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Pulling for Gyro

Tribune reporter

Move over, Pilates. Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis classes are expanding in health clubs and studios across the country. Tiger Woods and Shaquille O'Neal have done it. So has Madonna.

Both Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis, which is a sibling of Gyrotonic that uses a mat or stool for exercises, are designed to work the body's joints and muscles fluidly and three-dimensionally, through arching, curling, twisting, circling and reaching movements.

At their best, the undulations are reminiscent of ballet. The meditative effects are akin to yoga's. The physical benefits resemble Pilates'.

The nationally renowned East Bank Club (, whose Gyrotonic studio not only has the pulley towers but also a leg-extension unit, a ladder for stretching and hanging, and a jump and stretching board, has been offering private Gyrotonic and group Gyrokinesis classes since 2006, when it started with two instructors.

It now has 12 instructors.

"Our Gyrotonic program has grown probably 350 percent," said Tim Lester, East Bank's director of Pilates and Gyrotonic and a former dancer. "We do a lot with the Joffrey Ballet. It gets them back up on their feet, or toes. If Cinderella's foot hurts, there's no show. Ballet dancers are the people who get Gyrotonic really quickly. It's beautiful in its movements."

The recurring ballet references are no coincidence. Developed by a former dancer from Romania — Juliu Horvath — Gyrotonic was embraced initially in this country by dancers. It's increasingly being used for general fitness, as well as rehabilitation after orthopedic injuries and surgeries. It is commonly used in hospitals in Europe.

Typical weight machines move in a linear fashion, whereas Gyrotonic pulleys aren't limited to a single plane. They allow for constant tension, minimal jarring and maximum extension of a joint and muscles. The patterns generally expand, align and release the body in a workout that can be meditative, energizing and, at times, aerobic.

Lester said Gyrotonic appeals to the sophisticated clientele of East Bank, whether chief executives or moms carrying growing kids around.

At all venues, Gyrotonic is an investment, as the sessions are typically from one to three people and recommended one to two times a week. A private one-hour Gyrotonic session might cost about $70. Group Gyrokinesis might run in the neighborhood of $15 for an hour. Packages reduce the per-class cost.

"Our clientele own companies and live a high-stress lifestyle," Lester said. "Those people enjoy it because it gives them a chance to connect into their own bodies. They can't come in and do their grocery list in their heads because we're asking them to do so many things at once. I don't want to get all hoo-loo on you, but we deal with energy sources, chakra points. Gyrotonic is some of the hardest work I've done — hardest and smartest."

After breaking her back as a ballet dancer in Washington, Dori Goldstein was introduced to Gyrotonic. "I was very weak in my core. I wore out my vertebrae. Gyrotonic healed my back and saved my career."

Likening Gyrotonic to an "internal massage," Goldstein recently led a private session for a college friend, Kathrin Hays, who first did Gyrotonic at the East Bank Club. Hays comes to Goldstein two to three mornings a week.

"I've dropped Pilates," said Hays, a 28-year-old who works in online advertising. "I feel like I see more benefits with Gyro. It's deeper strengthening and stretching. It works muscles you didn't know existed. I work at a desk all day, and I've noticed a difference in my posture. It's a fun workout too."

Ages 28 to 80, half of Goldstein's clientele is in great health and the other half is recovering from illness or injury. One has ovarian cancer.

Goldstein once tore a calf muscle and was able to do Gyro in her cast, she said, as she congratulated Hays upon finishing a series of twists. "Good girl! You can have that glass of wine tonight!"

Gyro is its own reward, Hays said. "It's addictive."

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