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Gokhale and the Paleo-Fantasy: A Rebuttal

This NPR article has been popping up in all of my social media over the last 24 hours.

It’s an interesting concept but not a particularly new one.

Essentially the author, Esther Gokhale, traveled to differing parts of the third world seeking out indigenous populations.

She did this in search of a cure for her long standing low back pain.

What she found was that indigenous cultures across the world had some consistent characteristics.

The main one being that they had what she described as a J-spine, instead of an S-spine.

That is that the pelvis of indigenous cultures roll forward and the rest of their spine is straight.

And in the authors interactions she claims that no one has low back pain (I strongly doubt this).

The 2 tips that the author provides is to regularly roll ones shoulders and to practice being taller via breath.

This book does not claim to be backed by large clinical studies but proof is in the relief people have by practicing these techniques.

I would contend that anyone that has done pilates or yoga, martial arts or dance, Feldenkrais or Alexander Technique from a place of inactivity and lack of fitness, would also claim the wonders of their chose movement modality.

But my other issue is our society’s perpetual paleo-fantasy.

From diet to exercise we all assume that whatever is old, whatever our distant ancestors did is better than what we do now.

And in some circumstances it may be true, but unless large studies are conducted, how can we know?

And in a counter argument, I worked and traveled through Bangladesh in 2012.

A lot of the people I worked with, consulted and treated, suffered low back pain.

Which for me at the time I thought was madness. I had always assumed that people that spent a lot of their time squatting would have no low back pain.

And rural Bangladeshi’s spend a lot of time squatting, they squat on the toilet, they squat to clean, they squat to cook, they squat to have a quick durrie waiting for the bus… they squat… a lot.

And yet working one village particularly I saw more cases of spinal stenosis, disc damage and peripheral leg pain related to the low back than I did in an entire year of suburban practice.

Now obviously this is just my experience. But this J-spine related to a lack of back pain is also just the author’s experience.

Conclusion–> maybe the gains that people have got as a result of doing this movement modality is a result of moving differently, of breathing differently, of actually thinking about how they move their bodies?

Is that a bad thing? No

Is this the be all and end all of back pain? No

What’s the answer? Move.

Move widely and broadly in a variety of ways. Move under load, move without load, move sideways, move in rotation, move smoothly, move with conscious engagement.

Move with fun.

Errol St Osteo: Breaking Complex Messages Into One Word Since 2014.


The article discussed can be found at

Posted in : How the Body Works
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