Spinal tap: No, it’s not a form of punishment
At first glance, it’s easy to imagine the wooden structure in the corner of Cindy Vervaeke’s home studio being used as a torture device in the Hunger Games. With its handles, pulleys, shiny discs and weights, the intent isn’t to punish but rather exercise — to help lengthen the spine, improve posture and strengthen your abs.
Vervaeke, who has been teaching Pilates and aerobics in Ottawa for 28 years, is one of only two people trained in the capital on how to use the vertical tower — a form of exercise called Gyrotonic.
Sitting on a cushioned wooden bench, her client Karen LeVasseur cups her hands around handles that are attached to two steel discs at the end of the bench. Vervaeke, who is standing above her, gently instructs LeVasseur to arch and curl while turning the handles in a circular motion. Arch, curl, spiral and breathe. For anyone suffering from “computer back,” the sweeping and arching movements help to break up the tension located in the lower back.
Watch a video of Vervaeke demonstrating the exercise tower:
When Vervaeke first witnessed the Gyrotonic exercise tower being used in a New York City studio four years ago, she was stopped in her tracks.
“I’d never seen anything like it: a room full of people exercising in unison on Gyrotonic towers. I thought that no one in Ottawa would believe what I was seeing. It’s like a dance; very fluid and beautiful to watch.”
Determined to become a certified instructor, Vervaeke says the past year has been gruelling, with hundreds of hours spent learning the movements, attending courses in the U.S., logging practice hours and undergoing numerous tests.
“There are about 30 practitioners in Canada, including two of us in Ottawa. The difficulty lies in the training as you have to go to Israel, Germany or Miami for your testing.”
Vervaeke’s tower was built 30 years ago by Juliu Horvath, the creator of Gyrotonic. A former ballet dancer, Horvath, who tore his Achilles tendon and herniated a disc in the late 1970s, developed his own form of yoga and Pilates called Gyrokinesis to help him recover from his injuries. He opened his first studio in 1982 and now there are 8,000 Gyrokinesis teachers around the world in 52 countries.
While Gyrokinesis is performed on a stool and a mat, Gyrotonic is a one-on-one exercise. The principles of both forms of exercise are based on yoga, tai chi and swimming and can be practised by anyone, regardless of weight, body shape and age.
“Both exercises are fantastic for golfers, people who play tennis and any other sport requiring spinal rotation.”
Vervaeke, who owns Personal Pilates Ottawa, teaches several classes each day four days a week in her South Keys home. Her clients range in age from 40 to 88.
Karen LeVasseur, a lawyer at the Supreme Court, has been taking classes for a dozen years. She credits Gyrotonic with developing her core strength and improving her flexibility and mobility.
“I first met Cindy when she was teaching Pilates and was taken in by her attention to detail and movements. I used to have extreme lower back pain, but now I’m stronger than I was in my 20s.
“When I use the Gyrotonic, I can feel all the tension in my back breaking up. I get so much relief.”
Vervaeke says the gratification she receives from clients such as LeVasseur is why she’s doing this.
“It’s been the busiest and most challenging three years of my entire career, but I am so thrilled to have finally brought the tower to Ottawa. I have some fantastic success stories with clients who have experienced great pain relief and stretching benefits.”
She is also a walking example of the health benefits of the tower.
“It’s fixed me. I used to spend about $3,000 a year on massages. I don’t need it. This is stretching me out.”
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