Michelle Downing is a doctor of physical therapy (DPT), a Certified Functional Manual Therapist (CFMT), and a registered yoga teacher (RYT). DPT, CFMT, RYT – that is a lot of letters to describe someone who wasn’t always so fascinated with the human body. As a little girl growing up in Hoosick Falls, New York, she was taken with the imagination. She was ringleader in the games of make believe enjoyed by her childhood friends. “I was the nerdy girl,” she says proudly as she describes her antics of re-enacting movie scenes, playing house, and playing office. Today she integrates the creative power she knew as a child into her evaluation and treatment of physical therapy clients.
Michelle practiced yoga in high school. “I don’t even remember why,” she recalls. She took a yoga class at the hospital community room in Bennington. Back then, 1993, there were not any yoga studios in the area; classes popped up wherever there was enough space: churches, town halls, hospitals. She continued practicing yoga in college at Cornell, where she used yoga for fun, stress reduction, and exercise. Back then her study of yoga was more in the pursuit of fulfilling a PE requirement than anything spiritual, though one gym class at Cornell was called “Expanding Your Intuition.”
As it turned out, that’s exactly what she ended up doing. Like many of her peers in school, Michelle sought meaningful ways to broaden her perspective. She’d always been spiritual, but when she moved to Vermont after college, she found herself among many like-minded people; yoga took on a consciousness-expanding aspect. She studied Anusara (a heart-centered, alignment-based yoga style) which merged well with her natural inclinations. It was only natural that she was inclined to become a yoga teacher.
Her love of the human form readily lead her into the study of Physical Therapy. She enrolled in the University of Vermont’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program and graduated in 2012. She went on to deepen her studies at the Institute of Physical Art in Eugene, completed her residency in in Junction City, Oregon, and became a Certified Functional Manual Therapist (CFMT). This is where the “expanded intuition” part comes into play.
Functional Manual Therapy takes the whole body into account. Doctorsofpt.com defines FMT this as an “integrated and seamless evaluation and treatment system which couples mechanical treatment of the joints, soft tissues, visceral and neurovascular systems with manual neuromuscular facilitation to enhance optimum motor control and human function.” In lay terms, this means she treats the whole body, not just the symptoms.
For example, one patient suffered from plantar fasciitis, or foot pain. Her pain was real and it was in the bottom of her foot, but that was not necessarily the cause of her problem. Upon attentive observation, Michelle noticed that the woman’s ankle was very stiff, and that her pelvis did not move well when she walked. The woman also had some low-back pain.
Instead of just treating the plantar fasciitis with foot exercises, as a more traditional PT might do, Michelle focused on freeing up the restrictions in the pelvis that caused the low-back pain and ankle stiffness that caused the foot pain. Remember the nursery rhyme about the House the Jack Built? This is the dog/ That worried the cat/ That killed the rat/ That ate the malt/ That lay in the house that Jack built…Michelle’s approach similarly relates each element to the whole. She identifies the root of the problem and prescribes a program of treatment appropriate to each individual person. But there’s even more to it than that.
Some of her clients respond well to yoga, others need something else. “Whatever they need is what I have to provide. It is not always yoga,” Michelle explains. “Pain can be mediated by the brain in a way you cannot necessarily control. I use visualization, color, and metaphor to get the brain to get involved.”
The healing process is not unlike the learning process. Some of us are visual learners, others learn kinesthetically or aurally. Uncovering the ways her clients think and learn helps her help them help themselves heal. It is an interactive approach to optimizing functionality in the body by addressing the whole person and empowering him to have some control over his symptoms and healing.
These days, her passion for the human body is not unlike that of Hippocrates or maybe Da Vinci. Michelle is currently accepting new patients. Call 802-864-9642 to schedule an appointment.

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