Hoopdance : The Power of Play

The hula hoop is one of the most recognizable toys in the western world - indeed, the world over!  The global reach of Wham-O Toys during their 1960s advertising frenzy firmly lodged the hula hoop as a common plaything in the psyches of the masses long before hoopdance was born. Therefore, the approach one takes to a hoopdance practice is situated inside of  a set of pre-existing associations (often positive) leftover from childhood, that mold and shape our immediate emotional response as well as internally prepare our bodies for maximum benefit. 

The power of positive associations are undisputed. Psychoneuroimmunology effectively states that ‘the immune system is not isolated in its functions, but has a working relationship with the central nervous system’ and goes on to say, ‘emotion, attitudes, and other conscious states trigger certain neurotransmitters which, in turn, affect the immune system.’ (Hanna, pg. 87) In the somatic view, human consciousness plays a crucial role in the bodies’ self-regulation and ability to change and to heal (Hanna, pg. 86). Our expectations and pre-existing beliefs shape not only our present state - our willingness or hesitancy to try something new, but the future of how that activity plays out in our body/mind system and its lasting imprint for good or bad.Therefore, one’s association of the hula hoop automatically softens the practitioner into a state of unencumbered joy so often associated with childlike play. 

This association is held in contrast to other - in my experience - less accessible, forms of movement. If you ask a disembodied adult to simply ‘let go and dance’ without having had significant preparation or practice, most will involuntarily stiffen under the weight of their inner critic that dictates whether or not they believe themselves to be ‘a dancer’. Similarly, in many forms of physical exercise the internal orientation is often wrapped up around deeper feelings of wanting to change - at the outset, an orientation that is burdened with a future goal, or cowers in the face of significant challenge. In contrast, the hula hoops unique place in mass-awareness lends itself to an easy, heart-centered, and very joyous energetic quality. Indeed this posturing brings the internal systems into harmonious attunement that have been proven to literally heal and vivify the internal workings of the body/mind and set ourselves up for lasting change. (HeartMath study)

Pre-existing, positive associations of play are powerful allies for the soma; the softening of our edgier self-limiting ideas and adult rigidity, to allow for unencumbered and joyous experience. But perhaps even more powerful is the science behind HOW our emotional state contributes to the overall synchronistic functioning of the oscillatory systems of the body. Deepening studies in the field of neurocardiology have exposed the physical heart to have it’s own nervous system that functions independently, and in communication with, the autonomic nervous system of the brain through afferent (from the heart to the brain) pathways. In this orientation, the heart becomes the ‘first line’ sensory receptor distinct from the autonomic nervous system. The heart, upon receiving hormonal, chemical, heart rate and pressure information communicates with the brain for regulatory action. These ‘conversations’ between the heart and the brain have proved to significantly effect how we perceive and react to the world. (HeartMath pg 4) The Institute of HeartMath has found that:

"the heart plays a central role in the generation of emotional experience, and therefore, in the establishment of psychophysiological coherence. From a systems perspective, the human organism is truly a vast, multi-dimensional information network of communicating subsystems, in which mental processes, emotions, and physiological systems are inextricably intertwined. Whereas our perceptions and emotions were once believed to be dictated by the brain’s responses to stimuli arising in our external environment, the current perspective more accurately describes perceptual and emotional experience as the composite of stimuli the brain receives from the external environment and the internal sensations for feedback transmitted to the brain from the bodily organs and systems. Thus, the heart, brain, nervous, hormonal and immune systems must all be considered fundamental components of the dynamic, interactive information network that determines our ongoing emotional experience."

Stepping into a movement practice with a pre-existing, positive association lends itself to prolonged positive experience throughout the practice which creates physiological coherence. Physiological coherence implies higher parasympathetic activity in the nervous system, increased harmony or entrainment of physiological systems and ‘efficient and harmonious functioning of the cardiovascular, nervous, hormonal and immune systems.’ (HeartMath pg. 16) It is my conviction that hoopdance sets the stage for self-generating positive emotions and those positive emotions, played out over the course of a one hour practice induce extended periods of physiological coherence - resulting in efficient and harmonious functioning of the whole. (HeartMath pg. 17)