July 5, 2012

The Yin and Yang of Hooping. ~ Nancy B. Loughlin

YIN: Hooping the Body.

A hard hip-swivel with a hoop burns 100 calories in ten minutes. That fact alone is guaranteed to get anyone’s attention.

Gina DeFrancesco

Gina DeFrancesco is a hooper and artist in Port Charlotte, FL, who began hooping in 2008, and was amazed with the immediate physical results. In the first three months, she lost 15 pounds. Her body transformed, becoming more graceful and lithe.

She marveled that she, a person who would hurt herself in a yoga class, was successfully performing something physical. She recalls, with amusement, “I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but hooping changed my life.”

The hooping movement has evolved into a popular modality of fitness and dance, for gym members as well as for solo hoopers.

But the hoop is hardly new with evidence of hooping dating back to ancient Greece and Egypt. The modern hoop became popular in the United States and around the world when the Wham-O Company (of Frisbee fame), marketed a $1.98 plastic Hula Hoop in the late 1950s, igniting the craze.

As a form of fitness, hoopers use specialty hoops that are larger and heavier than the whimsical plastic circles that spin the hips of elementary school girls. They have a circumference between 38 and 40 inches and weigh between half-a-pound and four pounds. In terms of cost, these hoops can range in price from 20 to over 100 dollars for a custom hoop.

Hooping’s physical rewards are vast.

When one steps inside the hoop, there’s an increase in body awareness, balance, rhythm and coordination for the clumsy-at-heart. There’s weight management through burning calories and toning the core as well as increased flexibility and relief for stressed hips and spines. Add to this improved posture and a massage for the internal organs and muscles of the abdomen.

Emotionally? How about an overflow of happiness from the joy of play and the sparked curiosity with the newness of the movement?

“At what point did you stop going out to play?”

Step one is to master the basic moves, and that can take ten minutes with a larger fitness hoop. Bend the knees and step one foot forward. Hold the hoop at the mid-back, and throw it hard clockwise or counter-clockwise depending if you a right or left-hooper. Don’t circle or figure-eight your hips, but rock your weight from foot to foot, tighten your abs, and push-push-push-push the hips in the same direction as the feet.

Sara Brinkley

Sara Brinkley, founder of Spinderella in Tampa and certified Hoopnotica dance and fitness teacher, is hooping proof of the health benefits. Last year she was 70 pounds heavier, the hooping delivering a low-impact cardio and core-toning workout.

“Not only has hooping benefited my body physically, but my mind,” she said.

Brinkley is convinced that hooping has been her “cure-all,” her own personal path to physical and mental wellness. Now, she hopes to turn her Spinderella organization into a non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk teenage girls, particularly those who are not comfortable in their own skin.

“Kids can find fun and fitness without it being competitive,” she said.

Brinkley also teaches classes specifically for women in their 40s and older. At first, she said, the gyrations of hooping evoke giggles and discomfort, but all awkwardness evaporates quickly leaving only “smiles and laughter.”

 YANG: Hooping the Spirit.

Hardcore hoopers know that hooping activates the physical body; however, in time, hoopers also grow to tap into the spiritual side of the art.

Consider how a yoga practice begins with the physical practice of asana which builds flexibility, body awareness and strength. Yet, as the student continues to practice, transformation happens on energetic, psychological and spiritual levels.

Yoga poses access the chakra system, energetic vortices of energy, and there are seven main chakras in the human energetic body: root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third-eye and crown. Yogis believe there is a storehouse of energy at the base of the spine symbolically represented as a coiled serpent. A yoga practice is designed to “awaken” that serpent, send it up the spine and align the chakras. Once this alignment occurs, the student is a perfect antenna for divine knowledge during meditation.

Enter hooping.


Hooping is a spiral, and the spiral is a common symbol that spans cultures with like-minded interpretations: all universes, eternity, of the gods, the oneness of soul, circle of life, the seasons and immortality.

In a spiral, all energy and movement emanate from a central point and circles outward infinitely like a pebble in the water, galaxies, DNA strands, waltzing and electrons swirling around the nucleus of a cell. The spiral is ubiquitous; to many, the spiral is sacred.

DeFrancesco was first attracted to hooping because, as an artist, she had always created mandalas, sacred and ornate drawings of unified circles with center points surrounded by intricate designs. These are perfect for meditation focal points for when one wishes to experience the highest, energetic self.

As the mandala is the space for meditation, the space between the hooper’s body and the hoop is the hooper’s sacred space, radiating positive energy outward into the world when in motion. Since DeFrancesco discovered hooping, her creative work has focused on designing art hoops called WonderWhirls. A custom WonderWhirl includes images, gemstones and colors to inspire the owner on his or her spiritual hooping path. FYI, WonderWhirls are not “purchased.” They are “adopted” and shipped with an adoption certificate.

Is it any wonder that hoopers worldwide unite once a year to spread “Whirled Peace”?

But hooping’s appeal is flexible and attractive to different spiritual traditions. Carissa Caricato, founder of Hoola for Happiness, is a Christian hooper working to spread “the joy of hooping and the love of God.”

Caricato formed her non-profit organization in 2010 after three mission trips to Haiti, and, since then, has traveled to nations including India, Panama, Kenya, Uganda, Haiti, Brazil, and Dubai.

Carissa has hooped with children in India, Panama, Kenya, Uganda, Haiti, London, Dubai and Brazil. Her organization has also worked with Christian missionaries to distribute hoops to children in Liberia, Cuba, along the Amazon River, Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Germany, Israel and Cambodia.

Caricato agrees that the hoop is a sacred space and her time for “movement meditation” and prayer.

She has witnessed that hooping and hoop dance have been instrumental in building relationships with children, particularly girls, all over the world. Her organization has designed the “Hoola for Life” hoop, a five-color hoop representing the story of Christianity. Over 500 of these hoops are now spinning in some of the most impoverished regions of the world.

The thirteenth century Persian poet, Rumi who is dear to the hoopers’ hearts wrote, “We came spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars, the stars form a circle… and in the center we dance.”

Rumi is linked with dervishes, mystics who achieve divine enlightenment via whirling. Indeed, the physical spin itself is the most natural of movements—inward to the structure of a cell and outward to the revolutions of the universe. The hooper becomes one with this evolution so the consciousness lifts out of the ego and the truest self is experienced.

And if all this is making your head spin, there’s always the 100 calories every ten minutes.


Resources for classes, DVDs, books, hoops, and more:





Nancy B. Loughlin is a writer, yogini, and English teacher based in SW Florida.


Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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