One thing that the Gokhale Method teaches you about is shoulder positioning; Gokhale has a shoulder roll technique to help you improve your positioning. It’s not one of their eight big steps, just a smaller technique that is a component of several of the bigger ones, but I was surprised how much of an effect it had on me, it’s one of the things that I’ve gotten most out of the method.

Gokhale’s claim is that your arms should hang from your shoulders closer to the back of your chest than to the front of your chest. Which is plausible enough, if you look at a skeleton? And, after doing her shoulder roll technique a few times a day (move your shoulder forward, then rotate it up and back, then relax and let it just drop down while it’s at the back) for a couple of weeks, sure enough, my shoulders got used to that new position.

But what I also noticed (and I think this is somewhere in Gokhale’s book, but mostly as an aside?), that my hand positioning changed as well: my hands were aligned parallel to the sides of my body instead of having the backs of my hands facing forward. And, somehow, that seemed more obviously natural to me: of course your hands should be parallel to your sides at rest.


This set off a whole cascade of questions. What in the past caused me to adopt this prior posture? What adjacent areas of my anatomy are relevant to this? Are there situations where you’d actually want your shoulders to be further forward? Are there other examples of more natural positions that I can find?

In terms of adjacent anatomy, the most relevant parts were, unsurprisingly, the top of my back and my neck. Basically, if I hunch forward, then my shoulders will come forward; and, when hunching, it’s also natural for my neck to be forward, and in fact my neck coming forward can cause the shoulder hunching. And this sort of hunching was naturally happening to me all the time in two situations that I found myself in.

One is when sitting at a computer and typing: my hands would be at a keyboard in front of me, instead of at my side, and I’d be looking at a screen, which might subconsciously cause me to move my head forward. And the other is when using a mobile phone, which would lead to my hands in front of me and my head forward so I can look down. I was doing that latter one an awful lot of the time when walking around; walking might in other circumstances cause my body to be moving relatively freely, but I was actively subverting that by the way I was holding my head and arms. And I’ll throw in a third context in there: I read a lot of books, and again I have my arms forward and my head down when doing that.


So yeah, no surprise that my arms had gotten used to being forward, and that that had affected my shoulders and my neck / head. And, looking around, I see tons of people hunched over and with necks stretched out; I suspect that this started getting a lot worse over the last twenty or thirty years as computers have become more popular, and became much much worse as mobile phones have taken over our lives.

It’s not an insuperable barrier. Gokhale has a technique for repositioning your head and neck, so I’m doing that, too, and she also addresses typing and book usage. So, these days, I’m aware of what’s going on and have trained myself to let my arms hang, counting on my forearms to bend my arms to let them access objects in front of me; I can type fine that way, my keyboard is just closer to my body than it had been. And, when reading, I can similarly hold a book with relaxed arms; the neck is harder, but if I look down with my eyes more then I can still read okay. Mobile phone usage is harder still; I have a grab bag of solutions there, but honestly the best one of them is to not use my phone as much, especially while walking!


I was starting Tai Chi at the same time as I read Gokhale’s book; and, sometimes, my teacher would say to round my back, so my shoulders would be forward. At first, this felt like mixed messages to me: my Tai Chi teacher says to round my back, but Gokhale says to keep my shoulders back?

After a bit (and talking this over with one of the other students), I realized that it wasn’t a mixed message at all. My teacher didn’t say to constantly round my back: he said to do that during certain specific moves. And those were moves where you’re doing a pushing motion. So yes, if you want to push at something in front of you, then your arms will be at front, your shoulders will be forward, and you’ll round your back: that’s actually your anatomy all working together! But, if you’re not pushing something in front of you, then you don’t want your arms in front of you, so you’ll have a different shoulder positioning.


The Gokhale Method training helped me (I believe) unlearn some habits that I’d gotten in, to let my body return to different positions as it relaxes more. This is something that happens in Tai Chi, too, and is a key part of the Lotus Nei Gong ideas. In particular, as I do more Tai Chi, shoulder positioning has become something that I explore when doing silk reeling; in several of the silk reeling exercises, I can observe when I’m moving my torso in a way that causes my arms to naturally fall forward. And that’s good! It’s not that it’s bad to have your arms forward: it’s a natural response to certain situations.

But when those situation become too common, it’s a problem: your shoulders end up adopting that forward position as the norm, other parts of your body do as well, and you end up tense and in pain. So I’m glad I became aware of what’s going on, and managed to unlearn that positioning as a bad default habit.

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