In 2014, UAE resident Kristen D’lima bought a hula hoop, thinking it would make for an amusing hobby, but she never found the time to commit to the pastime.
However, in 2020, being at home throughout the day, coupled with the fact she found herself unemployed for a while, she picked up her hoop again. Once she started, she was surprised at how much she enjoyed it.
“It was something that I kept failing at. It’s not easy at all, there’s so much technique. But even though it would fall down, I would have to just bend down, pick it up and try again. I found it so calming that even though I kept dropping it; it was OK because I was doing it for myself and I kept at it.”
Over the course of the last year, numerous niche hobbies shot into the spotlight – from baking to embroidery to skipping. For many of these activities, the appeal was in the mental health benefits afforded, and for some, the physical. But with hula-hooping, it can be a bit of both.
Rana Habayeb, who previously taught hula-hooping with Flowground in the UAE, says it “is used as motion therapy, a meditative motion to centre both body and mind, helping in [reducing] stress”.
“[People] are said to have relaxing, meditative and transformational experiences through hooping,” she says. Take into account the pressure, lack of security and uncertainly faced during the pandemic, and you can see why the activity had such an appeal.
“Meanwhile, it is proven that an hour of hula-hooping can help burn more than 400 calories. It provides a total body workout, and has major calorie burning and cardiovascular benefits,” Habayeb says.
It also helps that hula-hooping is an activity that can be done solo and just about anywhere, including smaller spaces. Khushali Shah, who works for a market research company in the UAE, was gifted a hoop by her husband in January 2020, but only seriously started practising during the UAE's stay-at-home measures.
“I’m massively into fitness, and staying at home constantly was taking a toll on me. I started to look for something that would keep me active without getting boring. We live in a one-bedroom apartment, so it needed to be something that didn’t require too much space,” says Shah.
“It’s a complete stress buster. There’s a level of creativity and it provides me with an outlet that’s very exciting.”
Shah says she usually puts on music and sometimes hoops when watching television.
It helped that hula-hooping got a huge push recently on social media, as numerous influencers stuck indoors took to showcasing their skills online.
Shah says it was a video of Eshna Kutty, a dancer in India whose hoop dances in a sari went viral on social media during the pandemic, that gave her the nudge she needed.
“I saw that you could do more than just waist hooping, and also do dances. I took a two-hour beginner session online with Eshna to learn the basics and got started,” Shah says.
Kutty, who has been hooping for close to a decade, launched her website to promote the hoop dances in 2019. She started teaching students from around the world online, but noticed that there wasn’t much growth within India.
“I thought perhaps it’s an art form that wasn't gaining popularity because of how unfamiliar or unattainable it seemed,” she tells The National. This is what led her to don a sari and sneakers and do a hoop routine with the hashtag #sareeflow.
“A sari is familiar attire for both North and South Indian woman. I wanted to make people as comfortable with it as possible. Finally, it’s about social media – I knew if I made a fun challenge, people would jump onto on to the trend of making #sareeflow videos. The reason I called it sari flow is because it’s not restricted to hooping – you can dance as well.”
As the video went viral, her followers shot up from 20,000 at the time to 162,000 today. Kutty had thousands of people joining her mailing list while there was a waiting period for her Zoom sessions.
She’s certain the pandemic played a role in this. “People were stuck indoors and were forced to pick a habit or they would go a little crazy I think.
“But the real appeal is that anybody with any fitness level can pick it up. All you need is a hula hoop and you are good to go.”
There are certain things to keep in mind, she adds: finding the perfect hoop is like buying a pair of jeans , and differs according to body size. “There also has to be an openness to learn and try new things. The first 10 minutes can be pretty frustrating. You might not see growth instantly, but when you do, it is very rewarding.”
Finally, it’s all about community, Kutty says. “Hula-hooping is still a new art form, there’s no competition, no toxic feelings. People who take part, all around the world, are rooting for each other. You can connect with people globally and there’s nothing but positivity.”
Things to know about hula-hooping:
Rana Habayeb's top hula-hooping tips:
The hoop: The misconception is usually that the smaller the hoop the better. Incorrect. The larger the hoop the easier it is to hoop as you have more space to react to the hoop and more time to get into the motion.
The motion: It's not a circular hip motion it's a front and back motion – almost like you're doing small lunges.
The experience: Hooping can be a solo or a social exercise. If you prefer the latter, sign up for a class or reach out to hula-hooping communities, either local or online.