The Latest Twist: Gyrotonic Exercise
Pilates Meets Dance Meets Yoga Meets . . . You, Maybe
By Therese Droste
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 27, 2001; Page HE08
Pilates, puh-leese. That's so January. If you really want to keep up with the latest next big thing in fitness, the word is "Gyro" – short for Gyrokinesis and Gyrotonic.
Gyrokinesis is a movement system that claims to "stretch and strengthen the body," affording a greater range of motion than Pilates in a less static form than yoga. It's performed while sitting on a chair, lying on the floor and standing up. Gyrotonic is its machine-based counterpart, whose metal and leather-clad apparatus looks like what you'd get if you crossbred a torture rack and a gynecologist's examining table.
The Gyro system's circular motions are based on movements from dancing, swimming and yoga, says its New York-based creator, former dancer Juliu Horvath, 59. Gyrokinesis evolved from Yoga for Dancers, a system of extreme stretches and arches that Horvath developed 20 years ago to help him recover from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered while dancing with the Houston Ballet.
My introduction to the Gyro system got off to a dubious start.
At a recent Gyrokinesis class at the District's Body College, visiting master trainer Sebastian Plettenberg warmed up 15 participants – including yours truly – with Qigong moves laced with New Age blather. "Beat your ribs to open up your body," instructed Plettenberg, owner of New York's YogaMoves. Following his direction, we massaged our scalps, shook our faces "to loosen the skin" and pressed our fingers on closed eyelids "to release our eyeballs." Then Plettenberg instructed us to place our fingers near our bellybuttons, push inward and touch our backbones. His hands disappeared down to his wrists into his wiry dancer's body.
But the tone returned to earth when Plettenberg began to guide us through meticulously choreographed exercises. I sat on a "chair" – a pile of yoga mats – and twisted my body to the left, then the right; held my hands behind my neck and stretched out to "yawn" my chest open; and rotated my torso around and around. We hit the floor and performed more spinal twists, turns and stretches. At the end of the 90-minute session, I felt as relaxed as if I'd had a two-hour massage. But it took me several hours to realize something was missing: My chronic lower back pain. Two weeks later, it's still gone.
Gyrokinesis includes three levels, from basic to advanced. Gyro proponents say the program's exercises massage the nervous system, improve muscle tone, release the joints and increase flexibility.
"There are about 120 exercises [in Gyrokinesis] with over 220 variations to each one," says Horvath. Each Gyrokinesis movement, he adds, is based on "five spinal articulations." These include moving the torso backward and forward, side to side and around in a full circle, and twisting it from left to right. Rippling is the fifth movement: You bend forward from the waist, round your back, and – vertebra by vertebra – release the back as you straighten up.
Similar movements can also be performed on five different Gyrotonic machines. "Most pieces of traditional fitness equipment segment the body – pecs, abs, biceps – to work them out separately," says Michael Wright, owner of The Body College, whose studio has offered Gyro instruction for the past year. "The Gyrotonic machines provide a flowing workout for the entire body, not just for certain parts of it." The Body College's Gyrokinesis classes cost $20 an hour; Gyrotonic sessions of the same duration cost between $65 and $75, says Wright. To date, these are the only Gyro classes in the area.
Some Gyro users, like 38-year-old Adam Bernstein, a District real estate developer who's racked up some 30 sessions on the equipment, swear by the system. Adding Gyrotonic to his Pilates exercise regime has helped alleviate back and neck pain, says Bernstein. "Gyrotonic also helped my golf swing because it increased my stability and flexibility," he says – though it didn't lower his handicap.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
Alesia Fowler, left, a master teacher at The Body College, uses the gyrotonic expansion system with the help of Body College owner Mike Wright.
(By Sarah L. Voisin - The Washington Post)