Archive for the ‘Yoga Therapy’ Category

Last week, The New York Times featured an article profiling Andrew Vollo, a professional taxi driver in New York City who has quietly been teaching yoga to other cab drivers at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.  Mr. Vollo’s class, which he promotes by papering the city with his fliers, is popular in part because he is one of them.  A lifelong New Yorker, his “‘dese’ and ‘dem’ lexicon is part of his skill set as the de facto guru for some unlikely disciples. The son of a welder, the veteran of years behind a taxi’s wheel, Mr. Vollo embodies the spread of yoga across traditional barriers of gender and class.”

Mr. Vollo’s goal, he says, is to manage the “physical and psychic toll of their jobs”:

“I really think I’m chipping away,” Mr. Vollo, 56, said of the blue-collar aversion to yoga as stuff for hipsters, yuppies and space cadets. “If I get nine people in a class, that’s fantastic. They’ll learn enough exercises to loosen their back and legs. I’ll tell them how to eat better, give them breathing exercises. Because if you’re driving in pain, you’re going to be a nasty person.”

Mr. Vollo also described how he came to yoga and eventually brought yoga to cab drivers:

Mr. Vollo discovered that resistance firsthand over the course of his career. He had begun studying yoga, as well as tai chi, when he was driving a cab as a college student in the 1970s. In the process he moved from the Roman Catholic observance of his youth to considering himself a Taoist, albeit one who still attends Mass with his wife and son.

Intermittently over the decades, he tried to evangelize for yoga among drivers, sometimes persuading three or four to study together for a few sessions, then having years pass without any interest. In 2004, as the director of LaGuardia Community College’s educational program for taxi drivers, he gave another push.

He passed out fliers to dispatchers and brokers and at driving schools. People laughed. People ignored him. One office manager kicked him out. But somehow he got his first four students to enroll.

Mr. Vollo has been pretty vocal about spreading his message.  He has been profiled in the New York Daily News, and People Magazine.  For more information, you can read the full article at the NYT, and you can visit Mr. Vollo’s website.


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photo credit: paul kitagaki, jr., sacramento bee


Yesterday’s edition of the Sacramento Bee profiled 50-year-old mountain climber Gabriel Amador, who, during his December 2003 attempt to summit New Zealand’s Mt. Tasman was caught in an avalanche that killed four climbers in his group.

Amador, one of only two survivors, spent a week in a coma after suffering from a broken neck, a fractured spine, two broken hips, brain swelling, and other injuries.

Despite two artificial hips, which makes the simple act of bending over to tie his shoes quite difficult, Amador has made an unbelievable recovery. He continues to be active hiking, skiing, biking, and in July of 2010 summited Stok Kangri, a 20,135 ft. Himalayan peak.

What does he credit a large part of his recovery to?

You got it.  Yoga.

“It’s just been phenomenal,” said Amador, a pension administrator in Roseville. “The biggest reminder of how it’s helped is every day, just putting my pants on. I can actually do that without holding on to anything for balance.

“Really, I’m not supposed to be bending more than 90 degrees. My doctor tells me that. But he also tells me, every time I see him, ‘I can’t stop you from doing what you love doing, but just be careful.’ ”

Part of that care is taking up yoga to improve his limberness.

It seems that Amador’s yoga class, a hot yoga class taught by veteran teacher Ping Yu, is filled with students recovering from physical and mental maladies.

Indeed, at one recent class Amador attended, several students came for help with assorted maladies. John Padrick of Fair Oaks is recovering from lower-back surgery. Jeff DeGroot of Citrus Heights is trying to avoid back surgery after he injured three disks several years ago.

Meanwhile, Julie Flora, a junior at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, said yoga has cured her insomnia, and real estate agent Nancy Knuth and nurse practitioner Holly Kirkland said the practices help them cope with stress.

Ms. Yu has admitted that Amador might be her most difficult project.

Hips are arguably the key to the balance and flexibility needed for yoga – throughout the two-hour workout, Yu repeatedly admonished students to “open your hips” – but the metal in Amador is anything but supple.

When he started attending yoga classes 10 months ago on the advice of a friend, Amador said he felt rigid and found it nearly impossible to follow Yu’s admonition to let his body “flow.” With diligence, Amador strengthened and elongated the muscles, tendons and fascia around his hips enough to nail nearly every pretzel-like pose Yu could throw at him.

For Amador, like many students of yoga, just getting a hang of the breath is a big challenge.

“Ever since the accident, I’ve just been fighting my body the whole time,” he said. “Yoga’s helped me to just relax. When you breathe, it’s amazing how much more you can do. She reminds everyone to keep breathing. When I’m grunting, I’m not breathing.”

And Yu, a slight, lithe woman who looks more 38 than 58, is not afraid to call Amador on it. She admits she was a little intimidated when she learned of Amador’s mountain-climbing exploits, but she knew she could help him acquire the grace and balance to go with his well- cultivated leg and cardiovascular strength.

“You can tell he’s very competitive,” she said. “So babying him is not going to work. You need to challenge him to bring it out. When I first saw him, I thought, ‘This guy doesn’t breathe.’ I go, ‘Come on!’ I put my fingers on his belly and say, ‘Give me some movement.’

“I say, ‘That’s not real breathing; that’s survival breathing. Bring it from deep.’ We go over this issue every time.”

That’s something Amador is likely to work on for a long time. Even though he’s back reaching summits, flexibility and breathing are mountains still to conquer.

“She’s right, you know,” he said. “When I surrender my body, everything just goes and flows.”

Yet another example of the healing power of yoga!


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Photo courtesy of TIME Magazine

In Tuesday’s edition of The Washington Examiner, journalist Freeman Klopott profiled a new idea floating around at The District’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. The idea?  Implementing a “mind-body discipline” program to teach the juvenile offenders.

Apparently, the idea for such a program was the brain child of interim deputy director, Barry Holman.  In a series of e-mails bandied about by Mr. Holman and his staff, Holman asked if any staff members had any “hidden talents that might be tapped to further our work with the young people in our care.”  Holman said his primary interest was in finding among the staff an instructor certified in yoga, tai-chi, or another “mind-body connection discipline.”

The article noted that 2010 was a horrible year for the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services:

The agency is coming off a controversial year during which more than a dozen of its wards were charged with murder and at least a half-dozen were killed.

Not to mention the revolving door that has become the position of deputy director.  For Holman, he still hasn’t found anyone within his agency who meets the criteria:

Holman told The Examiner that he’s received several responses since sending out the Dec. 29 e-mail, but none from anyone who can teach the “mind-body” techniques he described. He said he hoped the e-mail would begin a conversation with staff members to think broadly about programs that “might be of interest to them and the youth.”

“It was an exercise on my part to see what other qualities, besides the professional qualities, that they can bring to the job,” Holman said.

Among the responses he did get: a race car driver who suggested the youth build a race car, musicians and a certified boxing instructor.

The idea wasn’t popular with all government officials, and many in D.C., including councilman Jim Graham, doubt that teaching a “mind-body discipline” is the best approach:

“Anything that would contribute to well-being I am in favor of,” Graham said Tuesday. “But I’m much more concerned about having programs that address alcohol and substance abuse that will help turn these kids’ lives around.”

While the idea is still in its infancy, Holman stated, “We’re always looking at expanding our offerings…The benefits of yoga or tai-chi are no different for youth in a correction facility than for anyone else.”

Any readers out there who currently teach yoga to at-risk or juvenile offenders?  We’d love to hear your stories!


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Any fans of Rolfing out there?  And by Rolfing, I do not mean ROFLing, as in text-speak for rolling on the floor laughing. No, my friends, I mean the very painful, wickedly unpleasant, type of body work called Rolfing. I’ve gotta say, I have never experienced Rolfing, but I think that the masseuse who left a giant bruise on my ass cheek during the Great Back Pain Saga of 2010 may have been a secret Rolfer. In any event, it seems the tradition is gaining favor amongst my lovely yogis. On Monday’s Morning Edition on National Public Radio, reporter Sarah Varney profiled the practice of Rolfing and its increasing popularity with the yoga crowd.  You can listen to the segment and read more about Rolfing at NPR’s website, but I’ve posted the story here.

As I open the door to a somewhat antiseptic-looking medical office in downtown San Francisco, I’m quite certain I will not be getting a lavender-candles-and-wind-chimes kind of a massage — the kind that will leave me facedown in my own drool. I expect this to be painful. That’s what I’ve been told anyway.

Greg Brynelson, a certified Rolfer and registered nurse with a loyal following, tells me to lie on my back. Rolfing Structural Integration is a type of deep — really deep — massage that was last popular when Nixon was president. Well, Rolfing has become a favorite again — this time among the yoga-Pilates-acupuncture crowd.

“Through here, it feels like I’m coming up against a wall,” he says. “There’s not a lot of give.”

Brynelson has kind eyes and strong hands. Or thumbs. I think that’s what’s pressing into my neck.

Rolfing was named after its founder, an American biochemist named Ida Rolf. Her own health problems led her to believe that deep tension — even mild physical deformities in children, like pigeon toes — could be relieved by pressing into a type of tissue called fascia. Fascia fuses skin to muscle and muscle to bone, and it kind of keeps everything in place, like a snug pair of pantyhose.

Slouching over a computer and schlepping around kids can tighten and shorten your muscles, and with them, the fascia cinches down, like one of those vacuum-sealed beef jerky bags. Rolfers, like Brynelson, believe stretching out the fascia — getting it to be more soft and pliable — can improve posture and strength, and over time, reduce aches and pain.

A Closer Look

Since I had just had my fascia flattened, I wanted to see what it looks like. So I head to the cadaver lab in the basement of Stanford University.

Sakti Srivastava, a physician at Stanford’s division of clinical anatomy, and I are looking at the fascia on a partially dissected human leg.

“This is what fascia looks like,” he says.

It almost looks like the thin layer of white film you have after you debone a chicken and pull the skin off of it. If this person had bad posture or a chronic injury, Rolfers say the fascia would tighten, throwing off the person’s gait and possibly leading to lower back pain or other aches.

Beyond Fascia

It’s a theory that is largely taken on faith, many researchers say. Wolf Mehling is a manual medicine physician at the University of California, San Francisco who treats patients with Rolfing as well as other kinds of massage. Still, he says, it’s hard to say if Rolfing can lead to long-term structural changes in the body.

“To my knowledge, there has been no randomized, controlled trials comparing Rolfing with other types of massage or bodywork,” he says.

According to Mehling and other researchers, the few studies that have been done are too limited or flawed to draw any conclusions about Rolfing’s effectiveness. Rob Landel, head of physical therapy at the University of Southern California, says the philosophy of Rolfing makes sense — if you can loosen up and improve your posture, your overall body movement improves, too.

Indeed, physical therapists are trained to work on soft tissue, like fascia. It’s just that they work on other things, too — joints and muscles and ligaments. And that, says Landel, is why Rolfing probably couldn’t stand up in a clinical trial.

“I doubt if it will end up being, ‘Oh this is The Thing,’ because our musculoskeletal problems end up being multifactorial,” he says. “So, it’s doubtful that any single approach is going to fix everybody.”

More likely, Landel says, is that Rolfing could be shown to work for certain problems like low back pain, when combined with strengthening exercises and better posture.

Back To The Back

Which brings us back to my back. After pressing deeply into my right shoulder and neck, my Rolfer Greg Brynelson asks me to stand up and look in the mirror.

“Do you see how the left side is still grabbing?” Brynelson asks. “There’s just more softness through here. Do you feel a little more movement?”

“It feels more relaxed, more fluid,” I say.

And it’s true: One shoulder has an easy, graceful slope. The other is hunched up, like it often is. As I put my shoes back on — a pair of very unorthotic heels — and sling my oversized, overloaded purse onto my shoulder, Brynelson looks at me with pity and resignation. Me and my fascia, it seems — we’re a work in progress.

What do you think?  Will you schedule an appointment with your nearest Rolfer?  Or will you wait this trend out?

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