Gyrotonic Expansion System® enhances body intelligence.
Photos by David Young-Wolff
Practicing Gyrotonic® and Gyrokinesis® have decompressed my joints and given me a deep core connectivity, providing me with more range of motion and joint stability. These remarkable techniques make every other physical activity that I do easier, including my yoga practice.
As I child, I used to challenge myself on the trampoline for hours, repeating acrobatic moves like split jumps, and back and front flips, and even challenging myself (and succeeding!) to execute 500 flips in a row. Discovering the capabilities of my body has driven my joy for movement, performance, and now teaching.
My formal training began at age nine in Coral Springs, Florida, inspired by watching a classmate’s back handsprings across the school yard. I studied acrobatics, tap, jazz, and ballet, which I particularly fell in love with due to the amazing Cuban ballet instructor Alina Guerrero. This led to my ongoing study of ballet, including summer training at the prestigious School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center in NYC, the Boston Ballet, the Harid Conservatory, and the USC Summer Dance Conservatory.
I was introduced to Gyrokinesis® twelve years ago while attending the University of South Carolina, by my modern dance professor and Gyrotonic® master teacher trainer, Miriam Barbosa. She incorporated it into class warm-ups and my body felt more connected and aligned than I had ever experienced. My joints felt more stable, my extensions came with more ease (as a result of improvements in range of motion), and my balance was much better.
The more I practiced Gyrokinesis® the more my body transformed. My flexibility improved, my muscles lengthened, and I was able to keep my hips from clicking and popping for the first time due to the newfound stability that was forming around my joints. What more could a dancer ask for? I became certified to teach Gyrokinesis®, so that I could consistently cross-train my body using it.
Gyrokinesis® is a floor work conditioning method involving fluid spherical movements that are designed to simultaneously stretch and strengthen the body without using any outside weight resistance. A Gyrokinesis® class is taught to a group by a certified instructor; the equipment is a Gyrokinesis® stool and mat. Within each class the instructor faces the students and leads them to mirror his/her movements. Classes consist of the trainer giving the students verbal cues to guide them through movements and stretches.
A few months after earning my certification in Gyrokinesis®, I experienced Gyrotonic®. Because Gyrokinesis® was the foundation for Gyrotonic® both of these systems of movement use much of the same vocabulary, and share a conceptual and philosophical framework. Gyrotonic® is a system of movement that systematically stretches and strengthens the body using a specifically designed apparatus. A Gyrotonic® session is most often taught one-on-one but can also be offered in group classes. The instructor demonstrates the movements and breathing and then offers hands-on and verbal corrections. In both Gyrotonic® and Gyrokinesis® (known as the Gyrotonic Expansion System®), students performs spine, hip, and shoulder mobilization exercises that balance strength and flexibility and restore the body to its ideal alignment.
The Gyrotonic Expansion System®
The Gyrotonic Expansion System® was conceptualized and put into practice by Juliu Horvath, a Hungarian who was born in Romania in 1942. Horvath pursued a career as a ballet dancer and performed with the Romanian State Opera, New York City Opera, Houston Ballet, and at Radio City Music Hall. While dancing with Houston Ballet in 1976, Horvath’s career came to a halt when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Horvath applied his knowledge of Kundalini yoga and meditation practices along with other movement techniques to develop his own core-based movement system to heal and repair his body.
Horvath began teaching his method in New York in Central Park and later to dancers at Steps on Broadway, a renowned New York dance studio. Once he established a following, he opened White Cloud Studio in New York City in 1984. According to his assistant Gina Muenstenkotter, at this time, Horvath began developing his first apparatus in a dressing room in the White Cloud Studio. Since the 1980s, it has been utilized by athletes, pre-professional and professional dancers, and others who wish to improve their health and/or rehabilitate from injuries.
Because Horvath had a background in gymnastics, swimming, ballet, Tai Chi, Pilates, and yoga, the Gyrotonic Expansion System® reflects many of the movements used in those disciplines. Gyrotonic® trains the body in fluid, expansive movements and connects and coordinates everything with an internal abdominal lift. The combination of this lift with contrasting movement encourages decompression of the joints and spine; this can provide pain relief in the joints and improve agility. The continuous spiraling and twisting movements massage the muscles surrounding the joints and give the limbs more breath and space to move freely.
The Spinal Motions of Gyrotonic® and Gyrokinesis®
The basic spinal motions of Gyrotonic® and Gyrokinesis® can be done anywhere. They are the foundation of everything movement-based (arch and curl, twisting, side arching, and wave). When working with the equipment, I feel as though I am moving through water while the resistance from the pulley tower allows me to feel weightless. The traction provided by the system of pulleys contrasted with an internal lift of the core musculature, (particularly of the bandhas, or internal locks) gives the limbs a sense of weightlessness.
If I don’t have access to the equipment or if I am warming up without it, I practice a Gyrokinesis® sequence to harness my body’s internal connectivity. I create the push-and-pull contrast that the equipment trains me for by using the friction of my hands and feet against surfaces (such as the floor, a mat, the wall, or a stool), to facilitate traction in my joints. I frequently give these sequences and instructions to my clients as homework.
Neutral Stasis and Perfect Alignment
In order to experience what is known as neutral stasis—the position where your joints are in the perfect alignment for your unique structure, moving the entire body is necessary. The Gyrotonic Expansion System® does this by exercising the front, back, inner, and outer sides of the body in a balanced way so your spine and joints can freely move with both optimal range of motion and joint stabilization. Every day, the body’s alignment shifts and the changes may be subtle so a watchful eye is helpful to shape the body into its ideal alignment and access the greatest strength and flexibility. I love being that watchful eye. Recently, my husband started teaching Gyrotonic, and it has been fun to teach alongside my best friend.
I have used this system to help a child with cerebral palsy decompress her spine, open her shoulders and hips and improve once-weak joints to give her much needed relief. I have seen the reduction of chronic pain in numerous people, and have observed young movement prodigies become strong and stable acrobats. Diligent practice can restore youth and vigor and provide a sense of ease in the body. After a Gyrotonic® class, people feel taller, more supported in their joints, and as though they’ve experienced both a massage and a workout in one hour. A regular practice provides mind-body connectivity, breath-movement coordination, decompressed joints, excellent posture, lengthened musculature, and improved agility.
The Gyrotonic Expansion System® is unparalleled for helping people with injuries and chronic pain and serves as best cross-training for those who want to take their athleticism to new heights. A regular practice of Gyrotonic® can take an ordinary dancer or athlete and help them become extraordinary.