It looks kind of like a modern torture device, or a piece of sculpture? It's really a beautifully articulated Gyrotonic® machine. And what is that...?
This morning I am meeting with Katie Moorhead who will introduce me to...whatever this is. Lately I have been on the hunt for some new ways to exercise and stay in shape. I am looking for something kinder and gentler than a hot-power-yoga, kick-ass trainer, cross-fit, sweat-more, practice; something that will incorporate my love of movement and dance, protect my aching (or is that aging?) joints, and coax me gently into motion.
Enter the lovely Katie; a dancer; whose every moment. every motion, every inflection is fluid grace. To watch her walk, sit, move, gesture...she is dancing her way through life. And everything about her is the epitome of that kindness and care that I am seeking in my approach to fitness.
I become increasingly convinced that life delivers answers as soon as I can formulate an intelligent question. In answer to: "what kind of dance/exercise can I do to foster perfect health in my body?", a woman sits down next to me at a social media workshop and invites me to a personal session of Gyrotonic®; a new, gentle and very beautiful method of exercising, in her studio; Ebb & Flow Studio in Newport.
What is Gyrotonic? Gyrotonic is a machine-based extension of Gyrokinesis®; an exercise movement developed by Juliu Horvath, a professional dancer who developed a system of exercises to help repair injuries he sustained as a dancer. His exercise system is based on fluid movements that offer similar physical benefits of yoga, dance, and swimming, though it is not based on these or other specific exercise models. Gyrokinesis exercises are designed to work the entire body through spinal movement and joint articulation. Based on the body’s natural ability to move forward and backward and side to side, the movements are designed to be rhythmic and fluid. Rather than specific postures or stances being held for long periods of time, Gyrokinesis® exercises are smoothly integrated, seeming more like dance than traditional yoga. Natural breathing patterns are also incorporated into both Gyrokinesis and Gyrotonic exercises.
Like Horvath, Katie is a dancer and originally, she came to the practice of Gyrotonic in order to protect and prolong her career. Now she is, in addition to dancing with Island Moving Company, a trainer, sharing her practice and helping others. So here I am in a room with gentle music, beautiful art, candles burning and a string of Tibetan prayer flags. I'm about to climb onto that machine...
As we begin our session, Katie brings my attention to the photograph on the wall of a jaguar in full stretch - you know that cat/cow thing we are taught to do in yoga? That jaguar has really got it down; a long, fluid, complete articulation of the spine. She talks about the fundamental principle underlying gyro-tonics; that the healthy spine needs to move with that level of articulation in all four directions and rotations for complete health. This is how Horvath explains his method; “The octopus, the monkey and the cat are my basic models because they can move in any direction at any given time with strength and control because they have no restrictions. The human body has restrictions, but I can model the body ─ within the framework of its restrictions ─ to move in a similar way, to be free."
During the next hour she directs me through a series of exercises that allow me to move my spine, with gentle support; contracting and expanding in every possible direction. In similar fashion to Pilates method, there are ropes and pulleys which create gentle resistance as I move. The major difference here, is that I am moving in ways that are not possible on a Pilates machine; rotational movements of spine, shoulders and arms that are more like swimming, or dancing. The whole thing is very gentle but my muscles are working and tiring in response to the continual motion and resistance. My entire core is engaged at every single moment of the session; gently, subtly, yet continually engaged.
After about 40 minutes working arms, legs, spine and core, Katie invites me to stand grounded and straight while she places a book on the top of my head. Standing behind me to make sure I don't drop it, she guides me through a visualization exercise in which I attempt to push the book up through the ceiling as she coaches my posture. I leave the session feeling light-headed, in a very good way, and all throughout the day I feel myself standing a little taller. I feel almost as if I have been hanging suspended by my ankles. I feel lighter. I feel like I'm dancing....
Ebb & Flow studio is located at 8 Freebody Street in downtown Newport. For more information or to schedule a session, call 646.450.2487. http://www.ebbflowstudio.com
Meanwhile, don't miss Katie and friends in exquisite motion during the 2015 season at Island Moving Company.