Updated on August 23, 2017
This is the fourth and final installment of my series that highlights alternative management and treatment techniques for scoliosis, to celebrate Scoliosis Awareness Month. (You can see all of the previous posts here: The Egoscue Method, Yoga for Scoliosis and Nutritious Movement, and Schroth Method and Pilates.) Enjoy this post from Cynthia Rose!
When I was 12 years old, my mother took me to our family doctor for a check up. It wasn’t something we did on a regular basis, but I remember him looking at me and saying, “One of your shoulders slopes down more than the other. Isn’t that interesting!” What’s interesting to me is that the word “scoliosis” never came up in the conversation, nor was there any further investigation. As a 12 year old, I had never heard of scoliosis, so I thought my sloping shoulder was just an oddity I would live with.
It was not until many years later when I returned to school to study massage therapy that I began to notice changes in my spine which manifested as chronic low back pain. I thought it was because of the sitting I was doing in classes, or the crawling around on the floor for shiatsu practice sessions. The pain never really subsided, though I did find temporary relief through body work and the application of heat. It was a very specific type of pain that, although it wasn’t severe pain, it was quite bothersome because it felt relentless.
When I was in my early 40s, I was working with a chiropractor who took a standing X-ray of my complete spine, and this was the first time I could clearly see my scoliosis and how my lumbar vertebrae were compromising my discs. No measurements were taken, so I really don’t know what the progression had been over time. But the pain living on the lower left side of my back and into my left sacroiliac joint was my motivator to do something.
I’m now a licensed acupuncturist and a Bowen therapist, and I approached my back pain in a similar way that I approach my patients’ complaints. I think of a complaint, especially a long standing one, as a puzzle and pay close attention as I observe changes both positive and negative. For my back, some days I felt OK, but inevitably the exact same pain would return. It was difficult for me to just let it be and I kept trying different things to make it better. Exercise became a big part of my life if I did the right amount. Too little exercise meant more pain, but too much exercise had the same effect.
In 2014, I came across a blog in the NYTimes about the Schroth Method. Everything about it sounded promising, and I was ready to look in another direction. I found a group of therapists at Alta Physical Therapy in Manhattan who were all trained in Schroth, and spent about a year alternating with the three therapists in the practice. The sessions I did with them gave me a complete understanding of what was happening in my spine: not only the curves but also the rotations that compensated for the curves. I really began to understand what was weak in my back and how I needed to strengthen and stretch to relieve the pain.
The exercises were changing my upper spine more than the lower spine, and I began to feel there were gaps between doing the exercises and how I moved through my day to day life. I went back to re-read the article in the Times and noticed the many comments below the posting. They included information about other methods, techniques and braces that had helped other readers. I looked through these and clicked on every link. This is where I first heard of the Gokhale Method™. [Lindsey’s note: Pronounced “go-CLAY.”]
The Gokhale Method™ teaches you how to sit, stand, bend, walk, lift and lie in bed with respect to what Esther Gokhale refers to as “primal posture.” This is done by finding the ideal way to stack your bones in relation to gravity so that there is less wear and tear on the structure and less impingement on the intervertebral discs.
For a scoliotic, this can be difficult to feel, but the way the method is taught it can be of benefit to anyone. For me, having a clear picture of the twists and turns in my spine from my Schroth work helped me even more. I had always felt that posture was contributing to my pain, but with the Gokhale Method™ I was able to learn, with clarity, the correct way to position my pelvis and my rib cage to optimize my posture no matter what activity I was doing.
I took the six-lesson Gokhale Foundations Class in December of 2014 about six months into my Schroth sessions, and it made a big difference in how I was feeling and moving through my day. It gave me such clarity about where my body should be in space, and I almost immediately felt improvements in my pain frequency and intensity. The best part was that when I had pain I could ask myself, “How was I using my body that could be causing the pain. And what could I change that would make it go away?” With the Gokhale Method™, I had the specific knowledge as to what I had to change.
In the Gokhale Method™, you learn how to elongate the spine in both passive positions (such as sitting or lying down) or when you are active by using what’s called the inner corset. This elongation will change the shape of the curves in the spine from the scoliosis; putting a positive stressor on the bones and muscles allows them to change in a positive way. For me, this quickly translated to less pain and, over time, I can feel the changes in the muscles on either side of my spine. Please take a look at the pictures below to see my back without and then with my inner corset engaged.
The Schroth exercises taught me what it felt like to have my curves evened out and my rotations untwisted. I continued doing the exercises for a while, but eventually felt they were too complicated and needed a lot of props: poles, cushions, and multiple chairs. The Gokhale Method™ taught me how to move with the correct posture to prevent wear and tear on my structure and to reduce my pain. I was able to use what I learned throughout my day, even when I was sleeping.
Not everyone who has scoliosis has pain, as I didn’t until my late 30s. Pain is now my reminder to check how I’m using my body, but I also use mirrors and my reflection in store windows to take a glance at the shape of my spine. Often I will see the return of my old habit of tucking my pelvis or a rounding of my shoulders and can now easily make corrections.
People watching has also become a hobby of mine. The primal posture we teach in the Gokhale Method™ can readily be seen in people who are from a non-industrialized environment. I live in NYC, so there are many of these beautiful people for me to learn from.
The work has had such a profound effect on me that I trained to become a teacher of the Gokhale Method™. It has been a valuable skill for many of my acupuncture patients who have chronic or recurring pain, as I am able to teach them the best posture in a way that gives us a common language to communicate.
There are approximately 50 teachers around the world all trained by Esther Gokhale, so if you would like to know more please visit www.gokhalemethod.com and sign up for a free introductory workshop near where you live. The book “8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back” is also a good way to learn more, though when you are taught by the knowing hands of a trained teacher, you will be able to more fully grasp the depths of this fine work. If there isn’t a teacher near you, I am available to travel, or feel free to contact me with questions.