Why I Practice the GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® Methods
Why I practice the GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® Methods
by Master Trainer Rich O’Conner
- My Body Feels Amazing
- It’s Functional
- I’m Not a Zealot
- It’s Rewarding
- It’s Empowering
When I started my Gyrotonic journey, I was very strong from years of hard training, and heavy lifting, but I was horribly tight and inflexible. I could not cross one leg over the other while seated in a chair, sitting on the floor in any position was impossible, in a forward bend I could maybe reach down to my knees, and when bringing my hand behind my back, I could barely reach my belt. These are the tests given by the various physical therapists I worked with, and I clearly did not pass. At the time, I discounted how bad my flexibility was, but in hindsight, wow, what a mess I was!
My Degree is in Exercise Physiology and I had been a strength coach at Boston University. I also had many certifications from USA Olympic Weightlifting, National Academy of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association and had worked with some of the best coaches in strength and conditioning. I knew an awful lot about how to get stronger and faster but clearly not enough about creating balance in the body.
I started my Gyrotonic practice in about 2002 after years of debilitating back pain. It finally laid me up for 3 days straight. I couldn’t walk, I crawled around my apartment, or at best I used furniture to prop myself up to standing. Things had gotten bad, and I thought that not only was I going to have to give up martial arts and my career as well – I was only 31 years old.
I had tried all the usual remedies over the years: physical therapy many times, Pilates, yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, message, Egoscue, Feldenkrais, but to no avail. Some of the passive modalities helped a little in the short term but quickly wore off. All the exercises and stretches seemed as likely to cause more pain as to relieve it. Surgery or medications were the options I was given.
When I came to the Gyrotonic Method – the Gyrokinesis Method, actually, I had no expectations and no real hope that it was going to help. Oddly, after practicing the movements along with a VHS tape of Juliu Horvath teaching a Gyrokinesis class, I began to feel a little better each time, and most importantly, I never felt any worse. I saw a glimmer of hope and began practicing more and more, then started with a few Gyrotonic lessons (using equipment) and took the Foundation Course (teacher training) as a way to learn more.
My back pain didn’t disappear over night, but I had longer and longer periods of pain free life, and a growing excitement that I had found a way to work through it. To put it into perspective, a Gyrokinesis class includes about 30 minutes or more of floor work and I could do only a small fraction of that. It took about 1 year of Gyrotonic for me to get through a 60 minute Gyrokinesis class without excruciating pain!
I eventually became a Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis Master Trainer, and I am now quite limber and have achieved much more through this work than I ever expected. The saying is always “do what you love,” or “find something you love to do.” A wise friend pointed out to me that this is completely wrong; you need to do something long enough to find the love for it, and that’s what I have come to.
When people ask me why I do Gyrotonic exercises, the easy answer is that it fixed my back. That’s not the whole truth, though, so here are some more reasons that Gyrotonic practice is so important to me, and why I have been practicing and teaching others for so many years.
My Body Feels Amazing
I still train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I mountain bike, have a Natural Movement practice, and practice with kettlebells. But the Gyrotonic work is the hub of all of my physical training because through it, I can maintain everything else. The problem I have found is that all of the activities that we each practice and love, either as a hobby or professionally, have so many benefits, but one major drawback: they will create imbalances, tightness, and eventually pain and dysfunction in the body. There are so many benefits to staying active at any age and we should endeavor to stay as active as we can for as long as we can, and investing in the overall health of the system should be paramount. My nutrition and recovery program is: good food, water, sleep, and a Gyrotonic practice.
Trainers, coaches, and gurus will tell you that a particular exercise or system is going to do certain things for you, make you stronger, help your posture, decrease injury, make you look a certain way, and there is no shortage of this information available. Much of it is true. I tell my clients that they will feel good after their class; good in a way that I believe we all want to feel, like after a great message or an amazing night’s sleep, they will be energized and looking forward to their next session. It’s addictive. If anyone would have told me just how addictive it is to have your body feel its absolute best before I started down this path, I would have thought they were lying. More to the point above, if I feel good physically I can spend more time doing other things that are good for me.
After 1 year of Gyrotonic exercises, my body felt 10 years younger, and I am not exaggerating one bit. Pain was leaving and my body was becoming more open (flexible, loose, supple, relaxed, coordinated all rolled into one). I was moving better than I had in years. I was still training in martial arts at the time. My rhythm and timing were improving, and my training partners were noticing a difference as well. It changed my entire view of what movement is capable of.
It’s Functional and Informs Everything Else I Do
It’s difficult to describe the Gyrotonic work from the point of view of most exercise and functional training paradigms, the verbiage just doesn’t quite fit. It’s just that different and, in fact, so far ahead of the curve that it’s hard to equate it to what everyone else is doing. I won’t try to do that here, but from my experience it goes well beyond what is commonly referred to as functional training, or maybe better said, it is the new functional training. The increased coordination and control that you can achieve through working with this system is profound and infinitely applicable to other activities and sports. It’s a supercharger for your neural muscular system.
I Am Not a Zealot
Don’t get me wrong with all the praise about the Gyrotonic Method. While I have gone “all in” with the system, so to speak, I understand that it’s not for everyone. It won’t “fix you.” You will have to do the work yourself, but it will give a road map and understanding that you can use for the rest of your life. While it has changed my life, and I cannot imagine where I would be without it, I do supplement my training with other modalities that have benefited me greatly as well. And, more to the point, if something better than the Gyrotonic Method came along tomorrow, I would in all likelihood study that as well. I have not found that better thing, and really don’t expect to, even though I love to learn and am always intrigued at what else is going on in my field.
It’s Humbling, Challenging, and Rewarding
In my first Gyrokinesis classes, I was a fish out of water, to a far greater extent than I had ever experienced in yoga (3 years of consistent practice). First, I’m a bigger guy and I felt a bit foolish trying to move along with a class full of willowy dancers. The room was not hot, but I was in a full gym sweat while everyone else was able to move with ease and fluidity. I could fake my way through a lot of yoga, but this was something else and although it looked like little more than a yoga class without the poses and positions, I was exhausted. Luckily, much of the class is accessible enough for anyone to participate, and I could have left after that portion, but I did my best with the floor work as well. With consistent practice, I began to move and breathe with far greater ease and fluidity. As my body opened up and I gained flexibility, the floor work became more accessible and then actually became comfortable.
There’s a saying in martial arts – “one should have a white belt mentality.” The white belt is what the novice is given when first beginning their martial arts journey. While he or she knows nothing, they are an empty vessel and will absorb the techniques quickly. If you begin an endeavor thinking that you know everything already, you will hinder your own learning and understanding. The teachers I worked with, and all of the students, were incredibly knowledgeable and supportive, and so I stayed. The rewards have been many, and I challenge myself everyday to deepen my understanding of the work and to become a better teacher myself.
It Is Empowering
I have worked with many injured clients over the years, and many have referred their friends and family members. While you don’t need to be injured to have pain to find your way to the Gyrotonic work, many of us have. When a person finds a way to conquer severe pain and physical restrictions, it is supremely empowering in a way that few experiences can be. I know this from my own experience with my injuries, and I’ve seen it time and again with my clients.
We often treat our body as if it were a broken car that we bring to a mechanic and expect it to come back in full repair. The body doesn’t work that way and expecting that someone else will fix you all up rarely seems to work. Because the Gyrotonic work is so gentle and accessible, almost anyone can start the process of healing and rejuvenating in a safe and effective way.
It is also unique in that it can become some of the most intense work you may do, but will leave you feeling better and better. I firmly believe that the body was meant to heal, but it needs the proper stimulation to repair itself.
Why Should You Try the Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis Methods?
Invest in yourself, short term and long term, and enjoy a movement practice that you can maintain for the rest of your life. You will need to experience it and practice for a while, but the results will come quickly and consistently. You may be injured, never exercised before, an accomplished athlete, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter where you begin, just that you get started!