While the news may be a revelation to the physiologists and aerobics teachers, it is old hat to practitioners of Pyschocalisthenics.
The little-known exercise system was developed back in 1958 by an American called Oscar Ichazo. Well aware of the importance of regular physical exercise for health, Ichazo was convinced that spending endless hours pounding circuits or pushing weights was a terrible waste of precious time. Surely, he thought, there had to be a better way. So, he invented a simple exercise sequence which, say devotees, will revitalize the entire body and mind in just 16 minutes.
Shirley Maclane is a fan and Lindsay Wagner liked the system so much that she made a video of the exercises.
I must admit that before I even tried it, I liked the idea of Psychocalisthenics. First, it is cheap to learn and once you have learned it, there is no need to keep paying for classes: you are fully equipped to practice in your own home.
There is no expensive equipment to buy and no fancy clothes to wear – all you need is a small clear space in the living room, comfortable clothes and bare feet.
Ichazo based his system on both the esoteric traditions of the East and the scientific mechanics of anatomy and biochemistry. He devised a series of 23 movement and breathing exercises which would affect every muscle group in the body.
In Psychocalisthenics the body is divided into five ‘cavities’ - the cranial cavity (the head), the thoracic (lungs, kidneys, heart), the abdominal (the guts), the pelvic (the reproductive area) and the dorsal (the spine and all the nerves). The exercises move systematically through each cavity, flexing not only the external muscles but working the internal muscles, massaging the organs and strengthening the spine.
The first step is learning how to breathe properly. Breathing is an integral part of the system, and in between each exercise you perform what is known as the ‘integration breath’. Basically, you inhale through your nose to six beats as your arms sweep up over your head, and then exhale through your mouth to a further six beats, as if you were blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Knees bent, you point your toes slightly inward. You may feel like a pigeon-toed chimpanzee, but the breathing feels good.
My instructor says, ‘You’re completely expanding the lungs and opening three sets of muscles in the chest and neck. It allows you to take in the maximum amount of oxygen. People forget that the lungs are a huge muscle, so is the heart and colon.
With Pyschocalisthenics you are effectively moving the Chinese acupuncture meridians which stimulate internal organs. Meanwhile, the deep breathing helps to clear the blood and get it flowing.’ Apparently, this in turn, can even help problems such as depression and ease cravings for food and cigarettes.
From there we move through the exercises. Some, like the aptly named, ‘picking grapes’, are quite dynamic, involving swinging the arms and intense stretching. Others, such as the neck side-to-side exercise, involve only minimal movement.
Throughout the session the instructor keeps an eye on your performance, making tiny adjustments to posture, correcting almost imperceptible inaccuracies of movement. This is exercise pared to perfection and no element is there just for the sake of it.
‘If you do the exercises on a continual basis, you amass this amazing vital energy. It’s like building up a protective mechanism. You feel so good, so in control and so strong. If you stop, you really notice the difference.’
Although Psychocalisthenics is not specifically a weight-loss plan, my instructor says that many people do find they lose weight or change shape quite radically. ‘Often people who hold fat aren’t necessarily eating too much or not exercising enough; it can be an internal problem. Many people start losing weight when their digestion starts working properly.’
But perhaps most alluring is the reputation of Psychocalisthenics as an age-buster. Oscar Isacho argues that if you perform the exercises properly and regularly, you shouldn’t have to age.
After my first lesson I wasn’t sweating buckets as I would after a good aerobics class, but I could certainly feel I had exercised far more muscles. I was feeling clear-headed and bright rather than wiped out.
The real beauty of Psychocalisthenics is that it neatly fills all your exercise needs. If you hate exercise, its 16 minute brevity is ideal. With Psychocalisthenics you are creating a maintenance and rejuvenation strategy for your body. After 16 minutes you have done your exercise, you have wakened the body and worked through everything.
To watch a short demonstration of Psychocalisthenics click here.