TRY AS I might, while reading online about spiral motions and connections to breath, I could not understand Gyrotonics. My yoga side decided the best plan was to roll with it.
Once I got to a Gyrotonics studio — Seattle Changing Room — Leslie Hubbard explained we would be moving in spirals and waves from deep in the joints, working into connective tissue. I didn’t totally follow what she was saying, but I was game.
Most studios recommend you start with a private lesson to get familiar with the machines. The Gyrotonics system has five. We started on the pulley tower, which has a bench and a vertical tower that creates resistance with weights and pulleys, and is the one used in group classes.
I laid down on the bench facing away from the tower. Leslie put my feet into the stirrups, and the weights lifted my legs straight up, giving traction to my spine. It felt amazing. I wanted to stay there all day.
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Leslie had me move my legs in various directions and talked me through specific ways to feel the exercise in different parts of my body, focusing on my hip joint and my psoas muscle. Getting into your psoas, a big muscle deep in your hip, is a bit elusive. Luckily, Leslie’s descriptions made me feel like I was getting the hang of it.
Leslie had asked me earlier if I had any injuries. I didn’t. But when we moved to frog, a position that requires a deep rotation in the hips, my right hip shouted at me that it needed some extra attention. I told Leslie; her eyes lit up.
We walked to another machine, the jumping stretching board. It looks like gymnastic parallel bars with a gliding platform underneath. Leslie had me do the splits forward on each leg, then moved me into a half split working sideways. I focused on lengthening my hamstring and psoas. When we got to the side split, my hip screeched. The intensity was excruciating, in a good way. I gripped the bars, dripping sweat, and Leslie coaxed me to slowly keep rotating my hip and lengthening. Suddenly, my hip started to release. Oh, sweet heaven.
Back at the tower, I did spinal releases using a wooden rod. I bent side to side, twisted back and forth and moved in spirals. I could feel the resistance from the added weight, but it was never too much. It felt relaxing.
We closed with upper-body work, using rotating handles attached to the bench to get full movement of the shoulders.
The constant movement in spirals works well for people with injury because it moves your body in natural ways, Gyrotonics people say. I felt new space in parts of my body that needed attention, and the combination of breath and circles was soothing.
Gyrotonics is geared toward dancers, but it’s for anyone who wants to lengthen, tone and strengthen. By anyone, I mean me.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is the Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.