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Natural Awakenings

Hoop It Up for Health: A Fun Way to Get a Groove On

Jul 28, 2010 02:06AM ● By Ellen Mahoney

When Betty Shurin, aka “Betty Hoops,” picked up a hula hoop 10 years ago, she didn’t know that one day she’d take home a Guinness World Record. But in 2005, Shurin set the pace for the world of hula racing, running Colorado’s 10-kilometer Bolder Boulder event with her bright red hoop continually spinning around her waist. “My goal was no stopping and no dropping,” she says.

Today, like many fitness trainers across the country, this hooping pioneer teaches people of all ages and body types who are interested in getting fit, losing weight, shaping up or just having fun. “Hooping changes people’s lives,” Shurin observes. “I love that when I hoop with others, I get to experience the sheer playfulness of a child.”

The hoop has been around for thousands of years, beginning in the form of encircled grapevines and grasses used as a toy by children. The evolution of the hula hoop, influenced by the Hawaiian island dance, emerged in 1958 when wooden hoops from Australia morphed into America’s plastic edition, courtesy of the Wham-O toy company.

Hooping became an instant hit and a cultural icon that lost appeal over time, only to be revitalized in the late ’90s at music festivals. That’s when fitness folks became inspired to use the hoop for getting in shape.

These days, Shurin, a certified anusara yoga teacher, focuses her pioneering spirit on hoop training as artful exercise that blends aspects of yoga, sports and dance in workshops that crisscross the United States. She says hoop exercise realigns and strengthens core elements of the musculoskeletal system and claims individuals can lose inches around the waist and burn up to 600 calories an hour with her program.

Karla Kress-Boyle, a dancer from Connecticut, says she is much stronger from the hooping that helped her take off weight after having a baby. She adds, “It definitely strengthened my abdominal muscles.”

Hula hooping is not exclusive to women. Philo Hagen, editor of Los Angeles-based, discovered the updated phenomenon at a party and says it immediately helped him quiet the chatter in his head. “I just felt like I was connecting with the music and my body, and wound up hooping for hours.” Hagen soon realized how hooping was also helping him, “accidentally get in shape.”At heart, he felt he was becoming more centered in both body and mind.

Shurin explains that, “Hooping is similar to the [Sufi] whirling dervish dance that emphasizes the laws of physics, metaphysics and quantum physics.” In addition to strengthening the body, she sees the hoop as a wheel-like vortex that enables the hula hooper to receive energy, as well as release it. She recommends using a weighted adult-sized hoop that weighs no more than two pounds; they even come in collapsible travel models.


This year, hooping hit the big screen with director Amy Goldstein’s self-proclaimed popumentary, The Hooping Life. She first discovered hooping in Venice, California, where it’s hugely popular.

“I’ve noticed that hooping brings people from every walk of life together,” Goldstein says. “It has a spiritual side, a business side and a healthy side, and I’ve seen how many young people who used to feel isolated and without direction are now hooping and living life to its fullest.”
Highlights of her feel-good film include appearances by Michelle Obama and Shaquille O’Neal, plus intimate portraits of eight hoopers from around the world. “The essence of the film,” says Goldstein, “is about finding something you love and taking the risk to give it all you’ve got.”

After discovering hooping, Anah Reichenbach, aka “Hoopalicious,” a California-based dancer and hooper in the film, started making and selling innovative hoops on her own. She now offers a hoop mentor certification program through hooping workshops nationwide.


“Beyond being an incredible core workout,” Reichenbach says, “hooping can become an all-body, cardiovascular workout.” Other benefits she’s observed first-hand extend to increased calm and peacefulness, happiness and even more personal compassion.

As a movement, the hoop has become a widespread symbol for individuals’ willingness to be free and playful as adults as well as their caring about community; people unite around the rhythm and creativity. “You really can transcend yourself if you let yourself go with the hoop,” remarks Goldstein.  “Even if you have no rhythm, you get it with a hoop.”

Ellen Mahoney teaches writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Email  [email protected].

Check out the online videos:


Hooping Tips

~ Use a hoop weighing 1 to 2 pounds; anything heavier creates too much torque for the organs and spine.
~ Stand up tall with good posture and feet a hip-distance apart; don’t look down.
~ Breathe deeply from the body’s core and push belly muscles toward the hoop.
~ Rock hips back and forth or from side-to-side; don’t rotate the hips in a circle.
~ Maintain the rhythm via belly and hip movement; don’t use the knees or lower back.
~ If the hoop starts to fall, move faster.

Source: Betty Shurin and

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