In January, 2015, a piece I authored for Whole 9 Life was published.
Call 3 Ways to Improve Your Posture, it explained the concept of Postural Strength in layman’s terms. And then, it explained 3 different ways to improve your posture, build your postural strength, and decrease back pain.
Not long after it was published, a comment on the article showed up. It was articulate, thoughtful, and detailed.
After reading her comment, I reached out to Kathleen to ask if she’d be interested in explaining some of the Gokhale Method’s approach. She graciously agreed to author the following piece for you.
In it, you’ll learn the Gokhale Method’s approach to hip pain, as well as its major causes. Then, Kathleen details three exercises you can do to address these causes and relieve your hip pains.
Take it away, Kathleen..
The Gokhale Method on Hip Pain and How To Relieve It
The Gokhale Method began when Esther Gokhale, the creator of the method, underwent back surgery for a herniated L5-S1 disc after her first pregnancy.
Two years later, the intense pain reappeared. This time Esther made a decision not to return to the operating table, but rather go out into the world and search for a way to heal her back. In her book, “8 Steps to a Pain Free Back,” beautifully illustrated with images and photos from her travels and research, she describes her story, her research, and her techniques.
Esther’s research took her across the globe in search of people who still had good posture.
She found this same posture in toddlers, our ancestors in the US, and artwork of the past. Studying several other disciplines, the anatomy and biomechanics of the human body, and the medical literature gave her a multi-faceted understanding of the human body.
25 years and three children later, she has not had any issues with her back again. As a teacher of the Gokhale Method, I feel her genius was in charting a remarkably efficient pathway for modern people to restore their natural, healthy posture.
And today, I want to share some of her insights with you.
The Gokhale Approach To Better Posture, And No Back Pain
Remember the old song, ‘Dem Bones’?
“Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone”
Good posture is about stacking these connected bones well. This avoids unnecessary muscle tension throughout the body and allows our muscles to experience a baseline of relaxation. Our movements then become a daily dance through life.
Party Pooper Hip Joints
One link in our bony chain that frequently spoils the party is the hip joint.
Things can go wrong in several ways with this all-important connection in our skeleton:
Internal Rotation of the Legs
Compared with the ideal, many people in modern societies have internally rotated femurs (thigh bones).
This creates an incorrect fit between the head of the femur and the acetabulum or hip socket.
The femur may then not be able to move well, resulting in a limited range of motion at the hip. There may be some erosion on part of the femur or the hip socket itself. And there may be some arthritic change within the hip joint as a result of the body trying to protect itself from unnatural stresses and wear and tear.
Internal rotation of the thigh bone often originates with pronation of the feet:
In this image, you can see the ankles collapsing inward, causing the knees and legs to rotate internally.
Remember ‘Dem Bones’?
In order to correct the internal rotation of the femur, it is effective to begin working with the feet. We have a technique called Kidney Bean shaping the feet which helps restore natural architecture in the feet, ankles, knees and hips.
By swiveling our heels in towards our midline, we rotate our knees and legs externally.
The external rotation continues up our legs into the thigh bone, and the head of the femur is able to nest correctly in the hip socket.
Much of the furniture used for sitting has seat pans that flare up at the sides, causing our legs to rotate internally (think bucket seats). To compensate for this, when sitting, lift up each leg, reach under your thigh and pull your flesh towards the center. You should feel the thigh externally rotating. Set your leg back on the seat, trapping this external rotation. You will probably notice that your knee turns out slightly. Now you are using your furniture to help you externally rotate your legs.
Whereas it is natural for our species to have a forward-tipped pelvis (think of your imaginary tail out behind you), most people in modern cultures tuck their pelvis (think sitting on your imaginary tail). A tucked pelvis compromises our entire structure including our hip joints. As above, it results in restricted motion, wear and tear, and arthritic change in the hip.
It is beyond the scope of this article to teach pelvic anteversion though we recommend learning it in our six-lesson Gokhale Method Foundations course. The Gokhale Method teaches students to first focus on lengthening the spine before “remodeling” it. Note: DO NOT stick your bottom out behind you in an attempt to have an anteverted pelvis. You will tense the lumbar spine muscles and create an unhealthy arch.
Another common challenge to the health of the hip joint is walking with a heavy tread. Landing heavily shoves the femur into the hip socket with a jarring motion. Again, this can result in wear and tear, arthritic change, restricted motion and pain in the hip joint.
The solution for a heavy tread is to learn to fully engage the gluteus pack (buttock muscles), especially gluteus medius. Engaging this muscle in a sustained way help you land as softly as your hunter-gatherer ancestors did when they were hunting prey or avoiding predators.
3 Gokhale Method Exercises To Return Your Body To Its Natural Structure
Though the Gokhale Method is not an exercise program, several exercises can help accelerate our return to natural structure.
Strengthening Gluteus Medius
Strong gluteus medius muscles will work to hold the pelvis in the correct position, give you better balance and lighten your tread.
- Holding onto a chair, lean forward a bit, keeping the hips facing forward, lift one leg behind you.
- From this position, pulse up and down with that leg.
- You should feel your gluteus medius firing.
Stretching The Hamstrings
The hamstrings attach to the sit bones; if they are too short and tight, they will tuck your pelvis.
Lengthening this muscle group will release tension on the pelvis and allow your strong gluteus muscles to guide your pelvis into anteversion.
- Lie down with a pillow under your head and shoulders.
- Keep one leg outstretched.
- Using a strap around the other foot, pull the leg up until you feel a stretch in the belly of the hamstring. Keep the knee soft.
Strengthening Tibialis Anterior (The Shin Splint Muscle)
Strong tibialis anterior muscles help maintain the feet in kidney bean shape, thus helping external leg rotation.
- Stand with your knees soft.
- Raise one foot.
- You should feel the “shin splint” muscle (tibialis anterior) firing.
- Do not use your thighs or hips to cause this movement. This movement is localized to the calfs.
One of the highlights of the Gokhale Method is that once the body is aligned in good posture, every movement assists in developing good length-tension relationship between the muscles. Be patient with your body as you work your way towards good hip health.
Kathleen Marie is a Gokhale Method teacher who has been teaching Gokhale Method Foundation courses for four years. She has children (and grandchildren) on both coasts of the US, so she divides her year with six months in Gainesville, FL and six in Corvallis, OR. At age 62, Kathleen credits her posture for her continuing ability to jump on the trampoline and play soccer with her grade school grandchildren!