Pilates, GYROTONIC, and moving naturally
Finding one method of fitness that you enjoy can seem miraculous; finding more than one can seem ultimately impossible. Cross-training is so very important for our bodies and our minds. Although I always knew this to be true, it wasn’t until lately that, as a student, I discovered what a necessity cross-training is.
I have been a Pilates student for 13 years and an instructor for 8. I have been a Gyrotonic student for a solid 8 months now. Although these two methods of fitness seem as if they would be very similar, they are actually quite different in how they approach movement and kinesiology.
If you’re not familiar with the Pilatesmethod, it is focused strength and stability work centered around your
transverse abdominals using mostly linear movements. There is work that you can do on a mat and there’s work that you can do on machines. Pilates is often utilized in physical therapy or as a post-PT type of fitness. Gyrotonic is very similar in that there’s mat work and machine work and is often used for and after physical therapy, but most of the movements tend to be much more spiral and rotational with focus more on free-flow motion. So which one is better? Depends on what you ultimately need, but both are beneficial and they actually work quite well together.
For students who are already quite mobile, flexible, or lack strength & stability in their joints (primarily shoulders & hips), then Pilates is ideal. If you work your body with that extreme tendon length and weakness, once you begin bearing weight you can severely injure yourself. And tendon repair is a long and painful process. Say you are very stiff , suffer from extreme muscle tension and tight joints. You’ll probably want to begin with the Gyrotonic route to get you moving again.
As a student of both of these types of fitness, I’m starting to realize that Pilates can be
somewhat limiting. Now wait, before you start sending me bomb threats, hear me out as this is only my observation and opinion. When I began Pilates, my hips were crazy tight and overworked and I had no shoulder stability nor lat connection. I needed Pilates desperately if I was
going to continue to dance. Now 13 years in to my training, I had been struggling with my practice. I had been feeling more and more tense, my abdominals getting progressively stronger but to the point that it was becoming uncomfortable to rotate my spine. I felt I was overworking and in need of some cross-training. For me, Gyrotonic with it’s focus on spiral and rotational movement was my answer. Then I started to realize the very clear differences with how each method approached movement.
In Pilates we are trained to set up. Let me explain what I mean. First you find your body (what’s touching the mat, what’s already active and engaged), then you engage the muscles you wish to use to promote movement, then you prepare your breath, then you move. Most of us need this type of focused activity instead of just flailing our bodies around mindlessly causing injury and not reaping the true benefits of the exercises we’re doing. If I’m putting in this many hours and this much money, I want to see results! What you begin to do is be very mindful of your body and your muscles. It’s step one and absolutely necessary. But I began to notice that many of the things I was doing on the machines in Pilates was not what I was doing in everyday movement. When I walk, my
leg goes behind my hips in extension before it comes back forward. In Pilates, your hip series always remains in front of you in flexion. And the gripping, prepping, and activating before I even moved didn’t give me a chance to see what my body was going to naturally be inclined to do. I began preparing for incorrect movement patterns before they happened, which was causing more tension and overuse of tendons and joints. I wasn’t moving naturally.
In Gyrotonic, there are millions of repetitions. I’m not kidding, like… millions. But there’s a purpose for that. You begin moving through the exercise given and see what the body does naturally. Once you find your current pattern, then you can make small adjustments to make it more effective and correct within the actual path of movement. Once your body recognizes a new path, then it can flow over into your daily movement as well. Don’t get me wrong – there’s still instructional prep, but it’s more choreography first, adjust second.
My goal these last few months is to find ways to make Pilates exercises more natural or organic. I want to use the stability-focused exercises in a natural-moving way. I want my students to be able to readily access the muscle memory from the studio and take it to their desk. And it’s been working :-) With less focus on trying to control everything before we begin moving, I allow the student to begin the exercise, pay close attention to the body after a few reps, and then we start discussing small adjustments. This way the body gets a chance to move naturally as it desires, but the mind can focus on a new path or pattern which creates new muscle memory.
Of course all of this could have been discovered at an earlier point in my training, but I’m happy to see that I haven’t become complacent in my instruction. My body and spirit are continually searching and exploring, which makes what I do the best job in the world!