Gyrotonic is a unique system of exercise that incorporates movement principles from yoga, dance, gymnastics, swimming and t’ai chi. Central to gyrotonic is the Gyrotonic Expansion System, or GXS, a specially designed wooden machine with rotational discs and weighted pulleys that allow the exerciser to strengthen their muscles using flowing, circular movements.
The Gyrotonic Expansion System is composed of the Gyrokinesis and Gyrotonic exercise methods. The Gyrokinesis Method, originally called “Yoga for Dancers,” is practiced on a mat & chair, and the Gyrotonic Method uses specialized equipment that permits one to move with support and resistance. Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis exercise sequences are intended to increase the functional capacity of the entire organism in a harmonious way. Both methods embrace key principles also found in swimming, dance, yoga, tai chi, and gymnastics, and emphasize continuous, flowing movements, synchronized with corresponding breath patterns. Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis exercise sequences are usually taught in a one hour private or group class at a Gyrotonic studio, or fitness facility.
Principles of Gyrotonic Expansion System
Four primary principles of the Gyrotonic Expansion System are listed below.
“Intention is the driving force that moves the body.”(Juliu Horvath) It is a person’s vision that guides his/her movement in the desired direction.
Stabilization through Contrast
“Instead of attempting to create stabilization by fixing or holding the body in a particular position, The Gyrotonic Expansion System encourages the mover to find a balance between reaching, or lengthening outward (extending or expanding), and pulling inward toward the bodies core (tensing, or retracting). This opposition is not static, instead there is a continuous wave like pulsation of reaching out, and reeling in from the center of the body. In this way stability is attained by a counterbalance of opposing forces.” (Joyce Campbell)
Decompression of the joints
Joints that are overly compressed cannot move freely. Decompression of the joints can be attained by utilizing the principle of stabilization through contrast, along with cuing exercisers to articulate joints with a scooping, curvilinear motion. By creating a scooping motion, and moving around joints in a circular manner, greater space may be attained in the joints, optimizing the quality,and efficiency of most joint movements.
Coordination of movement and breath
The Gyrotonic Expansion System stresses the value of using a corresponding breath pattern for each movement. Generally this involves inhaling when a movement is intended to expand, or open, and exhaling when a movement is intended to contract, or close.
Some of the benefits that may be gained by practicing the Gyrotonic,and Gyrokinesis methods are increased circulation; cardiovascular stimulation; increased mobility of the joints; stimulation, and strengthening of the nervous system; mobilization of the spine; improved sense perception; greater balance, and flow of energy; and improved coordination.
The Gyrotonic Method utilizes specially designed exercise equipment. All Gyrotonic equipment is developed by Gyrotonic Expansion System Creator, Juliu Horvath. Horvath designed Gyrotonic equipment to accommodate the natural movement patterns of the human body. Gyrotonic equipment incorporates curvilinear wooden framework, and has numerous adjustments so that it can be customized to each users unique physique, and physical ability.
There are five different models of Gyrotonic equipment used commercially by Gyrotonic trainers. The Pulley Tower Combination Unit is the most widely used piece of Gyrotonic Equipment. The other four models of equipment are categorized as Specialized Equipment. Gyrotonic Specialized Equipment includes: the Jumping Stretching Board, the Gyrotoner, the Leg Extension Unit, the Archway.
Beatriz Pascual is attributed as the woman who introduced gyrotonic to the UK. Trained by Julio Horvath, who created the system, she has her own studio in London, and also runs gyrotonic teacher training programmes (gyrotonic.co.uk). ‘Gyrotonic may resemble Pilates,’ says Pascual, ‘but it is much more like yoga in its origin and breathing techniques.
‘The machine facilitates your movements,’ Pascual continues, ‘but it makes you do the work, not the other way round. You will feel better after one session, but overnight miracles aren’t going to happen – this is one of the biggest issues I have explaining to my clients. It takes at least five to 10 sessions to understand the principles behind gyrotonic.
‘Gyrotonic is three-dimensional in its range of movements, and this is unique to this form of exercise. Individuals who are used to working in linear movements are often surprised by how little control they have of their bodies in this way – so you need to be consistent with your sessions to see the benefits. Once a week is good, but twice a week is preferable.
‘Connecting with your body and getting the breathing right is crucial to getting the most out of gyrotonic – which means switching off and leaving the pressures of life outside.
Establishing this state of active relaxation can be hard, especially when you are concentrating on mastering new body skills and trying to do your best. Gyrotonic is a complete system of exercising: it articulates your joints, improves the flow of energy through the body, stimulates acupuncture points, builds stamina and strength and improves health.’
To find a teacher, your best bet is to log on to gyrotonic.com, the central website for everything there is to know about gyrotonic. Simply type in your postcode and the website will come up with a list of teachers and studios near you.
An introductory gyrotonic session will always focus on a warm-up before moving on to working on the GXS machine. Exercises start with movements at the base of the spine and progress to the arms, neck and shoulders. Pulleys with straps are attached to your feet as your legs are stretched and strengthened, while at the same time encouraging movement in the abdominal muscles. Each class is one-on-one and lasts for about an hour. Since the machines are quite big and the system very specific, small group classes aren’t that common, and the average class costs around £45.
Gyrotonic may have originated as a way of helping dancers, but its teachers consider it to be beneficial for just about anyone, including youngsters, those with arthritis and individuals seeking rehabilitation.
When finding out more, you may also come across gyrokinesis, which is a kind of floor version of gyrotonic. Since it does not use the big equipment, gyrokinesis classes tend to be run as small groups and are cheaper – expect to pay around £12 a session.
When it comes to kit, all you need is a T-shirt, a pair of comfortable leggings and some socks. You could do gyrotonic barefoot, but socks are preferred for reasons of hygiene. But if you’re one of those people who prefers to cut more of a dash when they’re exercising and who enjoys wearing specific functional clothing, then Adidas, Nike and Puma, among the major sports brands, offer the best selection. Labels such as Cassal, Fuerteventura, Bell Ferguson, Sweaty Betty (sweatybetty.com) and She Active (sheactive.com) also offer some stylish yet functional choices.
Although there are some potential cardiovascular benefits from gyrotonic, you’re not going to end each session in a pool of sweat, so while breathable clothing is preferable, forking out for technically designed kit is not essential. If you do get hooked and want your own GXS equipment to use at home, it will set you back at least £2,500.
All the training, equipment, teacher training certification and DVD products – just about anything to do with gyrotonic, in fact – goes through Julio Horvath’s website, gyrotonic.com.
I also have quite a sweet tooth and love to have chocolate in one form or another for my lunch dessert.
The Downside of Gyrotonic
It’s pricey. Private classes are expensive, often starting at £45 a session, which makes a one-on-one Pilates class look cheap at an average £29.
Not very many teachers. If you are keen, you may find yourself having to travel quite far to get your fix.
Not particularly sociable. Gyrotonics requires a degree of commitment, yet it’s a relatively solitary form of exercise. Group classes are rare since the machines are so big. If you prefer the support of exercising in a group, you could seek out gyrokinesis classes instead.
It can be frustrating. Unless you’ve got really good co-ordination, picking up the different circular movements can be a bit like rubbing your stomach while you pat your head. You need to give yourself time to see your body change as you learn the different moves.
The benefits of Gyrotonic
Sports medics have attributed a more upright and elegant posture to the continuous involvement of the supportive muscles as they are strengthened and stretched.
Puts no stress on joints
Gyrotonics is beneficial for anyone suffering from joint pain because the unique way of securing the pulleys on the GXS machines allows movement without impact.
Leads to better co-ordination
The major muscle groups work together as well as interdependently, which, over time, leads to increased coordination with more efficient muscle recruitment.
Lifts your spirits
Fans attribute increased energy and raised spirits to the circular, spiralling motions and specific individual breathing patterns, which help relax tight muscles and stiff joints.
Gives you full spinal mobility
Gyrotonic movements free the spine to move in all directions, so improving back suppleness.
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.
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.”
Gyrotonic is different from yoga, Pilates and weight machines
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.”
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.
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.