Full transcript of Esther Gokhale’s TEDx Talk: Find Your Primal Posture and Sit Without Back Pain at TEDxStanford conference.
Esther Gokhale – Author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back
We, in modern society, have really forgotten how to use our bodies. And we suffer a lot of aches, and pains, and dysfunction because of that.
But the good news is that we can heal most of the neck pain, and the plantar fasciitis, and the repetitive stress injuries, and the back pain that we suffer. And we can do it simply by restoring our primal posture and truly natural ways of bending, walking, lifting, sitting.
Here you see two Portuguese horsemen, and they are both relaxed, but they are sitting very differently. This guy is slumped, head forward, shoulders forward; and this guy is pretty upright.
Now, what would most parents tell their children when sitting like this? Sit up straight. And he could do it, but it would take tension in his lower back. And he’d probably last a short while, and then he get tired, maybe sore, and he’d go back to slumping. So most of us go back and forth between being upright and tense which we think is good posture, but it isn’t, and then being relaxed and slumped which we all know is bad posture.
What we really want is to be upright and relaxed. And what it takes is a well-positioned pelvis. This is like your foundation. And the easy way to see the difference in their pelvic positions is to imagine that if they have tails. Where would you say this guy’s tail is? Under him. He is sitting on it. And that guy’s tail? Out behind him.
And for our species, the natural way to have your tail is out behind you, anteverted: behind-behind. And if you have that, then your blocks, your vertebrae, get to stuck easily, and the muscles get to relax. And when you breath now, your whole back can move, and that stimulates circulation. It’s like a little massage going on all day, and you can heal yourself that way.
If you sit on your tail, you’ve got two bad options. This is one, relaxed and slumped, and here is the other, upright and tense. So if tucking your pelvis is so problematic, how come so many of us do it? The answer begins early in life in the way we are carried — you see the tucked pelvis — and the way we are parked in poorly designed baby furniture. It’s a sad thing, I know.
And then, this is the age at which our neural pathways are getting set as to what constitute sitting. So we carry those habits into adulthood where we continue to sit this way. And then it doesn’t help that most of our furniture is poorly designed including the ergonomic furniture; and that we are instructed by our fitness experts and so on to tuck our pelvis to protect our spines and so on, very unfortunate guidelines.
So how are we going to return to our truly primal posture, behind-behind, bones well-stacked? The same posture we used to have when we were two, and that our ancestors had. I call it a “J-spine” where you see how the behind is out behind, and then the upper lumbar area is pretty erect and elongated. And it’s the same posture that you find in non-industrial populations the world over. These are the Ubang tribesmen from Borneo in Indonesia. And you can see they have admirable — well, butts and even grove in the spine. And you can see the shoulders are prominent, really beautiful.
So let’s begin this journey back to our primal posture. And I’m going to teach you an exercise I call “stretch sitting”. And you are going to sit with your bottom well back in your chair, and then hinge away from the back rest. Place your fists on the lower border of your rib cage, and then gently push back so as to elongate your lower back.
And now, grab some place of your chair, maybe your arm rests or any other part of your chair, and gently push the top of you away from the bottom of you, like this; and now, hitch yourself to the back rest.
OK, now, ideally the chair would have some grippy thing mid-back to hold you, like you see here; or you would have an implement like our stretch seat cushion, or folded towel; something with friction to meet your mid-back and actually hold you up. Since you don’t have any implement, you might try bunching up your fabric in the back of you, and creating a kind of ledge, and then hooking yourself there, and totally relaxing.
And what you have just done is the first baby-step towards elongating your spine, restoring your primal posture, and having a pain-free functional life. That is our natural heritage.