Gyrotonics was created by Juliu Horvath, a Hungarian born in Romania in 1942. His love of movement, expressed in his childhood through swimming, gymnastics, and rowing, turned into a love of dance. After having much success with the Romanian national ballet and New York City Ballet, his career ended abruptly when he ruptured his Achilles tendon.
Juliu began a yoga practice to help heal his injury. Over time, he refined his format so anyone could perform it regardless of age or state of health. He took the principles from yoga, dance, and other movement practices to build new techniques and ways to strengthen the core, improve balance, and increase flexibility. This became the Gyrokinesis methodology. Juliu began building the equipment to enhance the Gyrokinesis movements, and developed specialized equipment, referred to as Gyrotonic exercises.
Lillian Wilner, owner of Spiralz in Madison, shares Juliu’s passion for dancing. It’s all she ever wanted to do growing up in Savannah, Georgia. And, similar to Juliu, Lillian spent most of her dance career far away from home, but for her it was in Canada at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Montreal through an apprentice program and then in the Alberta Ballet Company.
After her retirement from dancing, Lillian and her husband, who passed away December 2018, moved to the United States for job opportunities in Wisconsin. Her husband was the managing director at American Players Theatre in Spring Green for 18 years, and Lillian still teaches ballet at Madison Professional Dance Center.
Becoming a certified trainer in Gyrotonics, which describes itself as “The Art of Exercising and Beyond,” was a natural step for Lillian. The effectiveness of the spiraling movements that are the basis of the practice is something Lillian’s career can attest to. Those movements also give clients the feeling they can possess the grace and fluidity of a dancer.
“There is something about this system that is really different from other regular exercises,” says Lillian. “I’ve been calling it therapeutic exercise because I have so many of my clients coming to me saying, ‘I’ve had [pain from] arthritis in my knees for years, and I don’t have that anymore.’
“I have an 85-year-old woman who has been coming for years. [Gyrotonics] works with the spine, and one of the things about the system is it supports all the movements. The core and decompressing the joints. That’s why it helps with injuries and chronic pain. It helps to loosen and decompress the joints throughout the body and especially the spine. The machine assists to make this happen. … [Clients] are thanking me, and I’m thinking ‘hey, don’t thank me, thank the system.’ I’m just working you through the system.
“Gyrotonics uses the same kind of breathing like in yoga. The breathing becomes very specific once people get used to the movements. More of a learning curve to really start to perfect some of it. The practice is movement based, and not everyone will find the movements natural at first—they might feel more comfortable in poses. It’s about using the full range of motion of the body. Hence the spiraling, the arches and curls, it’s all a combination of what the body can do.”
The system of Gyrotonics centers around the Pulley Tower Combination Unit. Other machines can be added to the practice, like the Jumping-Stretching Board, but their uses aren’t intuitive. Lillian feels it takes at least ten sessions before people get the hang of the practice. To help clients get acquainted with the system, Lillian focuses on one-on-one sessions. “There are other studios that are well-established with multiple Pulley Towers and Jumping-Stretching Boards; however, people need to take enough one-on-one sessions to be at the same level. … It’s been slow to get people in, for sure. I haven’t done a lot of advertising because the practice is small.”
I had an opportunity while visiting with Lillian to try out Gyrotonics on the Pulley Tower and Jumping-Stretching Board. There is definitely an advantage to having an expert set up each pose or movement because the pulley system and straps were daunting at first. And once she got the machine calibrated, her knowledge in the different motions and breathing techniques to get the full benefits from the workout were instrumental to the entire exercise.
Juliu is in his late 70s and continues to work with master trainers. He is still creating and changing techniques. Lillian says, “We have to do update courses every two years to keep our license. Part of that is Juliu will tweak, change, or add something. He gets together with the master trainers to make sure they are on top of it all.”
Lillian thinks the tight control is important for structure and consistency. “There are not two schools of Gyrotonics, there is one, and that is all there ever will be. There are also specific applications, like for dancers, tennis players, equestrians, swimmers, and golfers and for specific body parts, like shoulders. Physical therapists go through the training and certification for Gyrotonics, and this makes me believe it is starting to become more mainstream.” Gyrotonic machines are only sold to certified trainers or those a trainer grants approval to because of the importance in near-perfect execution.
The exercise can feel graceful once in the straps because the machine assists your movements to really work your body deeper into the exercises. More complicated than it looks, but with practice and patience, Gyrotonics is an excellent low-impact workout for the body, beneficial, and did I mention fun?
Krystle Engh Naab is a freelance writer and copy editor for Madison Essentials._
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