Esther Gokhale – 8 Steps (Book Review)

April 25, 2013

Esther Gokhale talks about primal posture in her book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back but what does a self-confessed posture addict like me think about the science behind the Gokhale Method?

Who Is Esther Gokhale?

Esther Gokhale is an American acupuncturist (with a biochemistry background) and author. She “has been involved with integrative therapies all her life.” It is important here to make the distinction between therapist and primary health care physician which Esther Gokhale is not. Only few manual professions qualify as primary health and acupuncture isn’t recogised as one of these.

Now you are probably thinking I’m being harsh and skeptical but in fact I’m not at all. I have use therapies widely over the years – acupuncture, massage, reflexology etc. but I am a recognised primary health care provider – I don’t like seeing therapist and primary health care provider confused because the medical qualifications are very different – one provides therapy and the other, medically recognised ‘treatment;’ although I’m not a huge fan of the word treatment either.

What I do like about Esther’s qualifications is that she (like many of us practising natural health care) has had personal experience of problem posture and health. She has had a history of chronic low back pain and surgery on her back and like me, went on a ‘crusade’ to find a solution to her problems which she did, in her travels to remote traditional societies and rural villages in several countries around the world. This is admirable indeed.

She has studied at the Aplomb Institute in Paris. The Aplomb Institute is a centre (not a college or university) that bases its work around aplomb –  ‘the art of standing, sitting, to move with ease, without tension.’ There are seminars, courses, classes all on offer, with a strong emphasis on yoga. Anyone can go – I’d like to visit myself; sounds lovely.

What Is The Gokhale Method?

From their website: “The Gokhale Method uses primal posture and movement to help you re-establish your body’s structural integrity and regain a pain-free life.”

The word ‘primal‘ seems to be the latest buzz world in health – a fad of sorts. There is the Paleo Diet (based on the ‘presumed’ ancient - primal - diet of hunter gatherers), The Primal Blueprint (instructions on how to live your life by taking clues from evolutionary – primal - biology, Primal Wear (cycling apparel – presumably helps one feel like an aggressive caveman on a bike). Think of primal as relating to an early stage in evolutionary development (i.e. primeval).

In other words, Esther’s primal posture is interested in the study of the human being as it is formed during evolution.

The older term ‘primitive’ has more commonly been used in health. The term primitive reflexes, for example, is commonly used in medical science to refer to the reflexes a baby has no control over – in other words, voluntary movements. The baby responds to environmental stimuli through the primitive reflexes which are automatic responses.

8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back

I like Esther’s book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. There are some excellent insights she has made during her time observing traditional societies. What I don’t like is that it is a book of testimonials. She doesn’t need to convince me, I read the material, try it out on myself (as I’m sure most readers do) and decide for my self. The odd testimonial makes for good reading but if you took out all the testimonials in this book, it would be half as big and I would have preferred that.

She makes some excellent arguments like ‘the cause of our pain is not that we stand upright, but how we stand upright’ and ‘it isn’t that we sit but how we sit that causes our problems.’ Very well put indeed.

Esther suggests that our spines should be more alordotic (flatter) than our anatomy books currently teach and whilst this is a very interesting concept and she makes a good argument with some attractive pictures of strong warrier-like primal postures in peoples of the world. I am not totally convinced until one can demonstrate cadaveric radiographic evidence (x-rays) from primitive societies to back up this interesting theory.

I disagree with Esther’s description of ideal breathing posture: ‘A healthy baseline breathing pattern expands the chest more than the abdomen.’ According to the American Medical Student Association, chest breathing involves using only the top lobes of the lungs. It is inefficient, does not fully engage the lungs, results in less oxygen transfer to the lungs, and poorer nutrient delivery to the body.

I believe that the chest kicks in for breathing, during exercise when all three lobes of the lungs should be used. I may be wrong or perhaps I have misinterpreted Esther’s meaning here. I am open to opinions about her work here, so please share.

Finally, I’d just like to say the colour photographs are excellent and the exercises very good and I would certainly recommend her book to anyone wishing to improve their posture. Just like my own work on posture, it is important to remember, there is no one absolute truth one should follow. I by no means know everything there is to know about posture (far from it). I think the best approach to posture and health is one that utilizes the experience and knowledge of many different people and theories. Use your own personal experience and study some of the science and then develop your own unique and personal posture correction program. If it works for you, it is right for you!

What do you think?


  • Robyn Penwell

    Hi Dr. Moore, Thank you for your excellent review. I am one of Esther Gokhale’s teachers located in Sacramento, California, USA. I also have a M.S. in Kinesiology and teach fitness classes such as yoga, so I appreciate your comment about the breathing pattern. In our Gokhale Method classes we emphasize breathing in a way that relaxes and lengthens the back with every breath cycle. This is very hard to do for people who are strictly “belly breathers.” Try this for yourself and you may notice that while breathing in and lengthening the spine the chest moves in a different way, that your sternum lifts a bit with each inhale, and that the muscles of your back (especially thoracic area) soften to allow your lungs to expand. When you exhale, your body comes back to its baseline. How much length you actually get is not important, it’s the approach that encourages awareness, presence, release of tension, and the connection of your breath to your spine and posture that people find helpful. The breathing should be natural (though deeper at first until you get the feeling for it), noiseless, and without pauses or stopping of the breath. One Gokhale Method mantra is to learn to “be upright AND relaxed.” It is a lovely feeling. Enjoy!

    • Dr Paula Moore

      Thanks Robyn. Where does this breathing come from and why is the reasoning behind not doing belly breathing? And why no making noise? Interesting technique though, thanks for sharing it.