Gyrotonic is a mind-body exercise modality that moves the body through circular sequences and patterns. But it’s more than just a good stretch — it offers other benefits too.
Gyrotonic® — not to be mistaken for a lunch wrap or a cocktail — is a unique system of exercise that has been around since the early 1980’s.
“Gyro” comes from the Greek for “spiral” or “circle,” and “tonic” — an adjective that means “of healthy muscular condition.” As a modality offering movements in every plane, as well as cardiovascular, strength, and mobility benefits, Gyrotonic is a fitting name.
It’s often described as a “massage from the inside out,” or as a mixture of Tai Chi, swimming, and yoga on a machine.
The movements, though natural to the body, are unique compared to other forms of exercise. They consist of flowing combinations of twists, spirals, bending, and extending in a rhythmical fashion with the breath.
While the catchphrase “The Art of Exercising and Beyond®” — typically paired with images of lithe, otherworldly dancers — may seem intimidating, the Gyrotonic method is adaptable and scalable.
In fact, it’s growing in popularity in rehabilitative settings. More and more physical therapists worldwide are getting certified in Gyrotonic or partnering with Gyrotonic instructors to enhance their clients’ treatments.
Athletes such as Andy Murray, Shaquille O’ Neil, and Olympian runner Steven Solomon have publicly endorsed the method, citing positive differences in their sport or game. Celebrities including Tracee Ellis Ross and Lady Gaga have been long term fans of the method.
To learn more about Gyrotonic, its benefits, and why you’ll want to check it out, read on.
Gyrotonic® is a unique method of whole body movement that flows in circular and spiraling patterns to promote strength, balance, flexibility, and efficiency of movement. This type of exercise relies on your natural mobility, moving through the full range of motion in your joints without compressing or restricting movement.
The Gyrotonic expansion system was created by Romanian-born professional dancer Juliu Horvath. After a serious dance injury he delved into a yoga practice and then moved to the mountains of St. Thomas for six years. That is where Gyrotonic began.
The original work known as “Yoga for Dancers” evolved out of a deep study of yoga and meditation and his own experiential insights.
Over time, in New York City, Juliu renamed it Gyrokinesis®, refining and adapting the work making it accessible for everyone. Gyrokinesis is a mat-based class that begins on a stool, moves to the floor, and finishes standing.
Gyrotonic, which is done using specialized equipment, was created as a means to guide, support, and understand Gyrokinesis deeper.
Jane Gotch, a Master Trainer and owner of two Gyrotonic studios in North America says “You’re not working against the machine. The machine is providing the nervous system, brain, and the tissue a sensation of support and then the individual can take that sensation of support into their daily lives.”
There are 5 pieces of specialized equipment that help you generate thousands of possible movements. They’re predominantly made of wood, reflecting the flowing, spiraling motions of the method and our bodies.
The first and most recognized piece of equipment is the pulley tower. Its two parts consist of a bench with rotating handles at one end, and a weighted cable system on a tower.
Newer models are adjustable, allowing for a fully customized workout. Movement capacity and body proportion are taken into account when adjusting the equipment so that everyone benefits from moving through their full range of motion.
Gyrotonic is a multilayered modality that can challenge your brain, your physicality, and both at the same time. It’s based on fundamentals similar to Eastern practices such as Tai Chi, with an emphasis on opening up the energy channels of the body.
Gyrotonic aims to correct dysfunctional muscular and skeletal patterns while enhancing movement efficiency. It does this through slow to moderate repetitions and continuous tension through movement.
It works the spine through its full range of motion with arching, curling, and twisting, using flow and rhythm coordinated with the breath.
Crispin Redhead, Master Trainer and owner of Gyrotonic® Toronto says “it’s organic – the body wants to move that way.” Most of the movements echo the natural spirals that occur in the body — think of the visual representation of DNA, for instance.
Redhead says, “All of the exercises are based on circular movements. We stabilize the core then add wonderful, continuous, rotational movements, gradually warming up the joints and the body.”
There have only been a handful of clinical studies about Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis, and very few of them are recent.
Anecdotally, people who practice and teach Gyrotonic claim benefits such as:
- increased spinal mobility
- increased strength, flexibility, and stamina
- improved posture
- increased body awareness
- better coordination
- increased respiratory function
- better circulation
- faster muscle recovery
- increased energy and vitality
- increased range of motion
- healthier joint function
- decreased low back pain
- a feeling of the body in better balance
The most notable research on Gyrotonic exercise includes a clinical study from 2003 that found improvement with scoliosis. More recent research has demonstrated improvements in
Valerie Rolf van den Baumen, PT, PTMScPT, PhD in Sport Medicine and owner of PT’Movement believes she has had a higher success rate since using the Gyrotonic method in her clinic.
Gyrotonic exercise is unique in that it doesn’t divide the spine into parts or isolate certain areas of the body. Rather, the body is worked as one unit. This allows for more refined movement patterns to emerge.
Rolf van den Baumen explains, “In physical therapy there are limited movements that noticeably will improve motor control (the way the nervous system communicates with the muscles).
“When a patient is able to execute a proper movement pattern, the movement becomes joyful and can be translated into other physical activity without any effort,” she says.
Rolf van den Baumen offers the example of the Gyrotonic arch and curl sequence translating to a higher quality golf swing.
Gotch says “our number one goal is the function and health of the spine because everything starts there; from our nerves and internal organs, to how muscles and tissues are firing.” With
Yoga, Pilates, and Gyrotonic are all mind body practices that have grown in popularity in recent years. But while it may seem easy to group them together, they are vastly different.
Yoga moves from one static position to another preparing the mind and body for a spiritual practice. Pilates emphasizes the core, ideal posture, and addressing muscular imbalances. Gyrotonic focuses on the fascia, nervous system, and skeletal system.
Pilates isn’t static, but when it comes to flow it cannot compete with the multidirectional and continuous sequencing of Gyrotonic. Gyrotonic progresses through repetition and rhythm. Pilates tends to have fewer reps and many forms of yoga require you to hold positions.
Yoga is the oldest of the three modalities, and both Joseph Pilates and Juliu Horvath were students of yoga. As a result, both Pilates and Gyrotonic boast a comprehensive mat repertoire, but it’s the resistance work using machines that makes both of these methods different than yoga.
Yet, the feedback between a Pilates reformer and Gyrotonic pulley tower is very different. Pilates uses springs, whereas Gyrotonic uses a pulley and weight system.
Gotch adds “I love the capacity and freedom of movement that the (Gyrotonic) pulley tower gives me. It provides a floating, suspension quality and is great [for] the autonomic nervous system.”
So what can an individual expect in a first session?
Due to the nature of the equipment, most Gyrotonic sessions are offered as a one to one session. Some urban areas like New York City have studios with multiple machines to accommodate group classes, or you can join a Gyrokinesis class which is done on a stool and mat.
In regards to a specific structure of movements, both Redhead and Gotch share that it’s based on the individual and where they’re currently at. You might have a revelation about the capabilities of what your body can do.
Redhead says, “The body will feel elongated and stretched at first, but [reaping the full benefits of this method requires you to work] deeper and takes time.” Gotch has found that people are curious about the work and say “that just looks like it feels good.”
Everyone — that’s what our experts say! Gyrotonic offers something for everyone, regardless of their abilities, size, or age.
A good Gyrotonic instructor can scale and adapt the work to meet the individual’s needs.
You can try Gyrotonic if you want to enhance your general health or if you’re a professional athlete looking to take your sport to the next level or if you’re recovering from an injury.
With exercises performed in every position — from standing, sitting, kneeling, lying on the floor, high off the floor, or from a wheelchair — Gyrotonic offers many options for mobilizing the body.
Gyrotonic is a multifaceted exercise modality that is adaptable and accessible for everyone.
Both within the mind-body realm of exercise and for rehabilitation purposes, the popularity of Gyrotonic continues to grow and evolve. Hopefully, in coming years, more research surrounding the benefits of this technique will emerge.
In the meantime, Gyrotonic is worth considering for overall health and longevity. As with any new exercise program, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider prior to starting, and find a trained and certified instructor to guide your workouts.
With the right training, you may benefit from the spiraling sequences of Gyrotonic, too!