My name is Sheila Bond, and I am the mother of four sweet kids, an artist, a knit and jewelry designer, and a private art teacher. In this blog post I would like to share with you my Gokhale Method® journey out of pain and despair.
Photo of me after my second disc herniation in seven years.
On May 6, 2022, I severely herniated the spinal disc between my L4/L5 vertebrae. In addition I had developed bursitis in my left hip during the previous three months, I believe from sitting improperly teaching online classes.
It happened on the Friday before Mother’s Day. By Saturday morning I could barely move and thought I might die or at the very least never recover. I ordered a TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, a mild electrical current to give pain relief) from Walgreens, and bought Salonpas patches and a walking cane. I took three Advil and two extra strength Tylenol alternating every six hours.
I had previously herniated my L4/L5 in 2015, and had a laminectomy (a surgical operation to remove part of the back of vertebrae, usually to relieve pressure on nerves.) That surgery had left me in terrible pain. When I told the surgeon I was still in pain in my tailbone/sacrum area, he told me he could remove my tailbone. I declined. Following surgery, I also went to physical therapy for a year and a half, but it gave me more pain than it took away.
My MRI from January 2015, showing my first L4/L5 herniation (red arrow).
My MRI from May 2022, showing my second L4/L5 herniation. I was particularly disturbed by the amount of tissue damage in the area after my first surgery (circled in blue).
It wasn’t until five years later when I discovered a traditional Chinese acupuncturist that I found any real relief in that area. During that timespan I was also diagnosed with EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder), and discovered that I consequently had a hypermobile sacrum that was prone to dislocation.
Returning to May 2022, I was in denial that it could be my spine and insisted it must be my hip causing the electrifying pain that ran all the way from my hip to my foot. I thought maybe it was something wrong with the joint. I just really didn’t want it to be my spine again. On Monday, May 9, I finally agreed to go to the ER after hearing that my GP could not squeeze me in.
The electrifying pain ran all the way from my hip to my foot.
At the ER they gave me an IV, Valium and Fentanyl. It barely touched the pain, and only for an hour, and then they’d give me more. They did an MRI of my back and an X-ray of my hip. After about four hours they sent me home with the diagnosis of a severely herniated disc and bursitis in my hip. They gave me 10 Vicodin pain pills, 30 muscle relaxants, and a package of steroids and told me to see an orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon.
The ER room looked bleak, just like my state of mind.
The pain continued. I couldn’t dress myself. I could barely move or function at all. I called the orthopedic surgeon the next day who said my hip didn’t need an operation since the problem was bursitis, and that I should see a spinal surgeon or a neurosurgeon. I did not as I was so scared by my last experience. (I didn’t take the steroids either.) Instead, on May 12, I headed three hours away with my youngest kid in tow to see an acupuncturist who specialized in chronic pain and spinal injuries.
There was severe weather on my agonizing 3 hour drive to seek help. But I was desperate—and determined.
The acupuncturist recommended daily treatment so I checked into a hotel. She told me all my L1-L5 discs were not doing well. After five days of treatment, I experienced some pain relief, but sadly I tripped on my cane and fell into a wall, reversing any healing done. The pain then became so bad that I felt as though I was being constantly electrocuted. I couldn’t sleep. I drew and painted from my bed trying to explain what I was feeling.
I tried to communicate my experience visually.
I am the main breadwinner for my family and I really could not miss work. I tried to teach my private Zoom art classes, but standing and sitting were both unbearable. I forced myself to teach some of them and rescheduled others. My birthday was on the 22nd and I felt like I was on my deathbed. I am used to being the one to care for others, so this was a terrible place for me to be.
I felt so bad for all my kids. I took the youngest one, who was with me, to the zoo, but had to use an electric wheelchair. I took the prescribed Vicodin and muscle relaxants to make it through, but still had to keep changing positions, fighting the pain. Some of the time I couldn’t even hold the steering wheel to make the wheelchair go, and then my kid would offer to steer for me. We didn’t stay long.
This video shows a GIF I made from two drawings to express the pain I experienced.
My sweet sister Aileen who lived states away was worried about me. She had recovered from back pain having worked with Esther Gokhale in California, and told me Esther could help me and sent me the Gokhale Method website. From my hotel bed she and my father helped me to sign up for the 18-session online Elements course.
Before meeting Esther Gokhale I tried. . .
Lowering my chair
Gentle safe stretches
B and C vitamins, zinc
Short walks every day
Heat wrap around calf
Gentle and slow motion
Hot baths with Epsom salts
Trying to correct my posture myself
Hand massage of my leg muscles, daily
Inversion table—horrible, won’t do it again
Acupuncture—two weeks of daily treatment
Herbal tea from my acupuncturist and herbalist
I met Esther on May 24 from my hotel room over Zoom. Esther was kind and gentle, and confident that she could help me. I couldn’t sit so Esther guided me to a position lying on the floor with my feet in a chair—that relieved enough of the pain so we could talk. We set up the sessions to begin on May 31. It was so hard to take the before-course posture photos.
From the very first Elements lesson I found some relief. It was small gains at first, but I could tell the difference. I was in so much pain even the littlest movements were hard. The tiniest shifts helped a lot. I hadn’t slept well in so long.
Esther thought pain medication might be helpful to assist me though the sessions. Finally in the middle of June I went to see the neurosurgeon. I carried with me my copy of 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back. I told him I had been having private posture lessons with Esther Gokhale—I had done five at that point. He hadn’t heard of the Gokhale Method, and, as he could see that my herniation was pressing against my spinal nerves, he wanted to do surgery immediately. I told him I wanted to continue to try to heal myself, and that I wanted to try pain medication to support that. He couldn’t believe I had held on so long in my condition, and I think he realized my strength and conviction. He made an appointment for a spinal injection in two weeks’ time (which I never had) and prescribed me the second strongest Percocets available.
I took the pain medication for only three-to-four days as they made me nauseous, but it was long enough to give me some relief and I was able to do more during our posture sessions. Each session gave me a posture gem that I needed to know. I practiced over Zoom with Esther, and by myself in between our sessions. It was amazing to me that I was learning how to heal myself and avoid pain.
Today I find myself returning to making joyful and more optimistic drawings like this sketch of a tree, looking skyward.
Things really began to shift for me about a third of the way through the course. When Esther taught me standing, I changed my stance by kidney-bean shaping my feet, externally rotating my legs, and relaxing my pelvis and belly, allowing my behind to be behind me. I’ve had four kids, and had gotten used to holding tension and trying not to let my belly show. I had become scared to move out of my “locked up” position for fear of more pain. After learning how to relax into a healthy standing posture, a huge percentage of the back pain dissipated.
Around mid-July, halfway through Elements, we started learning to glidewalk. This brought another huge shift, as my searing leg pain finally started to recede. I had admired my sister’s strong, smooth way of walking since she had taken the in-person Foundations Course, and now I too was learning how to keep my back heel down, and to land on a bent front knee. Having struggled even to stand for months, getting walking again took some determination just to move a few yards.
By August I was able to return to making jewelry like this charoite and copper pendant.
By lesson 14 or 15 I was able to walk without a cane. I realized I still had to focus on anchoring my ribs as well as all the changes with my gait. I still hear Esther saying to me “heel down, ribs down. . . ” Having a teacher prompt you in real time was so helpful.
Some days were better than others, and progress ebbed and flowed. I have learned that I need to treat myself with love and patience. I had become so used to having to push through my pain to look after everybody else—to work, look after my kids, even just to get the dishes done.
I still keep a 20-minute reminder (app) on my phone, to bring me back to mindfulness about my posture, whatever I’m doing. I realize that the pathway for the disc herniation is still there—but I feel that it isn’t going to happen again because I now have the tools to stay long, strong, and well aligned in my back.
I’m getting back to living again. I’m able to teach my private art classes comfortably and have hope for the future.
At the end of my 18 lessons, I actually danced to the 1-2-3 Move Gokhale Exercise program. I have always loved dance, and it was thrilling to start to do that again, at my own gentle pace. I want to share my story far and wide, so please share this post. Everyone in pain deserves to have realistic hope, and to know that they can heal.
If you would like to find out more about how the Gokhale Method can help support you, sign up to join one of our upcoming FREE Online Workshops. . .