Last month I celebrated my 14-month Hoopiversary. It marks the time I first picked up a hula hoop and began hooping in earnest.
In the hooping community, the rules of serious hooping require one to record (and preferably post) a video documenting each major hoopiversary. I dragged my feet on this, worried it would be a most public display of ridiculousness and self-indulgence, so I missed the one-year mark.
Eventually, moved and encouraged by others’ videos and vulnerability, I went ahead and filmed myself. Below is the unedited, unchoreographed result. I breathed like Darth Vader on that sweltering day, but it’s done.
It’s a triumph of sorts. I managed not to drop the hoop. Thanks to the Dixie Chicks and Fleetwood Mac, the music is great. And if you watch all the way to 1:49, I hoop on my face. Miraculously, no injuries were incurred during the making of this film.
An Injury Inspired It, Though
A massage therapist’s bad dream happened to me in April of 2014, when I met a pothole on the sidewalk in front of the library. I fell fast and hard, clipping a couple of ankle bones. They weren’t bad breaks, but they sidelined me in a boot. I couldn’t do massage. I went to physical therapy instead.
I loved my PTs. They helped me so much that I had to un-help them somehow. Twice when I began to heal, I got so excited I stepped up my bicycling and walking a little too quickly and hit a setback. In June 2014, my PT lectured me sternly, saying I had to calm down and find an activity that didn’t involve going anywhere.
Returning home from that lecture, I felt lost and discouraged.
What Do I Do Now?
As I let myself in the back door, something on the porch caught my attention.
I eyed the adult-size hula hoop that had hung there listlessly since my 50th birthday.
It eyed me back, a large, unblinking round eye.
We stared at each other.
I picked it up and flung it around my waist.
Then dropped it.
Then picked it up again.
That moment began the one of the most fun and sustainable self-care practices I have ever begun. I stood in place for weeks, running it around my hips and waist. It started to stay up. I even began—tentatively—to do my PT exercises while hooping. My ankle continued to heal.
I fell again, this time in love, and hard.
That love surprised me. So did the ease of keeping the practice going. It sparked some reflection on self-care.
Self-Care Gets a Bad Rap
Most of us tune out when we hear about the importance of self-care.
I do, too, even though my massage school admonished 25 years ago that caring for ourselves was a prerequisite for caring for clients. (June also marked my silver massage therapy anniversary. It’s been quite an anniversary year.)
Perhaps we tune out self-care because it calls up images of flossing, treadmills, and vegetables without butter. Of today’s austerity and discipline, in service of tomorrow’s health.
Compare that to self-comfort, which calls up the opposites: candy apples, curling up on the couch with a movie, and mashed potatoes with butter. I know which one I’d pick.
Hooping Provides Both
Self-care and comfort come in the same package. The rewards are immediate, not sometime in the misty future. Thanks to my teachers, hooping has become a movement practice and a meditation. A glorious mashup of rhythm and tranquility.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because of common elements in hooping and massage therapy: Care and comfort in the receiving, rhythm and tranquility in the giving. Movement and flow. Although I initiate movement and guide it to through the session, I am only a part of it. Ultimately a meditative flow moves in, and it is larger and more fun than anything I could ever create with my brain alone.
I love it for some of the same reasons I love massage therapy.
As much fun as it is, massage is a little more work-y than hooping. With that first spin of the hoop, something else was set in motion. A mesmerizing, meditative, mistake-making exercise in play.
When I finally could keep the hoop up and start to manipulate it, it became joyful and goofy. It got even goofier as I tried more difficult moves, dropping it every minute or so and chasing it into the street. I am throwing around a plastic toy in middle age. I must be PLAYING! Self-consciousness fell away as I told myself, Don’t think about it! Just catch it and keep it going!
For me, play is not a natural impulse.
Mistakes Aren’t, Either
In hula hooping, mistakes dominate successes. The clatter of a hoop hitting the ground is not my favorite thing, but fighting it is useless. Like me, my hoop is especially gravity-prone.
Never a natural athlete, I’m a bit too clumsy to get really good at anything. I have no formal dance, movement, or martial arts training, and no real aptitude for them, so I come to the hoop with humility. I’m not the snappiest, flowiest hooper.
Turns out, these weaknesses serve me. Humility is good medicine for someone who is always trying to make things seamless, write the perfect handout or create the flawless presentation. In hooping, I am not even in the flawless league.
Instead, each time I learn a new hooping skill, it requires enormous effort and focus. That’s where the real self-care lies. I become my beginner’s mind. There’s healing in that mind.
I am Present
I cannot learn this thing and obsess about anything else. I cannot be anywhere else but here. I cannot plan, or fret, or rehearse a difficult conversation for later, or flog myself for past mistakes. I can only hoop.
So I hoop.
Time Moves in Circles
An hour passes, unnoticed. My earbuds fall out. The city wakes up, and so does my kid. She pokes her head out the window:
Mama, what are you doing?
I thought you said, ‘pooping!’
You know what I said.
We repeat this script verbatim most mornings. I smile every time. Then I stack up my hoops for the day and fix her breakfast.
Yet All Day, the Hoop Beckons
It beckons as it did that first day, 14 months ago. I can’t wait to play again, a few minutes’ break during the day. A stolen moment after dinner.
Far from my dread of the treadmill, far from the tired refrain of some self-care activities I’ve tried, hooping calls me out to play again. If we’re still reclaiming our inner children, mine is the one who plays outside past dark.
Like that child, I play as though my life depends on it. I move as though my sanity depends on it. I fumble for its promise of joy. It never disappoints.
Great peace lies in the middle of that circle. The round, unblinking eye offers a steady refuge.
I am there.
What about You?
I’ve been wondering about how other therapists, teachers, and health care providers practice self-care. I’m curious about how all humans care for themselves. Any quirky practices or habits? Have any taken hold and surprised you, as this surprised me?
What kind of fun, silly anniversaries do you celebrate?
Wanna Try It?
There are many hula hooping resources online, but here are some of my favorites:
Hooping as a movement practice, with Jonathan Livingston Baxter. GREAT videos. Study with him in person if you ever get the chance.
My first online teacher, Jess Wagstrom, has great video tutorials for beginners and advanced hoopers. She really breaks things down. She also sells hoops and helps customers choose the right one for their size/height.
Hooping.org is a clearinghouse of resources, how to get started, and bunches of videos.
My first hoop, a large, heavy adult beginner hoop. Bigger is typically better, but I can’t advise on size. Ask Canyon Hoops to help select the right size.
The smaller, lighter hoop I used in the video. Again, I can’t advise on purchasing, but I love this hoop. Trinity Starr is super helpful, and will help select the best one.