timeout – november 2009 – stretch it out

In a bid to up her flexibility, Daisy Carrington tries a Gryotonic workout

Asma Hilal Lootah struggles to describe Gytonic methodology in an email.  It’s a system similar to Pilates, she writes, only using more circular, dance-like movements.  But it is unique.  It is practised solely on a Gyrotonic Expansion System – a machine that involves weighted pulleys, handles and levers and enables practitioners to make elegant movements that give them a maximum stretch.  The system was created by Jului Horvath, a ballet dancer whose career ended after he sustained an injury.

Lootah, who owns The Hundred Pilates Studio, has the only Gyrotonic Expansion System in the entire Middle East.  One reason the machine is so rare is that the company that produces it will only sell it to certified trainers, and only a handful of companies throughout the globe offer training courses.

When I visit the studio, Lootah tells me again that a number of her clients us the machine for rehabilitation purposes, as well as for general flexibility.  This is one of the supposed attributes that initially drew me in, and ultimately made me decide to try the machine for myself.  I’m the first to admit I;m not very flexible (standing with my feet shoulder-width apart is the closest I get to doing the splits).  My instructor, Sarah Davis, a former gymnast from America, notices the slight furrow in my brow as I approach the equipment.  “It does kind of look like a torture device,” she notes.

The first group of exercises we do all involve the spine.  I sit on the bench and grasp a pair of rotating levers while curling and arching my back.  We move on to a number of variations on this theme, each offering a deeper stretch.  The movements are incredibly fluid and elegant, and are by no means easy.  Muscles I never knew about stretch out beyond me.  I’ve just recently taken up yoga, which I feel has helped me immeasurably, and yet these movements seem to address my stiffness more directly.  It comes to Davis’s attention that I tend to bunch up my shoulders at every move, so she pushes them down, then gives them a stretch that causes jolts to run down my arms.  When I tell her that I’ve been experiencing pain in the middle of my back lately, she looks at how I stand and tells me it’s because I walk with an arched back.  “You need to tuck in your ribcage – that will take the pressure off.”

When my session is over, I have a much stronger sense of what I need to work on and where I carry stress and tension in my body.  The next day, I can feel the effect of the session, even though it only lasted an hour.  I’m surprisingly sore, but my back does seem straighter and my shoulders less hunched.  I think I’ll have to make these visits a regular thing.

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