Mindfulness is the new buzzword in stress management and healing — and with good reason. Studies show that practicing mindfulness for just eight weeks decreased people’s anxiety, increased brain activity in the realm of positivity and resilience, and even boosted their immune system. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental, observational way that helps foster a sense of curiosity and vitality. When added to fitness classes, mindfulness has been shown to provide more physical benefits by activating muscles and movement patterns more consciously.
Tai Chi, a slow form of martial arts and moving meditation, has cultivated mindfulness for thousands of years, but many people who are accustomed to fast workouts find it too slow to stick with. Yoga incorporates mindfulness, but let’s face it: it’s challenging to remain nonjudgmental when your muscles are screaming while holding a pose.
What is Yo-Chi?
Lawrence Biscontini, an ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year, fitness guru, and television personality, created Yo-Chi, a blend of tai chi and yoga. Yo-Chi capitalizes on the fusion craze, in which classes blend a couple of disciplines normally not practiced together, to deliver a mind-body workout. Though people get a great workout through Yo-Chi, Biscontini emphasizes overall wellness, and not just fitness; he aims to have Yo-Chi move beyond the mat, into life. As he says: “It’s not fitness; it’s to empower your life to be a champion of living when you are off of the mat.”
A 30- to 45-minute Yo-Chi class alternates between five-minute segments of yoga and tai chi, with a complete fusion of the two forms in the beginning and end of class. Classes begin with tai chi movements, to increase synovial fluid, or lubricate the joints.
Benefits of Yo-Chi
- Beyond the mindfulness benefits of Yo-Chi, the program works on both stability, through yoga, and mobility, through tai chi. The blend of stability and mobility mirrors regular life, in which we use stability to balance us as we go through our daily activities (mobility). In addition, yoga provides isometric training, while tai chi provides isotonic training to the muscles.
- Though Biscontini has fused yoga and tai chi, he has not changed the actual forms of the two ancient disciplines. You’ll find movements like tai chi’s waving arms through clouds and yoga’s chair, warrior and eagle poses.
- Yo-Chi changes music, breathing styles and focus with each five-minute segment.
- During the yoga segments, participants increase muscle strength, balance, alignment and flexibility. Research also has shown yoga helps reduce stress and can mitigate heart disease and diabetes factors.
- Within tai chi segments, people work with balance, coordination, core strength, energy and attention to being a part of a group, rather than just one individual “working out.”
- Benefits of slow movement through tai chi also extend to better athletic performance, because all of the muscles in the body are communicating with one another, or, in other words, turned on, and relaxed while practicing continual movement. In yoga, the muscles tend to remain contracted to hold an asana. Traditionally, tai chi is used to help energy flow more efficiently through the body, and increase “chi,” or life force. Yo-Chi incorporates this practice by practicing tai chi forms, believed to open energy flow.
- In addition to relaxation and better energy flow, a recent study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society pointed to reduced blood pressure and mood disturbances. A study published in International Journal of Sports Medicine indicated an increase in the number of T-cells, which correlate to higher immune function, in Tai Chi practitioners.
- Yo-Chi is a perfect class to take on “rest days,” between heavy-duty workouts, because it gets your blood moving through gentle movements, which ultimately helps restoration and healing.
More Yo-Chi Fun
Just like Zumba and other fitness programs, Yo-Chi offers off-shoots, like Hydro Yo-Chi, in water; Yo-Chi Ball, which uses stability balls; Yo-Cycle, which injects yoga postures and stretches after cycling and incorporates tai chi in the cycling session; and Yo-Chi Glow, where, believe it or not, the final 20 minutes focuses on moving in extremely dim light with glow sticks to compelling music. Biscontini compares Yo-Chi Glow to “a spiritual church experience for the fitness soul.”
Yo-Chi classes provide a fun experience, which blends opposites — stability and mobility, inner and outer awareness, floor work and standing, muscle contraction and relaxation, yin and yang — into a mindful, integrated workout.
- Aerobics and Fitness Association of America
- Lawrence Biscontini (Yo-Chi training)