You might think that hula hoops are just for kids, but one woman is using hula hoops to promote healthy living and wellness.
Shani Blueford is a HoopYogini instructor and had her own hooping business in Kalamazoo for a time. She recently moved to California.
Blueford says when she’s really in the zone, she can hoop for more than an hour straight—and that’s a really good workout.
In fact, according to a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, hula hoops made from grapevines were used for exercise in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece.
It was only in the 1950s when toy companies began marketing colorful plastic hula hoops to children.
Researchers found that you can work off seven calories a minute by hula hooping. In an hour, that’s 420 calories burned. They also found that hula hooping increases heart rate and they argued that it can improve your body’s balance and flexibility while strengthening the muscles in your back, arms, legs and abs.
Dr. John Porcari, a leading researcher on that study, says hula hooping also help with relaxation and anxiety.
“If you remove yourself from that stressful situation, you’re kind of dissociated from that stressful situation. You’re thinking about something different," he said. "With something like hula hoops in particular—anything where you need to concentrate—probably does that even better.”
Blueford says it’s those meditative benefits that deepened her connection with hula hoops. She says while she was a student at Western Michigan University, she took hula hooping study breaks to help her reenergize and regain focus before retuning back to some tough reading assignments.
In Blueford's senior year, she got concerned about life after graduation. She was also at the end of a long-term relationship. So she says she again turned to her hula hoops.
"I had something constructive to focus on instead of stewing in my emotions and getting stuck on the same frustrations in my head," she said.
Now Blueford makes her own hoops and says that even making them can have health benefits too, especially taping the hoop.
"Taping the hoop is very meditative because it's repetitive and you really have to focus," she said.
Blueford had about 50 hula hoops in her Rose Street apartment. They were on the floor, on the walls, hanging from doors. They were different colors. Different sizes. Blueford says that’s the life of a hula hooper.
"I first discovered hula hooping as a thing for grown ups while I was at ukulele gathering in southern Indiana," she said. "I saw a woman who hula hooped and played ukulele the whole time. I got to play with some of the hoops later. It was a lot of fun."
Blueford says the hula hoop is like a dance partner and you must be in perfect harmony with your hoop at all times. Lose that harmony and you’ll drop it.
Hula hoop instructor Shani Blueford has since moved to California. Audacious Hoops in Grand Rapids teaches classes. The store By The Bunch also has hooping demonstrations and wares at Crossroads Mall in Portage.