For more than a decade, Melissa Wohlberg worked as a physical therapist for Sinai Hospital.
But last year, as a result of the pandemic, the hospital’s outpatient department closed, and Wohlberg was furloughed. She decided to pivot by opening her own clinic, Breathe Free Physical Therapy & Yoga, at 1700 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.
Wohlberg, 45, lives in Pikesville with her husband, Jon, and their three kids, Maya, 14, Elana, 12, and Judah, 9. Her family belongs to Beth Tfiloh Congregation, where her father-in-law, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, is the senior rabbi. Her kids also attend Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.
Wohlberg was born in Baltimore. When she was 8, she moved to Florida with her mom but continued to go back to Baltimore, where her dad still lived, during the summers. She attended Emory University, where she studied biology. After college, she spent a year and a half working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then she moved back to Baltimore permanently.
At the time, she wanted to get to know her father and her half-siblings better, but she also wanted to figure out what to do next with her life. Since she was a little kid, she had thought she wanted to become a doctor. She had even gotten accepted into medical school.
“When you’re pre-med, you don’t have a chance to give a second thought to anything else,” Wohlberg said. “It’s really intense, especially when you’re in college, so I went through the whole thing. Then I had a chance to just relax for a minute, and I realized that for several reasons, I didn’t want to be a doctor.”
She was concerned about what her work-life balance would look like as a doctor, and she didn’t like the role health insurance was playing in the industry.
For a period of time, she worked for a biotech analyst, but she eventually decided she wanted to help people more, so she made her way to physical therapy. She obtained her doctorate of physical therapy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore — one of the few universities offering a doctorate in physical therapy at the time, she noted.
While she was figuring out her career, she met her husband through mutual friends and got married. She hadn’t grown up Orthodox, but her husband was, so she decided to become more observant as well. She had gone back to school around the same time and found herself, now more religious, having to balance study sessions and lab time with observing Shabbat.
“The transition [to becoming more observant] was really hard for me,” Wohlberg said. “Obviously, it was something I put a lot of thought into before deciding that this was the life I was going to have, and it really took me about three years to really appreciate it. … It wasn’t really until I had a baby and was settling into more of a family life that I started to appreciate it, and now I love it. Shabbat’s my favorite time of the week. I love what it does for our family. I love what it does for the community.”
Wohlberg started working for Sinai Hospital in January of 2008, soon after graduating from physical therapy school.
Wohlberg officially opened Breathe Free Physical Therapy & Yoga in April. The clinic offers individual integrative health physical therapy, yoga classes for those with movement challenges and in-person and virtual workshops on topics that include stress reduction and chronic pain. Wohlberg also recently added a virtual breathing workshop for people with Parkinson’s disease.
“It was a little bit of a slow start, but it’s also been ups and downs, too,” Wohlberg said. “What’s growing the most is my workshops and my yoga classes. What is going in waves is my individual physical therapy clients. I’m just riding the waves — this is so new — and seeing what is the need in the community, what are people looking for, what part of my business is going to be the biggest part.”