay tuned in with my body and push it a little.

  2. Sounds like daddy Grok watches “Dancing with the Star.” I do, it’s inspiring.

  3. I’ve been taking a dance aerobics class for a while, and it’s tremendously fun. Samba, merengue, and salsa are components of the workout, and I’ve noticed my posture is great and that my back is nicely defined. I’m rather tall, so proper carriage is something I have to work on, and samba helps.

    Thanks for a great article on one of my favorite pastimes!

  4. I think Esther’s last name is missing an R. I kept wanting to read Gokhale as Grokhale 🙂

  5. It’s not surprising that these native people’s are in such great condition when you consider the physical rigor of some of these dances. Quite impressive.

    I’m scared to try the samba myself. 😉

  6. Esther, this is VERY helpful to me. I broke my back and had Harrington rods from T10-L3 for two years. The rods are out, but, as you might imagine, I’m a wreck of limited torso mobility, shortened tendons, “corset” muscles that haven’t been used in two years, an anteriorly tipped pelvis, etc., etc. (I could go on!) My back is actually doing GREAT …. the problems I’m having were caused by the rods.

    Are there any samba videos you recommend? I will definitely be going to your website.

  7. how about bellydance? it’s pretty awesome, using muscles and loosening joints that normally never get any action in western culture. and sooo much fun! 🙂

    1. Belly dance is terrific. You just want to watch to not sway your back excessively. And the fix to swaying your back isn’t tucking the pelvis, it’s tucking the rib cage.

  8. Dance is a form of physical self expression and helps to learn to control the body. FYI Bruce Lee was a Cha Cha champion of Hong Kong.

    1. Engaging your inner corset really just means tightening your core. So yes, I’m sure Grok did it all the time.

      1. Sure, but did Grok really “tighten his core”?

        Actually, before we descend into arguing semantics, let me shift the question a little – do you ever see any animals “engage their core”? Specifically – in the way that is espoused by so many “posture experts”

        1. Animals don’t sit at desks, drive cars, and lead sedentary lives, all of which conspire to “turn off” the important core musculature that we would otherwise naturally engage.

          Because of our lifestyles (and lifestyles leading up to today), we are forced to relearn many things that our ancestors (and animals) did instinctively.

          “Would Grok do it?” is only a hint, not a determiner of what we should do today.

      2. In fact, I just looked at the .pdf linked to in the article and saw many pictures of women in Africa carrying baskets on their heads and so on. It sure doesn’t look like they’re “sucking in their abs” to me. They must be though, with all the pilates teachers out there in the wilds of africa!

        I don’t think they “engage their core”, I don’t think Grok “engaged his core” and I don’t see any animals doing it. It’s a modern, western idea, and a bad one at that. Let’s move on.

        1. Jon,
          I have never left a reply here, although I read every day; however, your comment begs for a reply (and Esther was far too nice with her response below). I am always shocked when someone takes the time to leave a comment that is only designed to be snarky and potentially hurtful on a blog – why bother? Your condescending tone is tiresome. Seriously. If you want to stir up some controversy, do it in a respectful way – throw out your opinion with an honest question to gain more information about the topic. Don’t comment simply to be a hater. I don’t know what your background/training is to make such a blanket statement to disprove the entire idea that the core muscles are activated to protect the spine. I think you really are misunderstanding the point – the muscles surrounding the spine (TA, RA, obliques, multifidus, etc) all work together to stabilize the spine during functional movements in normal subjects. After an injury or surgery, one or a combination of these muscles (and other muscles in the body) can shut down neurologically and not do their job. In that case, retraining the muscles to do what they normally do automatically can be of great benefit. You don’t see the African women “sucking in their abs” because that is not what needs to be done to stabilize the spine. They are automatically elongating and protecting the spine because the muscles are all working together to support the weight. If we “Westerners” carried loads in this way from the time we were small, we would most likely look the same way in a photo, and you wouldn’t see any “sucking in” going on. Also, citing one article does not justify your comment – this article is a review of literature, not an actual study. So, that begs the question – what did the actual studies find, were those studies valid and reliable? Did the author of the study you quoted interpret the literature in the correct way? Just because something is published, it doesn’t mean that it was good research. I have read some of the studies that the author cited, and studied with students of Paul Hodges and they are doing excellent work in this area. Your point that we have “Westernized” the concept of core stabilization is correct in one sense, because we are Westerners, and that’s how things go. There is always a new hot trend in fitness and folks like to jump on that train – but it doesn’t automatically mean that it is the wrong train. In this case, non-Westerners do activities every day, all day to allow the body to work together beautifully as it was designed. We have to do “Western” exercises to undo the damage of our everyday lives. I, for one, am glad that professionals like Esther are doing their thing. If it helps even one person to avoid surgery and live without pain, then she has done her job.
          Ann (Airey) Wendel, P.T., A.T.C.

      3. I think you are using “all the time” metaphorically. In that sense I think you’re right – Grok would have used his inner corset on and off “all the time.” Literally speaking, though, these muscles aren’t engaged all the time – just when there is extra stress on the spine like in lifting, running – or dancing! That’s part of what makes these activities particularly good exercise.

  9. I attend Latin Dance Class with my sister every Wednesday evening and it not only strengthens our cores but also our relationship. The teacher is a crazy South African lady who can move her bootie like J-Lo, we aspire to move like her one day 🙂

  10. My father is 67 and has been dancing (Israeli folk dancing) 3 times a week for most of his life. It’s the only exercise (other than daily walks) that he gets and it’s kept him in amazing shape. He loves the exercise plus the social aspect of dancing (it’s where the love of his life).

    I’ve tried it (plus Samba, Salsa, ballroom and others) a few times but it wasn’t right for me. Still, I would highly recommend trying out dancing for people who are looking for a fun physical activity. Also, for you single men, it’s a great place to meet women 🙂

  11. I can not wait to do the samba with other caveman. Have I ever said I feel incredibly blessed as I get to attend Primal Con this year?

    Yea, I can’t wait.

  12. Esther, do you know anything about diastasis recti? I have a huge abdominal separation after having three children, even though every other part of me is lean and fit. I would prefer to exercise the muscles back together and avoid a tummy tuck. Is this possible?

    1. My recommendation is to work on your three deeper layers of abdominal muscle, namely the inner corset. It’s just rectus abdominis that is separated into two halves. You can navigate this by strengthening the other ab muscles.

      1. Great question, Twyla! I have this diastasis recti as well. I don’t know how this came about, but it was pointed out a couple years ago by a doctor, and I’ve just now decided to try and address it with exercise. I’ve been doing vacuums, planks and various other exercises that involve sucking in the belly.

        Esther, what again are the “three deeper layers of abdominal muscle”? Is it the transverse abdominus, obliques and something else? Or am I off completely.

        Also, I’ve just been perusing your website and I’m thinking of requesting a session in Seattle. Do you or your trainers do group classes?

        Thank you!

        1. You got it – Transversus abdominis, internal obliques and external obliques. Yes, we teach group classes – max. 8-10 people to ensure plenty of hands on guidance. I just taught in Seattle a couple of months ago – love your city!

        2. Pete, how long have you been doing the exercises? Are they helping?

        3. Twyla,

          Just a few weeks. The gap between my abs hasn’t closed at all, but I can “fire” the transverse abdominus at will now. I don’t do any type of regular push-up or crunch now (I have a cyst next to my navel, and I think I have a tiny hernia that pops through once in a while.)

          But I can get the space in between to be firm now. When I do planks or pushups, I can mostly prevent the space in between my abs from dangling, instead tightening it and pulling it up. And when I lift things, I just think about it for a second, draw in while lifting properly, and don’t feel I have to worry about the hernia. I’m confident I can’ fix the issue now that I can control the TA muscle. It will probably just take months or even years of work to close the gap.

        4. Great, Esther!

          I’ll get a group together and then I’ll contact your organization for more details.


      2. Dear Esther, Even though I spent a year walking barefoot, carrying things on my head and following your technique etc, I just had a massive operation to repair diastitis recti (I have not have children either!). Why did your approach not work for me? (Pilates, yoga etc also all failed – not just you.) What percentage of people with severe DR do you return to normal ab function with your technique? How long does it take? Any clinical trials here? Also, do you have any advice post operation? There is woefully little material about this out there and the paleo approach seems to function much on your principles – e.g. Katy Bowman – and I am confused as to why it did not work for me? Are your practitioners trained in this area and how much training to they get on it? I am a yoga teacher and former professional dancer and want to help others avoid what happened to me. This is VERY serious surgery. Thank you Sophie

  13. I haven’t tried samba, but I’ve recently taken up Ceroc, mainly because it’s easy to learn. I get a great workout from it, I have to use my brain a bit, I connect with others and it puts a smile on my face.

    A few Primal boxes ticked there I think!

  14. I don’t understand the difference between the standing posture described on her site and the usual old “chest out, shoulders back” Advice. Is it just a question of degree, the inclusion of the pelvic tilt forward, or what?

    Thanks to anyone who can clarify!

  15. None of this posture is arrived at using muscular tension as a baseline. The shoulders aren’t pulled back, they learn to rest back. Shoulder rolls are an effective way to get to this architecture without tensing the rhomboids.

    The chest isn’t out – the low back is relaxed which allows the chest to settle with it’s lower border flush with the contour of the abdomen. It’s the upper part of the chest (the sternum) that is lifted – the result of a natural breathing pattern that puts a healthy stress on the ribcage with every inhalation.

    The behind is out behind, a result of a relaxed rectus abdominis and toned glutes, not sticking the butt out (a common misreading).

    In general, this posture is a result of appropriate relaxation and tone, rather than inappropriate tension and flaccidity.

    More information in a lecture I gave at Google that is posted on YouTube. Search my name.

    1. That makes more sense — thank you so much! And I’ll be sure to check out the lecture!

  16. Esther,

    Looking forward to the Samba-fied Gokhale Method training. I enjoyed Maya’s presentation last year. I hope the Samba will come naturally to me as I spent the first five years of my life in Rio. Let’s find out!
    ~ Lars

    1. I look forward to teaching you! I pride myself in being able to teach anyone, but it sounds like you’ve been well-prepped…

  17. I’ve been phoning the Laughter Yoga conference call number in the morning and joining in on the 10 mins of group laughter. Just 1 min of deliberate laughter seems to work my core muscles like nothing else. I’m worn out by the end of 10 mins!

    Maybe Grok (who didn’t work in a boring, quiet office) was having a blast and doing a whole load of laughing everyday, giving him an effective inner corset workout?!

    1. Laughing is great. I’ve always admired Americans for their sense of humor – they (we – I’m officially a citizen now!) like to crack jokes, are quick-witted, and don’t take ourselves too seriously.

      It’s amusing to know that there is a laughter Yoga conference call providing this service. Maybe it’ll trigger the pizza effect for American humor!

      Laughing targets the deeper ab muscles, thus providing a particularly valuable ab workout. Anyone out there know a really good joke?!

  18. Cool article Mark. I am getting ready to take some dance lessons for my wedding coming up. Any form of dancing is a good workout in my opinion.

    1. This is absolutely true for any “old” dance form. You have to be careful with modern dance, which has people tuck their pelvises, etc. But I don’t think that’s what you have in mind to prepare for your wedding. Congratulations!

  19. Samba ! Samba ! always wanted to learn, but never got around to it. Will learn soon. Wow, your article is an inspiration to do the Samba.

  20. I know what dance I’ll be doing in the kitchen tonight while I make dinner 🙂 My 9 month preggy belly, is definitely causing some tightness in my hips and back, and this sounds like a fun way to loosen up!

    1. Yay! I take it as a major endorsement from nature if a practice holds up through pregnancy. Most ab workouts don’t – inner corset, samba do.

      Have fun with your baby!

  21. Hi Esther,
    I have disc herniation and L5-S1 level and have just joined Samba lessons. Is it safe for me to dance?


    1. You want to use your “inner corset” while you samba, especially if you have a disc issue. I describe this in Chapter 5 of my book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back”. The chapter is available as a free download on my website, Have fun!

  22. Whoa Esther! It’s amazing how my interest in Mark’s work has led me to your work independently! I’m so glad you two are acquaintances and I love seeing the overlap in the work.