Mary Jane Horton

Looking for a fitness activity that’s fresh and fun? Check out Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis, mind-body exercise techniques that combine yoga-like breathing patterns with flowing circular motions drawn from yoga, dance, tai chi and swimming. Developed by Romanian dancer Juliu Horvath, these “new kids” on the exercise block are on the cusp of becoming the latest fitness craze, with the number of Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis studios worldwide having grown from 250 to 1,400 in the last five years. And like any respectable exercise regimen, it has a celebrity following that includes Liv Tyler, Julianne Moore, Andrew McCarthy and Bernadette Peters.

Like Pilates, Gyrotonic is done on machines -- usually a large tower with weights and pulleys, and a bench on which you sit or lie down. Gyrokinesis is the machine-free version and is performed on a floor mat or stool. According to Justine Bernard, physical therapist, Gyrotonic/Gyrokinesis master teacher and owner of Elements Fitness & Wellness Center in Washington, D.C., benefits include:

- Increased muscle strength

- Greater flexibility

- Better balance

- Improved posture

- Increased ease of movement

- Improved recovery from injury

- Reduced risk of injury

While Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis are good for all ages and fitness levels, it’s especially beneficial for dancers, athletes, people who are recovering from injury or surgery (just be sure that the teacher or physical therapist you are working with is knowledgeable about your particular condition) and older adults who want to be able to move more easily, notes Bernard. In fact, Horvath developed the method in 1984 after being sidelined by a ruptured Achilles tendon and injured disks in his back. What’s more, he designed the machines and concepts not only to mend himself, but to help other ballet dancers with their fluidity of motion. Rumor has it that while developing Gyrotonic, he had in mind the director of a famous New York ballet company who had implored him to develop a way to “unstick” dancers who had done too much Pilates -- hence the original name of the program, Yoga for Dancers.

A Pilates devotee for many years, I started doing Gyrotonic while rehabilitating a broken ankle. The facility I went to just happened to offer Gyrotonic. For a while, I stared at the strange-looking wooden tower. I asked about it, but couldn’t really visualize how it was used, so I decided to try it myself. I was pleasantly surprised by the full stretching circular flowing motions. It was much different from the linear back-and-forth motion of Pilates, which emphasizes core strength by developing core stability with linear exercises. To me, Gyrotonic was like super Pilates -- many of the moves are similar, but with Gyrotonic you go further, often 360 degrees, in circular, spiraling, undulating motions. After a Gyrotonic session, I felt much looser and freer than from any other type of exercise I had tried. It stretched my spine and made me feel as if I had just had an hour-long massage.

Indeed, Gyrotonic “has a playful feel to it,” notes Tannis Kobrinsky, who has been teaching Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis in Southern California since 2004. “You’re allowed to move very organically, as if discovering your movement inner child. I try to move clients to that place where they feel like they are skipping, spinning, opening up from the base of their spine (as in Kundalini yoga) and their heart (as in Anusara yoga).”

Full range of motion, flexibility, core strength and relaxation: With Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis, all are achieved through one session. No wonder it’s catching on! Says Victoria Jaycox, a client of Bernard’s Elements: “I am only exaggerating a little [when I] say that [my husband and I] have found our fountain of youth.” 

Mary Jane Horton has written for Shape, Prevention, Living Fit and Vegetarian Times. A former editor at Fit Pregnancy and Living Fit magazines, she is now editor in chief of Plum, a lifestyle magazine for pregnant women over 35.


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Health - Gyrotonic: Fitness That's Fun