top of page

From Football Jock To Professional Pain Remover

Richard Villella is the first one to say that he is not your average yoga instructor. A self-admitted and passionate anatomy geek (and former New England Patriot), he wants you to share your aching back (or any other body part) with him. The virile fifty-seven-year-old soccer dad tackles pain—neural, muscular, and joint-related—with all the tenacity he used on the football field. It seems to work because gold-plated clients are lining up for his services.

Richard’s dynamic, positive attitude and yoga-based methods have recently been gathered in an iBook entitled Say Goodbye to Lower Back Pain, part of an “in the works” series that will also say goodbye to sciatica, shoulder pain, neck pain, and plantar fasciitis.

YogaCityNYC’s Sharon Watts sat down recently with Richard in his midtown studio space to learn more.

Sharon Watts: First of all, your testimonials range from Hollywood director Sydney Pollack to CIA director George Tenet! Most of your treatment is done word-of-mouth with private consultation, so this iBook is a great way to spread your methods to people who, for practical reasons, can’t schedule a one-on-one.

Richard Villella: It’s true, I don’t advertise, yet people keep finding me. My practice covers

over thirty years of primarily serving athletes, people in the arts, and corporate leaders. When asked what field I am in, I don’t say “pain management” because that is not hopeful. I specialize in trying to achieve pain elimination. The iBook helps me to reach many more people than I can fit into my schedule.

Many of my clients are go-getters, socially and physically active and on top of their game. They often engage in repetitive sport activities. Ninety-nine per cent are in severe pain. Most have already tried doctors, chiropractors, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, cortisone shots, and anti-inflammatory supplements, pain relievers, and muscle relaxants. The gamut. Forty percent have scheduled surgeries that they end up canceling after seeing me.

SW: I am 63, and still have the energy to build a patio myself. I did get some lower back tenderness from shoveling and lifting pavers. Is there a way to avert bodily harm when we get that “Can do!” urge, especially as we age?

RV: Muscular pain can be caused by overextending an unused muscle and/or bearing too much weight. You may be flexible, but not strong. An ideal maintenance program would also include weight-bearing exercises, cardiovascular work, stretching, and balance. Forget about those 10-lb. barbells—yoga is the ideal weight-bearing regimen.

SW: Your iBook includes text explaining how you came to do what you do, anecdotal detail with regard to specific clients’ issues, as well as your take on pain (and how MRIs and various therapies are often costly, misleading, and counterproductive).

There are also videos and anatomy animation to help understand the moves. While not a personally described regime per se, it felt personal to me, and I can’t wait to start.

RV: I am offering techniques you can do by yourself. Once you have the tools from my program, you will have the knowledge to use them when needed and again be in control of your body. And that is empowerment.

SW: What happens when someone comes into your office for a consultation?

RV: I do a complete diagnostic—analyze MRIs, X-rays—examining every physical and therapeutic detail in a person’s background. I want to discover the underlying cause of their pain and help them to understand their condition.

Next is a specialized healing regime based on yoga principles: the power of the breath and holding stretches and exercises. This part is done here and also given as homework, incrementally. The real key, that I explain in detail, is the way muscle memory works. Stretches have to be held at least two minutes in order for the body to accept and remember it. Even nerve and joint pain is addressed by stretching the muscles surrounding them.

SW: You are not a certified medical practitioner, yet you have a loyal following, most of whom do not know you from the yoga field when they approach you. A leap of faith, and then inspiring trust must be key components in your reputation.

RV: People often come to me in a state of total discouragement when their pain comes back after all the other treatments. It is important to slowly build up trust, both in the program I give them and even more importantly within the clients, themselves. They are feeling very tentative and even betrayed by their own bodies. I start very slowly, maybe with something as simple as a sitting forward bend. Then I expand the sequence and as they get positive results, the trust builds.

SW: Are you a healer? Do you have that gift of intuition?

RV: I wouldn’t say that, no. I just know the anatomy of the body inside and out, and know where to touch and how to assist in a stretch that will allow you to start to become pain-free. The human body wants to heal itself.

SW: How soon do people see results?

RV: Almost immediately your physical boundaries expand; you become more flexible, stronger, and have more endurance.

SW: What trajectory led you to yoga back in the early 1980s?

RV: I grew up in a small city in Ohio and have always been interested in sports and anatomy. That led to becoming a musclebound, “no-neck” jock, only to blow out my knee at age twenty-three. I gave up football for biking, lost fifty pounds, and ended up modeling for Zoli and Ford Agencies.

At first I followed my (then) girlfriends into yoga classes, having no idea what they all were chanting. Eventually I met and became mentored by Alan Finger of ISHTA, and was a co-founder with him of Yoga Zone in New York City. At that point I really became interested in helping people to get rid of pain and get back to their lives. I also co-founded Living Yoga studio, in the Hudson Valley, where I still teach.

SW: I am always happy to hear that the answer (to anything) is yoga. And even happier that I live close to Living Yoga studio, so I think I’ll pop by a class soon and experience Richard’s principles in action.

To contact Richard, email him at

Sharon Watts wrote and illustrated this article.

bottom of page