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Gyrotonic

With the gracefulness of a carefully choreographed dance move, the Gyrotonic instructor guides Roberta Quinn through a single spiral rotation.

Ms. Quinn's upper-body lengthens as she turns a handle of the wooden and steel tower unit, while her tail bone sinks back into the curious-looking piece of exercise equipment.

The fluid movement creates an oppositional force, stretching her in two positions at the same time.

"You curl back and you arch," says Billy Macagnone, a certified Gyrotonic teacher and owner of the Body Evolution studio in the East Village of Manhattan. "No beginning, no end. Everything is continuing motion."

Each exercise is synchronized with a corresponding yogic breathing pattern. Gyrotonic was developed using movement principles from yoga, swimming, gymnastics and ballet.

Created two decades ago by Romanian dancer and gymnast Juliu Horvath to combat his own injuries, it was used exclusively by dancers at his Manhattan studio. Since 2000, the equipment has been slowly making its way into rehabilitation centers, dance studios and sports training facilities worldwide.

It's toning and therapeutic abilities are said to have attracted the likes of Madonna, pro golfer Andrew Magee, St. Louis Cardinals Reggie Sanders and Los Angeles Angels Steve Finley.

For Ms. Quinn, a 31-year-old Manhattan yoga instructor with lordosis and scoliosis, the Gyrotonic workout proves a remedy to her spinal curvature troubles.

"I came because I have back problems," she said, explaining that a friend who is a Pilates teacher recommended she try it.

FULL-RANGE OF MOTION
Twice a week she goes to Body Evolution's second-floor walk-up studio at 221 Second Avenue to use the Gyrotonic Expansion System (so called because its spiraling and undulating movements expand and explore the body's joints in a full-range of motion). Essentially, the Gyrotonic machine becomes an extension of the body, allowing it to reach farther than it could on its own.

In Ms. Quinn's case, she had compensated for her back ailments by limiting her abdonminal, or core, workouts.

"She hasn't been moving her spine in all different directions, so the spine starts closing up in areas," said Macagnone. "When we start to open you up, the muscles start to develop in those areas."

It's recommended that clients do Gyrotonic exercises a minimum of two times a week to re-condition the muscle memory to remember to stay open.

"There's actually memory cells inside the muscle that respond to stimuli," explained Macagnone. "What happens after three or four days is the muscle memory starts to kick in from the lack of movement and it goes back to its old habit; it closes up."

Gyrotonic machines such as the tower unit, appear, at first glance, similar to Pilates and gym equipment. But unlike Pilates which uses springs for resistance and works the body in a rectilinear fashion, Gyrotonic relies on a weighted pulley-system that employs spiraling motions.

They also differ from weightlifting stations which isolate and bulk-up certain muscle groups.

Gyrotonic is touted for strengthening and stretching muscles, making them toned and lean, while increasing the functionality of the spine. The system can be adapted to any level of fitness, age and ability.

BRANCHING FROM THE SPINE
All of the Gyrotonic movements, and it's non-machine counterpart Gyrokinesis (done using a mat and bench), are based on seven basic ways to move the spine, said Macagnone.

The movements involve arching the torso backward and curl forward, side bends to the right and left, twisting from side to side and a wave-like forward arch that rounds back vertebra by vertebra.

From those basic movements there are numerous ways to workout.

"There's probably about 200 different ways to articulate your bones and joints," said Macagnone. "It just keeps going and going, you keep blending them, you do them upside down, on your knees, on your back."

About 20 percent of Body Evolution's clients are referred by physical therapists, sports doctors and chiropractors who know about the benefits of Gyrotonic, but don't have it in their own facilities.

The tower unit has a $5,500 sticker price and must be ordered through the Gyrotonic headquarters in Dingmans Ferry, Pa. Any facility using the trademarked equipment needs to employ certified Gyrotonic instructors.

While, there are 46 licensed Gyrotonic facilities in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn, according to the company's Web site www.gyrotonic.com, there are none in Staten Island, Queens or the Bronx.

Currently medical insurance does not pick up the $60 tab for a one-on-one Gyrotonics class. Although, after 10 to 20 sessions clients can usually go to semi-private or open sessions at reduced rates. Gyrokinesis classes at Body Evolution's year-round outdoor garden are $12.

In the four years that Macagnone's studio has been open it's doubled in size, shifting from a majority of clients clamoring to use its Pilates reformers to a demand for the tower units, ladder and jumping/stretching board of Gyrotonic.

Macagnone's client base draws from people looking for a new way to work out, to dancers and athletes recuperating from injuries, to multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis patients and people recovering from heart attacks.

"You're just getting them in touch with the natural way that they move," said Macagnone. "It's not like exercise. It's very playful."

Now known as Gyrotonic (from "gyro" meaning spiral and "tonic" to tone or invigorate), it used in physical therapy facilities in Germany, Korea, Italy, Russia, the Czech Republic and Norway.

Since 2000 it has been cropping up in rehabilitation centers, sports training facilities and dance studios in the U.S. WHO IT'S FOR Clients range from people looking for a new way to work out to dancers and athletes recuperating from injuries, to those with spinal disorders.

HOW ITS DONE
There are two ways to do the exercise therapy. Gyrokinesis is a movement system done on mats in a class setting that stretches and strengthens the body. The same range of movements done on specially designed machines is called Gyrotonic.

THE MOVEMENTS
All of the movements are based on seven basic ways to move the spine.

  • 1 and 2. Arching the torso backward and curling forward
  • 3 and 4. Side bends to the right and left
  • 5 and 6. Twisting from side to side
  • 7. A wave-like forward arch that rounds back vertebra by vertebra