As I mentioned before, my back problems started coming back earlier this year; since I’d thought the Gokhale book made sense, I decided to give their course a try.

And, fortunately, it’s been working! Or, rather (correlation isn’t causation): I was taking 12 ibuprofen tablets a day in the summer, I’m taking 6 a day now, that number is continuing to trend downward, and behavioral changes from the Gokhale course (and, of course, from the book) are the most obvious explanation.


The main positioning changes from the course were:

  • The teacher in the course (Faye Alexandrakis, I thought she did a good job) pointed out that I was arching my stomach/lower back forward. In retrospect, I feel a little silly not having noticed this myself — I have mirrors in my bedroom that I could have used to figure this out myself, instead of assuming that all the mentions in the book of being swaybacked didn’t apply to me. But they did; I’d just been way too overconfident in my ability to sense whether or not my back was straight.
  • She also encouraged me to tilt the upper half of my torso forward. This is something the Gokhale course calls the “rib anchor”; I’m not sure if it’s in the book or not, but if it’s there, I don’t think it’s emphasized as much as it was in the course.
  • Going over the internal corset in the course helped me identify one of the muscles that was relevant; this same muscle is also, I think, being strengthened by the one exercise my back doctor tells me to do. (It’s right under the bottom of my rib cage, a little higher up than the muscles you use when doing sit-ups.)
  • In general, the internal corset practice got me thinking more about stretching my body upwards; at first I started trying to do it while exercising, but now I do it more routinely.

It feels to me like the above four points, when put together, are the key to the changes: by altering both the top and bottom halves of my back, my spine is straighter, and I’m using my muscles to further support it. And I think that all of this works together to put less pressure on the disks in my lower back, not just stopping its decline but allowing it to actually heal.


Then there were some positioning changes adjacent to the spine:

  • I’d been occasionally doing the shoulder rolls before; I started doing them more often while taking the course, and about two weeks in, something clicked, where it started to feel natural to have my arms/shoulders further back, and, when they’re in resting position, with my hands parallel to the sides of my body. That latter bit (which the book points out, too) actually feels to me more fundamental than the back/forward position, though if they’re resting and parallel, they’ll naturally be further back.
  • I’m also doing a better job of having my neck stretched up and straighter, instead of at an angle forward.
  • I’m paying a lot more attention to the previous two points (and to general back straightness) when looking at people around me and in artwork. For Love Live players, look at the difference in how Yohane hunches over compared to Yoshiko. Interesting seeing the physical positioning of the characters in Tokyo Mirage Sessions in the regular world versus in the Idolasphere, too. Though, frequently, neither position for the character is great: slumped versus swaybacked, instead of straight.

Those three points are really a continuation / refinement of the earlier ones: once you’ve gotten your spine straight, extend that to your arms hanging off of the spine, or the significant weight on top of the spine that’s your head.


Then there are the exercises specifically around temporarily stretching your spine:

  • I’d already been sometimes doing the “stretchlying” on your back; I picked up one or two technique refinements from the course, though I’d been basically doing it correctly, and now I try to do it every day when I come home, as well as right before going to sleep.
  • I’d mostly skipped the side version of stretchlying in the book, and the one time I tried it out before the course, it didn’t go well, I woke up feeling really stiff the next day. I’ve tried it a little since the course, but ultimately I’ve decided not to focus on side stretchlying, and in fact I’m a little worried about potential negative effects from trying to tilt my hips the way they recommend, getting it wrong, and having it squeeze my disk. So I’m mostly skipping that, though I’m trying to keep my spine a little straighter and stretched when sleeping on my side.
  • There’s also a “stretchsitting” exercise for using a chair to help stretch out your back. Basically none of the chairs that I normally use let me do this, but the Gokhale folks manufacture a chair designed for this (as well as for a different sitting technique below); after trying it out in the course, I figured I’d order a chair and give it a try at work as well. This, unlike the money on the course, was not money well spent: I actually think I temporarily made my disk problems worse by stretchsitting with the chair and (probably) doing it a bit wrong.

So, basically: the basic “lie on your back while actively trying to stretch it” technique seems like a good way to give my back a bit of a break, but beyond that, I’m not so convinced by these exercises.


Finally, a grab bag:

  • They have a “stacksitting” technique for sitting in a chair in a way that’s designed to keep a straight spine. I think I was probably doing that okay before the class, but I definitely learned some pointers in the class; stacksitting still took effort after the course, but it’s becoming less of an effort now, whether from habit or strengthening muscles or getting a better feel for what it means to have my back straight. (This is the other thing that their chair is designed to help; the help there, however, is minimal, and the benefits of the tilted front of the chair are, for me, outweighed by how hard the cushion is compared to the office chair that I’d already had.)
  • I was really hoping to learn their recommended walking technique from the course; but this turned out to be the one part of the course that didn’t work for me, in some ways I actually felt more confused about the technique after the course than before the course. There were a couple of walking pointers from the course that I’ve tried to follow, but in general I don’t think I understand their recommended way of walking particularly well at all.
  • Before the course, I hadn’t gotten around to reading the section of the book about bending to pick up low objects, on the theory that it was probably largely a recommendation to keep your back straight while bending from your hips. Which is true, but there were definitely some useful pointers there; probably I could have picked many up from the book, but not all. At any rate, it’s good to have an idea of how to do that, and also it’s good to be working on my (very tight) hamstrings. I don’t pick up low objects enough for this to make a big difference, though.
  • As a part of various of the techniques, the class had us arching our feet a bit more. I wasn’t sure how to work this into my day-to-day activities, but then I got a new set of shoes that turned out to transmit the shock of the ground to a disappointing extent; rather than either accept that or change shoes, I started arching my feet more, and this got the balls of my feet more involved in walking, which made a big difference. I’m still experimenting with this, I don’t think it’s quite right, but I feel like I’m going in the right direction, and hopefully I’ll gradually get less fallen arches.


The basic summary: after the course, I feel like I have a better idea of what it means in practice to keep my back straight, and of some of the follow-on affects for my body. I’m still not completely convinced by the recommendations for your hips, I don’t feel like I understand their walking technique enough to have an informed opinion on it, and their chair does not work for me. But I’m very glad I took the course, I feel like I have a real reason for optimism about my back for the first time since my back problems started.

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