Finding the GYROTONIC® Method 10 Years After a Stroke
Mark Hartman was an executive in the hotel development sector, an avid daily runner, and just about to retire when he had a stroke that left him debilitated on his left side. After years of working to improve, he found the Gyrotonic Method in Springfield, Missouri. The work has had such a positive impact on his pursuits toward improvement that he’s even considered becoming a trainer to help other stroke victims. He shares a bit of his story below in hopes that it will inspire other stroke victims to give this method a try and other trainers to reach out to those who might benefit from this useful work they teach.
Progressing with the Gyrotonic Method
Mark: When I first had my stroke, and for the first few months, I was paralyzed on my left side. When I was able to walk again, my foot had a pretty dramatic curl. I could not fully extend my left arm, and I couldn’t even open my hand and move my fingers. I would constantly hold my fist closed and up against my side.
Eventually, I started exercising at a gym. After years of slow progress, I was walking 16 or 17,000 steps a day and doing exercises daily, but I wasn’t progressing very rapidly. My foot was still curled, my arm was always bent, I tripped a lot, all kinds of things. Also, before my stroke, I was a runner for thirty years and ran six miles a day. I now couldn’t run, so I decided I was going to try everything I could to eventually run again.
I first learned about the Gyrotonic Method from my Gyrotonic trainer, Cina Canada, who was my neighbor’s granddaughter. She approached me one day and asked if I’d like to try it. I was kind of skeptical at first, not knowing anything about it. It took me a couple of days, and I thought, “Well, I’ve tried everything else, so I should try that because nothing else has done anything miraculous or anything consistent.”
The first time I came to a Gyrotonic class, I was less than impressed. I didn’t know anything about it and thought it was unusual. It was really easy, it wasn’t using much weight, I didn’t think I was doing a lot, so I was wondering if I could get any benefit from it. And, to be perfectly honest, I probably wasn’t mentally as strong as I am now. I didn’t think as well, I didn’t respond as well quickly, so a lot of things she would say would go in one ear and out the other because I couldn’t remember things as well as I can now.
Probably about three or four weeks later, I started to feel that there was a benefit to my going to the class. I was learning things, not only exercise things, but I was using my brain for more than one thing at a time. My stroke destroyed about a third of my brain, so I could only really mentalize one thing at a time.
Now, I’m able to do two or three things at a time. I’m breathing, I’m moving, and doing a lot of different things at once. That’s really critical, too. My progression has been rather dramatic in the probably eight or nine months that we’ve been working together.
I now try to pay attention to things like breathing, the patterns I’m supposed to be going in and moving both arms together, and doing things concentrically at the same time.
I can now move my hands together and even use the Gyrotonic handles better because I’m able to stretch my arms out and move them. At first, all I could do was barely grab onto the handles. I’m getting progressively better. Even right now, it’s winter time, and in the winter, I am usually extremely cramped up. Now, I’m not as much. I can now hit my heel when I walk, I can hit the front of my foot when I walk, and I can now do a lot of things I haven’t been able to do until now. I think I’ll even be able to run again if I keep improving the way that I am.
Experiencing the Benefits
Something interesting happened about a month or so of going to Gyrotonic classes three days a week. I was driving along the road and noticed that I wasn’t seeing out of my rear-view mirror. I probably hadn’t changed my mirror in the six years since I bought my car. It was because I was much taller and sitting much more upright. So I was able to change my mirror. For the first time, I realized I was growing taller by standing up straighter, by breathing differently, by everything. I’ve gained my height back that I had lost for probably ten years.
The Gyrotonic work has done a number of things for me. I go to the gym every day, and people walk up to me and say, “Mark, you’re walking a lot better these days. You’re standing upright.” You know, for years going to the gym, I wouldn’t speak to anybody because I was insecure, and I could only think about one thing at a time. So, if I was walking around the track, that’s all I could think about. I wasn’t socializing with people. Now, the people I’ve been going to the gym with for the past year or two will stop me and tell me I look like I’m walking a lot better, and I’m able to talk with them. That helps me, too, because it’s showing that what I’m working towards is improving.
I think the Gyrotonic Method has made me more confident from the fact that I can now think about more than one thing at a time. My brain seems to be engaging a lot quicker. In fact, I have never thought about going on vacation or doing things since my stroke. And now, I’m going to spend fifty days in Hawaii, and I’ve been able to manage that part of my life. That’s a big thing. Before starting the Gyrotonic work, I would have never ever thought of doing something that far beyond what I was presently doing. I could go to the gym, come home, go see my parents and go to Gyrotonic class. That would be it. Now, I’m branching out because it’s important to me that I can do more things and can experiment with more things. And when I go to Hawaii, I’m going to see the Gyrotonic instructors that are there and continue doing the work that I’m doing now.
When I first started Gyrotonic classes, Cina had me walk in a figure 8. I could barely walk it, I couldn’t even count the steps. At that point, I was trying to do two things, and I could only do one thing, which would be walking and not counting. When I had to count, I was getting confused, I was hitching on my step, and as I turned, I would always catch my left side and kind of stumble. Now, I can do a figure 8 around in circles. Cina has me do things one way and then turn around and do another. I’m able to do them without thinking, almost, and smoothly.
At one point, Cina asked me if I wanted to try using another instructor that had a Jumping Stretching Board and some other pieces of equipment. I thought, “one machine is doing a great job; I should try the other machines and see what they would do.” So, I started using the JSB and ARCHWAY™ once a week with Lindsay French at Dynamic Body in Springfield, MO. I also use the Leg Extension Unit to straighten my feet out and feel my heels. Those have really helped me a lot. The best of it is that Lindsay always changes stuff, and Cina always keeps things very consistent. So, I’m able to see improvement with certain things and yet try new stuff and keep on improving. It’s been very beneficial to work with both Cina and Lindsay on a regular basis.
The thing that I think about the most is that for at least eight years, I was walking and exercising and doing everything that I could possibly think to do – I was walking sixty-five miles a week. That’s a lot! I’m now only walking maybe forty or forty-five miles because I’m doing the Gyrotonic work, but the main thing is that I’m seeing dramatic improvement in my walking. After eight years of walking, I was still bent over a lot, I wasn’t able to land on my back heel, and I wasn’t able to walk with straight legs, and in eight months, I’m able to do those things. That’s the most remarkable part of it.
For eight years, I was doing everything thing I could think of to do, I was doing an awful lot. I am doing less now physically, but I’m able to do more things mentally and correctly. I mean, when I first did the Gyrotonic machine, my legs were wobbling and all over the place, and my foot was still curling, and now I’m able to do things and keep things straight. It’s kind of miraculous after ten years of having a stroke.
If you’ve had a stroke or know someone who has had a stroke, I would recommend the Gyrotonic Method. I never knew about it. If I had started using the Gyrotonic Method ten years ago when I first had the stroke, who knows where I’d be today!
Advice for Trainers From a Stroke Victim
What I would tell a Gyrotonic teacher who might work with a stroke victim is that I think a teacher needs to realize that a stroke victim, no matter how they come across, they’re not thinking as clearly as they should. They’re probably not able to articulate well, and they are probably not able to move well. That may frustrate the student and the teacher at first, but I think they just need to go slowly, move forward, and over time they’re both going to realize that it’s a really beneficial program.
Cina has been very, very patient with me. She always gives me more and more suggestions of things to do right. She never talks about what I’m doing wrong, she talks about what I’m doing right. That’s really important because people want to improve. When you talk negatively, they don’t feel they are improving. When you talk positively, they feel they are improving. They already know what they’re not doing right. I mean, they’re foot might be curled, arms curled, things aren’t working right, and they know those things haven’t been working right.
I also think the Gyrotonic work has really improved my outlook on life. It’s given me more reasons to continue to improve because I’m able to think stronger, to think better, and to be around people more often. It’s a process that I think you really have to experience, but I’m able to do things more and more and enjoy them more. I was doing stuff every day; I mean, I’m able to take care of myself, but that’s not all life is about. It’s about enjoyment and doing the things you want to do because you want to do them, not because you have to do them.
Even emotionally, I’ve improved. Ever since I had my stroke, I felt like I didn’t have any emotions at all. Now that my brain has improved and I’m thinking straighter, I’m able to feel some emotions in life in general, and that’s really important. You can’t really go through life without emotions. I do a lot of things now that I am able to do because of the Gyrotonic Method, and that’s really important.
Take a look at some of these other inspiring stories as well:
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