Unlocking Awareness with the GYROTONIC® Method
I ran into Erika Hassan, GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® Master Trainer, in the Black Forest at one of Juliu Horvath’s courses for Master Trainers in Münstertal, Germany. She agreed to sit down with me for a quick interview to share her insights on how the Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis Methods are like a key, unlocking pathways to deeper learning and understanding.
Erika: Well, it was a while ago. I was 21. I moved to New York and I wanted to dance. I didn’t have a really great natural facility [in my body] for dance. I was not flexible and my dance technique consisted of equal parts desire and force!
Thank God, some roommate of mine suggested that I go to this new studio. It was Leda Franklin’s first studio, Studio Riverside. I had my first session. And although I felt dizzy and disoriented, I also felt something amazing, something I had always dreamed of feeling in my body. I had dreamed that it was possible, but now I knew it could be a reality.
So, I started to take sessions there all the time and Leda said, “Well, you know the founder of this system is still alive and he’s teaching in New York at White Cloud.” So I went to my first class with Juliu Horvath called “Kundalini Basics.”
What I remember of that first class is that Juliu didn’t speak a lot. You would just go in, and he’s breathing and you’re following. It was this room full of people breathing. The stools were super low to the ground. We moved our spines and breathed.
One thing I really remember him doing was something quite simple. It was the seaweed movement, and I remember watching and thinking it was so beautiful and, “This is truly what it is to dance.” You could see something from the inside emanating through his skin. In this moment, I knew that I was going to study with him.
I started taking his class and ended up in the first formal teacher training. There were, of course, teachers that he had already trained. But this was an initial experiment in formulating a course for teachers. There were no manuals, I don’t remember any hands-on, we did all of the equipment at once, and there were no progressions. He did not like anyone to take notes because we would miss the experience of doing or seeing.
One day I was the only one who had warmed up and we happened to be doing arch and curl on the stomach. I was not an ideal candidate for this exercise, but I was the only one who had warmed up. Juliu needed someone to demonstrate and he said (a little reluctantly), “Well, I guess we’ll use you.” I just remember him putting me in the pelican position and kind of wiggling my spine up.
Suddenly, we get to this moment and my whole spine cracked. I started laughing, I started crying, and he’s just standing there, serene, and then he says, “Well, when you calm down, then I’ll really take you up.” So, he did, again, and it went a little more smoothly the second time!
I knew after that I wanted to work with him privately. I had to plead with him a little bit, but then I started to work in his workshop in exchange for private lessons once a week. I was using wood filler, painting, gluing cushions, and staining the woods for the early machines. There were a lot of fumes in the workshop. My first lesson in breathing was him saying, “If you feel nauseous, you just need to breathe with every step from the workshop to the studio.” It was about a 15 minute walk. That was my first Breathing Course Intensive!
Cina: As you’ve progressed through this whole journey, and evolved in it, how do you describe this system to others when they want to know what it is that you are doing?
Erika: You know, honestly, I have the most success if I first find out what language the person speaks, as in who is asking. The best way to explain this system is to figure out what they are doing and what they understand, and I then emphasize that aspect of the work.
With time, as I’ve had more experiences, I’ve gotten more used to talking about it. I think in the beginning it was really difficult for me to find words to describe the experience. I was feeling a lot, but I didn’t really understand the bigger picture. Every year I am doing the Gyrotonic Method, it continues to reveal more secrets to me.
So, is it helping physically? Yes. It’s going to help you with any sport you are doing, or help you dance better. It’s going to help you if you have arthritis or joint pain. It’s going to help you if you’re sitting at a desk all day. Also, it’s going to help with any yoga pose and the understanding of the pose from the inside, the energetic flow. Maybe someone wants to know more of the meditative aspects of this work, so then you explain it from that perspective. It’s finding those little keys.
I remember one woman who came to a class where I was teaching the preparation for internal breathing, as I learned it from Juliu. Later she said, “I’ve never heard Ujjayi breathing explained like that and then had such deep experience with it,” and she had been doing yoga for years.
If someone is very emotional, you can talk about nerve strengthening. For many ailments of the nervous system, there are no cures. Especially in western culture, medicine is dealing only with the result, the illness, and not the root. In the Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis Methods, we are going back to the root of the ailment and reprogramming from the root.
Cina: So, how are these methods so unique?
Erika: Hmmm… I would say the modalities themselves are a key, and this key is to your freedom, your pleasure, being at home, and becoming one and fulfilled in your body. It’s not just about the exercises in and of themselves. It’s about the freedom we unlock within us through the exercises and that we can apply to all aspects of life.
I’ve been doing this now for over half of my life and I enjoy doing many other things. But because I’ve been doing this work and it’s entered into my being in a way, it’s the filter through which I understand everything else, like dance, or vibrating sound, or yoga, or chanting. The Gyrotonic Method is a key that opened up possibilities in me for consciousness and awareness, for understanding myself.
Cina: Specifically, then, talking about your experiences with the Gyrotonic Method, can you talk about why the equipment is so special?
Erika: Well, this equipment is somehow a gift. It’s helping you with all of your blind spots. It becomes a partner because Juliu has had the experience. You can’t teach something that you haven’t experienced. He had an experience, he had an awakening, but not everyone could become enlightened though his same process. One may need some assistance.
With the equipment, you can stimulate the whole nervous system in a way that starts to awaken your own perception. It starts to wake up the areas that you can’t feel, the areas where you have blind spots. Each piece gives you different feedback so you can experience, essentially, one thing. Because we don’t have the full experience, because we don’t see the whole, we’re only experiencing pieces. We need to have more and more challenges to keep finetuning our instrument. The Gyrotonic equipment allows you to do that.
That’s the genius; Juliu’s found all of these different ways, and it never ends for him. He’s still on that journey and he’s still excited about sharing his discoveries as he grows older. I think he’s discovering things on other layers, because even though he had an initial kind of awakening, that wasn’t a finite thing; it keeps expanding in him and he keeps sharing it.
All of your life you can keep doing Gyrotonic. It doesn’t end. It’s not gymnastics and it’s not just about range of motion. It’s about quality of life and beyond life. It is never too late to start opening the channels within yourself. The machines are going to work with you to facilitate that.
Cina: That element of experience is so important. It there anything else you would like to share about that and why someone should pursue that experience, even if they don’t understand at first what it is?
Erika: One of the challenges with Gyrokinesis and Gyrotonic is that it requires a little bit of discipline. Yet if people somehow stumble into your path, they are usually not there by chance. Somehow, they are searching, and if they find you doing something from a foundation of love, love becomes that force that allows a person to reconcile that which they do not understand.
Maybe someone doesn’t understand what the method is, but if you teach with love, and from that place that Juliu calls a “place of pleasure and being at home in one’s body,” anyone can understand that. It doesn’t have to do with being perfect or creating perfect movement. Sure, the longer you’re doing it, you will become more refined, you will become more conscious and more aware. But what we all, as human beings, are looking for is simply to feel fulfilled. We are looking to find some meaning in life. And Gyrotonic could be that key!
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Cina Canada is a GYROTONIC® Trainer and the Media Coordinator for GYROTONIC® International Headquarters.