When you think about accessories for cultivating mental health and navigating inner calm, the hula hoop is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. For some, it might bring back memories of middle school gym classes; for others, it could summon up the last time you watched the Coen brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy. (Say it with me: “You know, for kids.”) But now, the humble hula hoop has a new purpose for some, and it’s getting into uncharted territory.
As Katrina Gulliver writes at JSTOR Daily, academics have recently chronicled an almost religious sense of devotion among some groups to their beloved hula hoops. In 2019, Martha Smith Roberts and Jenna Gray-Hildenbrand chronicled this phenomenon in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, describing how a plastic object originally mass-produced in the 1950s has become a source of spiritual bliss for some.
“Moving my body is like religion and moving my body is my portal to that place,” one hula hoop enthusiast told Roberts and Gray-Hildenbrand. The authors cite the prevalence of hula hooping in rave culture as the point when it began to pick up adherents who saw benefits other than the basics of play or physical fitness.
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Hula-hooping in an ecstatic manner isn’t the only way that the hoops can be used for a highly focused purpose. A 2013 New York Times article by Daniel Krieger found the author exploring different classes that promised variations on yoga. Among them was a class called Hoop Vinyasa.
There, Krieger described “spinning them above our heads while we balanced ourselves in the tree pose, then stepping down into the warrior pose to spin the hoops around our waists.” And it’s worth pointing out that hula hooping took on another social component in recent years: it experienced something of a resurgence during the pandemic. It isn’t hard to see why the act’s transportive properties might have been especially appealing at that time.