A deep pool of knowledge
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
“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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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!
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.
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.
Inclined to teach?
If you are interested in learning more about what’s involved in teacher training, please check in with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.”
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