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Hoop, hoop hooray! Melanie MacNeil demonstrates that it's okay to take the roundabout way to get in shape.

Hooping is back and better than ever! Its rebirth is in a new form, as the popular childhood toy Hula Hoop[R], famous for its craze back in 1958, is now recognized as the latest method for staying in shape. Its benefits include physical, mental and even spiritual improvements that can help keep a body, mind and soul healthy.

According to some fitness experts, hooping is comparable to an aerobic workout, such as jogging, in its ability to raise heart rate, burn calories and cultivate energy in the body. In addition, it can help create strong and toned core muscles, improve flexibility in the hips and spine and promote weight loss. With each rotation of the hoop, internal organs receive a massage, too, as well as the benefit from increased circulation. Hooping can also improve coordination and stimulate healthy breathing. With hooping on the scene, staying in shape can become more enjoyable, and exercise and movement redefined as an outlet for letting go of negativity and unwinding menacing tension.

The emotional benefits of hooping are high, too, and they become evident the minute you let that swirling spiral loose around your hips! Along with a spinning hoop comes an ear-to-ear grin that allows the mind to let go and the feel good hormones in the brain activate. Some "born again" hoopers travel down memory lane as they remember the fun of this childhood fascination. Hooping gives you the permission to play, have fun in the body and learn to not take life too seriously. The repetitive motion of hooping can even become a meditation in motion. The "centering" aspect of this movement can help one find balance, achieve a state of mental bliss, and teach one to be focused on trust in their body. There's a "Zen" to the art of hooping. It's easy to discover the state of "flow" in a hoop once a comfortable rhythm is established. In addition, the movements can create a dance tapping into a form of expression and creativity. The newest form of hooping has graduated from simple waist and hip hooping onto all areas of the body, making it a thorough physical workout. One can learn to hoop on the thighs, butt, knees, ankles, feet, arms, elbows, shoulders, neck, and beyond!

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With the hoop's new reputation in the fitness world, it's now viewed more as an exercise tool as opposed to a toy. Give it a whirl, and see for yourself how hooping can transform play into pure fitness!

HOOPING GROUND RULES

* Contrary to popular belief, the bigger the hoop, the easier it is to use. Find a hoop that when standing upright reaches at least to your bellybutton line. The average adult will need a hoop that is 38 to 44 inches in diameter.

* Most hoops found in the toy section of department stores are not an adequate size or weight for adult usage. Many hoop instructors handcraft weighted fitness hoops using special tape that helps the hoop "grip" onto the body. These hoops are custom made especially for adults and come m variety of weights, sizes and colors.

* Find a nice. comfortable, open space before you begin hooping, and be warned! Hooping can be destructive when done indoors. The best place to hoop is a wide-open, grassy area with lots of room to move around. If you're hooping with friends, give each other some space.

GETTING STARTED

1. Stand with your feet hip width apart, one foot slightly in front of the other. Keep a slight bend in the knees and stand lightly on the feet. Relax. A stiff posture will only make hooping difficult and awkward.

2. Hold the hoop in your hands at the four and eight o'clock points on the circle. Pressing the hoop against your low back, begin spinal twisting left and right. Use your intuition to pick a direction for release; your body naturally knows which one will feel right for you at first.

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3. On the count of three, release the hoop using the momentum of your spinal twist and push the hoop with your hands and arms away in a horizontal orbit. Immediately press your body into the hoop in a linear rhythmic pattern. Often, the movement is forward and back, however, it can be side to side for some. In the beginning, the body's movement begins as linear yet can become circular in nature over time. Pressing the hips firmly with force against the hoop will help keep the momentum going. The science of isometrics will aid in the continuous motion of the hoop. You may find your movements to be somewhat jerky and exaggerated at first. In time and with practice, the hip movements can develop to be more subtle and refined. It will take many hours of dedication to develop confident and fluid moves. Hang in there! Your persistence will pay of-ft.

4. Once you get comfortable in one direction, try going the other way. Learning to hoop in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions will help keep muscle tone and strength balanced on all sides of the body.

5. Remember: "Messing up" means you're learning! Every time your flow is interrupted, celebrate. Laugh as you explore the joys of a new skill, and remember to be patient with yourself in this adventurous process. If your hoop drops, pick it back up and begin hooping in the opposite direction. Install this discipline early in your hoop practice; in the long run it will help you to develop a more balanced flow.

6. Most of all, have fun! You can be serious about hooping without hooping seriously. Smile. Laugh. Play. Enjoy being in your body. Follow your bliss and find your center. And, hoop often; it's good for you!

RELATED ARTICLE: Fitness disguised as fun and other unique movements you might be curious about.

Whether you're a certified yogi and fitness buff or a when-you-have-the-time-which-is-never exerciser, exploring off-the-beaten path movements is the perfect way to spice up your fitness routine. After rekindling your youth with the hoop, give these a try:

BELLY DANCING

What: Possibly the oldest form of dance, with origins from India to the Middle East, the expressive movement has become a fitness trend. As a form of dance, belly dance can help improve your balance and gracefulness, while providing core strengthening.

Where: There are many opportunities to head to a class in the Asheville and Atlanta areas. In Asheville, check out Baraka Mundi, a belly "dance company that performs and offers classes (www.barakamundi.com). Mizilca offers transformational belly dance classes (www.transformationalbelly "dance.com), and Asheville area recreation centers also offer classes; call the Waynesville Rec Center, 828-734-0173, or the West Asheville Rec Center, 828-251-4031, for more information. In Georgia, try classes at the Nazeem Allayl Belly Dance Studio in Atlanta (www.atlantabellydance.com) or Atlanta Belly Dancing in Canton, GA (www.atlanta-bellydancing.com).

PUNK ROCK AEROBIC

What: A chance for you to add method to the madness that is you dancing around your house while playing air guitar to The Clash. Recognizing how many calories they burned in the mosh pit, creators Hilken Mancini and Matwa Jasper mixed their love of music and having a good time with tried-and-true exercise, and "the workout that rocks out[TM]" was born.

Where: The trend got its start with classes in rock clubs in Boston, Massachusetts, and spread into New York City soon "after. While that's a bit far from us in the Southeast, don't resign yourself to traditional Jazzercise just yet. Punk Rock Aerobics: 75 Killer Moves, 50 Punk Classics, and 25 Reasons to Get Off Your Ass and Exercise is available through Amazon.com.

FLYING DANCE TRAPEZE

What: The seemingly crazy acts of pure strength and agility achieved by the likes of Cirque du Soleil performers that will no doubt be an experience to remember. Please note: New Life Journal is in no way suggesting you replace your front porch swing with a sheet and give it a go.

Where: Canopy Studio in Atlanta offers flying dance trapeze classes for a variety of skill levels. They're also a venue that puts on live aerial performances for any inspiration you might need to give it a try yourself (www.canopystudio.com).

CAPOEIRA

What: Capoeira refers to the Afro-Brazilian martial art game and culture created when the slave trade brought Africans and their traditions to a new continent. The game involves musical instruments and mixes fun yet challenging fluid acrobatic moves like kicks and other sparring manuevuers. Not only will the movement help you stay ha shape physically, but you'll have a chance to learn focus and self defense, music and song, and the languge and traditions of another culture.

Where: In Asheville, the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola Asheville, or CECAA, offers classes (where they provide instruments and teach about the history and philosphy of the art movement) and performs at various events (www.capoeiraasheville.org). In Atlanta, International Capoeira Angola Foundation Atlanta offers classes and hosts events (www.capoeiraatlanta.org), as well as Abba Capoeira (www.abbacapoeh-a.com) and Studio Dionne (www.studiodionne.com).

WHAT EXACTLY IS ...

FELDENKRAIS

The Feldenkrais Method[R], developed by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, uses subtle, sophisticated movements to improve your range of motion and reduce pain; in essence, the movements teach you how to "reorganize" yourself or relearn a comfortable way for you body to move. There are group classes, called Awareness Through Movement[R] lessons, and one-on-one classes, called Functional Integration[R] lessons. During group classes, a teacher guides you to movement awareness through vocal instruction, whereas in a private class, the teacher will use touch. In the Asheville area, Feldenkrais teacher and author Lavinia Plonka offers both group and private classes through the Asheville Movement Center, where she is director. Visit www.ashevillemovenaentcenter.com for more information. In Atlanta, Louise Runyon also offers both classes (www.feldenkraisatlanta.com).

BIKRAM YOGA

Bikram Yoga is named after its creator and yoga guru Bikram Choudhury (www.biknunyoga.com). You may have heard this type of yoga reffered to as "hot yoga," since in Bikram classes a series of yoga poses are performed in a heated room, usually somwhere between 95 and 105 degrees with around 30 to 60 percent humidity. The heat isn't there as a "feel-the-bum," "exercise should hurt" component, rather, the heat helps rid the body of toxins and warm the entire body, making it more flexible and better able to move and strech In the beneficial yoga positions. In the Atlanta area, there are four "official" Bikram Yoga Studios. Visit www.bikramyoga.org for a list, including website links and addresses. In North Carolina, the Asheville Yoga Center offers hot yoga classes (www.youryoga.com), and West Ashevillle Yoga (www.westashevilleyoga.com) and the Dillsboro Inn (www.dillsboroinn.com/info.htm) offer a method of hot yoga called the Barkan Method, which is similar to, but not exactly the same as, Bikram.

BUTEYKO BREATHING

The Buteyko Breathing Method, developed over 50 years ago, is a form of breathing that establishes healthy carbon dioxide levels in the body. Reduced volume breathing (RVB) is the hallmark of the Buteyko Method, and 25 minutes of RVB can have all of the positive effects of a good workout, without any of the risks. In Asheville, Dorisse Neale (www.breathdance.org) offers classes.

--Maggie Cramer

Melanie MacNeil, aka "Mel Mac Pink", loves to hoop! She currently makes and sells custom professional grade hoops, as well as delivers hypnotic hoop dance performances at local festivals, parties and events. Melanie teaches Beginner and Intermediate level Hoopdance classes in downtown Asheville. For more information about classes or performances, contact her directly at www.ashevillehoops.com or melmacpink@hotmail.com.
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Author:MacNeil, Melanie
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Feb 1, 2008
Words:1952
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