Gyrotonic at The Space Vancouver

It's the workout that's got everyone from celebrities to professional athletes to rehab patients excited

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

This pulley tower equipment is central to the Gyrotonic Expansion System

Celebrities and professional athletes are onto something with the rotational stretching and strengthening of Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis

I’ll admit what got me interested in Gyrotonic was the fabulous figures of its celebrity followers – Naomi Campbell, Madonna and Julianne Moore, just to name a few.

But what got me hooked was the fascinating philosophy and unique movements I learned from Marta Hernandez, the owner of a wellness studio in Yaletown called The Space Vancouver.

The studio at The Space

Gyrotonic Expansion System

The Gyrotonic Expansion System was developed by Juliu Horvath (see video), a professional dancer and student of yoga, and consists of Gyrotonic (equipment-based) and Gyrokinesis (mat-based) exercises that draw from ballet, swimming, yoga and Qi Gong (an ancient Chinese practice of cultivating energy through the mind, pronounced chee gung).

Horvath’s brother, a physiotherapist, also influenced the incorporation of “stabilization through contrast” – using equal and opposite forces to help open the joints – into the exercises.

The gentle, flowing movements can be made more strenuous through added repetition, resistance and intention so everyone from professional athletes (Shaquille O’Neil and Tiger Woods are fans) to rehab patients can benefit from the full-body exercises. 

Spine Flexibility is the Fountain of Youth

Gyrotonic (“gyro” meaning circle or spiral and “tonic” meaning invigorate or strengthen) and Gyrokinesis (“kinesis” meaning movement) focus on spine flexibility and incorporate circular, rotational and three dimensional movements unlike traditional strengthening exercises (think bicep curls vs. pirouette). Hernandez’s Qi Gong Master, Minke de Vos, says “you’re as young as your spine is flexible.” If that’s true, the Gyrotonic Expansion System might just be the fountain of youth.

Even though the development of Gyrokinesis preceded Gyrotonic (Horvath came up with the theory and basic movements before he developed the equipment), I started with a private Gyrotonic session before participating in a Gyrokinesis class. Hernandez recommends trying Gyrotonic first not only because you get individual instruction but because it’s actually easier to learn the movements using the equipment.

Gyrotonic Basics: Arching and Curling the Spine

The Gyrotonic equipment we used is called the Pulley Tower Combination Unit, and is made up of a pulley tower with wrist and ankle straps and a moveable bench with two discs that are turned with handles, called the handle unit.

First we worked on the basic movements, arching and curling, that are present in nearly every exercise (see video). Once I got the hang of it we incorporated more advanced moves such as circling the arms using the hand unit and circling the legs using the ankle straps.

The movements are so fluid and graceful (at least I felt graceful) you don’t realize what an incredible, full-body stretch you’re getting. At the end of the session I felt taller, calm and energized. I also felt happy; Gyrotonic is fun.

Hernandez points out that it’s as much a mental exercise as a physical exercise, like a “moving meditation” – there’s no time for worrying or list-making during this workout (only the odd giggle as you try to master gyrating your head and torso in different directions).

Take it to the Mat

The Gyrokinesis class used many of the same movements learned during the Gyrotonic session, but instead of the pulley tower we used a mat and stool. For a glimpse into a Gyrokinesis class, check out Regis and Kelly giving Gyrokenesis a go

Yawn and Stretch

“Movement changes the body,” says Hernandez, and indeed it does.

Somewhere along the way Western civilization seems to have lost track of its natural rhythms, forgetting that the human body was meant to move, not spend the majority of its waking hours parked at a desk or in front of a TV.

Gyrotonic doesn’t necessarily teach anything new, it reminds us of what we already know – what came naturally before we started spending most of our days sitting.

Much of the philosopy, says Hernandez, is based on yawning, letting the body open naturally. Try reaching one arm overhead – probably a pretty good stretch but not all-encompassing and amazing. Now try reaching one arm overhead, the other arm in the opposite direction, and arching your spine from top to bottom (feel free to yawn).

That delicious feeling follows you throughout a Gyrotonic session or Gyrokinesis class and leaves you feeling more open, invigorated, and body-aware throughout the rest of your day. Yum.


Catherine Roscoe Barr, BSc Neuroscience, is a Vancouver-based writer, editor, and fitness professional. Before settling on the west coast she lived in Sydney, Toronto, Oregon, Montana, and practically everywhere in Alberta. She can be found jogging with her adorable dog, dining with her fabulous husband or voraciously reading anywhere comfy.