Moving through Space and Spine with Gyrotonic

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by Nora Allen

GYROTONIC®, an exercise methodology that provides both a cardiovascular workout with intense muscular stimulation, stretches muscles while also stimulating the connective tissue around the joints of the body.  The physical movements are synchronized with different breathing patterns, creating a range in the intensity of cardiovascular stimulation, depending on the desired workout.

Gyrotonic exercise is performed on the “Professional Pulley Tower”, which provides tension and allows for complete fluidity of movement.

by Nora Allen

 



IT CAN BE DIFFICULT to find the perfect exercise―certain factions find the gym stressful and intimidating, others feel the pains associated with habitual running a little more acutely than the rest of us, and there are those who find yoga just plain boring. Beyond that, it’s often challenging to find an exercise that strengthens, lengthens and moves, however, many have found great success with GYROTONIC®, a methodology created by Juliu Horvath that provides both a cardiovascular workout with intense muscular stimulation.

Gyrotonic, not to be confused with GYROKENESIS®, strengthens and stretches muscles while also stimulating the connective tissue around the joints of the body.  The physical movements are synchronized with different breathing patterns, creating a range in the intensity of cardiovascular stimulation, depending on the desired workout.  Gyrotonic exercise is performed on the “Professional Pulley Tower”, which provides tension and allows for complete fluidity of movement.  Horvath continues to expand the practice and has created his “Specialized Equipment line”, though the machines used will vary from studio to studio depending on the trainer’s certifications.  

Gyrokinesis inspired Gyrotonic, but Gyrokinesis is conducted in a chair and on the floor with a mat, requiring no additional equipment.  Horvath created Gyrokinesis during an intense period of self-exploration and study in the ‘80s after spending many years searching for a way to overcome chronic illness and a severe spinal injury.  The two forms of exercise both focus on the spine and helping the body work through the five natural spinal movements: forward, backward, bend, twist, and circular.  Melanie Johnson, a dancer, Pilates, and Gyrotonic instructor at PowerFlow Studio in New Haven, Connecticut, stressed that with both exercises, fluidity is the most important element.  

“What drew me to it initially is the three dimensional quality,” explained Johnson in a phone interview.  “If you think of Pilates as ballet because it’s more linear, think of Gyrotonic as modern dance.”

When asked to compare the two exercises, Johnson emphasized that there is “no box” and advised against any direct comparison.  

“A person is going to be drawn to what they are going to be drawn to; however, Gyrokinesis is more freeform,” she explained.  “For someone to first work on the Pulley Tower and put their hands on the handle units and do the arching and the curling and the circling with the arms [as in Gyrotonic], it can be kind of awkward to move through space in that way.  Working with the equipment will help guide them through the coordinated movements.”  

Johnson, who first turned to Gyrotonic as a student after injuring her spine in three places, did mention that Gyrokinesis could be better for those who originally turn to Gyrotonic for rehabilitation purposes.  


“To be able to move from your tailbone all the way to your head and then from your head all the way to your tail is a very unique experience.”

-dancer and Gyrotonic instuctor Jessica Boelts

 

“If someone is post-injury and they’re sitting on a stool [in Gyrokinesis], they’re arching and curling and don’t have that sense of core control and the breath and the proper movement and the range of movement, it’s not going to be that beneficial to them,” she said.

Johnson sees both activities as very individualized and doesn’t like to assign one practice or the other until she gets a chance to work with her clients and assess their own personal needs.  Ultimately, the only tangible difference between the two is cost:  a Gyrokinesis class functions like a yoga or Pilates mat class, and runs around $25 per class; Gyrotonic typically starts with a one-on-one session with a trainer and tends to be more expensive, averaging around $85 per class.  

Many dancers have also found incredible success with Gyrotonic as a way to strengthen and improve their art.  Jessica Boelts, a professional dancer who now teaches Gyrotonic as well, explained in an email how she turned to Gyrotonic after feeling frustrated with the exercises she was doing to supplement her dancing.  Previously, Boelts had been running, weight training, and practicing yoga and Pilates but wasn’t developing the long-lean muscles she wanted.

 

“When you think about people at a gym, they concentrate on one muscle group at a time then go back to their desk and sit in one position for the rest of the day.  Gyrotonic not only moves all your muscles together during a session, it teaches you to move around in the world with knowledge of how your body should be moving.”

 

“[Gyrotonic ]has allowed me to discover things about my body and what opportunities and weaknesses I have and how to cross train to overcome those weaknesses,” Boelts said. “In my dancing it gave me a more fluid quality of movement and a deeper understanding of how my body works, and it allows you to put minimal effort in for maximum results.”

Boelts does not believe that the benefits she achieved with Gyrotonic are exclusive to dancers.  

“In general people in the modern world don’t move how a human is supposed to move,” she explained. “When you think about people at a gym, they concentrate on one muscle group at a time then go back to their desk and sit in one position for the rest of the day.  Gyrotonic not only moves all your muscles together during a session, it teaches you to move around in the world with knowledge of how your body should be moving.”

Johnson expressed similar enthusiasm when asked about the benefits she felt from her own personal Gyrotonic training.  

“It totally healed me in a way that nothing else had; it connected my whole spine in every movement,” she enthused. “To be able to move from your tailbone all the way to your head and then from your head all the way to your tail is a very unique experience.”  

However, as with any exercise, misconceptions about the modality do abound.  “Funnily enough, most of my clients think that it’s only for old people, and also that it’s not a workout, but just kind of moving around with the equipment,” Johnson laughed.  

According to Johnson, this could not be farther from the truth.  

“With Gyrotonic people instantly feel more open and feel more space; they feel really loose because all of the movements create a kind of ripple effect,” she explained.  “Nothing is one-dimensional, your whole body has an amazing energized feeling.   I’ve never had a client who didn’t like it.”  

Though Gyrotonic has been slow to permeate into the wider exercise community, it has a growing and devoted fan base.   

“There’s that old saying that ‘you’re only as old as your spine is flexible’, and there really is no other exercise like it,” Johnson mused at the end of the interview.  Boelts, quoting a good friend of hers, took a simpler approach when asked about her favorite part of Gyrotonic: “I’d rather be moving.”

 

For more information about Gyrotonic, visit gyrotonic.com.

 

 


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