Finding your flow

I decided I needed a new activity. I wanted something that would give me physical exercise as well as an opportunity to meet people. And if I can do it outside then that’s a bonus. So I decided to get involved with the group in Bloomington that does hula hoop dancing.

This wasn’t a new idea for me. I bought a hoop a few years ago but when I took it home once for Thanksgiving, my mom took a liking to it and hung on to it. I felt I couldn’t deprive her of the hoop since she was having so much fun with it.

But this summer I decided to take it back, explaining that I really wanted to get involved with this group.

Then I hit on a brilliant idea — I could just buy another hoop to give to my mom. This one has a rubber ducky pattern on it so she got a kick out of that. It only took me three years to come up with this practical solution.

The hoops used for this type of activity aren’t the ones we had as kids that could be purchased in a toy section of many stores. The serious hoop dancers mostly make their own out of various types of plastic pipe. They are then decorated with bright fun varieties of tape.

The beginner hoops are large and heavy and are easier for learning new moves due to the momentum factor. The bigger ones also are a great workout to use just by twirling it around your waist. That’s about all I can do at this point but want to learn more complicated techniques like the other kids.

It is fun to watch the people who have been hooping for years. They can do complicated dance routines with the hoop spinning around assorted body parts. They can flip them around in off-body tricks with amazing visual effects.

In fact, this group is not limited to hoops. There are people spinning, twirling, balancing, manipulating and juggling all sorts of props. This encompasses what is called the flow arts. Why? For one, when you are watching a skilled performer, the movements seem to flow together seamlessly and it is fascinating to watch.

For another, when you achieve a certain level of competence, you can experience what psychologists call flow. This is when you are engrossed in an activity that is stimulating enough to keep your interest but at a level that is not too challenging. Some would call this an optimal state because you are relaxed yet alert.

So I wanted to get in on this action. I’ve started going to the group practice they hold in a park. It’s not a class but more an opportunity for this flow community to come together regularly and connect with each other. But as a beginner it’s hard to watch someone more advanced and just pick everything up by osmosis.

I thought it would behoove me to take a couple classes. The instructor said I seemed to be picking things up fairly quickly, and she felt confident that I wasn’t doing anything that could hurt myself. The next issue is finding space to practice.

Obviously this needs to happen outside, but I feel very conspicuous out in the open when I don’t know how to do anything yet. But how else will I get any better unless I practice? I just had to commit to the idea of looking foolish for a certain time if I really want to learn this hoop thing.

Besides, if you have a bright orange and silver hoop, how much are you really going to blend into the background anyway? I figure the best case scenario is that someone could come along who knows way more than I do and offer to help me with whatever move I’m struggling to master.

Learning a new skill is good for both brain and body. It keeps you from getting bored and gives you something interesting to talk about with others. You might even sell your friends on your idea and end up with a whole group dedicated to that purpose.

I encourage everyone out there to try something off the wall that intrigues you. You may not have to go public in a park to do it, but look around you for an activity you haven’t tried. Discover what gets you into that state of mind in which you’re really into what you’re doing. Find your flow.