By Esther Gokhale, L.Ac., with Susan Adams

Review by Scott Keith

Back pain is a huge, and growing, problem in the United States. At some point, nearly all of us will experience the discomfort associated with a sore back. And don’t think it’s just an issue for baby boomers.

You would think that modern medicine has all the answers to back pain. True, there will always be medical advances. But a women, who has been involved in integrative therapies throughout her career, says you need to examine other cultures to gather clues as to why our poor habits often lead to back pain.

Esther Gokhale has written a book, along with Susan Adams, that is both instructional and entertaining. “Eight Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Remember When it Didn’t Hurt” guides the reader through a non-surgical approach to treating back pain.

Gokhale presents eight lessons, starting with what she calls “stretchsitting.” Gokhale writes, this simple but powerful technique will not only give you a comfortable way to sit, but also help undo some of the damage caused by years of hunching or swaying. The idea behind stretchsitting, according to Gokhale, is to lengthen your spine against the back of a chair. Other lessons include “stacksitting,” “stretchlying,” and “tallstanding.” Gokhale was inspired to create her Gokhale Method after seeing the world and observing various cultures. Her book is visually stimulating, complete with many colorful photos of how men and women in other lands perform necessary day-to-day functions while maintaining a proper posture.

In an interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, Gokhale, who once suffered from a herniated disc, says “there are whole populations who have something like a five percent incidence of back pain, compared with our 85 percent. It’s not that they’re genetically superior, it’s the way they’re using their bodies.” Gokhale says her back problem, which started in the ninth month of pregnancy with her first child, did not respond to physical therapy, acupuncture or other remedies. Eventually, she underwent surgery. A couple of years later, despite an exercise regimen, Gokhale developed the same back problem.

Gokhale felt discouraged after being offered a second surgery and sprang into action with a self-help program. She says she was forced to cast a very wide net and think outside the box. The solution “turned out to be in the techniques that people in traditional cultures used in everyday life.” Gokhale solved her own back problems by studying and mimicking these techniques, traveling the world and researching medical literature. Once she was feeling better, Gokhale decided to bring these techniques to her patients, because she was already a practicing acupuncturist.

“In our culture, going back in time, we used to have a much lower incidence of back pain as well, and that’s also documented in the medical literature,” says Gokhale. In her book, you’ll see some rather ancient black and white photos of men and women who appear to be sitting in a rigid position. In actuality, according to Gokhale, these people were sitting with a healthy baseline length in their back muscles. A great example of what we can learn from our ancestors.

The eight-step method, says Gokhale, can help many parts of the body. “It’s really about changing and improving structure. And that’s true for the entire muscular-skeletal system. I could as well have called the book Eight Steps to Pain-Free Feet.” Her method is also important for physiological health. Gokhale says when you change your structure, you’ll develop better circulation and better digestion. You’ll even breathe better. “I don’t focus on this when I describe the course, but people come back to report to me that their chronic constipation has gone away, that their urinary incontinence is better, their menstrual cramps no longer affect them…their energy levels are much higher,”says Gokhale.

When it comes to back pain, Gokhale says don’t give up. “Look back in time, to your ancestors, look at all the cultures, and think back to how things were for you when you were a little kid. Revisit your assumptions around back pain, around spinal shape, around the best exercises to help you. Look for a solution…it’s out there.”

227 pages. Pendo Press. $24.95. Available at, Barnes and Noble, Borders and independent book stores.

Visit Esther Gokhale at