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Teaching My 95-Year-Old Lithuanian Mom the Gokhale Method, Part 1

May, 2020


Lithuania, 1957: my parents' wedding day.

Everyone in this photograph reflects effortless elegance and poise. Notice that their shoulders are resting toward the back of their torsos, and their necks and backs are elongated; very different from the modern "chin up, chest out, thrust your pelvis forward” stance. This photograph was taken on my parents’ wedding day. My mom and dad are on the left. Healthy posture has contributed pain-free living (musculoskeletally speaking) well into my mom’s advanced years. She didn't have aches and pains until my dad passed away, two years ago.

Resolving knee and leg pain
My mom is very gentle, yet she can be stubborn! Despite recent complaints of leg and knee pain at night, she was adamant that she did not need Gokhale Method instruction. At 95 years old, she said she was too old to change and had no time for “such things.”

However, I could see that when she used the stairs a lot, her pain would increase. In the end, she consented to instruction — and subsequently reported diminished leg pain, and increased stability in walking.

We know that leg pain can be local and/or referred from the low back. To address the legs and knees locally, I showed her parts of the glidewalking technique. To help take the pressure off her back, I taught her stretchsitting and stretchlying on the back.


Knee pain can sometimes result from posture issues. Image courtesy Dr. Manuel González Reyes on Pixabay.

Foot grab and bum squeeze
Weak arch muscles can cause the feet to pronate, which is the case for my mom. Pronation pulls the leg in, creating misalignment in ankle, knee and hip joints. Notice the white arrows in the photos below, showing my mom's legs and the feet moving in dramatically different directions. No wonder when she goes up and down the stairs, her symptoms flare up!


My mom's usual way of climbing stairs pulls her femur and foot in two different directions.


She experiences the issue on both sides.

The solution was to incorporate glidewalking elements with every step on a new stair. I taught her to grab the floor with the foot and squeeze the bum (same side) with every step. This engages the foot and glute muscles and reshapes the leg and foot into healthier architecture and articulation. See my mom make this change in the photos below. Notice how her thigh bones and feet are now aligned!


After incorporating Gokhale Method techniques, my mom's femur and foot on each side are now aligned while climbing stairs.


Learning glidewalking was key for helping my mom recalibrate her stair-climbing technique.

After addressing her legs and knees locally with glidewalking, we helped take pressure off her back with stretchsitting and stretchlying.

Stretchsitting
My mom loves to decompress her back by stretchsitting in the Gokhale Pain-Free™ Chair. She lengthens her back against the backrest and maintains a gentle traction while she sits. Moreover, a Gokhale-style shoulder roll helps open her chest and decrease hunching on top. With a history of chronic bronchitis and heart issues, this small gesture supports these organs with more space and better orientation. Quite a contrast to her “before” sitting photo!


Above, my mom’s “before” photo sitting in a typical chair, with hunched shoulders and a rounded upper back. Compare with her "after" photo below.

    
Here, my mom uses a Gokhale Pain-Free Chair to stretchsit, effecting gentle traction in her spine, and positions her shoulders with a shoulder roll to gently open the chest.

Stretchlying on the back
Finally, we learned stretchlying on the back as another practical way to decompress the low back, illustrated below. Once the spine is lengthened by stretching, it is supported with strategically positioned pillows. A pillow under the shoulders/head elevates the upper torso and flattens any sway in the low back. A second pillow under the knees relieves pressure in the low back by relaxing the psoas. She now has a relaxed, lengthened back while she sleeps.


This sketch shows how stretchlying helps gently lengthen the spine.

Results
My mom now stretchsits and stretchlies easily on her own. Walking and taking the stairs continue to be works in progress but she is already very pleased with the results. With diminished pain she sleeps better and has more energy. Hands-on instruction does help things stick! In fact, she is now enthusiastic to learn more Gokhale Method techniques.

While we all await a return to in-person teaching, you can schedule an Online Initial Consultation with one of several qualified online teachers to begin individual posture coaching and begin learning these techniques (and more!) yourself.

To be continued!

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Comments

What a lovely article and effective intervention. The photos with the arrows on the legs help us to see the problems and the concepts so clearly. Their wedding day picture is so elegant. Thank you Aurelia.  

Thank you, Susan! I am so glad you enjoyed it.

Best,

Aurelia

I am 80 and have osteoarthritis in my knees. I used to have pain when I walked up and down stairs. Years ago I started walking sideways up and down stairs. That has worked. Also, it strengthns the muscles on the inside and outside of my knees.  Thanks you so much for all your wonderful information.

Hello  Janic,

I am so glad you found a way to work around your knee problem. And what a great way- you still are using the stairs and strengthening your muscles, yay!

Best,

Aurelia

 

Aurelia I am so grateful for you writing this article.  I just found my 85 year old Mother's pictures of when she represented the city of Alton in a "beauty pageant" and wow was her posture divine. (I will upload a picture in another comment) She knew how to carry herself well then.  But what happened over the years?

Fortunately, I took a Gokhale Method Pop Up Course in November 2019 in Austin with Esther Gokhale and Monisha White and am practicing the techniques they taught me in the class. I currently Glidewalk with my Mom everyday.  I have taken pictures and videos of her while she is walking. She can barely walk 10 minutes without complaining of low back pain. However, she has dementia and I am afraid that if I try to share her a new style of walking it will not be retained.

I suppose that this experience of seeing my mom hunched over and her foot patterns at the very least serves me as a reminder of what I don't want to do.  Still I wish I could help her.  Susan

 

 

Hello Susan,

 I would love to see your mom's Beauty Pageant photo, yes, please do share! There is so much body wisdom in old photographs. It is always a treat to see beautiful, healthy, posture.

I am sorry to hear about your mom's back. It is tricky when someone has dementia. Perhaps she can remember one or two small things?

You are right about the value of bad example; it can be a good trigger to check  and correct oneself.

Warmly,

Aurelia

   Wow, is that encouraging, to know that there is help that can really make a difference age of 95!

   As a care-giver who often sees the elderly stooped over walkers etc. I wondered how much could actually be done.

   Everything is so much about early intervention these days, I even wondered about how much could be done

   to help highschoolers with mental dissabilities.  I don't mean they couldn't improve physically.  But can those with

   severe mental disabilities  or  the elderly LEARN new ways of moving that stay with them?    Seeing your mother, 

   give me so much hope!

Hello Rayna,

I am so glad you found this little article hopeful.

We, the teachers at the Gokhale Method, are used to seeing people of all ages make progress :-)  My mom was genuinly surprised at the difference the GM made in her life. The hard part was convincing her to give it a try!

Significant dementia however, is an impediment- our students need to understand concepts and remember techniques.  Other than that, I believe it is never too late! 

Sincerely,

Aurelia

Hi Esther, hi everybody,

I feel really touched, that you share this very personal experiance about your lovely  elderly mom with us.

What a difference of appearance! Even at her age she looks so good when she does stretch sitting. You can´t tell that there is any kind dementia, too

Take care

Maria

Thank you, Maria!

Wonderful pictures and motivation.

I think your mom is my new role model.

Thanks for the wonderful article, Aurelia

Thank you, Elizabeth!

I showed your comment to my mom and she was pleased as punch! My mom says- Thank you!

And I remember the photograph you showed me of you and your grandfather (in his 80's?), sitting beautifully on the floor.

Cheers to good role models and good health!

Aurelia

I learned recently about muscle memory, which is not conscious.  It happens when learning a piece of music, a dance or any particular movement.  When it has been practised many times, the muscles themselves seem to remember the movement and will repeat it when needed. Once we can walk we don't need to think about it anymore.  I don't know if that would help someone with dementia or not - I imagine the challenge would be in getting the person to do it, and then practice it....  Learning anything new is slower and  harder the older one gets, not to mention if one has dementia!