The Gyrotonic Method: A Mind-Body Practice to Try
Benefits include a balanced nervous system and improved posture along with better flexibility and mobility
Her long gray hair swirls, and the energy — spinning, rippling, pulsing, undulating — is palpable. ClydeRae Jolie-Ashe, 77, a grandmother of seven, great grandmother, dancer, singer, bodyworker, movement educator and business owner has spent decades practicing yoga, the Trager Approach (a mind-body practice), Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis, the Yang style of Tai Chi and other holistic movement disciplines.
She has traveled the globe studying, teaching and training and is looking forward to a working visit to Greece later this year. "My journey spirals, ebbs and flows, leading me on, and I expect to be actively learning and teaching for at least another ten years," Jolie-Ashe says.
In a Gyrokinesis class, students generally begin in a seated position and move through a series of flowing rhythmic movements that move the spine in all directions.
Her passion now is the Gyrotonic Expansion System, practiced in 80 countries with more than 15,000 trainers. It encompasses two related but different methods.
The Gyrotonic Method uses specialized equipment to guide and assist the exerciser. Gyrokinesis is practiced on a stool or chair, then in a standing position, and finally working on a mat without equipment. Both are taught in individual or small group classes.
In a Gyrokinesis class, students generally begin in a seated position and move through a series of flowing rhythmic movements that move the spine in all directions. Many movements involve crossing the midline of the body, something which Jolie-Ashe says helps to balance the nervous system.
The movements, which include extension, flexion and rotation, create a lengthening and decompression through the spine and then through the rest of the body, which leads to a greater range of motion. After the spine, hips and shoulders are mobilized in the sitting position, standing work is done, which helps maintain balance.
The Gyrotonic Method
The Gyrotonic Method bears some resemblance to Pilates, which was developed back in the 1920s. Juliu Horvath, a Romanian-born Hungarian ballet dancer in the early 1980s, developed his new movement system that he originally called "Yoga for Dancers."
While both modalities utilize specialized equipment and emphasize mindful movement and the incorporation of breath and movement, the exercise principles, movements and equipment differ.
An innovative thinker, Horvath, working with a woman with a shoulder injury, began to develop his method by affixing a nail to the wall and attaching a string to it. He showed the woman how to use the string to make bigger and bigger symmetrical circles, making her arm movements more and more precise. Then, after finding discarded barstools on the street, he used them to make his first piece of Gyrotonic equipment.
He then combined several elements to create a stretching board, a leg extension unit and a Gyrotoner. After many changes, that equipment became what it is today. A separate unit, called a Pulley Tower, was added later.
Horvath has said that when he now looks at Pilates equipment, he sees buildings with lots of right angles and not a lot of curves, but the Gyrotonic equipment reminds him of a flower unfolding.
The Gyrotonic approach helps to create length and decompression of the spine, allowing for a greater range of motion with less chance of injury.
Jolie-Ashe is a Gyrotonic Method and Gyrokinesis Master trainer taught and credentialed by Horvath. She explains, "Historically, people were more drawn to the Gyrotonic Method because of the use of equipment, which gives you spatial guidance."
Jolie-Ashe continues, "However, with Gyrokinesis now becoming increasingly popular, people have to create their own space, and trainers and teachers are now believing that gyrokinesis is the true essence of the work."
Besides training others, Jolie-Ashe now teaches in her upstate New York studio, sharing her love of movement with athletes, dancers, pregnant women, the young and the old, and people recovering from surgeries, illnesses and accidents, including those with brain injuries and neurological disorders such as Parkinson's Disease.
She began Zoom sessions early in the pandemic and still does some, although she says she is delighted to be doing in-person training and teaching again.
The Gyrotonic Method Is Good For You
The Gyrotonic Method can help with various everyday ailments that often affect those who grew up doing dances like the "twist," the "frug," and the "alley cat," such as lower back pain, stiff joints, neck and shoulder pain and arthritic knees. The method also "helps with proprioception (knowing where your body is in space), breathing and balance, and fall prevention," says Jolie-Ashe.
In her blog about mind-body fitness, Gyrotonic Master Trainer Aimee McDonald talks about the many benefits of Gyrokinesis and the Gyrotonic Method, especially for mature adults. For example, decreased mobility in the spine, feet and ankles often leads to changes in gait that may lead to a shuffling motion.
Increasing mobility through Gyrotonic exercises can help to regain the mobility that allows for healthy gait patterning. The exercises strengthen the muscles that support the spine and help stabilize the shoulder girdle, and create some essential strengthening in the arms and legs, even though resistance training is not part of the Gyrokinesis work.
The Gyrotonic approach helps to create length and decompression of the spine, allowing for a greater range of motion with less chance of injury. In addition, it opens up the joints and the surrounding soft tissue, helping with flexibility and mobility.
"A non-restricted, pain-free, fluid body is what we are trying to create."
Those of us who spend time texting or sitting at the computer are prone to hunching over and developing changes in posture that can undermine proper body alignment. The strengthening movements taught in Gyrokinesis classes help to improve posture, with the secondary effect of improving breathing since it opens up space between the ribs and the diaphragm.
McDonald writes that Gyrokinesis work can help with the pelvic floor's strength and suppleness, helping participants become more aware of these areas and thereby decrease the risk of urinary incontinence.
She also points out that movement, especially that which requires remembering a sequence of steps, is helpful with maintaining and enhancing cognitive function.
For people with injuries or post-surgery, Gyrotonic sessions can be an excellent complement to physical therapy sessions or rehabilitation. They can significantly aid in the healing process due to the focus on joint stability, muscle balance and functional strength; of course, it's always important to check with your healthcare provider to find out what kind of movement and exercise is safe for you.
"A non-restricted, pain-free, fluid body is what we are trying to create," says Horvath, who lives in the Black Forest in Germany, and at age 80, is still training others and continuing his movement practice.
Jolie-Ashe explains, "I am fascinated by life and by movement. After two serious injuries, one of which included a brain injury, I found physical therapy and other attempts at recovery to be somewhat helpful, but it was Gyrotonic work that brought me back to the possibility of joy and healing."
Adding Gyrotonic or Gyrokinesis practices to your health and wellness regimen is a wonderful way to facilitate the process of staying or getting healthy and strong, with joy and mind-body unity added to the mix for an added perk.