In an effort to relieve my chronic lower back pain I am taking a primal posture class based on the Gokhale Method. This six-week class has reduced my back pain significantly, but it’s the unexpected benefits that have changed my life even more.
A little background if you haven't heard of the Gokhale Method. This system is based on research that people in many less industrialized societies have way less back pain and very different ways of sitting, standing, lying and walking than the average American. People with this type of "primal" posture tend to have straighter spines and supporting musculature that is developed in very different ways.
Unexpected Benefit #1: My bigger heart
Since starting posture class, on a good day moving feels effortless. My legs and arms and thoughts and feelings swing freely. My chest feels wider and less closed off and I'm more aware of the air expanding my lungs with each breath. I’m doing my best to walk with my neck straight, my shoulders rolled back and a more open chest. I know this is actually happening because a friend asked if I was wearing a push-up bra (this is even more funny if you know me). It's like I'm carrying around a serving platter of delicious, heart-shaped appetizers I want to serve to everyone I meet. It feels strange, but good.
This is a big change because for most of my life I have preferred to know and like someone a lot before taking the big step of clasping our limbs together in an embrace. I come from a long line of infrequent, awkward huggers and growing up, my home life was only slightly more affectionate than a Romanian orphanage. Traditionally I avoid hugging people I don't know well and when that's not possible I spend the hug wondering when it would be socially acceptable to let go and move back into the safety of my own space bubble.
But lately I've been noticing something really strange happening. Instead of avoiding hugs, I've been initiating them and (gasp!) enjoying them. I hug at greetings and goodbyes and there was one shocking mid-conversation incident when I was overwhelmed with heartfelt affection. I don't have an official tally but I would estimate that my hug production and quality has improved exponentially.
I've also been saying a friendly hello and offering a smile to many more passing strangers. I haven't hugged any of them yet, but who knows what's going to happen? Both of these things are out of character and I can't help but wonder if my posture training is contributing to my increased hugging urges. Typical modern posture is often rounded and slumped as if one is trying to protect oneself from enemies and anxiety by rolling into a ball. This is totally different from the new posture I'm trying to embody, which feels less guarded and more open.
Unexpected Benefit #2: Connection
At times I've found myself jealous of truly spiritual people who feel deeply connected to something bigger than themselves. I don't care if it's Jesus, Buddha or the trees, it seems like it must be nice to feel like a part of something big, mysterious and meaningful. I have never felt that way.
But since I've been practicing primal posture I'm feeling more connected to the people who came before me and lots of faraway people whom I'll never meet. With each step I'm rejecting the modern, disposable culture that teaches us to disconnect from our bodies and treat them like machines. I'm learning to carry my spine around like a precious resource to be protected and cared for, not just a part to be used up and replaced. I'm learning to walk like women who carry heavy weights on their heads all day and yet still stand tall and beautiful. I'm learning to bend like African farmers and stand like South American tribesmen.
I majored in history but reading about the past in books never made me feel as close to it as I do when I feel physically connected to it. In our technologically advanced yet often lonely world, trying to walk in the footsteps of ancestors and people living totally different lives gives me a new perspective and connects every step to something bigger than myself. When I feel cut off and alone I remind myself that I'm walking in their footsteps and that connection keeps me going.
Unexpected Benefit #3: Calming the f@$k down
While practicing good posture every step can be a moving meditation in a way that grounds me as I move through the difficult parts of my days. When I find myself stuck in traffic and arching my back in stress and frustration I can practice releasing and relaxing, sitting tall and gently pull my ribs down. I can focus on stacking my spine and relaxing my shoulders. While having a difficult talk with a friend I can work on my glide walking, focusing on squeezing my glutes and pulling at the ground with my toes. When I'm tossing and turning and can't sleep I can gently stretch my spine and make sure my neck is supported and relaxed.
For every problem and position I find myself in there is an answer that brings me back to my body and subsequently calms me down. As a result of this practice I am much more aware of tension and energy moving through me. Not in a woo woo way, but in a way that allows me to recognize destructive habits like muscle clenching and spine crunching and gives me techniques to make them better.
So if you want to improve your lower back or joint pain, hug more and stress less, enjoy a natural boob job and a less modern butt, and maybe even walk like an ancient Egyptian, you should check out the Gokhale Method.