From Walker to Upright: Treating Acromegaly with the GYROTONIC® Method
By Adrian Griffin
There may well be something to the clichés about the duality of life experience. When I look back at difficult times in my life, sayings like, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” or “Every dark cloud has a silver lining” do apply if enough time has passed for me to recognize it.
Acromegaly and the GYROTONIC® Method entered into my life like a dark cloud with a silver lining. Even to this day, as I am rehabbing from surgery because of the affects of acromegaly, Gyrotonic exercises have sped up my recovery to such a degree that my surgeon, and the physical therapists, are amazed at the range of bend in my knee so soon after knee replacement.
I was introduced to the Gyrotonic Method four months before being diagnosed with acromegaly–a very rare condition effecting about three in every million people each year. The condition is caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary. The pituitary is the master gland located at the base of the brain. It regulates the hormone production for all the glands in the body. The tumor causes the pituitary to excrete excess growth hormone which causes the condition of acromegaly.
Acromegaly is very difficult to diagnose. The tumor is slow growing, and the symptoms are hard to detect because they could be caused by many other conditions. It usually occurs in the early 40’s—decades after an adult has reached full growth. Therefore, the only growth that can occur is in the organs and extremities: the feet, head, hands and soft tissue. But the bones that are set and can no longer grow become painfully riddled with osteoarthritis.
By the time I was diagnosed, my knees were so arthritic that I could barely walk. The excess growth hormone had twisted my spine causing scoliosis, my rib cage and clavicle had thickened, my heart enlarged, fibroid tumors grew in my uterus, my hands and feet grew, and my jaw grew. I was also blind for a few weeks due to the tumor pressing against on my ocular nerve. I regained my sight after the tumor was removed. However, in all that literal and figurative darkness, there was also great light.
By an amazing stroke of good fortune in December of 2004, I met a Gyrotonic Master Trainer, Christine Wilson. She literally walked into my living room unexpectedly, uninvited, but very welcome!
At the time of our meeting, I didn’t know I had acromegaly, but I’d already undergone bilateral knee replacement, my spine was so twisted that I couldn’t stand straight, and I was using a walker. Her friend and student at the time who had just completed the Gyrotonic certification, Mark Grayson, was an old friend and he and Christine had dropped by to say hello.
Mark was shocked at how I looked because we hadn’t seen each other for a few years. The last time he’d seen me, I was teaching Ashtanga yoga and was in good physical condition. The person hunched over a walker looking up at him was a shocking sight. Christine told me that when I was up to it, I could come and study with her in San Luis Obispo. That was in December of 2004. By that spring, I was diagnosed, and in June 2005 the tumor was removed. As soon as I could, I did go study with Christine. That is when the tonic went toe-to-toe with the disease.
Interestingly, both acromegaly and the Gyrotonic work affect the skeletal frame. I took a Gyrokinesis class (the method without equipment) with Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis Master Trainer, Sebastian Plettenberg. I remember him saying that after practicing this work for a year, the body will be permanently changed. However, unlike the permanent changes from acromegaly, Gyrotonic exercise straightens the posture, increases the suppleness of the spine, and helps us to release all the areas we like to clench like the shoulders and the hips.
As soon as I started practicing this work I felt elated. Gyrotonic exercise chiseled away at all the pain and stiffness that had encumbered my body like a cement sarcophagus. The feeling was . . . well, dare I say, intense pleasure—like eyes rolling to the back of the head good feeling!
I loved that I could do the work from a seated position. It gave me the confidence to let my spine move in all the directions it could. I loved the fluidity of the movement. I felt like I was dancing. I felt free.
After studying with Christine in San Luis Obispo, I returned home to Pasadena and continued studying with Gyrotonic Master Trainer, Dawn Swatchick. Under Dawn’s tutelage in Gyrotonic exercise, I experienced great gains in recovering from the effects of acromegaly on my frame. My rib cage, which had been pushed up like a private in boot camp, began to move into alignment. Acromegaly made me painfully self conscious, but Dawn was so warm, patient, and kind that I began to shed my self-consciousness and personal shame about having acromegaly.
This work has returned my self esteem and sense of purpose. Unfortunately, I still have had to undergo surgeries like the knee replacement revision in February of this year. Despite my physical challenges, though, I have continuously been studying and practicing.My interest and dedication to this work couldn’t be more real, or personal. The day I came home from the hospital, I got on the Cobra Pulley Tower and practiced arch and curls—oh the relief—the sweet feeling of stretching out. I have worked out every day since.
I take notes and video of my recovery. I didn’t need a walker three days after surgery, and I didn’t need a walking stick after the first week. Every week seems to mark another milestone in my recovery.
Even in this experience of having to have another very invasive knee surgery, Gyrotonic exercise has again been the silver lining—the tonic to what ails me. Acromegaly and Gyrotonic exercise have left an indelible mark on my body, my spirit and my life’s purpose. My experience of disease and tonic got me to this place where I can practice this work with others—share the wonder of what the body can do, painlessly and gracefully.
I am grateful to Juliu Horvath for creating this system of exercise that has given me freedom of movement. I think my journey will make me a better teacher, even though it has been long and . . . let us say adventurous.
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Adrian Griffin is a freelance writer and editor. To contact her for more information, or with questions, please email her. To find Gyrotonic or Gyrokinesis classes near your, please visit our international Studio Finder.