Gyrotonic: A Spin on Yoga

Old meets new when you upgrade your standby yoga routine with a Gyrotonic twist. For a novel way to strengthen and lengthen your muscles, roll up the mat for a Pulley Tower. Sounds a bit more intriguing, doesn’t it?

Fitness buffs, if you haven't quite mastered Crow and your core is still a little wobbly despite years—okay, months—of Pilates, maybe Gyrotonic® and the Pulley Tower is what you've been looking for.

Yes, Gyrotonic really is the name of a workout, and it translates to “circular toning.” But perhaps a more descriptive explanation is yoga on a machine. Gyrotonic is a series of motions and breathing patterns designed to tone your body, both inside and out, and is performed on a contraption rigged with weights, cables and pulleys offering resistance of 10 to 35 pounds.

"Basically, it looks like a medieval torture rack," jokes Vincent Macagnone, the owner of East Village Movements, a Pilates and Gyrotonic studio in New York City—but that doesn't keep the likes of Madonna, Teri Hatcher and Edie Falco from the Pulley Tower.

And it shouldn't keep you either.

The Pulley Tower was specially conceived by Hungarian dancer Juliu Horvath to assist in postures and movements typically found in yoga, gymnastics, ballet and swimming. "It works first on your energy structure, then your skeletal structure and then your muscles," Macagnone says. "It's soft, but not passive. It restores the body really nicely. The breathing patterns that correspond with the movements really rinse the body. Like massage or acupuncture, Gyrotonic is release work, so after you're done, your body really starts to feel like it's free."

But before it feels free, it's going to have to work a bit, and that means doing exercises focusing on the thighs, hips, knees, hamstrings, upper body and abdominals. A typical session includes movements such as the "arch and curl," a motion that stretches your spine forward and back, making the letter C with each articulation; bicycle and scissor motions with your legs while your feet are connected to the Pulley Tower's cables; and "candle in the wind," where you put your hand around a pole and shift your spine the way a candle's flame would shift from one side to the next..

Coupled with that, you practice the "ocean breath" (so called because it should sound like the tide on the shore), a long breath where you inhale and move the spine forward and then arch it as you exhale; "coughing breath," which is just what it sounds like and engages the abdominals; and a burst of short, fast exhales through the nose similar to "fire breath" in yoga.

After you perform these exercises twice a week for about six weeks, Gyrotonic can help alleviate symptoms ranging from lower back pain to cervical problems and everything in between, like herniated discs, knee injuries, scoliosis and a torn rotator cuff. But you don't have to be in pain to take advantage of Gyrotonic's benefits, which include improved flexibility as well as stretching, strengthening and lengthening your muscles.

And what's more, you don't have to wait that long to feel a shift in your body. "A first-timer will walk out feeling energetic, like there's space in the body. You'll feel like you just had a gin and tonic," Macagnone grins. "But it's not wooziness or motion sickness—you just feel light in your joints and muscles."

The real question here is, can something so gentle—and strange—really change your body? "Absolutely, yes," says Macagnone. "It's not aerobic, but there is cardiovascular stimulation and it is a workout. People definitely feel like they've done something. You can speed it up or slow it down so it becomes soothing and gooey, like a moving massage. It hits those hard-to-reach places in the body, and as you start to open up you hear a lot of snap, crackle and pop and oohs and aahs going on. It feels so good. You gotta try it."

Sessions run $50 to $85 for private instruction, which is mandatory until you become acquainted enough with the Pulley Tower to do it alone. To find studios near you that offer the workout, visit Gyrotonic.com.

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