The hula hoop effect on hearts, minds and bodies
Hula hoops have been around since Egyptian time where children used to make hoops out of willow. Hundreds of years later the hula hoop still occupies a popular place within our society, and at the moment is having a revival like in the 1950’s.
I had been searching for a low impact fun activity that I could recommend to my clients for gentle exercise when I came across a local hula hoop training provider. I didn’t realise the impact that a simple children’s toy would have on my client's self-esteem and body confidence. My clients would quickly learn to master a hula hoop in one session. Dropping the hoops would be met with whoops of joy and laughter, a sound that many had not experienced in possibly months. For that moment, the fear and difficulties they had faced were suspended in time, they were in the moment, in the flow, protected in their circle. Cecelia Carly, from Harlem who is blind, suffers from brain and bowel cancer says that hula hooping ‘frees her mind and helps her melt stress away.’
Being in the flow
Flow is a work that is associated with hula hooping time and time again, psychologist Csilszentmihalyi has developed a theory based on flow. He believes that being in flow can enhance positive feelings and keep concerns at bay. Being in the flow is relaxing and effortless, it’s when time stands still just concentrating on the task at hand, gardening, reading, singing and dancing are often times we are in flow.
"It is better to look suffering straight in the eye, acknowledge and respect it’s presence, and then get busy as soon as possible focusing on things we choose to focus on.” - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Breath is so vital to our lives and often forgotten until we can hardly breathe through fear or pain. Panic attacks are frightening and debilitating and cause very real symptoms such a shortness of breath, racing hearts and your body may go into ‘panic mode’ and release adrenaline, known as the fight or flight response. If you are suffering from panic attacks, anxiety or stress, it’s very important to go to your GP to seek medical advice and psychological support. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” - Thich Nhat Hanh.
Effects to the body
‘The American Council for Fitness’ has now shown that hooping can decrease tummy fat, the supporting data showed that waist circumference decreased by 3.4cm. On top of that, Canada's University of Waterloo Spine Biomechanics Laboratory has now confirmed that regular power hooping causes the waist to shrink, one interpretation is that the visceral fat that is located deep in the abdomen decreases.
The World Health Organisation says that depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. It also states that there are effective treatments. Robergs and Roberts (1997) define fitness as: ‘A state of well-being that provides optimal performance’.
For some inside a hoop is a safe haven, boundaries are intact and nothing can reach them, the calming, rhythmic motions can slow distressed breathing and relax anxious bodies. Therapy has shown that you can use a virtual hula hoop to work with addictions by using the hoop as a barrier and being inside the magic circle installs a feeling of safety. Pia Mellody, Senior Clinical Advisor at the Meadows says "I invite clients to stand in their circle of excellence and imagine themselves looking their personal best, using appropriate language and then stepping out with confidence and a strong sense of self-awareness". Pia gives workshops on hula hoop therapy all around the world.
Hula hooping has given many of my clients a sense of accomplishment, discipline to practice and an ability to set and achieve realistic goals. By learning a new skill, dropping the hoop and picking it up – they feel empowered to try new things and not be afraid of failing. Letting go and realising that we can’t control the hoop but by using slow, gentle movement we can teach our bodies to slow down and be gentle with ourselves. As with hooping and life, we have to take small steps, first to keep the hoop up or with life baby steps in the right direction to change our moods from despair into hope. Significant health benefits can be gained by including 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, if not all, days of the week (Department of health 2004).
Hooping and stress
Mindfulness and meditation has been scientifically proven to lower stress and anxiety, brain scans have shown that it works. Along with recognised yoga therapy and tai chi, hula hooping is a moving meditation, focusing on your mind and body. You become more aware of your body, getting to know it, being content that your body is capable of more than you imagined. Dr Alan Cohen says that when people get depressed or anxious, they often feel they’re not in control of their lives. ‘Exercise gives them back control of their bodies and this is often the first step to feeling in control of other events’ (NHS Choices, Mood Zone).
Whilst hooping using positive affirmations or intentions can help us be mindful, writing your own affirmation is extremely empowering. ‘I am in my circle of happiness, calm and at peace, this moment in time is mine’ - Dottie Maria.
The power of meditation, flow, body awareness, mindfulness, movement, exercise, music can all be found in this simple magic circle of joy, why not give it a twirl or two!
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About Dottie Woods
I am a person-centred counsellor who believes we all need a little help sometimes. With guidance, we are able to heal ourselves and live our lives by reaching our highest potential. I believe we can all lead a wonderful life full of meaning and happiness.