Stretching for fitness

Yobics offers workout without high impact, stress

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011

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Staff photos by EMILY BARNES
Troy Richardson instructs a Yobics class at Southwinds in White Plains on Friday afternoons. The class is designed for people who use a medical device to help them move or walk or who have limited mobility.

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Richardson designed Yobics, a chair fitness practice, to be a cross between aerobics and yoga.

The house lights are up every Friday afternoon in the theater of Southwinds Active Adult Community in White Plains.

Starting around 12:30 p.m. Troy Richardson leads a 30-minute class of residents and community members in a series of stretching and weightlifting without leaving their seats.

Richardson, founder of Yobics, a chair fitness program that marries yoga moves with aerobic exercises, has been holding classes in White Plains for about a year.

"It's geared toward disabled people — multiple sclerosis, autism, anyone who uses a medical device to move — but able-bodied people can do it, too," said Richardson, who first taught the class at Arc of Prince George's County.

He has a long history with physical fitness. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 16 and was always put in charge of fitness programs. He moved to Florida, started doing hatha-yoga and loved it. He became an aerobics instructor and worked as a personal trainer, too.

Practicing yoga left an impression on him.

"Yoga brings me peace," he said. "It taught me how to be spiritual."

Then an idea hit him.

"Why not combine the two?" he asked of yoga and aerobics. "You get the full range of exercise. The inner peace and the cardio that makes your body function."

Richardson saw how effective Yobics could be after his brother was recovering from surgery for a brain tumor. His brother, who has a form of autism known as Fragile X syndrome, was lagging in physical therapy when Richardson asked if he could work with him using Yobics moves.

Within months, Richardson's brother was making strides.

"This is what God wants me to do," Richardson said.

He developed the program and now has 18 instructors teaching around the District metropolitan area and in Florida.

At Southwinds the classes are open to anyone in the community, not just the residents there, and while the Multiple Sclerosis Society does tout the program, it is not just for those suffering from MS.

"Even though it's geared toward people with MS, we have residents with age-related [issues] like arthritis or who use walkers or wheelchairs," said Kim Hyatt, Southwinds' property manager. "We thought it was a perfect program for them."

Southwinds promotes the program within its community, while the MS Society also spreads the word.

Lorna Newton is living with the affects of MS. She started Yobics last summer.

"It provides me some physical activity and movement. I've seen improvement," she said. "And if I miss a few classes, I definitely feel it."

Newton is focusing on her leg strength and likes that Richardson's classes are scored to energetic music and that he is "very encouraging."

"My only complaint is that Troy doesn't know how to count," Newton said. "He says, ‘Five more' and then starts talking."

Newton said she knows that "five more" rarely means just five at Yobics. But it doesn't deter her from going.

"It's a wonderful class, not just for those with MS but for anyone with any physical limitations," Newton said. "There is a warm-up and a cool-down … a lot of stretching and that's good for everybody."

Richardson is focused on health and wellness and refuses to let a client's wheelchair, walker or physical limitations stop him from benefiting from exercise.

"Obesity leads to depression, and I want to bring people out of that depression," he said. "Fitness can be fun. People say, ‘I can't get out of my wheelchair.' With Yobics I've seen people who couldn't walk, now walking."

Richardson wants to equip people with moves that they can take home and work on during their own time away from class and get on with living, he hopes, their more mobile lives with more inner peace.

"We want to teach people to do it on their own," he said. "We don't want clients for life."

To learn more

Yobics chair fitness class will be 12:30-1 p.m. Fridays at Southwinds Active Adult Community, 4225 Southwinds Place, White Plains. The class is for those who use a medical device to assist them to move or walk. Cost is $5 per class or $20 a month. Call 301-350-5215 or 301-576-5217 or go to