Health & Fitness

Benefits of ballet

Author: Elle Canada

Health & Fitness

Benefits of ballet

A half-hour before the launch of her new pilates studio, still surrounded by the chaos of carpenters and sawdust, Vivian Nickels discovered Gyrotonic while flipping through a magazine. "The pictures caught my eye. They were great shots of dancers on a Gyrotonic machine," she says. "I immediately wanted to pursue it." Her first experience left her floating. "I was totally amazed at how my upper body felt, like there was space between my joints," she says. "I knew this was the next step, beyond pilates."

That was 11 years ago. Now Nickels (of Body Matrix) is one of three certified Gyrotonic instructors in Toronto. A typical one-hour training session has her helping clients scissor kick as they lie on a bench connected to a seven-foot wooden rack. From here, pulleys, tension cords and weights guide them through the moves like life-sized marionettes.

While it looks like an instrument of torture, New Age fitness fanatics and body-conscious celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Teri Hatcher and Kim Cattrall call Gyrotonic the best new exercise-think yoga with resistance. It has already taken off in trend-setting centres like New York, L.A. and London, and has spread through most of Europe, Australia and even Southeast Asia. Now it's finally growing in Canada, thanks to word of mouth.

Juliu Horvath, a former Romanian ballet dancer, created Gyrotonic while trying to develop an apparatus that would perfect the dancer's pirouette. Although he started building the machine in 1984, Gyrotonic remained a secret of dancers training at his White Cloud studio in New York for almost a decade. Over the late '80s, the equipment evolved to meet the needs of non-dancers and the injured, growing in popularity as it did so.

"Gyrotonic is more holistic than pilates, which, in some respects, is outdated," says Nickels. In comparison to pilates, which came about in the 1920s, Gyrotonic is relatively new. Horvath continues to build upon his exercise, so Gyrotonic is constantly evolving. And where pilates focuses on core strength, Gyrotonic works the whole body -- in 3-D.

As one of the first Gyrotonic trainers in Canada, Nickels was hired to work with the Toronto cast of The Lion King in 2002. The choreography and costumes were causing injuries, so she taught them to warm up with the mat version of Gyrotonic, Gyrokinesis. It was a natural fit.

"All Gyrotonic movements are dance-like sequences," says Diana Bastone, another Toronto-based instructor. Besides ballet, the routine incorporates aspects of swimming, Tai Chi, gymnastics and kundalini yoga as well. "We have a fascination right now with holistic programs," says Bastone. "This is one of the newest, but it has substance, so it won't pass-unlike spinning or kick-boxing, which are strictly cardio and don't have that mind-body connection."Why Gyrotonic?

1. It strengthens, lengthens, tones and increases flexibility. At
the end of a session, you'll feel taller, with more room between your joints. As it works your core through deep breathing and pelvic movement, Gyrotonic results in better posture. Cardio comes from the rhythmic breathing. And because the Gyrotonic machine stretches and strengthens your muscles and the connective tissues of your joints, your body will become more defined and toned.

2. Coordination. "It teaches you how to be an efficient mover," says Nancie Lepore, a certified Gyrotonic Master Trainer in Montréal. It requires the mental and physical dexterity of patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, so increased coordination comes naturally. All the routines are based on circular movements, ensuring major muscle groups are integrated and worked interdependently. National Ballet prima ballerina Greta Hodgkinson got hooked on Gyro-tonic in Italy while dancing The Nutcracker there in December 2003. "I tried it and was really sore afterwards," she says. "It's so good for dancers. It works the torso by bending all parts of the back, letting the body become fluid. And it helps us become more agile and graceful."

3. Rehabilitation. Nickels is working with a client who has a fractured hip, and Gyrotonic may help her avoid hip-replacement surgery. Lepore knows it has helped people with herniated discs, shoulder girdle problems and osteoarthritis. "It depends on the damage and what the injury is," she says. "You might never be free of the scar tissue, but you'll be able to function."

4. De-stressing. New York fashion designer Norma Kamali caught on to Gyro-tonic a few years ago. "My mother was ill. I stayed in town all summer and did pilates, Tai Chi and Gyro-kinesis to work off some of the
tension," she says. "I'm in a trance-like state when it's over." Gyrokinesis is part of Kamali's "wellness nights," when the public can sample classes at her headquarters for free.

5. Mind-muscle connection. The movements force you to concentrate. "You can't be watching the TV monitor or checking out guys," says Nickels. "You have to be conscious of what you're doing and come into yourself." The result is an increased awareness of yourself and your body. You'll feel looser, less tense and more mobile. "Gyrotonic speaks for itself," says Lepore. "The first thing people say after they finish is, 'Oh my God, I feel amazing.'"


GYRO FOR YOU

Where it's offered: Gyrotronic is taught in just over a dozen studios in Canada, primarily in Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal. It's overseen by a certified instructor on a one-on-one basis, although the mat version can be performed in groups. You can buy modified home machines after you've taken at least a dozen classes and know the moves.

Cost and frequency: Prices vary from studio to studio, but generally range from $60 to $90 for each one-hour class.

More info: All certified instructors are listed on the official Gyrotonic website: www.gyrotonic.com

Gear:
All you need are comfortable workout clothes and bare feet!

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Benefits of ballet