An Indigenous Tribe Taught Her The Cure For Back Pain. This Is What She Learned

June 8, 2015

Esther Gokhale of Palo Alto, California, has struggled with back pain her entire life. Determined to find a natural cure, she spent years studying indigenous tribes where back pain hardly exists.

the key to curing back pain naturally tribes
Credit: IFAD

Gokhale spent 10 years visiting cultures around the world that live far away from modern life.

"I have a picture in my book of these two women who spend seven to nine hours everyday, bent over, gathering water chestnuts," Gokhale told NPR. "They're quite old. But the truth is they don't have a back pain."

She noticed the shape of their spines was different from western civilization's -  instead of an "S" shape, they had more of a "J" shape. This same "J" shape is what you see in old paintings, ancient Greek statues, and young children.

the key to curing back pain naturally tribes
Courtesy of Esther Gokhale and Ian Mackenzie/Nomads of the Dawn

Gokhale worked on achieving this "J" shape and her back pain has disappeared. Now she helps clients across the country relieve their pain, including big names like YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, NPR reports. She gives classes at some of the world's biggest companies including Google and Facebook.

So how can you achieve this "J" shaped spine? Gokhale recommends these exercises while you're working at your desk, sitting at the dinner table or walking around:

1. Do a shoulder roll.

Americans tend to scrunch their shoulders forward, so our arms are in front of our bodies. That's not how people in indigenous cultures carry their arms, Gokhale says. To fix that, gently pull your shoulders up, push them back and then let them drop - like a shoulder roll. Now you're arms should dangle by your side, with your thumbs pointing out. "This is the way all your ancestors parked their shoulders," she says. "This is a natural architecture for our species."

2. Lengthen your spine.

Adding extra length to your spine is easy, Gokhale says. Being careful not to arch your back, take a deep breath in and grow tall. Then maintain that height as you exhale. Repeat: Breathe in, grow even taller and maintain that new height as you exhale. "It takes some effort, but it really strengthens your abdominal muscles," Gokhale says.

3. Squeeze, squeeze your glute muscles when you walk.

In many indigenous cultures, people squeeze their gluteus medius muscles (situated on the outer surface of the pelvis) every time they take a step. That's one reason they have such shapely buttocks muscles that support their lower backs. Gokhale says you can start developing the same type of derriere by tightening the buttocks muscles when you take each step. "The gluteus medius is the one you're after here. It's the one high up on your bum," Gokhale says. "It's the muscle that keeps you perky, at any age."

4. Don't put your chin up

Instead, add length to your neck by taking a lightweight object, like a bean bag or folded washcloth, and balance it on the top of your crown. Try to push your head against the object. "This will lengthen the back of your neck and allow your chin to angle down - not in an exaggerated way, but in a relaxed manner," Gokhale says.

5. Don't sit up straight!

"That's just arching your back and getting you into all sorts of trouble," Gokhale says. Instead do a shoulder roll to open up the chest and take a deep breath to stretch and lengthen the spine.


The key is to be active, pay attention to your posture, and build your core muscles. Americans are much less active than people in traditional cultures which promotes a lack of muscle tone and a lack of postural stability because the muscles get weak. It's not just the "J" shape - it's what goes into creating the "J" shape that's the key to Gokhale's success.

(H/T) NPR. Learn more at

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