Lifestyle & Philosophy
Self Care for Hula Hoopers
Hooping is fantastic for our minds and bodies!
Hooping on the body tones our core and back muscles, dancing with our hoops helps our cardiovascular health and off body hooping builds tones our arms and shoulders.
Hooping enhances neuroplasticity, the brains ability to rewire itself. As we learn new movements we create new connections between our brains and our muscles, improving proprioception and co-ordination - and enhancing our cognitive ability outside of the hoop!
You can read more about hooping and the brain here
Hooping can have powerful benefits for our mental health - it gets our endorphins flowing, creating a natural high. As we move with the hoop we get to express ourselves physically and creatively. We live in a world that values superficial aesthetics - hooping allows as to enjoy how our bodies feel - rather than being told how they should look. Plus the support of the hooping community (global and local), provides hoopers with support and encouragement to celebrate the uniqueness of who they are!!
My Hoop Journey
I was lucky enough to go to my first ever hoop class with Deanne Love, who teaches everyone to tap into their own awesomeness and encourages self love, acceptance and celebration as part of hoop dance. So right from the beginning I had a very nurturing and supportive teacher, and community that she created to be a part of. She doesn’t live in Melbourne any more but luckily I still get to see lots of her online - and she remains a massive inspiration in hooping and in life!
Now I go to a regular class with Donna Sparx who is fabulous at blending creativity and technique and integrating it into your flow. This class is a regular inspiration reboot for me!
I teach yoga, pilates and aerial yoga full time and run my own studio Garden of Yoga - and hooping is my personal playtime!
However, I started to notice that if I spent a long time hooping - particularly rehearsing for a show or at festival - I’d feel some sore spots emerging in my forearms, shoulders and back. And stretching out weird niggles and tight spots is my day job!!
I’ve found that integrating yoga, pilates and myofascial release techniques into my hoop practice has helped me feel better and move better in my hoop. I’m excited to share these techniques with hoopers everywhere!
Receiving a massage is the best!!
But we don’t always have the time or money, or even access to the right massage therapist, luckily this is something we can do this for ourselves - all you need is some balls and a sock!!
Self massage (myofascial release) is a simple and powerful technique to release tight, tense muscles, awaken non responsive areas, enhance circulation and lymphatic drainage, and tune our minds into the bodies in a deep and relaxing way. It can target tight spots more effectively than stretching (as often we will naturally stretch areas that are already flexible and miss out on the non responsive spots - the muscles that have been tight for so long they have forgotten how to release).
Here are some videos where I have combined stretching and myofascial release for the hands, arms, wrists and upper back. You’ll need tennis balls, or smaller softer rubber balls, and a sock.
If we always hoop in the same direction, turn in the one direction, and do our tricks with the our dominant hand, we are setting up imbalances in our bodies. Over time we could feel tightness in one hip, down one side of the back or in one shoulder. Most of us favour one side naturally (and if we are performing, would obviously use our preferred side/direction on stage and therefore rehearsal) - our strong side gets stronger and even more dominant.
Often we tend to have a preference for on body hooping (which tends to work the muscles of our legs and core more) or off body hooping favour off body hooping (which tends to work our hands, arms and shoulders more). Switching between on and off body can be a great reboot!
If a tricky trick is melting your brain - rock your hoop out on your body for a while - or if you’re working on something like shoulder or knee hooping and are tiring out - change it up and play with weaves or isolations for a while. Even practicing with a different style or tempo of music can be a great way to shift your perspective and explore a different quality of movement.
Our practice time is a great chance to start to work towards balance, it might feel awkward to start with, but the more we deliberately practice in our opposite current, or in our less dominant hand - the more natural it will feel in our flow - and the more versatility we will have in our movements. This makes hooping more sustainable for our bodies, more stimulating for our minds (hello neuroplasticity) and opens up so many creative possibilities in our dance!
Drills are a great way to warm up, to work on refining your form (in both directions), and also as a lead in to practice when you might not be feeling super creative. I usually find that if I start with drills, it gets my endorphins flowing and I just want to keep moving and dancing from there!!
Drills can also be a great way to encourage a more meditative awareness in your hoop. Knowing that you will be doing the same movement for a set length of time can help us calm down the busy thinking brain and feel into the sensations of your body.
When I'm practicing at home, I use the 'Insight Timer' App, set it for 10 minutes, with one minute interval bells. I mix up my drills a bit, but the most important thing is to work both directions (and both hands). If some of these feel a bit intense to do for a whole minute, mix up the directions and take breaks within the minute.
I do that with the coiling up and down from knees to hips option or if I'm drilling one hoop on my waist one on my chest or knees - I just keep going until the hoop drops then pick it up and spin in my opposite direction.
You can also alternate between on and off body drills - and over time, combine your off body moves with your knee hooping.
Either move into your drills slowly and add in lots of stretching as you go - or warm up with some stretching before you get started. I love this hoop stretch video by Donna Sparx.
Here are some of my favourite hoop drills:
Waist hooping dance style - move as much as you can, including arms and feet
Waist hooping circus style, one or two hoops on the waist. Keep your feet as close together as you can, push forward and back, abs and glutes on!
Hip hooping + shoulder and arm warm ups
Knee hooping + isolations, smears or coin flips (choose one for the minute)
Flowing between hips and knees (this one is tough!)
Knee hooping dance style (move around the room as much as you can)
Chest Hooping (alternating up and down arms optional)
Neck Hooping and duck outs (I alternate directions for a minute on this one)
Coil up from knees to neck and back down
Off body options - weaves, handspins, smear/barrel rolls, coin flips.
Or even drill two or three moves sequenced together for the minute - such a good way to wake up your non dominant side and also take a break from the core hooping while keeping your energy up!
Or if you want a guided experience, Donna has made this great drills tutorial
Bruises, Aches and Pains
Most hoopers have got a little bruise or two, especially when learning to hoop on bonier areas like knees, elbows and ankles. If you do notice a bruise it is important to give it time to heal. A bruise is actually damage to tiny blood vessels under the skin, if you continue to hoop on it more blood will flow to the area and it will just get worse!!
Some hoopers find that using a lighter hoop, wearing some protective layers (like socks or leg warmers on your ankles) helpful- and if you’re working on your knees, try to aim for the lower thigh instead - it’s much more comfortable.
I also consulted with Nellie Nature- she’s a naturopath who does crossfit so she knows about bruises, she even makes here own sore muscle balm!
Nellie recommends applying arnica cream to help reduce bruising and discomfort - although never on a cut - it will increase bleeding. Arnica has a blood thinning effect (which is what helps your bruise disperse), so check with a naturopath if you have any health conditions or are taking any other medication.
She also recommends vitamin C, which helps strengthen the walls of your blood vessels. Slow healing bruises can even be a sign of a vitamin C deficiency. You could take a supplement, or eat lots of berries, citrus fruits and dark green leafy veggies - try these whizzed up in a smoothie with coconut water for a fabulous hooping energy boost! My bowl in the picture is the deluxe version with chia seeds coconut yoghurt - for when you really want to treat yourself!
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘feel the burn’ and after vigorous exercise it’s normal to feel a bit of soreness or fatigue within our muscles - this is lactic acid build up, which is a by product of our bodies converting stored energy. We can reduce this effect by making sure we’re taking in lots of oxygen (remembering to breathe while practicing) and by mixing up the types of movements that we do so we don’t over load particular muscles. Stretching, massage and drinking lots of water will also help, this kind of discomfort usually passes after a couple of days, and reduces as our bodies get stronger. If you’re feeling a bit achy - a bath in magnesium or epsom salts is awesome - your muscles will love the magnesium and soothing warm water!
There are certain pains that may need more attention - you ever feel a persistent pain in a muscle, a sharp pain, numbness or tingling, or discomfort in a joint (ie knees, wrists, shoulders or spine), don’t put up with it! Get it checked out by a doctor or physical therapist - your body may be sending a message that there is something more serious going on, take care of yourselves hoopers!!
Drinking water helps with so many things!! It helps us stay energised and reduce fatigue, it helps our flexibility as our muscles are less likely to cramp and our connective tissues can smoothly glide against each other when they are well hydrated. It’s essential for our to digestive system function effectively and transport nutrients around the body. If you’re hooping at a festival, for many hours, or in hot weather it is essential to have water on hand, don’t wait until you feel thirsty - otherwise you could over heat or dehydrate!
You’ll have so much more energy and feel so much better the next day if you stay hydrated!!
Nourish your Body
I always have healthy treats to keep my mind and body energised when I’m hooping. Sometimes I’ll make up a green smoothie to drink before or after practice and if I’m teaching a workshop or going to a festival I make bliss balls.
These contain lots of complex carbohydrates from the dates for sustained energy and brain power. The rice protein powder, and the natural protein in the nuts and chia seeds help with muscle repair, the omega 3 fats in the chia seeds are great for joints and your brain. Plus the simple sugars in the dates and cranberries plus raw cacao give you a little stimulating energy boost, here's the recipe
Yoga and Pilates
Pilates can be fantastic for postural awareness and balance. I highly recommend it, especially if you have issues with your knees, hips or back!
If you’re hooping at a festival, taking in a yoga class is a great way to give your body (and mind) some extra nurturing. Most hoop friendly festivals will have a yoga class or two on the schedule, you might have to get up a bit earlier in the morning but it’s always worth it. Festival yoga classes are usually really fun and chilled - I always get lots of people trying yoga for the first time, and big hugs after class!
A wonderful aspect of yoga is how diverse the practice is. An active yoga class like vinyasa can be a great way to tap into that feeling of movement meditation, and get a whole body stretch - try it right before your hoop practice and see how it changes your flow.
A yin yoga class can free up some really deep physical and emotional layers - if you’re always moving and have trouble grounding and staying still, yin may be challenging, but so powerful!
The bonus is that these classes really focus on finding balance between the sides of the body. If you’re a performer practicing yoga and pilates can be a way to set an intention to move for yourself rather than an audience, and introduce some powerful self care time into your movement practice. I’ll be making a yoga and pilates video for hoopers soon - subscribe to my youtube to stay in the loop.
Be inspired not intimidated!
Hoop performers are a diverse and creative bunch - and through the internet we get to see some incredible performances in all genres. If binge watching hours of hoops videos has left you feeling inadequate - you’re not alone!
You don’t necessarily need to have the grace and flexibility of ballet dancer, acrobatic skills of a circus star and dazzling costumes of a burlesque performer to be a fabulous hooper - you just need passion and practice. Comparison is the thief of joy - but it is possible to be inspired by another without diminishing who you are - as a performer and a person!
If you are drawn to these aspects of another’s performance, why not explore it further - check out a dance or circus class - or even a costume making workshop!
Instead of telling yourself ‘I could never do that’ , explore how you could start to learn that skill or technique, and express it in your own way.
If you are feeling a bit stuck in a hoop rut and looking for instruction and information, the internet is a wealth of hoop riches!
hooping.org is an amazing resource for hoop tutorials, performance videos and articles.
Deanne Love shares hundreds of beautifully produced, easy to follow and inspiring hoop tutorials for free, and her paid courses are fabulous too. Deanne also celebrates the dance in hoop dance, she breaks down flow sequences and has lots of advice for putting your own unique flair into your flow. Plus she really lives the hoop love message, so her website is great if you need a positivity boost.
Donna Sparx is my favourite go to teacher when I am looking for something fresh and creative to spice up my flow. She has a super creative mind that can unlock new possibilities within simple movements, and find cool transitions between different grips and planes. She really breaks down the details of each trick to help you get the movement in your body.
I find it really helpful to collate my favourite hoop tutorials on a pinterest board so I can find them again later!
The internet is amazing for inspiration, but going to a live, in person class is my favourite way to learn. I find it super helpful to feel someone guide me through a move - especially if i’m struggling to grasp it - and also to see the same trick expressed in lots of different people’s bodies. You also get to enjoy the community aspect of hooping, all the classes i’ve been to have a super supportive, encouraging and fun energy - and sometimes we need a little reminder that hooping is for fun!!
Sometimes time in the hoop feels like meditation, (usually when it’s going well), however some days we are tired, stressed or distracted and we just don’t find our way to that state of calm and clarity in the hoop (or don’t even feel like picking it up).
Meditation can be an amazing tool to make friends with our own minds and navigate the tumultuous twists and turns of life. We can train our minds over time, just as when we train our bodies we need to be consistent and keep practicing even when progress is slow. The beauty of meditation is, even when we feel like we might be ‘failing’ at it, and our minds are far from calm or focused, we’ll still get benefits from the practice. Meditation helps us deal with stress, but also to unlock creativity and stay present in the moment. Many performers find a short meditation before going on stage is a big help. Practicing a seated (or laying down) meditation can help the brain access that state in other activities - perfect if you are seeking that blissful ‘flow state’ in your hoop (or life).
A still meditation can also be a beautiful way to end your hoop practice. I'm sharing a Loving Kindness Meditation below - I hope it helps you cultivate an abudance of love, compassion and care for yourself and others in hooping and life!!
Meditation written and spoken by Jo Stewart, with production, music and chanting by Jackie
Text and images are property of Jo Stewart and Garden of Yoga, copyright 2017.