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It's all about spirals, twists and rotations with a New Age spin. Don't be fooled: It ain't easy.

By Amy Verner: Sweat
Published on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009

I've never given much thought to the difference between a workout and exercise. I frequently used the words interchangeably to refer to some form of structured physical activity.

That was until I tried Gyrotonic, which uses elaborate wooden equipment to strengthen and lengthen the body. Pilates enthusiasts, take note: Gyrotonic is not as closely related as it sounds. Think of them as cousins rather than siblings. While Pilates emphasizes the core, the goal of Gyrotonic is to increase the space between the vertebrae through fluid movement.

Rather than static poses, it's about spirals, twists and rotations with a New Age, well, spin. It's rhythmic and restorative exercise, as opposed to a sweaty, grunt-filled workout. But that doesn't mean it's easy.

At Gyrotonic Toronto by Crispin, a serene second-floor studio that looks more like an indoor jungle gym designed by Charles and Ray Eames, all newcomers are assessed before they start on the various apparatuses. Owner Crispin Redhead, a former dancer and aerobics instructor, watches how I walk and looks for areas of tightness in my back.

In Gyrotonic, “narrowing” is one of the primary buzzwords; it can be achieved by re-enacting the moment immediately prior to jumping when the body prepares itself by getting into straighter alignment. I use this principle to try spine arching and curling exercises while seated on a stool. Mr. Redhead gets me to exhale using a “haaaaaaa” noise rather than the “shhhhhh” that typically accompanies Pilates.

If this sounds thought-intensive compared with, say, hopping on an elliptical, it is. When he has me try the “arch and curl” on the pulley tower, I work harder at putting the steps together in my head than actually doing the movement.

It doesn't take long, though, before I become more comfortable with the various spinal movements (forward, backward, sideways, spiralling), which I do straddling the tower's bench, my hands outstretched on the rotating handles like I'm stirring a massive cauldron of soup. For beginners, Mr. Redhead always sets the tension light so that they don't muscle through the movement. “It's important to strengthen and be in control of the tiny muscles first,” he says.

For leg work, Mr. Redhead devotes a substantial part of our sessions to loosening my chronically tight hamstrings, as well as my hip flexors. With my feet in cuffs attached to pulleys, my legs do “bicycle” and “frog” movements that are similar to Pilates reformer work. After every series of exercises, Mr. Redhead tells me to stand up and walk around. Each time, I feel an overall sense of release.

On the jumping stretching board, I do back movements from my knees with my elbows on a cushion that glides back and forth. As I extend further, my back starts to make adjustments, just like a visit to my chiropractor. A visit to the archway is often the grand finale. The first time, Mr. Redhead secured my feet in the footrests and I did a forward bend, my body folding in half and gaining length the longer I hung there.

Mr. Redhead explains that I would need another three months of practice before Gyrotonic starts to feel more intense than a therapeutic stretch session. Am I prepared to make the commitment? Let's put it this way: Gyrotonic will help me cut back on my chiropractor visits. Plus, I feel I have grown through this process, both in my understanding of my body and physically. I may not be any taller but I am standing straighter.

So yes, I look forward to learning more because it's truly an eye-opening experience. Or better yet, a spine-opening one.

What is it?

A series of fluid twists, bends, spirals and stretches developed by former dancer Juliu Horvath in the 1960s that take inspiration from swimming, tai chi, yoga and dance, and incorporate streamlined wood-framed equipment.

How hard is it?

Don't expect difficult in the traditional sense. But getting the swing of things requires an unusual mix of concentration and an open mind. An hour of advanced exercises (which can take months to learn) will leave you breathless and sweaty.

What does it work?

Strengthening the spinal region and creating more space between the vertebrae are the primary goals, but most sessions work the entire body. Chiropractor Sender Deutsch of Shape Toronto says any form of movement is good for the human body but points out that we don't move with the help of machines in everyday life. “It's important to teach people how to move through their entire range of motion using gravity," he says. “Will this do any harm? Not unless you're being pushed beyond your physical limit.”

What are classes like?

Gyrotonic is not offered as group exercise. Sessions are one-on-one and customized to suit individual strengths and problem areas.

Who's taking it?

Gyrotonic Toronto by Crispin attracts a wide range of dancers and athletes who use the sessions to enhance their performance. It's also an alternative to therapy or rehab. Crispin Redhead says his clients range in age from 14 to 84 although most appear to be successful overachievers who see Gyrotonic as a complement to their intense workouts.


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SHAPE Health & Wellness Centre

35 Coldwater Rd.
Toronto ON M3B1Y8

CALL: 416.929.8444

Call SHAPE Today
Mon. - Thurs. 6am - 9pm
Fri. 6am - 6pm
Sat. 8am - 6pm
Sun. 9am - 4pm