The Beautiful Machine: Exploring the Gyrotonic Movement System in PDX

The most powerful exercise method you’ve never heard of is thriving in Portland. Here’s why.

By Allison Jones February 18, 2015

In the 1980s, a former professional ballet dancer developed the Gyrotonic expansion method, often called “yoga for dancers,” to help heal and prevent injuries. Inspired by elements of swimming, tai chi, yoga, and dance, the full-body workout, now found at more than 16 studios in Portland, relies on a veritable playground of its own: elegant leather and wood pulley towers, rainbow-shaped ladders (see right), and jumping boards that simulate running and leaping motions without impact.

Why has Gyrotonic remained under the mainstream radar? According to Center Gyrotonic’s Emma Kingston, Portland’s only Gyrotonic master trainer, the system is hard to describe, but the experience speaks for itself. “Gyrotonic is like a fountain of youth for your joints,” she says. “It reverses the effects that gravity has on our bodies over time.” 

We asked a few local Gyro instructors to weigh in on the system and why Portland has such a vibrant community of trainers.

Why has Portland become such a hub for Gyro trainers and studios?

Jeanni Chrisman of Pearl Pilates: "Portland is a unique city and is kind of cutting edge in terms of fitness. People here are health conscious and super active, and can appreciate the holistic approach to movement that Gyro offers. I think most Portlanders are drawn to holistic forms of movement. We are less interested in becoming bikini ready and more interested in functional movement that challenges the mind as well as the body."

Emma Kingston of Center Gyrotonic: "Honestly I am not sure why P-town has become so rich with gyro instructors. Everyone here is an excellent teacher and the community is solid, which is rare to find. I think that Portland is very supportive of alternative health and movement approaches so people have a natural openness to trying something new."

Kari Koch of Circle Studio: "The beauty of the system and of the equipment itself appeals to the eye for creativity and craftsmanship that Portland is known for."

Why is Gyro less known in the general movement world than yoga or pilates?

Chrisman: "Yoga and pilates have been around much longer than Gyro, and it took time for Americans to catch on to yoga and pilates relative to how long they have been around. Gyrotonic isn't a fad, so there isn't a big focus on marketing. Practitioners and teachers are serious about the study of the system and is discovered more through word of mouth by people that have experienced it's amazing results. The founder and teachers of gyro are protective of it and want to try to maintain or preserve the integrity and original intentions."

Koch: "Gyrotonic challenges people on what they think a workout is. It is an intelligent system that can take more patience as a beginner because it combines dance, swimming, weight training, and rehabilitative exercise. Once you have taken a few sessions however, you will feel the difference in your strength, agility, flexibility and balance. I have recently been working with a client in her early sixties who has degeneration in her knees causing her to limp and lose strength. Over the past five months she has increased her leg and hip strength, stopped limping, and had her first pain free days in years. She is so excited because she has two small grandchildren that she helps take care of, and now she can run around with them and stay able-bodied."

Why do you love Gyro—and why should people give it a try?

Teresa Lee of reFORM Pilates: "Gyrotonic brings together strength and mobility. It particularly strengthens and opens your joints, allowing for healthy movement in the spine, shoulders, and hips."

Yelena Foley of MotionLabPDX: "It lets me feel the spirit of yoga and the balance of tai chi, the motion of swimming, and the beauty of ballet all in one system. It provides meditative awareness, balance, breath control, body work, strength, and freedom."

Chrisman: "Like yoga and Pilates, Gyrotonic focuses on the mind/body/spirit—beautiful yet functional movement that is rehabilitative, improves cognitive function as well cardiovascular health."

Want to try it? Start here: Center Gyrotonic, 1420 NW 17th Ave; MotionLab, 3829 NE Tillamook St; Circle Studio, 1231 NW 11th Ave; ReFORM Pilates, 828 SE 34th Ave; Pearl Pilates, 1211 NW Glisan, Suite 206; Geometry Pilates, 821 NW Flanders St #225.

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