Gyrotonic: Exercise Outside the Lines

Working out can be so linear: Treadmill, stair climber, bike path … even yoga and Pilates mats steer you into moving along an axis.

If you’ve ever felt the urge to break out of “front-facing” workouts (notice how different you feel when you dance vs. work out?), Gyrotonic is a workout to try.

Derived from words for “circle” and “stretch,” Gyrotonic works your body in a decidedly nonlinear way through a fusion of expressive-looking circular movements. Combining elements of dance, yoga, swimming, t’ai chi and gymnastics, it’s a liberating experience — a way to exercise outside the lines.

“There’s something about the 360-degree orientation that wakes up the spirit,” says Janet Rupp, a four-year Gyrotonic student at White Cloud studio in Boulder, Colo., who shifted to Gyrotonic from Pilates and hiking at age 58.

“It’s playful and fluid,” Rupp adds. “We tend to take ourselves so seriously. This adds lightness to life.”

That’s the intention behind the Gyrotonic method developed by Juliu Horvath, a Romanian-born dancer, swimmer and devoted yogi who introduced Gyrokinesis, or “ Yoga for Dancers,” to elite performers in New York City in the 1970s.

Horvath expanded on the yoga-like floor work (which also includes exercises done on a padded stool) as the basis for his Gyrotonic Expansion System. This workout equipment’s handles and pulleys enable sweeping, arcing movements that contrast the back-and-forth motion of most weight equipment or Pilates Reformers.

Both floor- and machine-based Gyrotonic workouts emphasize rhythmic, flowing sequences of movements paired with specific breathing patterns that help stimulate cardiovascular and neurological systems. And both emphasize core work — toning the muscles around the torso and improving posture, balance and agility.

Something for every body

Boxing coach and avid mountain biker Gilbert Million, 48, credits Gyrotonic with increasing his core strength, balance and coordination — and a dramatic difference in his handling skills on bike trails.

“Gyrotonic brings that circular motion,” he says. “It’s unique in that you’re using your muscles throughout their range.”

“Gyrotonic increases the functional capacity of the entire organism,” says Matt Aversa, vice president and COO of the Gyrotonic International Headquarters. “Even if you’re just playing ping-pong, it helps.”

Gyrotonic Master Trainer Kathy Van Patten, also a Pilates instructor and owner of Boston Body Works, Gyrotonic Boston and Gyrotonic Manhattan, says Gyrotonic can benefit people of all ages and lifestyles.

“Children learn how to build and maintain a healthy, strong and upright body early in life,” she says. “Seniors can greatly reduce pain and increase their range of movement. Professionals can quickly resolve lower back discomfort often generated by desk work. And athletes can perfect performance and avoid injuries caused by overcompensation due to weakness or misalignment.”

Gyrotonic has attracted an impressive list of celebrities and athletes, from pro golfers Tiger Woods and Mark Wilson to Madonna, Liv Tyler and Julianne Moore.

Marion Accola, 16, an up-and-coming golfer from Brookfield, Wis., turned to Gyrotonic to improve strength and flexibility. “After doing Gyrotonic about once a week through the winter last year, I have gained much more strength,” she says. “I can drive the ball about 20 yards farther due to increased flexibility, a more coiled turn and the strength I have built in my arms.”  

How it’s different from yoga, Pilates and weight machines

Gyrotonic is “more expansive” than yoga, says Gyrotonic Master Trainer Alice Diamond, who opened her Boulder, Colo., studio after studying personally with Horvath. “There’s more balance between strength and openness,” she says, “and more emphasis on rotation and spiraling movements.”

Aversa says Gyrotonic also differs from yoga and Pilates because there’s “no end point in the movements.” Pilates is more linear; yoga is more static; and Gyrotonic is both circular and fluid. In fact, Gyrotonic can actually accelerate advancement in your yoga practice, says Aversa, allowing you to get into difficult positions more easily.

Aversa also points out one way that Gyrotonic is different from toning or weight-training work: “In Gyrotonic we use resistance to open the body — to leverage rather than to build mass.”

Getting started with Gyro workouts

Gyrotonic instruction is getting easier to find. Its programs and equipment were among the top 10 with growth potential, according to the 2006 Fitness Equipment and Programs Survey by IDEA Health & Fitness Association. And Aversa says more Pilates studios are investing in Gyrotonic equipment, offering a simple way for people to try out the practice.

Gyrokynesis Image

More than two decades after the first Gyrotonic studio opened, there are 1,400 studios worldwide offering Gyrotonic — more than half of them in the U.S.

When choosing a studio that offers Gyrotonic, look for teachers who are fully certified, says Van Patten. The instructor should have completed at least Gyrotonic or Gyrokinesis Foundation Level 1 training through Gyrotonic International, the only organization that certifies Gyrotonic instructors and teacher-trainers.

Van Patten says the instructor you choose should also have a Pulley Tower Unit that is in good working order. And perhaps most important, make sure your teacher is a good fit for you personally.

“The most talented, advanced and commercially successful athletes are not necessarily the most talented teachers,” says Van Patten. Look for someone who has certification and experience, but who is also supportive, imaginative and passionate about his or her work.

For a list of Gyrotonic instructors worldwide, visit www.gyrotonic.com.

3 Gyro moves you can do at home

A great introduction to the Gyrotonic system is through Gyrokinesis, the “floor” version of Gyrotonic that you can do at home without Gyrotonic equipment. Diamond recommends these Gyrokinesis exercises to experience the feeling and benefits of the Gyro genre of movements. These sequences also translate to the Gyrotonic equipment, which will add resistance and potentially greater range of motion.

Cradle

Picture the body rocking like a cradle.

How-to: Sit upright, legs extended, feet pressed together, knees bent to 45-degree angle and slightly apart. Keeping shoulders down, elbows soft and close to the body, scoop forearms into the floor beside hips. Exhale to engage abs, curl pelvis and rock onto sacrum as legs come off floor. Toward end of exhale, cough to expel completely. Inhale to “rock the cradle” back to upright.

Targets: abdominals

Benefits: Rocking the spine while simultaneously scooping the arms creates length in the spine and space in the joints, supporting the head and spine. The cough allows for deep and complete use of the abdominal muscles.   

Cat Back with Twist

Picture a cat stretching.

How-to: Start on hands and knees, feet flexed, heels together, toes apart. Turn left hand so fingers face right and soften elbow. Sliding right hand along the floor, reach right arm through space created by left arm while torso spirals forward into an arch. Keep head up, sternum reaching forward and sit bones reaching back. Change sides. Exhale with each twist.  

Targets: whole body

Benefits: Similar to yoga’s “cat/cow” but with a twist, this move more actively engages the abdominals, spinal muscles and feet.

Simple Kneading

Picture a cat “kneading” with the paws.

How-to: Sit up, legs extended in front of you, feet flexed. Point right foot, bend right knee and slide foot along floor to just above opposite ankle. Meanwhile, left leg reaches outward with equal energy. Change feet. Alternate continuously and exhale with each bend.

Targets: lower body

Benefits: This move creates suppleness in the hips, legs and feet, which allows energy to cycle throughout the entire body, a signature aspect of Gyrotonic methodology.

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