Mind & Body

Personal Touch

Yoga therapists use breath, movement, and words to help you heal and find balance.

Personal Touch
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After falling in her bathroom two years ago, Margo Morrison, a 47- year-old jewelry designer living in New York City, suffered the pain of a strained neck for months. She tried Thai massage for relief, but found none. A friend recommended Leslie Kaminoff, a local yoga therapist, saying he was "a healer, someone who truly understood the body," Morrison recalls. A little over a year ago, she started taking weekly one-hour sessions in Kaminoff's Manhattan studio, The Breathing Project. Kaminoff, she learned, had a knack for zeroing in on a problem: "He's like a homing pigeon. He feels around- under your rib cage, in your stomach, in your feet-and puts you into particular stretches, always with the intention of opening you up," says Morrison. "His goal is to allow the breath to move freely, the muscles to relax, and the spine to be aligned so that you're moving in an unforced way."

 

Like most yoga therapists, Kaminoff works with clients in a private session that combines customized exercises, breathing work, yoga poses, and gentle manipulation to heal or prevent injuries. His style of therapy is like a one-on-one yoga class, a throwback to the way yoga was originally taught. "Group classes are a Western invention," he says.

 

In a standard session, you lie on a massage table or on the floor, or stand, while the therapist looks for imbalances in your body and chooses the best approach to correct the problem. Kaminoff sometimes heals with words, sometimes touch, sometimes movement, and sometimes breath. "The appropriate touch depends on the type of injury the person has," he says. "It could range from a strong myofascial pressure if there's a knee injury to a lighter, almost nonexistent touch if there's a history of physical or emotional trauma."

Healing Breath
Asthma sufferer Lynne Brooks, 44, a high school teacher from Rochester, N.Y., says Kaminoff has found novel ways to help her develop a less self-conscious pattern of breathing. "Sometimes he tells me to do anything but yoga so I don't have to worry about getting the breathing 'right,'" she explains.

Kaminoff founded the nonprofit Breathing Project in 2002, after more than 20 years of studying the traditions of renowned Indian yogi T.K.V. Desikachar, whose teachings offered an individualized and breath-centered approach. Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy (Human Kinetics, 2007), says his view of yoga is rooted in his understanding of the body's structure and function. "Anatomical awareness is a powerful tool for keeping our bodies safe and our minds grounded in reality," he says. But yoga therapy doesn't stop with the body. "A structural change can affect an emotional one and vice versa," Kaminoff adds. In this way, yoga therapy works on a deeper level than traditional physical therapy, which is primarily mechanical.

 

Morrison credits Kaminoff with freeing her neck of pain. "We discovered that I tightened up in my stomach a lot. Coupling that with the neck tightness, I was cutting off my breath in an unhealthy way," she says. After more than a year of sessions, her body is much stronger. "I've changed how I walk and hold myself, and I've strengthened muscles in ways that take pressure off my neck and other vulnerable places," she says. "As Leslie puts it," Morrison adds, "I was a tangled mess when I came in. Now we both notice profound changes."

 

Extending the spine helps open the chest, creating space for the breath