Gabriella Cole: Empowering from the center

David Briggs
Teaching her patients to heal themselves through movement is key for chiropractor Gabriella Cole. "You bring it back to self-knowing," she said.  

While waiting in line at the grocery store, clients of chiropractor Gabriella Cole likely have one thing on their minds: their feet. It’s her starting place for supporting not only better alignment, but also deeper body awareness.

A San Francisco native and an Inverness resident, Gabriella recently moved her practice from the city to the Livery Stable. She is a former professional dancer and previously taught gyrotonic—which incorporates strengthening movements from a range of disciplines—yoga, and Pilates before earning her chiropractic degree. Her approach prefers gentle over forceful techniques and she works on all ages, including newborns. 

A visit might begin with a postural assessment, followed by exercises or hands-on touch. Whether she’s treating a knee or shoulder injury, she pays attention to her clients’ feet. 

“Biomechanically speaking, when we take a step, we hit with the outside of the calcaneus and the foot widens and flattens. Every time we push through onto the toes to take a step forward, the foot recoils a little bit, giving us energy forward,” she said. “By making sure that all of the bones are working, all of the tissues are gliding, there’s so much power that has all the way up the kinetic chain—for all of the muscles and ligaments and tendons.”

Drawing awareness to individual parts of the body has a range of benefits, she added. “It’s one of those little things you can do to embody yourself and to be present.”

Gabriella studied dance and early childhood education among her concentrations at New York University, while she danced professionally for Haitian and Brazilian companies. After deciding against performance as a career, she turned to body work, often tailoring her efforts to dancers. Referrals streamed in. 

Before Covid-19, she had just returned to working more hours after stepping back to be with her daughters, Elodie, age 5, and Zazie, 3. During the pandemic, she and her husband, Chris Wahlgren, adjusted their lives, moving from the city, where he operates a rug business, to their Inverness home. 

After closing down for a time at the start of the pandemic, Gabriella moved her practice online and then into her garden. In October, she started working at her new space. She also began teaching an outdoor class for several other body workers, called “Moving from Center,” which explores the discipline of anatomy through movement. 

Rich Clarke, a yoga teacher who is providing his porch for the class, worked with her following a knee replacement. After a week’s time performing the movements she recommended, which started in his feet and moved up past the hurt knee, he said, “The tension that was there that I could not change with all the other physical therapy I had done melted away.”

Unlike some chiropractors, Gabriella does not offer forceful adjustments. She integrates a large range of methods in her practice, including Feldenkrais, Laban and Alexander techniques. She always pairs her touch with narration as she seeks to teach people about their bodies. 

“Gabby has this incredibly subtle approach to adjustment. It’s a gentle approach that, at least for me, I find far more effective,” said yoga teacher Katie Jay, who has seen Gabriella to ease hip discomfort originating in her sacroiliac joint. “She has a deep understanding of functional movement, which has been really helpful and valuable. It’s always great to discover someone new in our midst who has so much to offer.” 

Working during the pandemic gives Gabriella some idea of the level of stress everyone is under. “There is this layering I’m feeling that sometimes I associate with people who are taking medications or drinking, but I have been feeling it a lot—it’s stress,” she said. “I find softness, but then a total rigid structure, and then softness again, but then rigidity.”

She works on bodies of all ages. Caroline Griswold first took her son to Gabriella when he was 5, worried about several falls. He was not keen on being touched, but she gained his trust. “She had this lovely way of getting to know him, letting him play with toys in her office and then sitting next to him to see if she could touch his back,” Caroline said. “She talked with him in this very attentive, slow way. When he first laid down, you could see he was twisted into this funny position, but then I watched his whole body uncoil and relax. He will often say, ‘Can we go see Gabby again?’” 

One of Gabriella’s greatest strengths is her ability to work with infants. The focus on newborns came after her first child, Étienne, died from sepsis at three months old. The grief she endured motivates her to stay present, in her body and in her mind. 

Shortly after that loss, a midwife who knew Gabriella called her to look at a baby five hours old who was having trouble turning his head. Gabriella crawled into bed with the new family and, with her careful touch, released the baby’s sacrum, which allowed him to turn his head. She was hooked.   

Today, she visits newborns for a variety of issues, including colic and sleep problems. She checks infants’ cranial bones, which protect the brain, to see that everything is moving properly. Misalignment there can be a factor in babies struggling to latch. “It’s a big transition,” she said of being born. 

Above all, Gabriella considers herself a teacher. “I give people exercises because it empowers them to do things to heal themselves,” she said. “Any time we can pause and feel our physicality, that’s a gift. People are wise, so you bring it back to self-knowing. When I work with moms, sometimes an issue like difficulty breastfeeding is really disempowering. Part of what I’m doing is reminding them that yes, they do know, and that they have to trust that deep wisdom.”