Hooping wasn’t always a regular part of my life, but it seemed to find me at just the right times.
I had a hula hoop as a kid. Growing up poor in the projects there were limited toys that I did have, but, I had my hoop. I knew how to roll the hoop on the ground and hoop around my waist. I thought that was all you could do with a hula hoop. I was very good at those things too, but there it was…the amazing waist hooping skill I had as a kid.
Fast forward to my 20s and a friend had a hula hoop contest at her wedding. Me, who is always willing to jump in and try things, gave it a go. What do you know? I won. There it was, my hoop experience as it was and life moved on.
In 2009, my family found a six-week summer circus program. I was homeschooling my daughter at the time and some homeschooling friends told us about it. They met at local parks and did all kinds of things such as unicycling, stilt walking, juggling and none other than hula hooping. My daughter was interested so we decided to sign her up. Since the programs happened outside, parents stayed on site while the kids took classes. Watching my daughter in her hula hooping class, I thought it looked like a lot of fun. I asked if they had any extra hoops, if I could follow along in the back of the class since I was already there. They said that would be totally fine. So each Summer for the next several years I hooped at a circus. I didn’t do it at home or other parts of the year, just at circus school. It was a lot of fun learning different movements you could do with these large, heavy weight hoops.
As the years went on, I began to have a lot of pain. My regular exercise had always been walking. For as long as I could remember, running always caused me a lot of hip and other joint pain. So, I didn’t do it. But, I walked and I walked hours each week (aiming for an hour a day). It was great exercise and a good social activity to catch up with a friend. But, the joint pain began to increase. I saw two physical therapists that couldn’t help me. The pain only worsened. My hips were getting so bad, that some days I could barely walk (hobbling around) and I could only navigate stairs on my bottom. I had to eliminate my walking for exercise altogether. It got to the point that my husband and I discussed selling our home to move to a single level home to make things easier for me. This was a very difficult time, I didn’t want to uproot my life and not having that exercise outlet was wearing on me. It was also very frustrating that no one knew what was going on and how to help me.
At this time, I decided to pick up hula hooping on a regular basis. It was something I could do on various parts of my body (especially if one part was in pain) and the rhythmic motions of the hoop on my body felt like a massage. It worked the spasms out of my muscles that I was experiencing. It was a great low impact activity. I decided to sign up for a class in March of 2016. I felt myself getting stronger. The core workout helped to lessen the pressures on my joints and my pain improved. I loved the challenge of trying to achieve new skills as I worked with lighter and smaller hoops than I had used before. I even found myself improving proprioception and body awareness. My pain level improved so much that I began being able to take short walks every few days and could tolerate it. I looked forward to teaching the hula hooping class at the circus program that brought me so much interest in hooping (as I had a previous year.)
In June of that year, I had a heart attack. Yes, a heart attack. This was so unexpected. I was of healthy weight, regularly active (until the pain halted things), had great physicals with labs and ate a vegetarian diet. I was in the kitchen talking to my husband about our broken garbage disposal. He was taking a look at it, when all of a sudden I felt this crushing feeling come over me. It was like my chest area was in a vice with pressure from the front and back crushing me together. It instantly took my breath away. I went and sat down thinking I may be having an asthma attack. I tried my inhaler and things didn’t improve. My heart only raced. The pain began to increase and then to travel down my left arm. I knew something was wrong, but still thought I couldn’t possibly be having a heart attack. I told my husband that I was going to the hospital. He was so confused as he didn’t realize what was happening. I told him to take our daughter to her circus practice (as at this point she was teaching a hip hop class there). So I drove myself to the hospital. In hindsight, I know this wasn’t the best decision, but it was what happened. At the hospital, I ended up being admitted and was told that I indeed had a heart attack after cardiac enzymes were found high and had an abnormal EKG. My heart was clear, however when they did a cardiac catheterization procedure. I was told that my heart looked like a “15 year old’s heart” per the cardiologist. This stumped them. They thought perhaps I had a spontaneous dissection of my heart, but couldn’t find it.
A friend that I shared my story with, about my heart and joint pain, got concerned and recommended that I see a geneticist. I ended up being diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers Danlos. People with Ehlers Danlos can be at risk of spontaneous dissections of arteries and do suffer from hypermobile joints and joint pain. I have to go yearly to have my heart examined. While it’s still not clear why I had my heart attack, there is strong evidence that it could have also been caused by an allergic reaction by a suspected other condition that I may have. I was thankful to finally have answers to what plagued me my whole life.
I had to stop mostly all physical activity for a while after my heart attack. So that meant no hula hooping or teaching at circus. So, that summer I watched and tried to relax. This was not in my make up. I wasn’t allowed to lift over 10 pounds for the summer and still to this day am not supposed to lift over 20 pounds. As you can imagine, I was a bit restless.
After the waiting period and clearance medically, I returned to my hoop class with such joy and enthusiasm. (I had to be careful to protect my joints and cautious of my fragile skin and easy bruising that Ehlers Danlos brings however.) While recovery was slow and sometimes painful, it eventually came. I began to get strong again and loved to express myself with my hoop. I decided that I wanted this to be ‘my hobby’. I was going to dive in, learn and love every minute of it. While I still to this day have to pace how much activity I can do at a time (including hooping), I began teaching at the circus again and signed up to do the Hoop Love Coach training in June of 2018. I taught at workshops, fairs, parties and a regular monthly dance event. I have gotten to meet so many great fellow hoop friends, have done some fire hooping, learned to hoop with more than one hoop at a time and continue to take classes. My walking has improved so much that I can walk an hour several days of the week, on good weeks. We no longer talk about needing to move and hooping has given me a reflective time with prayer and peace while caring for a differently-abled family member and walking my own chronic illness path.
Hula hooping seems to have found me at just the right times. It may do the same for you. (Be sure to get your doctor’s clearance.)
I have found hula hooping can:
- Strengthen the body
- Improve range of motion
- Improve hand-eye coordination
- Improve proprioception
- Improve mind-body connections
- Allow expression of movement or dance
- Bring new friends into your life
- Allow for satisfaction by achieving goals
- Provide a low-cost exercise option
- Allow exercise from seated positions
- Make use of all the various areas of the body
- Provide a cardiac workout
- Make a way for prayer practice
- Give you a great massage
- Be a portable exercise
- Provide low to no impact exercise
- Be a great initiator for conversation
- Bring you joy!
- Happy Hooping!
Jennifer Aucoin Hoop Love Coach
Of note: If you are having any chest pain or signs of a heart attack, call 911 immediately (or your local emergency medical response number). It is important to get rapid medical treatment. It can save your life.