On Childhood Pursuits

On childhood pursuits
Getting back to all childhood activities seems like a good idea in times of stress, says Caroline Sylger Jones

When my friend’s little girl celebrated her birthday with a party full of friends dressed up as tomboys and princesses, a selection of them took to hula hooping in her garden, giggling with delight and trying to outdo each other as to how long they could last before the hoop fell to their ankles. It took me right back to my school playground and how much fun I used to have, swinging my hips to keep the hoop going round and round, so I had a go too. My friend is an avid fan herself, and uses the hoop to de-stress, she says.

She’s not the only one, for there are trillions of hula hoopers across the globe turning the playground art into something of an adult wellbeing craze. There’s a ‘Hoop Guy’ in the UK, John Parnell, who sells hoops, offers hoop dance classes and even runs hula hoop teacher training courses, and a ‘HoopGirl’ (sic) in the US, Christabel Zamor, who has devised her own form of hula dancing that combines spinning, whirling, stepping and thrusting. When Michelle Obama took a break from that US election campaign to hula hoop with her daughter Sasha, sales of hoops apparently boomed.

As an exercise, it’s very effective and far from dull – gyms across the globe now offer classes dedicated to learning dance moves with the hoops complete with hand and arm movements. When I manage to do it, it takes just a few minutes for my heart to start beating faster whilst I’m grinning from ear to ear. The faster you go, the more aerobic it becomes, but I also feel my muscles working hard – in my bottom, my tummy and flanks. The exercise is great for developing your core stability and preventing back pain too, for like Pilates it requires you to focus on your posture, pull up your pelvic floor muscles and pull in your abdominals.

Best of all, keeping the hoop up requires that crucial concentration that enables you to switch off from your cares and be right here, now and in the moment. Repeatedly swirling the hoop around, you get into a kind of rhythm, and the process becomes a meditation once you get the hang of it. So much so, that in California there’s now an alternative hooping group, called Sacred Circle, whose followers promote hooping as a tool to access ‘joy, higher truth and awareness’. A quick search on google leads me to lots of people waxing lyrical about this – as one avid fan says, ‘one of the most beautiful things about hooping is that it’s fully centering; I am the only person inside my circle, it is sacred space’.

If you just want to get fit, I’m told that the trick is to use a weighted hoop, though the unweighted, childhood version feels a whole lot more fun. In fact, getting back to all childhood activities seems like a good idea in times of stress, which got me thinking about other retro games that might be good for our wellbeing. Hop skotch is great for balance and co-ordination, skipping for a rhythmic work out, and what about leap frog for some wide legged star jumps coupled with a little partner bonding? Then, if you want to reconnect with your colleagues, extended family or neighbours whilst getting your heart rate up, a community session of ‘It’ could go down well – also called ‘Tag’ or ‘Chase’, depending on where you grew up, it involves one person manically chasing lots of others until they can touch one of them and say ‘you’re it’. Personally, I always loved Stuck in the Mud and 123 Rescue – if you want the rules, just email me and I’ll see if I can remember them.

It was Wordsworth who said, ‘the child is father of the man’, and I think our return to these childhood games shows we agree with him, though it’s not just their games that can improve our sense of wellbeing. If you don’t want to run around or twirl about, try reading children’s picture books for a restful, nourishing experience. They’re easy to understand, they have gorgeous pictures full of colour and vitality, their stories are innocent and they usually have a heart-warming message at the end of them. Why not?

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