Right Sitting Posture = More Productivity

Esther Gokhale has been involved in integrative therapies for as long as she can remember. But, it was the crippling back pain she experienced during her first pregnancy (and an unsuccessful back surgery) that inspired her to make it her life’s mission to find a solution for back pain. After years of research conducted around the world — Gokhale travelled around the world to see what people look like when they stand and move — the licensed acupuncturist who also studied biochemistry at Harvard and Princeton developed the Gokhale Method, and she’s been teaching this at her Palo Alto wellness centre for over 25 years.

Gokhale, the woman the New York Times has called ‘the posture guru of Silicon Valley,’ has based her system on her observations of what members of non-industrial groups seem to be doing right. To put this together, she studied indigenous groups and her research, Gokhale says, revealed, “The sort of back pain that’s so common in urban society is nonexistent in those societies.”

The conclusion was not just born from her own observations; Gokhale also studied the works of anthropologists who examined posture (such as Noelle Perez-Christiaens). Additionally, she examined physiotherapy approaches. It was thus that Gokhale came to understand that good posture — and here, she’s careful to point out, that most urban dwellers don’t know what that is — is the key to a healthy spine.

Therefore, her method is as much about un-learning what we have been taught about posture, as it is about learning how to sit, sleep, stand, walk, and bend in ways that protect and strengthen. “Most of us tend to pull our shoulders back, when made conscious of our slacking posture, and this is wrong, and can cause more problems,” says Gokhale who takes a different approach — “every movement must become an effective exercise to strengthen and stretch.”

She aims to drive a consciousness that will make every position one adopts not just comfortable, but actually therapeutic. “If done correctly, sitting will be comfortable for you, whether you use a backrest or not. Standing will be a resting position for most of the muscles of the body, as the weight-bearing bones will be vertically stacked over the heels (tallstanding).”

A retroverted pelvis, says Gokhale, leads to tense back muscles or slumping. “If your pelvis is tilted too far (forward or backward) from neutral, such a position can lead to lower back pain,” Gokhale points out. “An anteverted pelvis, on the other hand, facilitates healthy posture. When you learn how to do it correctly — and people in Indian villages already know how to do this — bending will involve hinging at the hip, rather than at the waist, and this will exercise the long back muscles and spare the spinal discs and ligaments (hip-hinging).”

Her website claims that, “In relearning these everyday actions, you will reposition and reshape your shoulders, arms, neck, torso, pelvis, hips, legs, and feet the way they were designed to be. You will also develop a high level of confidence in, and sense of control over, your wellbeing.”

Restore primal posture

“The theory involves a number of simple techniques that become a part of of everyday life. People can continue to do this for a long time — after all, what I teach people to do are techniques that two-yearolds automatically use — we’ve just forgotten about them in cities because we’ve been presented with so much incorrect information.”


A very common mistake that many people make is that they protrude their heads forward. This creates a lot of stress for their neck and shoulder muscles which then need to work overtime. It leads to pain, inflammation and dysfunction. The correct technique is to glide the head back — picture a drawer and glide your head back so it’s centered over the body. What you can do is grasp a bunch of hair at the base of your skull and gently tug the head back into a better position.

Another common mistake is to walk with the chin held up — somehow, people have come to believe that this is good posture — it actually compresses the back of the neck which leads to degeneration of cervical discs, impingement of the cervical nerve, and weakness, numbness and tingling down the arm. To rectify this, grasp the hair at base of skull and gently pull upwards, allowing the chin to relax downwards.


The back is affected by the position people adopt while walking, sitting or standing — a rounded back is problematic, and then the way most people jerk their shoulders back to correct this is also problematic. I see that a lot in India particularly. It seems to me that the average Indian tries harder to maintain a good posture, but they do not do this in an advantageous way. There’s a lot of confusion about what posture is most beneficial for the spine. This confusion is even reflected in ergonomically-designed furniture. What is required is a paradigm shift — ergonomic furniture is based on a flawed conception of what is ideal for a human spine.

According to conventional wisdom, the human spine should be shaped like the letter ‘S,’ but this idea is flawed. Ergonomic designs are based on this wisdom and therefore provide exaggerated curves in the lumbar area with lumbar support. On the other hand, what I believe is truly healthy is more of a J-spine: with the bottom behind you, and the lower back elongated (and not very curved).

If the back tends to get rounded, it’s usually because the pelvis is poorly placed — with the imaginary tail tucked underneath. Set your pelvis in such a way as to allow the imaginary tail to be behind you. This allows for a healthy stacking of the spine; it allows the spine to stay upright yet relaxed. When you sit, you want your bottom out behind you, like when you sit on a toilet — approach a chair like you would a toilet; then you’ll squat into the chair, and that puts your back in a better position, allowing your back to be upright.

To correct the arch: The problem is that there’s an attempt to be upright by tensing the long back muscles. People tend to push the chest out as this gives the appearance or feeling of being upright.

It’s usually just compensation for the upper body being rounded and slumped. The solution is to work on repositioning the shoulders and the head so that the person doesn’t have to arch the back to bring the head and shoulders into a better position. Bring your head and shoulders back into a healthy position and do not try to compensate by arching the lower back.

To fix the shoulders: The common way for people to try and correct the shoulders is to pull their shoulders back, or arch back to be more upright. Both of these are neither sustainable nor healthy, as they involve some muscle tension. Instead, do a shoulder roll to reposition the shoulders. Do this one shoulder at a time — move the shoulder forward, up and back. Then relax it into a more posterior place.

Shoulder rolls will create a longlasting position, because you’re hooked into place there. You might lose the position after a while (the first few times you do it) but once you know the technique and your body begins to recognise that this is a more comfortable position, it will eventually want to go back to that position, rather than to the one it registers as uncomfortable — habits, after all, are learned through repetition.


People often tend to sit or stand in such a way that they have their imaginary tail tucked between their legs. This is in keeping with conventional wisdom which teaches the tucking of the pelvis. I believe this is a way to compensate for having the lower back arched, and it results in a number of problems like hip degeneration, arthritis in the hips and back problems.

The pelvis is like the foundation stone for the whole structure (your body) and it needs to be positioned healthily. If you can picture an imaginary tail, this must remain behind — it should not be thrust back. The rectus abdominis or ‘six-pack’ muscles should not be tense, as that means that the pelvis is tucked. It should be relaxed; strong, but relaxed. Additionally, the buttocks need to be toned as this will help the pelvis to be in a healthy position. This can be achieved by healthy walking.

Walking is complicated, but there are some simple measures that people can implement to walk in a healthy way. One big mistake people make while walking is to under-use or not use their gluteal muscles or their buttocks. Actively engage the buttock muscles as you take a stride, and every step should be a sort-of ‘rep’ for the buttock muscles. The hips should be lined up over the heels. To check your posture, do a tiny squat before you start walking — a small, toilet squat will allow the pelvis to settle in a healthy position.


When you bend your knees, you want your legs to be bending in the same direction that your feet are facing. It’s very common for people to be internally-rotated. Do little squats and bring your head over your legs to get an aerial view; check that your knees are facing the same direction. Do not create any torque in the legs as this compromises circulation, and that is how problems start.

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