Dance

Teaching the Method

A deep pool of knowledge

Esther Gokhale, Founder

Esther Gokhale, Founder

We have an amazing pool of teachers, and I’m extremely proud of every one of them. They have diverse backgrounds and bring all kinds of knowledge, experience, and sensitivity to our Method, which benefits us all–teachers and students, alike. We are constantly tweaking and improving our offerings. Every month we get together via regularly scheduled, continuing-education teleseminars, where I or another expert in a specific area makes a presentation, followed up with a lively discussion. In addition, we stay in regular communication via what we have dubbed the “Teacher Water Cooler.” This is a private collaboration, a place where one teacher might write, “I just reviewed the intake form for ‘Student Y,’ who has this unusual syndrome, plus this and this and this. Any ideas how I might adjust my approach?” Another teacher might offer, “I ran into a cool educational tool the other day,” or, “Check out this interesting video on YouTube, and tell me what you think about its point of view.” So we teachers benefit from an ongoing and very dynamic interaction and, once a year, we gather together for a weekend of hands-on work.

A Gokhale Method Teacher who played a very helpful role in in the early days of our organization, when we most needed assistance, is Roberta Cooks, MD, who helped create a support group for teachers, as well as the teacher peer-review form that established standards against which we could begin to measure and improve teacher skills. She also tackled various writing and editorial projects, pitching in on the ever-evolving teacher training manual, which is now huge, because it covers all aspects of the training in great detail.

A physician who trained as a psychiatrist, Roberta spent much of her medical career in the museum industry, creating health-related exhibitions. Currently she is one of our most active teachers, regularly offering Gokhale Method Foundations courses and one-on-one sessions in and around Philadelphia, where she lives, as well as in New York City; Boulder, Colorado; and in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, in South Florida.

Recently, I checked in with Roberta. Here’s some of what she had to share….

Roberta Cooks and the Gokhale Method–the early days

Roberta Cooks, Gokhale Method Teacher

Roberta Cooks, Gokhale Method Teacher

“Esther was teaching and fine-tuning the Gokhale Method on her own for a long time. Somewhere around 2008, she had arrived at the point where she knew it was important to have more people learning and teaching the Method, and she began to bring on teachers, a few of us at a time. I was one of the first, one of a group of seven or eight. Some of us stayed at Esther’s house, where we worked late into the night, doing our homework and brainstorming ways to boost our own training. Another teacher, Kathleen Marie, and I were especially interested in pursuing this, and—under Esther’s tutelage—we took next steps. On her own, Esther had developed a teacher training manual, but we began to build on this, with the goal of standardizing excellence. Esther was chock full of ideas, of course, but didn’t have the ‘bandwidth’ to develop them all.

As a physician, what particularly struck me when I first read Esther’s 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back was the side-by-side comparison of the spine—the anatomical drawing from a 1911 anatomy book contrasted with a 1990 illustration.

The 1911 anatomical drawing of the spine, on the left, shows a less arched lumbar spine and a less tucked pelvis than the 1990 drawing on the right; the left spine illustrates what's going on inside the straight-sitting Maryland Governor and Congressman, above

The 1911 anatomical drawing of the spine, on the left, shows a less arched lumbar spine and a less tucked pelvis than the 1990 drawing on the right; the left spine illustrates what’s going on inside the straight-sitting Governor/Congressman, just below

Seeing these images, both from American anatomy books, prompted the thought: “This is the ‘black hole.’ No one knows what to do about the huge problem of back pain, so why aren’t we looking back into our own medical textbooks and reflecting on the early photographic record? Why aren’t we acknowledging this pertinent and poignant information?” And I felt I needed to convince other physicians of the common-sense truth of this core element of the Gokhale Method, which of course is only one piece of the evidence that supports Esther’s work.

The healthy stacksitting posture modeled by this Maryland Governor and Congressman is typical of our 19th-century forebears

The healthy stacksitting posture modeled by this Maryland Governor and Congressman is typical of our 19th-century forebears


Museumgoers have been known to try to console Duane Hanson's 1977 'Man On A Bench,' his disconsolate, slouching, vinyl and polychromed body is so hyper-real

Museumgoers have been known to try to console Duane Hanson’s 1977 ‘Man On A Bench,’ his disconsolate, slouching, vinyl and polychromed body is so hyper-real

The dance connection

I dance Tango. In fact, it’s through dance that I first found Esther. My Tango teacher was handing out copies of Esther’s 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back to anyone in the class who had back pain. Pain wasn’t an issue for me, but at the time my sister was experiencing problems with her shoulders, her hip, and her feet. Nothing she was doing was working, so I read Esther’s book and was sufficiently intrigued to seek Esther out. I took a Gokhale Method Foundations Course with Esther and was very impressed by her work and teaching style. I saw how her Method helped students with a variety of health issues and backgrounds. At the end of the course I spoke with Esther and we really hit it off. So I decided to become a Gokhale teacher by going through the teacher training course.

Tango is a "gildewalking" dance

Tango is a “gildewalking” dance

Argentine Tango is a walking dance that has a lot in common with the glidewalking we do in the Gokhale Method. Just as practitioners of the glidewalking technique engage the gluteus medius muscles by sending the back heel into the floor to propel themselves forward, so dancers of the Argentine Tango take the same basic actions. Perhaps you can see in the video just below that in propelling myself forward with the heel of my back foot and my back leg and my engaged gluteus medius muscles, I’m communicating a strong message to my partner to move backwards. My shoulders are rolled back, my rib anchor is engaged, and my partner, who is following, receives most of my ‘information’ from my chest.

So dance was one of the ways Esther and I connected, although “her dance,” as you perhaps know from an earlier blog post and a Gokhale Method online workshop, is the Samba.

Argentine Tango, San Telmo Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires

Argentine Tango, San Telmo Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires

My writing, medical, and museum background

In addition to Tango, I’ve always been interested in self-education and preventive medicine. And I’m a writer; I’ve written a children’s book. These interests, together with my psychiatric medical training and my background designing health-related museum exhibits, are relevant to teaching the Gokhale Method. What’s wonderful about the posture work is not only what we teach, but how we teach it! The Method is so clear and practical. And it’s multisensory, which is essential because we want what we teach to become part of peoples’ bodies. The multifaceted approach is very similar to what I do when designing medical exhibits, where the challenge is to take difficult-to-understand information and make it visual, aural, and very hands-on. I know–and Esther and all our Gokhale Method teacher colleagues well know–that people learn in different ways. That’s why the rich, multimedia training we offer is so effective. Not only is it common-sense practical and intellectually clear, it’s also tactile.

I’ve been designing museum exhibits for a number of years–for example, the first big traveling exhibit on HIV/AIDS, as well as an exhibit on the brain, the heart, and–as shown in these photos–‘the universe inside us’–the cells. What I’ve observed about health education in museums is that people come to theses places, which are much more neutral settings than a medical office or a hospital, absolutely hungry for information. This seemed particularly true with the brain and AIDS exhibits, and I think this is because many people feel frightened or intimidated by medical settings, which makes it difficult for them to process what they’re being told.

One of the projects I directed and developed was the Maryland Science Center's permanent and traveling exhibit 'Cells: The Universe Inside Us'

One of the projects I directed and developed was the Maryland Science Center’s permanent and traveling exhibit ‘Cells: The Universe Inside Us’

I share these pieces of my professional biography, because the diversity of my experience provides a great foundation for the Gokhale Method work at hand.

Hands-on, highly visual, and interactive exhibits like the one shown here offer a multisensory learning experience--this is what the Gokhale Method offers, too

Hands-on, highly visual, and interactive exhibits like the one shown here offer a multisensory learning experience–this is what the Gokhale Method offers, too

 

Healthy posture can positively impact the universe inside us

Healthy posture can positively impact the universe inside us

The mind-body connection–wellbeing and healthy posture

I have seen some very positive psychological changes in people I’ve taught, and the improvement in the outlook of many of my posture students is one of the reasons that I find teaching the Gokhale Method to be so satisfying and joyful. Research has shown that there are biochemical advantages to being physically open, with shoulders rolled back and chest open–as opposed to standing with arms crossed and shoulders hunched–and my own experience confirms that posture can be a complementary wellness approach to psychological conditions. And what surprised me initially–and what I still find delightful, today–is how quickly these positive effects so often happen!

It’s not unusual when I’m teaching the Foundations Course for one student to say to another as early as the second day, ‘You look like a completely different person.’ In a class I just taught in Florida, a massage-therapist student who had participated in the free class and returned to the Foundations Course, told me: ‘After I learned the shoulder roll and then worked with my clients, I felt so much more open to the world.’

Might stretchlying, with shoulders rolled back and chest open, alter this fellow's sense of wellbeing?

Might stretchlying, with shoulders rolled back and chest open, alter this fellow’s sense of wellbeing?

Again, even though I’m not working directly on the psychological state of my posture students, I see positive results that are in the psychological realm. People with healthy posture tend to have a more positive body image. Practicing healthy posture, which requires us to be present in the moment, can also be an effective way of quieting the mind.

Yet another thing I know from my teaching of the Gokhale Method, as well as from my own experience as an individual with rheumatoid arthritis, is that by having a better understanding of my body and by knowing how to protect my muscles, joints, and skeletal system to prevent pain–all these things give me actual greater control over my health. This is such a rich topic, because I also know, both professionally and personally, that feelings of helplessness–a loss of control over one’s life–represent one of life’s biggest stressors!

Small groups

Another strength of the Gokhale Method is that classes are taught in small groups, which to my way of thinking is a wonderful way to teach people, many of whom are not comfortable with their bodies, or are feeling frightened or are in pain. Not only does the small-group approach enable teachers to do hands-on work with each individual, it encourages students to learn from one another, and to form a kind of community. The Method is a practical, step-by-step educational model, not a medical model, and in a small group this becomes a very powerful way to learn.

The rewards of teaching the Gokhale Method

When, as a prospective teacher, I signed on for Gokhale Method teacher training, I first needed to take the Foundations Course, and then I needed to find someone willing to work with me. I chose my cooperative sister!  At the time, she was having difficulties with hip, shoulder and foot pain. She had been going to health professionals for several years with no relief. ‘I was at my wit’s end,’ she said, when we recently reminisced about this. ‘It was so amazing to me that, after years of getting no relief through the usual channels, learning this method from you–my sister–could make such a positive difference.’

With most of her hip, shoulder, and foot problems resolved over the course of my teacher training, she was able to go back to biweekly Jazzercise classes that she still enjoys today. After working with my sister, I taught two people at once, then four people, then six–until I graduated my way up to teaching small-group classes.

My sister was my first student! Here, when we were pre-teens, it seems I was already encouraging her to roll back her shoulders

My sister was my first student! Here, when we were pre-teens, it seems I was already encouraging her to roll back her shoulders

A teacher-centric organization

While the 8-step fundamentals of teaching the Gokhale Method have remained essentially the same, Esther has ensured that teachers’ skills, energy, and time are leveraged by technology, and that the company stays cutting-edge. For example, teachers now use an iPhone app that makes it possible for us to take before-and-after pictures of our students and upload them in real-time to the private, secure, student-portion of the Gokhale Method website. Uploading these images straight from the classroom triggers an email to the student, so that as students walk out the door after completing a Foundations Course, an email alerting them to private (for their eyes only) class photos is waiting in their inbox.

Instant  access to these before-and-after photos is a powerful tool for students, in part because so many enter the classes wondering, ‘How am I ever going to change in such short period of time?’ And, with the before-and-after photos, they can see what a difference the training has made, even if they’ve taken an intensive course over a single weekend. The before-and-after photos also remain a valuable tool for students long after they have completed the coursework.

Also advantageous to both students and teachers is the ease with which student histories are privately, securely, and  instantly shared via the Method’s electronic educational record. This allows for uniformity across Gokhale Method training and continuity for students. Just now, for example, I taught a student in Florida who had been taught by my fellow-teacher Kathleen, which means that prior to my meeting with her I could access private information about her case and be prepared.

Also hugely helpful is the student intake form. When students sign up online or call the Palo Alto office, they complete a form that provides teachers with need-to-know information. This creates a link between individual students and teachers prior to their meeting. Gokhale Method teachers have access to only their students’ intake form, although, via the Teachers’ Water Cooler, we can reach out to our colleagues for additional expert input on unusual or particular cases. In these ways–and more–technology makes us stronger. We have the support of the entire teacher community, including Esther. And of course there are advantages to teaching–and learning–in a franchise where there is uniformity of high standards.

To sum up, I love being a teacher of the Gokhale Method, because it gives me back so much. To help people get to the root of their pain and posture problems, without imposing risks–to make such a difference in peoples’ lives by putting the practical power to heal into their own hands and teaching them to problem-solve significant challenges in their lives–well, it’s just incredibly rewarding.

If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at teachers@gokhalemethod.com. The Gokhale Method Institute is not able to satisfy student demand in a number of places in the US, Canada, and abroad and would love to have more qualified teachers join us.”  – See more at: http://gokhalemethod.com/blog/56476#sthash.dpLoglOm.dpuf
Here, I help a Gokhale Method student anchor his ribs

Here, I help a Gokhale Method student anchor his ribs

Inclined to teach?

If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at teachers@gokhalemethod.com. At present, the Gokhale Method Institute is not able to satisfy student demand in a number of places in the US, Canada, and abroad, and we would love to have more qualified teachers join us.”

If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at teachers@gokhalemethod.com. The Gokhale Method Institute is not able to satisfy student demand in a number of places in the US, Canada, and abroad and would love to have more qualified teachers join us.”  – See more at: http://gokhalemethod.com/blog/56476#sthash.2CM0onMl.dpuf
If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at teachers@gokhalemethod.com. The Gokhale Method Institute is not able to satisfy student demand in a number of places in the US, Canada, and abroad and would love to have more qualified teachers join us.”  – See more at: http://gokhalemethod.com/blog/56476#sthash.5inZDSEu.dpuf
If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at teachers@gokhalemethod.com. The Gokhale Method Institute is not able to satisfy student demand in a number of places in the US, Canada, and abroad and would love to have more qualified teachers join us.”  – See more at: http://gokhalemethod.com/blog/56476#sthash.2CM0onMl.dpuf
If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at teachers@gokhalemethod.com. The Gokhale Method Institute is not able to satisfy student demand in a number of places in the US, Canada, and abroad and would love to have more qualified teachers join us.”  – See more at: http://gokhalemethod.com/blog/56476#sthash.5inZDSEu.dpuf

 

Teaching the Gokhale Method is incredibly rewarding--it gives so much back

Teaching the Gokhale Method is incredibly rewarding–it gives so much back

 

If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at teachers@gokhalemethod.com. The Gokhale Method Institute is not able to satisfy student demand in a number of places in the US, Canada, and abroad and would love to have more qualified teachers join us.”  – See more at: http://gokhalemethod.com/blog/56476#sthash.dpLoglOm.dpuf
If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at teachers@gokhalemethod.com. The Gokhale Method Institute is not able to satisfy student demand in a number of places in the US, Canada, and abroad and would love to have more qualified teachers join us.”  – See more at: http://gokhalemethod.com/blog/56476#sthash.dpLoglOm.dpuf
If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at teachers@gokhalemethod.com. The Gokhale Method Institute is not able to satisfy student demand in a number of places in the US, Canada, and abroad and would love to have more qualified teachers join us.”  – See more at: http://gokhalemethod.com/blog/56476#sthash.2CM0onMl.dpuf

 

Image Credits:
All photos and video of Roberta Cooks, MD, courtesy of Roberta Cooks
Maryland Governor and Congressman Thomas Swann, public domain, Library of Congress

Duane Hanson’s ‘Man on A Bench,’ Wikimedia Commons
Three photos of Maryland Science Center Exhibit, Assemble, courtesy of Roberta Cooks
Buenos Aires Argentine Tango, Helge Høifødt, Wikipedia
Psychotherapy Session, Wikimedia Commons

 

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Samba your way to beautiful ‘glutes’

I love to Samba and if you don’t yet, I invite you to join me in an online video workshop October 21 at 4PM Pacific Time, where we will practice and master the very first steps.

Why Samba?

Apart from the fun, the exercise, and the infectious music that’s central to this Afro-Brazilian dance form, I endorse Samba as a way to promote healthy posture. Among its many benefits, Samba dancing:

  • Involves a lot of lateral motion, something especially needed in our culture, where so many of us tend to move forward and backward much more than we move from side to side.
  • Engages the gluteal muscles, including the gluteus medius, which–though vitally important to so many kinds of natural movements–are underdeveloped or even “fast asleep” in too many people throughout the developed world.

If  you’re still not persuaded to join our Samba Steps workshop, watch even just a couple of minutes of this 4-minute video, and I’ll wager that many of you will accept my invitation to dance.

Samba de Roda

What you just saw was a marvelous demonstration of Samba de Roda, or “Samba in the round,” which features solo dancers surrounded by musicians and other dancers, singing and clapping and sequentially inviting others to take their turn. An aspect of this form of Samba that holds special appeal as the basis for a training workshop is that learning involves a great deal of observation and imitation, and that those with relatively less skill are among those in the circle invited to join in.

Also appealing is the fact that not only are the dancers’ feet, calves, legs, hips, and abdomens constantly working, their gluteus medius muscles are also fully engaged. So much so, that before we start dancing I’d like to highlight this important pair of muscles.

To engage, or not to engage (the gluteus medius)…

…can there by any question?

Ubong tribesmen

Ubong tribesmen

Even when considered from the pure-vanity standpoint of having an attractive, perky derriere, my guess is that most of us would favor the Ubong tribesmen’s gluteus medius muscles, which can easily be seen in the upper, outer quadrant of their buttocks just below their cloth belts, to the clothed and apparently less distinctive gluteus medius muscles in the photo, below.

No butts about it...develop...engage!

No butts about it…develop…engage!

What accounts for this “flat butt” look is the fact that these important muscles are underdeveloped and not engaged.

What are the gluteus medius and why develop them?

The gluteus medius play an essential role in all kinds of natural movement, including walking, glidewalking, running, and samba dancing. In particular, these muscles:

  • Help keep the pelvis level on the hip joint of the weight-bearing leg. (Without the gluteus medius, we would take a step and then sink.)
  • Are essential to holding the pelvis in the anteverted, or tipped forward, position. (This is essential because the pelvis serves as our foundation stone; when its inappropriately tucked in, the rest of the body cannot properly stack, and posture and pain problems ensue.)
  • Are essential to gait and facilitate “soft landings” when we walk. (Unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors who lightly, quietly tread when hunting prey, too many of us thump around, including to and from the fridge.)
The gluteus medius muscles are shown in red

The gluteus medius muscles are shown in red

A couple of other reasons, which we will only touch on here, but will explore in future posts, relate to two painful disorders that arise, at least in part, out of underdeveloped or suboptimally performing gluteus medius muscles:

In a nutshell, a growing body of evidence indicates that gluteal medius health strongly correlates to knee health. If you have good strength in your gluteus medius, your knees will be in better shape, and PFPS is less likely to afflict you. Similarly, if your pelvis is appropriately oriented and your gluteus medius muscles are doing their job, the piriformis muscles, which lie directly beneath the gluteus medius, won’t have to pick up the slack and, due to suboptimal orientation or hypertrophy, impinge on the sciatic nerve, which exits the pelvis just underneath.

One technique to locate the gluteus medius is to raise your leg back and up and turned out

One technique to locate the gluteus medius is to raise your leg back and up and turned out

How to locate and engage your gluteus medius and practice basic Samba Steps

  1. Identify your gluteus medius as shown in the above photo. Once you feel where this muscle is, step away from the chair.
  2. Now, take a small step back with your right leg, press your heel into the ground, straighten your right leg, and squeeze the gluteus medius muscle in the upper, outer quadrant of your buttock until you can feel with your hand how hard it is.
  3. When your right gluteus medius is engaged, hold this position for a beat.
  4. Return to your starting position by moving your right leg forward.
  5. Now, go through the same motions with your left leg.
  6. Practice these steps, alternating right and left legs, until the squeezing of your gluteus medius becomes natural and familiar.

800px-Luíza_Brunet_Imperatriz_2008

Samba Steps Video Workshop

While you will get a lot out of the workshop by simply participating, a fun and helpful way to prepare is to watch one or more of the following Samba YouTubes, each highlighting slightly different aspects and methods.

What’s really helpful about this first video is that the dancer starts with pre-Samba steps, emphasizing the back and forth movement of the hips. Keep in mind that there are many varieties of Samba, and that this dancer demonstrates just one style. My only cautionary note about this demonstration and the one that immediately follows is that the dancers slightly arch their upper lumbar regions in a way that’s not ideal.

Apart from the occasional sound of wind in the microphone, the second video is worth watching because it offers another lesson in the basic Samba step–this time with music.

The third video also highlights a very basic Samba step very similar to the one just above, but the dancer does so without swaying her back. Another nice feature of this video is that the dancer varies the speed of the Samba steps, starting slowly and then picking up the pace to the point where the Samba becomes attractive.

Because some of you might be inspired by pure music, I also suggest that if time permits you check out some of my favorite Sambistas:

And if you join me for our Samba Steps video workshop, I’ll share these and other favorites with you. You can register here.

Photo and Video Credits:
Samba de Roda YouTube, pousadamorrodesaopaulo.net
Ubong Tribesmen, Esther Gokhale
Gluteus Medius Anatomical Drawing, Wikimedia Commons
Esther Engages Her Gluteus Medius, Gokhale Method Institute
S
amba Dancer, Wikimedia Commons
Samba Steps, Youtube, sambabody.com
Learn Samba with Gianne Abbot, Bella Moda Brazil
Basic Samba Footwork, Michele Bastos