When was the last time you utilized your body’s full range of motion in a workout, flexing your feet as far as they could go, rotating through the entirety of your joints, and bending at every possible point of your spine? For me, it was last Wednesday evening at Motus Studio in Ridgefield, Connecticut, where I met with owner Jessica Boelts for my first session of GYROTONIC®.
Gyrotonic is a relatively modern form of exercise emphasizing the body’s entire structure rather than certain muscle groups. Flexibility, strength, and an integrated, efficient sense of mobility are acquired through exercises performed on a small stool and on an extensive piece of machinery known as The Professional Pulley Tower. The Tower is fully adjustable and features a padded bench for sitting and laying upon, which can be positioned anywhere in relation to the base, a weight machine with straps that can be attached to the arms or legs. The weights are supported with multiple pulleys, making resistance even, consistent, and gentle on the body, unlike conventional exercise equipment.
The Gyrotonic Expansion System®, which includes Gyrotonic, GYROKINESIS® (stool and mat-based exercises involving fluid movements and postures that focus on the spine), and a series of specialized equipment, was created by Juliu Horvath, a Romanian-Hungarian dancer, swimmer, and gymnast. After seeking and being granted political asylum in the United States in the 1970s, Horvath began dancing with the Houston Ballet and soon suffered severe injuries, ending his dancing career. He created what would become Gyrokinesis while spending a intense four years devoted to healing in the Virgin Islands. With a combination of yoga, meditation, dance, and acupuncture, he effectively healed a ruptured Achilles tendon and several damaged disks. He brought his techniques with him back to New York City, and his series of exercises have been evolving ever since.
Boelts, a lifelong ballet dancer and Ridgefield native, discovered Gyrotonic in her dancing studies and immediately felt an affinity for the modality. After undergoing her professional training at Movement Center LA in Los Angeles, she left her teaching position at Ridgefield School of Dance to open her own Gyrotonic studio down the road. After extensive renovations (picture old blue carpet replaced by dark hardwood floors), Motus Studio opened its doors this past summer.
Boelts began our session by asking how my body felt and what kinds of physical activity I did regularly. I told her that I was a little stiff from sitting at a desk all day, and she decided we would work on opening the spine and chest to negate those cramped feelings. We began our session on a pair of stools, and she guided me through a series of deep spinal stretches: arching the back, curling the back, stretching from side to side, and arching and curling in one fluid motion. Boelts encouraged me to use the spine’s full range of motion throughout the stretches, pointing out that in arching and curling the spine, the goal was to create the letter “C” with my back.
Gyrotonic is unique in the way that it prepares the body for health later in life – the exercise’s focus on joint health, flexibility, and whole-body mobility is a kind of “preventative maintenance” for how the body will move 30 and 40 years from now.
We did the stretch series three times, the third time with Boelts performing hand holds and guiding me into fuller positions; then we moved over to the Tower, where, seated in front of a pair of rotating handles, I practiced using my arm’s full range of motion. It was more challenging than it sounds: my shoulders kept popping up, and as I moved my upper body forwards and backwards and my arm around in a circle, Boelts tapped on a seemingly locked part of my lower spine, telling me to curl it. Her goal was to guide my body into working as a unit, and as I concentrated on the seemingly simple motion of rotating my arm, I understood that we rarely utilize our bodies’ full range of motion, and to do so was challenging and required a great deal of focus and bodily awareness.
We moved to the floor, where Boelts explained to me the “fifth line” – essentially the middle of my foot, where the bones extend up through my leg. It was there that I was to pull energy from by flexing my feet and jutting out my heels as far as I could. We moved back to the Tower, where I lay on my back facing away from the base with weighted straps attached to my feet. I raised and lowered my legs, alternately bending one in towards my chest, all while trying to engage the fifth line.
Back on the floor, Boelts coached me through the most basic of Gyrotonic abwork. We did about eight reps, and I was shaking throughout most of them. The emphasis was again on the spine, and Boelts tapped on my stomach as I raised and lowered my upper body in a seated position, telling me “Curl! Curl! Curl!”
An Advanced Gyrotonic Workout
The last exercise – an intense chest opener – was performed back on the Tower. Here I straddled the bench, facing away from the Tower’s base, and positioned the straps around my hands. Boelts instructed me to scoop my arms upward along my ribs and then swing them, extended around in a backwards circle around to the starting position. I was moving only ten pounds with the straps, but the effect of the movement across my chest, torso, and arms was remarkable. I’m quite sure I’ve never expanded my upper body in such a way, and while the exercise was trying, it felt great.
Boelts explained that as one advances in Gyrotonic, the movements become more fluid, and the workout moves into the realm of cardio. The Tower is a highly customizable piece of equipment, and many Gyrotonic exercises can be performed on and off the bench, standing, laying down, and sitting.
Boelts explained that although Gyrotonic was originally created for dancers, it’s an exercise for everyone and every body (her clients range from dancers to golfers).
“No matter what your level of physical ability, there’s something you can do,” she said. Boelts also explained that Gyrotonic is unique in the way that it prepares the body for health later in life – the exercise’s focus on joint health, flexibility, and whole-body mobility is a kind of “preventative maintenance” for how the body will move 30 and 40 years from now.
There are about 20 different applications for Gyrotonic, including workouts for knee and hip replacements and for pre and post-natal women – Boelts said she would love to be certified in all of them. At Motus, she plans on offering group Gyrokinesis classes by the beginning of 2013, and in the long term, she’d like to make Motus into a Gyrotonic training center, which are currently only located in major cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City.
Boelts is currently offering an introductory package at Motus: buy two sessions and get the third for free. Hour-long sessions are $75.