What does tackling back pain have to do with the paleo diet? Quite a lot, according to this book, since both are based on the principle that following ancestral health indicators can lead to improved wellbeing in modern life.
I recently picked up 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back by Esther Gokhale because I was intrigued by something I noticed on the back-cover: “Forget what you thought you knew about good posture. Adopt the natural, healthy posture used by athletes, children, and people in traditional societies the world over. Free yourself from pain and injury.”
This piqued my curiosity because it clearly resonated with some of the underlying principles I find so attractive in the paleo diet, and also because I’ve had my own battles with back pain in the past, and am very conscious at times that I don’t always sit, stand, or move in ways that are conducive to good back health.
The book doesn’t disappoint. Gokhale provides a thorough analysis of why modern ways of sitting, standing, lying and walking are not conducive to back health. Indeed, good posture is far from the driving force in modern ways of using our bodies - rather, these are dictated by the trends of fashion (she shows that fashion magazine pictures pre-1920s regularly featured models demonstrating healthy posture, but after that time it became fashionable to slouch) and a disruption in the link between generations (good postural practices are less likely to be transmitted to succeeding generations nowadays because other influences get in the way).
The Wisdom of Traditional Societies
Doesn’t this sound very similar to the issues faced today in the field of “healthy eating”? Isn’t this one of the main reasons many people eventually turn to the paleo diet? How interesting to consider that the quest for good nutritional health can go hand in hand with a quest to beat back pain.
The book is well organised, rich in background and foundational information and then divided into eight clear lessons, all designed to teach how everyday activities can be conducted in a manner which decompresses rather than compresses the spine, thus alleviating a great deal of postural tension almost immediately:
- Stretchsitting – sitting with a lengthened back
- Stretchlying On Your Back – lying with a lengthened back (e.g. in bed)
- Stacksitting – positioning your pelvis as the foundation for your spine
- Stretchlying On Your Side – lying with a lengthened back
- Using Your Inner Corset – using your muscles to protect and lengthen your spine
- Tallstanding – stacking your bones according to their natural alignment
- Hip-Hinging – hinging at the hips (not the waist) to bend safely
- Glidewalking – walking as a series of forward propulsions (not falls) and to a soft landing
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just another book about good posture. The point is, this book is as much about un-teaching bad posture - including bad posture that our society considers to be good posture! – as it is about teaching a particular new method. The author describes this process as ”reclaiming your primal architecture”.
Furthermore, the methods the book teaches are quick to learn, easy to implement, and don’t require much in the way of prolonged conscious effort (provided they’re followed in the recommended sequence). Indeed, it’s a marker of how intuitive the postural recommendations are that, having implemented just the first lesson, I found that it was remarkably easy, natural and relaxing to remain in the position I had been guided into. In other words, I didn’t have to keep thinking about it afterwards. And that was after just one lesson.
The Primal Posture Solution
So – an impressive book all round. For those whose learning style is more kinaesthetic, Gokhale has produced a DVD called The Primal Posture Solution in which she demonstrates the principles of her book. You can see a couple of snippets from that here:
A Good Introduction
For a good overall introduction to her method, and as a means of determining whether this book is for you, you could do worse than to watch her fascinating hour-long presentation to Authors@Google:
As for me? I can’t recommend 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back highly enough – this lively and original book on beating back pain has found its way to a prominent position on my paleo diet bookshelf!
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