As a former dancer and choreographer, Gabriella Barnstone has long found joy—and therapy—in movement. Now, she helps others find healing through yoga as a certified yoga therapist.
In addition to thousands of hours of training and practice using yoga therapeutically, for years Gabriella worked at Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation under the guidance of Dr. Loren Fishman where she specialized in treating patients with back pain. She has taught courses with Dr. Fishman on Yoga for Back Pain, Yoga for Osteoporosis, and Yoga for Arthritis at Kripalu, Yogaville, and Omega Institute. She was also on the faculty of Prema Yoga Institute from 2017 to 2020 where she developed and taught a course on functional anatomy and provided mentorship to aspiring yoga therapists. Read on to learn how she found her way to yoga therapy, why she believes in an accessible approach to movement, and why she’s passionate about working in a collaborative setting at HealthQuarters.
When I completed my first yoga training in 2007 most opportunities for new yoga teachers involved teaching all-level classes to diverse groups of students of different ages, backgrounds, and abilities. I was expected to teach all these individuals the same sequence, and this one-size-fits-all approach made me uncomfortable. I enjoyed teaching my students, but there was a significant gap when it came to addressing the needs of each individual.
So I transitioned to teaching private sessions, where I could design individual sequences for every person accounting for their unique needs and goals. I was able to help my students prevent injury and get exactly what they wanted out of their practice—and I loved it.
During this time, I also continued to work on my education and training. I got my 500-hour certification and then started specialty trainings.
Eventually, I found a physiatrist who had developed a method of prescribing yoga poses to help treat patients with musculoskeletal or neurological conditions. Depending on a patient’s condition, he’d recommend specific poses to support their rehabilitation.
Working with him was eye-opening, especially after receiving my yoga therapy certification, as it helped bridge the gap between yoga and medicine in practice. I relished the opportunity to be in the room with him as he sat and listened to his patients’ stories. I was lucky to witness each assessment from the initial hello to diagnosis.
Through this experience I learned how well a collaborative approach between a patient’s yoga therapist and doctor can work in this setting, and how beneficial for the patient it is to have open communication between myself and their other caregivers. This experience helped pave the way to my work at HealthQuarters.
Sometimes when you mention yoga to people, their immediate reaction is “I can’t do that. Or, I am not very good at that.”
In American culture, there’s a often specific image that’s associated with yoga—think young, lean women in tight clothes doing impossible poses—but this paints an inaccurate picture of who can benefit from yoga, which is everyone.
As I started working with people individually, I gained valuable experience in teaching yoga to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. My experience with this really deepened at Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Patients who never saw yoga as an option for them were encouraged to try it as a form of therapy. I learned how to adapt different poses to support and strengthen different bodies, including people in wheelchairs, over 90 years old, and those who had never tried yoga before.
The beautiful thing about yoga therapy is that we adapt yoga for you—your practice doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. And in fact, it shouldn’t.
First, expect to get a lot of attention! The parameters of the session will vary depending on you and your goals, but there are generally two different models that I work with. The first is if you get referred to me from another practitioner within HealthQuarters to treat a specific condition. The second is if you seek me for your own personal health goals, which can include wanting to feel more energetic, helping with insomnia, or simply being able to get up and down off the floor.
Depending on your goals and existing conditions (if any), our session may include invigorating poses, functional movement exercises, restorative poses, breathing practices, and/or meditation. Ultimately, it really depends on you, what you need, and what is going on with you that day. From there, I’ll build a customized practice to help you meet your long-term goals. If it’s something you can commit to, I will give you homework—and we’ll take pictures or videos to help you remember what we worked on.
I truly believe that yoga therapy is exceptional for preventive care. Though it can absolutely be useful for treating existing conditions, like back pain or muscular imbalance, it really shines when incorporated into one’s routine as preventive care.
We know that stress is a major contributor to disease and we also know that any technique (such as yoga and meditation) used to manage stress can have big health benefits. Yoga also provides a variety of movement that teaches you how to work in more than one plane and mobilize many different joints and smaller muscles that otherwise can get forgotten about. This variety of movement is really good for the brain and neuroplasticity.
So, yoga is a great way to learn different ways to move and manage stress, which can help you reap the benefits when it comes to preventing illness and disease.
I’m very excited to have the opportunity to be a part of a medical model where I can talk to the doctors and practitioners in person and ask them questions about a certain patient or yoga prescription. It’s a great way to pull all of our resources together to help people.
I also love the big picture emphasis on whole-body health and preventive care. I think we’re going to help a lot of people access a well-rounded approach to their care.
Though I’ve had to adjust a lot of my passions since the beginning of Covid, the one thing that hasn’t changed is my love of food. Before Covid my husband and I loved to go out and eat, and we’re looking forward to doing it again in the future.
Now I’m enjoying cooking at home when I have the spare time. I lived in Florence for a little while and still love to make my own pasta sauce. Pasta sauce is my opportunity to improvise and go off script- I look around at what’s in the kitchen and go from there.
I also have a labradoodle that I'm pretty obsessed with, named Chuey. We love to take Chuey out for walks around the city.
Recently, I’ve also enjoyed taking a break from looking at my screen and staring out the window, which has become my new favorite thing to do. It turns out there is a lot to observe just outside your window.
Gabriella Barnstone is a certified yoga therapist and founder of Yoga Physical, a yoga therapy practice that operates inside HealthQuarters. You can make an appointment with Gabriella at Yoga Physical inside HealthQuarters here.