Last month, I found myself intrigued by a status update from an online hooping acquaintance. It read, “I generally tell people that my Hoopiversary is May 1, 2010. And, it is. But, that date does not include the 9 months prior to that date. The 9 months it took me to learn how to keep a hoop up. The 9 months it took me not to feel foolish, or embarrassed by my body. The 9 months to not only fall in love with the hula hoop, but also fall in love with my body.” I thought to myself, “Nine months?! Would I have stuck with it if hooping had fought me so hard? Now there’s somebody with perseverance. And monumental strength. There’s somebody that wanted to be a hooper. There’s somebody that wanted it bad.” What turned it around for her? What moment brought her success and allowed her to declare that particular day her Hoopiversary? I sensed an incredible story behind her statement, so I went looking for the dish in our Hooper of the Week interview with Sarah Mah of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Like many of us, Sari remembers vividly the first time she saw someone hoop. In May 2009, she was home in Eugene, Oregon, recuperating from an extended hospital stay that ended with the diagnosis of a digestive disease. A friend was working some magic with a sparkly purple child’s Wham-O hoop and Sari was impressed. Really impressed. A few months later, she could still hear the hoop calling. She said, “I loved watching it so much I wanted to do it too. I think it really was that simple — I think once you’re bitten by that hooping bug, you’re just in it.” But Sari was a curvy girl and that purple Wham-O wasn’t getting her anywhere. She added, “That [child's hoop] kinda added to my humiliation in many ways. I think what kept me going was the fact that I felt so much joy every time I was hula hooping. We would have friends over who would giggle as I dropped it, telling me how adorable I was. And that would make me want to make my friends giggle from how good I was – not just because I made ridiculous faces as my larger-framed, short body tried to make a Wham-O hoop travel it.”
Adding to her frustrations were multiple illnesses; she’d been on a hard road up to that point. She’d left “an unhealthy, bad relationship that only gave me a long list of health problems – stress, high blood pressure, bad eating habits, low self-esteem, Diverticulitis, PCOS, and severe obesity. I was in search of something I could call my own, something that would make me feel good.” Enter “Hulie,” Sari’s endearing name for her first hoop. It was a gift from her friend Skye Ten Eyck, and it changed everything. She told me, “It was the greatest tool anyone has ever put into my hands. Without that first hoop, I would have NEVER found success in hooping the way I did.”
So what in the world kept Sari going during the nine months she struggled just to keep the hoop up? “Sheer stubborness,” she explained, “I felt stupid. I felt really, really, really ridiculous for a long time. But, I didn’t care. I was in love. I told myself that I was gonna do it. I was gonna waist hoop. I have no idea why I cared so much at the time, but I now know it was because I felt pure joy every time I got closer to my goal. It was tangible. I knew I could, and would, do it.” And she found she was feeling a lot less pain along the way. “I learned that when I hula hooped the constant pelvic pain I was in from having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome almost completely dissipated. Hooping healed so many emotional scars. After years of suffering chronic pain I was feeling relief and it made my mood ten times better. I think when you’re in that kind of pain and you find something that works you stick with it!”
Does she still struggle, I asked her? “I think every time I encounter something new with the hoop I struggle just a little bit. It’s like a real relationship, ya’ know? I’m always changing, and adapting to different things and that means I have to learn to make time for hooping just like I would with any other really important relationship. There are even times I feel like the hoop is working against me, and it can be quite frustrating.” But Sari meets each new challenge in hooping with open and understanding eyes. Eyes, she tells me, that were opened when she made the decision to pick up a hoop and permanently change the way she approaches life. “I have learned that my body can do anything. If I can’t do it right now, just give me time. I’ll teach my body to do it.”
But what about that red-letter day Sari chose for her Hoopiversary? What happened on May 1, 2010, that led her to mark that date as a celebration? Why choose that day and not, as many of us do, the date she began hooping? “That’s the date that chose me,” she explained. “It felt right, having my Hoop-iversary on the Beltane. That was the day I realized I was a hooper. I had accomplished what I had set out to learn how to do. I could waist hoop, and waist hoop in both directions kinda, and I could waist hoop with a few different sized hoops. I could walk and hoop. I could bring the hoop up from my waist into a lasso. Those were all the things I thought I needed to know how to do to be a ‘Hoop Dancer.’” Looking back now, she sees that her hooping journey began the moment she decided she was going to feel better about herself. It may have even started when she set her laser sights on being a hooper. But May 1 was the first day she felt like one.
So what is life like now for Sari? She tells me that “the difference is like night and day. Since my Hoop-iversary I have had to learn to deal with residual anger issues. I went through several months of being pure mean at times. During those times I struggled with anger, it was impossible for me to pick up my hoop and ‘hoop it out.’ Once I found my way back to my hoop I started letting go of that anger and I realized hooping works. Mentally, physically, emotionally, even spiritually. It works for me in every aspect of my life. When I am able to hoop on a problem I know I’ll find the answer. I have learned to deal with things as they come to me, and I have been able to correct past mistakes by realizing that by taking one step at a time, like I did with waist hooping, I will slowly make progress. Through hooping I have learned that happiness does not mean a life absent of problems, but the ability to deal with problems and move on. I feel like since I picked up hooping I’ve been able to slowly build and create this beautiful life for myself. It’s been really cool.”
I asked Sari what she would say to someone looking in the mirror at a rounder body and wondering if they could/should/want to hoop. Her advice, “Do it. Whenever anyone asks me about hooping I ask them if they need help picking out a hoop. And then I tell them to Do It! If I’m present when someone is learning how to hoop I will often offer up advice on how to keep the hoop going, but I also know that sometimes you just need to keep trying.”Sari’s transformation through hooping has been so dramatic, I wondered what she would tell her pre-hooping self if she could as well. She said, “I would tell her how much I admire her. I remember pre-hooping not liking myself a lot, and now I find the courage to love myself everyday. But the only way I was able to learn how to do that was through her hard work. I would thank her because I can’t imagine my life without hooping, and she’s the one that went out in search of something and fell in love and did all the work.”
Today, Sari lives with her best friend, hooper and home birth midwife Jessica Stahle, and her family. “We are a household of hoopers, and music, food, birth-talk, gardening, herbs, hooping, and laughter. We have a couple kitties, two bunnies, six chicks, and three kids. We’re practically our own suburban circus!” What does the future hold for Sari Mah? “I can’t know, but I know hooping will be a part of it. I love the journey I’m on, and I know the hoop was placed there to be used as a tool on my journey. I hope I can continue to get healthy using the hoop, and I hope to someday be able to hoop for a living – teaching others the joy I feel when I am inside my safe and sacred circle.”
Lara Eastburn has been dancing in meadows and singing with the moon while spinning in circles for eons at Superhooper.org. Beyond commenting here, you can also discuss this and other topics related to the Hooposophy for living in Hooping.org’s Hooposophy Group and Forum. Lara is also the planting and gardening force behind discovering our hooping community roots at The Hooping Family Tree Project.