8 steps to pain freeGokhale, E. (2008). 8 Steps To A Pain-Free Back: Remember When It Didn’t hurt.
Reviewed by: Michael Fiorini, New York University

At first glance, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back would appear to be a fairly straightforward book about methods for back correction. To think this would not be entirely incorrect, as the bulk of the book’s contents and the point behind its principles revolve around posture correction to alleviate back pain. Where the book diverges considerably from contemporary guides is in explaining the origins of and corrections for back pain. The book is written by Esther Gokhale, an anthropologist with a background in integrative therapy. The perspective she undertakes came after studying the postures and physically involved routines of various cultures around the world. Her point in the book is that the rampant chronic back pain observed in western cultures and modern societies stems from our poor posture, and that our change in posture is related to specific sociocultural practices. It should be noted that the book is exclusively interested in explaining this phenomenon in biological, physical, and anthropologic terms. She observes that among certain cultures with seemingly more physically intense daily routines, various postures play a role in avoiding spinal strain. The book operates as a graphically detailed guide to adjusting posture and movement to improve or eliminate back pain, taking techniques from around the world in tandem with one another to accomplish this.

Because the central focus of the book is to improve back pain, each of the eight steps mentioned in its title explain through written guides and visual aids how to change posture and body orientation. Before this, the book shows how notions of proper posture in western society are incorrect and what biological ramifications our existing conceptions have on spinal and physical health. It then goes on to explain the immediate benefits of change for the body, and details how to approach the forthcoming lessons. The lessons themselves are organized by forms of posture change followed by the scenarios readers would practice them in. It starts with stretch-sitting, then stretch-lying on your back, stack-sitting, stretch-lying on your side, using your inner corset, tall-standing, hip-hinging, and glide-walking. It also includes at the end some optional exercises, diagrams of basic human anatomy, and a list of the sources used. In each step, as postures and techniques are explained, they are also accompanied by helpful and detailed diagrams that are simple to follow. Alongside this, numerous anthropological observations are given to explain how and when posture differences developed. This is also done with consciousness towards how posture changes over the lifetime and with outcome expectancies following correction, making the dialogue fairly cohesive for readers of any age.

Those readers looking to improve their posture and physical well-being will find 8 Step to a Pain Free Back intrinsically helpful through the techniques it incorporates and the presentation style that it employs. The written and diagrammed instructions are specific and detailed, and there is a strong biological and physical therapy influence in the solutions proposed. Additionally, having suggested corrections that come from an anthropologic framework may speak more to readership involved in studying and practicing in the social sciences. As a result, this book may have greater efficacy within this particular population of readers versus other books that use similar techniques but which lack the same theoretical explanations and narrative. This is, at its core, a book on posture correction, but for those interested in mindfulness and body therapy techniques, the book may be useful in expanding knowledge in this subject.

Esther Gokhale, L.Ac., has had a lifelong interest in integrative therapies. She has studied biochemistry at Harvard and Princeton, and later acupuncture at the San Francisco School of Oriental Medicine. Following her own experiences with crippling back pain and the ineffective treatments for it, she decided to find a more lasting solution. After studying at the Aplomb Institute in Paris, she performed long running anthropological research in Burkina Faso, Brazil, India, Portugal, and elsewhere to to develop the Gokhale Method, which she currently teaches and is most known for.

Gokhale, E. (2008). 8 Steps To A Pain-Free Back: Remember When It Didn’t hurt. Palo Alto, CA: Pendo Press.
ISBN: 978-0-9793036-0-9.
Paperback. 228 pages. Includes appendix, glossary, bibliography, and index.
Key words: back pain, physical therapy, anthropology, chronic pain, first-person, posture