We know loads about the physical benefits of hooping, but what about the mental health ones? For World Mental Health Day, HulaFit instructor Daisy talks about the mental health benefits of hula hooping and how the plastic circle has helped improve her anxiety.
Getting a chance to write about hula hooping and mental health is really important to me. While I’m not running kick-ass HulaFit classes or scooting around making fun content for the HulaFit Instagram, my day job is in mental health research communications. I also struggle with an anxiety disorder. It’s such an awesome opportunity to talk about the two things I’m most passionate about.
I’ve learned a few things about mental health in my day job. One of them is that there is no single thing that can help overcome mental health problems. Good mental health is like a cake; there are lots of ingredients that are equally important.
These ingredients include financial security, activity levels, having a supportive network of friends and family, a sense of community, access to green spaces, eating in a way that nourishes your body, feelings of optimism for the future and getting a good night’s sleep. You can’t rely solely on flour to make a cake, and so often mental health is reduced to single-ingredient solutions like trying out yoga or meditation.
Through the four years since attending my first-ever HulaFit class, I can tell you that hula hooping is the sugar in my mental health ingredients list. The plastic circle has helped me through ups and downs. And although there’s no quick fix for mental health problems, knowing there’s something I can reach out for to lift my mood is a big help.
Here are a few ways that hula hooping can help boost mental health – perhaps you can relate to them too?
1 Hula hooping helps you stay in the present
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu
This quote rings true for me, and many others I know who struggle with anxiety or depression. When my anxiety is at its worst I punish myself with all the horrible things that could go wrong in the future, even though they rarely turn out to be true.
When you’re hula hooping – you have to stay in the present moment. It’s all about improving your awareness of where your body is in relation to the hoop. This helps you temporarily forget your worries and focus on the here and now. It’s kind of like mindfulness!
2. Hula hooping boosts your activity levels
This is a biggie. Some people still hold on to the outdated view that mental health and physical health are separate. But that isn’t true. Looking after your body does wonders for your mental health. Getting your heart rate up helps boost endorphins that make you feel amazing.
However, it’s really important we don’t use exercise as a stick to beat ourselves with. Sometimes physical activity can be the absolute last thing we feel like doing when we’re feeling low. Be kind to yourself if you can’t bring yourself to do it.
Often, starting is the most difficult thing. Try saying to yourself that you’ll hoop for one three-minute song. Once you start you may want to keep going. But even if you don’t – that’s cool!
If I could have a house plant for every time I didn’t feel like hooping, did it anyway and it helped me feel better – I’d be living in an indoor jungle! And you know that is true because I’m a millennial! *pats the nearest peace lily fondly*
3. Hula Hooping helps you get a good night’s sleep
Good sleep is fundamental to good physical and mental health. My anxious thoughts have kept me up on many occasions, which amplifies my negative thoughts and feelings the next day.
Working out and moving your body more helps you get a good night’s kip. Make some time to move with your hoop and work up a sweat. It can’t always guarantee a good night’s sleep, especially when there’s a lot on your mind, but it can help.
4 It gets you out of the house and into nature
I always get a little jealous looking at some hoopers in the US with their HUGE living rooms where they can spin a hoop in every direction. For a lot of us in the UK, that simply isn’t an option. However, perhaps our tiny UK homes have a secret benefit – it forces us to get out of the house and find cool spots to hoop in. The greener the better!
There’s a tonne of research on the benefits of green spaces for mental health – in fact, nature was this year’s theme for mental health awareness week because the mental health benefits are abundant.You may not have an area of outstanding natural beauty on your doorstep, but even getting to your local park can be beneficial.
5 Helps you connect to an amazing community
The hooping community is full of kind, fun and interesting people. Meeting people and forming secure friendships is so important for good mental health. It means you have more people you can confide in, but also people you can progress and learn with. It’s amazing to meet people who can discuss different types of hoops with and debate the pros and cons of grip tape, hoop wax or sanding.
For me, my hoopy friends have been a lifeline during lockdowns. Most Sundays we had a virtual hoop jam, where we’d catch up and then hoop to a shared playlist. Having that regular contact was such an important part of my week.
If you’ve not found your hoopy tribe yet – I urge you to put yourself out there. There are so many amazing people up and down the country who could be an incredible friends to you. If there’s not a lot of hoopers in your area – perhaps you could offer a skillshare and build a hooping community – there’s a tonne of research about being kind to others being good for your own mental health. Just make sure your beginner hooper friends pick the right hoop to help them start out.
6. A joyful activity that rewards progress
Doing something you are good at can give you a mental health boost. For me, there’s nothing more fun than getting out in the garden and twirling around with a hula hoop. I put on my favourite upbeat songs and I can go for hours!
Unlocking new moves while hula hooping can be so rewarding. Whether it’s the first time you finally keep the hoop spinning or learning to use multiple hoops for the first time, achieving new moves while hooping are like little hits of joy. It keeps you coming back for more.
A final message
Another crucial thing that I have learned about good mental health is to treat yourself with kindness. We’re often our own worst enemies: talking ourselves out of trying something new, telling ourselves we’re not good enough, and generally talking ourselves down.
Being kind to ourselves is free. We know how to be kind as we are kind to our friends and family every day. But somehow we don’t do it to ourselves. In fact, I don’t think I’m the only one who is meaner to myself than literally anyone I’ve ever met in my life. Why do we do this?
I wanted to add this in as sometimes people can use hula hooping as a stick to beat themselves with: ‘how come I don’t know as many tricks as this person?’ or ‘I’m useless because I can’t keep the hoop up for as long as so and so’. This pattern of thinking can lead to the hoop becoming a source of frustration rather than joy. To people who feel like this, I say: put on your favourite tunes and go and hoop for yourself. Don’t try and learn new moves, don’t try and push yourself to get better, just go and reconnect with your hoop and remember why you fell in love with hooping in the first place.
So for this world mental health day – I hope you find something that helps bring you joy and teaches you to be kinder to yourself and to others. You’ve got this!
If you are struggling with your mental health, remember that support is out there. Professional support, or emotional support from friends, family or the Samaritans can make a huge difference.