Hula hoop comeback

When Michelle Obama was photographed exuberantly hula hooping with her daughter, “hoopers” jumped for joy.

Those who have already caught the hooping bug — and there are legions of them — claim this retro activity does not just tone the midriff, but burns a fearsome amount of calories (as many as 100 every 10 minutes), boosts your mood and your sex life, provides spiritual enlightenment and, apparently, can even be used to promote world peace.

One hooping exercise class, Hoopnotica, is so popular that, according to United States’s Vogue magazine, its Los Angeles-based sessions have waiting lists “worthy of a fashion It item”.

So, is hooping just another exercise fad, or are these giddy gyraters really on to something?

It’s certainly a good form of aerobic and toning exercise, with Beyonce, for one, claiming that hooping is what keeps her abs hard. Virgin Active health clubs now offer Hulaerobics classes in 20 of their nationwide clubs.

They have also recently woven hooping into their new School Yard Antics sessions across all of their clubs, along with other “good, old-fashioned yard games”. Nostalgia clearly has a big part to play in the hooping trend.

The physical benefits do seem impressive though. “Initially, it’s about core stability,” says Jane Chinery, group exercise trainer at Virgin Active. Like Pilates, “there’s a lot of focus on posture, the pelvic floor and pulling in the abdominal muscles”.

Once you have got the hang of it — and everyone will get some level of competence by the end of the first class — it becomes more aerobic, with dance steps and elaborate hand and arm movements. Keen hoopers can graduate to the Hula Funk class, where hooping becomes a kind of dance that, says Chinery, is “even more aerobically intense. It can be as gymnastic as you want.”

Much is made of hula’s effect on the waistline (hula hooping went stratospheric during the 1950s, when women’s waists were particularly cinched). While no form of exercise can “spot reduce” fat, hooping will tone up your abdominal muscles and those that run up your flanks, and this could certainly help you to shrink a bit at the midriff.

I got my hands on a home exercise DVD and a hoop (surprisingly huge at 100cm, you have to watch the ornaments if you try it indoors. But the DVD is relatively easy to follow and it certainly keeps you interested).

The basic technique, keeping the hoop from dropping to your ankles, is easy to master and within about 60 seconds I can feel the muscles tighten not just around my tummy and sides, but in my bottom (you have to bend slightly at the knees, with one foot in front of the other, and sway back and forth, rather than circle, your hips. As Chinery puts it, “this seriously tones the butt”). Within a minute, I am breathing faster and can feel my heart pumping. I also feel about nine years old again — an unexpected bonus.

Chinery says one of her Hulaerobics classes contains both a 19-year-old and a 60-year-old, while in Tahoe, in California, a 102-year-old woman recently credited some of her physical agility to her hula sessions.

Some people even find a spiritual dimension to the activity and the repetitive swirling rhythms certainly do feel quite meditative once you get going. Sacred Circle, a Californian new-age hooping organisation, describes the “whirling sufi dervishness” of the hula as “a tool to access your own joy, higher truth and awareness”.

In a different vein, Melody Moezzi, an American author, lawyer and activist, has started her own Obama-supporting, human rights organisation, Hooping for Peace.

In The Hooping Life — a forthcoming American documentary about the craze — a man who suffers from depression tells how “the soothing kind of rocking in the cradle motion” of the exercise calms him. “When you have a 100cm hoop around you, no one can encroach on your personal space,” agrees Parnell. “You can switch on your iPod, go out into the garden, close your eyes and you’re gone.”

A woman in the same film enthuses: “Every hooper says their sex life has improved.”

It is unwise to start hooping without talking to your doctor if you have a diagnosed back problem or if you are pregnant. Generally, however, there seem to be very few downsides and a great many benefits. Hooping, says Chinery, can help prevent back pain because it strengthens your core muscles. What’s more, she says, women who become pregnant and are already hooping do not need to stop.

One blogger hula-ed with abandon for the whole nine months. She also says that hooping helped tone her up after childbirth. As she puts it: “I’m one sexy hooping momma.” —

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