If every New Yorker regularly did Gyrotonics — a type of exercise that builds on yoga, ballet, tai chi, and swimming — ours would be a far more beautiful, happy, and relaxed city. Created in the 1980s by a classically trained dancer whose career had been put on hold due to an injury, Juliu Horvath, Gyrotonics uses movements that are both circular (thus gyro, a Greek word meaning "spiral") and rhythmic. The exercises encourage the body to lengthen, strengthen, and relax. Mr. Horvath invented a number of machines that use pulleys, straps, and weights to help guide and extend the body's range of movement and increase balance and coordination.
I'd been hearing about the wonders of Gyrotonics for years from professional dancers and athletes — many swear the exercises can heal the body and keep it strong — but had never tried it. A recent study, conducted by IDEA Health & Fitness Association, showed that Gyrotonics is one of the fastest growing fitness disciplines. Figuring that the fitness market was about to catch up with what the professionals have been doing all along, I tried out three studios in Manhattan — each owned by master trainers who have been certified by Mr. Horvath.
Opened in 2001, Body Evolution is a bright, well-equipped space. The studio has soothing cream-color walls, beautiful pine floors, and a glass-enclosed garden exercise space out back.
Owner Billy Macagnone said we would start with basic moves away from the machines — arching, curling, twisting — all meant to work, lengthen, and relax the spine. Mr. Macagnone said the spine is "the key conductor of the whole body." We then moved to the so-called tower, whose pulleys and weights help strengthen the body and increase flexibility. I was supposed to use fluid, continuous, dancer-like moves, and was impressed that the well-balanced pulleys instantly alerted me (and Mr. Macagnone) to the weakness and instability in my range of motion. In other words, I couldn't cheat.
(221 Second Ave., between 13th and 14th streets, 212-228-4202, bodyevolutions.com, $30 an hour for small-group machine and tower classes; private classes are $70 an hour, with a special introductory rate of $150 for three one-hour sessions; reservations required.)
Situated in Midtown, Circular Power is a two-room studio owned by a former modern dancer, Tony Morales. A recent session there began with the arch and curl, which Mr. Morales said is Gyrotonics's most basic and beneficial exercise. He had me sit on a bench with my hands on my knees while I looked up at the ceiling, then brought my head down and under as I curled my spine.
Next he had me do a similar set of moves on the pulley tower, holding onto handles that allowed me to rotate two disks away from my body while reaching, arching, and curling; it felt sublime. The moves "permit you to work deeper into the joints, opening instead of compressing them," Mr. Morales said. "Also you're lubricating and strengthening the muscles without bulking up."
(850 Seventh Ave., suite 305, between 54th and 55th streets, 917-849-8569, circularpower.com, private, hour-long sessions, $80, adults ages 65 and up, $65; multisession discounts available.)
Directly across 57th Street from the Hearst building, Gyrotonic Manhattan lies in the midst of a very busy New York neighborhood. But the studio itself is an oasis of calm and serenity: Light streams in from the huge windows, gorgeous calligraphy scrolls and platinum prints of dancers grace the walls, and the machines are generously spaced out. Owner Sebastian Plettenberg, who once danced with Germany's national ballet company, has been training with and teaching for Mr. Horvath for 12 years. "Gyrotonics is a three-dimensional movement system that works with the body in every movement plane," he said. "Every joint, every muscle is stimulated in every possible direction."During our session, we moved systematically through arch and curl, side bends, spirals, and the wave. "With these exercises, your spine will reach its highest capacity of movement, and all tension around the spine will be released," Mr. Plettenberg said. Indeed it was and, by the end of the session, I was ready to face 57th Street once again. (315 W. 57th St., suite 208, at Eighth Avenue, 212-459-3369, gyrotonicmanhattan.com, Group classes, $20; private, hour-long sessions,$85–$125, depending on the trainer; multiclass discounts available.)