Jacqueline Stenson / MSNBC.com
Diana Osborne recently started taking Gyrotonic sessions from instructor Barbara Schwarz at Gyrotonic L.A. in Santa Monica, Calif. Osborne is hoping "Gyro" will help keep her bones strong.
By MSNBC contributor
updated 8/25/2006 4:35:33 PM ET 2006-08-25T20:35:33

Years of living with Cushing's syndrome, a hormonal disorder, had caused Kari Hyer's muscles and bones to weaken. After undergoing surgery to treat the condition, she needed to rebuild her strength but weight machines "felt horrible," says Hyer, who lives in Gwynedd Valley, Pa., outside of Philadelphia.

So she began doing yoga and Pilates, both of which helped. But she credits Gyrotonics — billed as a combination of gymnastics, ballet, swimming and yoga that simultaneously stretches and strengthens the body — with really turning things around.

"Even though I was weak, I could move," says Hyer, 46. "It felt graceful." Her spine, once rounded, is now almost straight again, and her muscles are stronger.

Like Hyer, a growing number of people are going "Gyro." In the last five years, the worldwide number of studios and gyms offering it has increased from 300 to more than 1,200, including almost 700 in the United States, according to Gyrotonic International Headquarters, a company in Dingmans Ferry, Pa., that certifies instructors and sells equipment. And a new industry survey by the IDEA Health and Fitness Association identified Gyrotonics as one of the hottest up and coming fitness trends.

Kathie Davis, executive director of IDEA, says Gyrotonics is now "similar to Pilates five years ago." With Pilates and yoga classes leveling off, she says, those who take these classes may be looking for something new and likely to try Gyro. "People are always interested in the newest, the latest," Davis says. "They just always want to keep it fresh."

Matt Aversa, vice president of Gyrotonic International, attributes the growing interest to the overall popularity of mind-body fitness, including yoga and Pilates, and the news that celebrities like Madonna, Liv Tyler and Julianne Moore and even some professional athletes such as golfer Mark Wilson and baseball player Steve Finley are fans.

'Moving meditation'
While Gyrotonics has been gaining momentum in recent years, it's actually been around since the 1980s, when it was developed by Romanian-born ballet dancer Juliu Horvath after he suffered a career-ending injury and began searching for new ways for dancers to improve their technique.

Gyro involves leg extensions, arm circles, spinal twists and other exercises that engage multiple body parts, explains instructor Barbara Schwarz, owner of Gyrotonic L.A. in Santa Monica, Calif. Many of the exercises use a unique tower with cables, pulleys and weight plates.

"It's similar to Pilates only in the respect that it teaches you to work the core," Schwarz says. Whereas Pilates is more linear, Gyrotonics is spherical, with the equipment allowing for a 360-degree range of motion.

Schwarz calls Gyrotonics a "moving meditation." It's not a typical cardio workout, but you can get your heart pumping if the moves are done quickly, and one after the other, she says.

In addition to the Gyrotonic tower, there are other pieces of equipment such as the ladder and the jumping-stretching board, and a form called Gyrokinesis, a mat class that requires no equipment. Prices for one-on-one sessions usually start at around $60 an hour and go up.

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While Pilates and yoga fans account for many Gyrotonic clients, Schwarz trains people ranging from high-school cheerleaders wanting to improve their moves, to golfers and baseball players seeking to better their game, to an 86-year-old woman trying to keep her joints from stiffening up.

One client, Diana Osborne, 57, of Inglewood, Calif., recently started taking sessions to keep her bones strong as she ages. "I don't want to take hormone replacement therapy," she says.

Easy on the joints
Juergen Bamberger, a Gyrotonics instructor in New York City, says Gyro is starting to gain a following among physical therapists looking for new ways to rehabilitate injured knees and hips and bad backs. It helps by strengthening injured areas with less direct pressure than standard weight machines, he says.

People who take Gyrotonic sessions, especially those with injuries, should be sure the instructor is properly trained, he notes. (For a listing of certified instructors, go to gyrotonic.com.)

Anna Tallman, 37, of Chicago has been doing Gyrotonics once or twice a week for the last year and a half, working on both the tower and the ladder. A big benefit is that her back isn't so stiff anymore.

"Gyrotonics has helped me tremendously with my flexibility and back," she says, "and also with strength and balance."

But the psychological benefits are a key reason she keeps doing it.

"In a one-hour session I work every aspect of my body and come out of it with a really great sense of well-being," Tallman says. "It's addictive cause you feel so good afterward."

Smart Fitness appears every other Tuesday.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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