Is Hooping Yogic? Q&A with Jocelyn Gordon, Founder of HoopYogini™
It is 7:30 p.m. in Honesdale, PA (where I am). It is 7:30 a.m. in Bali, Indonesia. I am Skyping with Jocelyn Gordon, founder of HoopYogini™ (“transformational fitness integrating hula-hooping with hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation”), who has just woken up and is still rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Behind her is the quintessential Bali—deep-green palm fronds, a wooden veranda, a blanket of billowing morning air. After we’ve gotten our greetings and email-penpal giggles out of the way, Jocelyn gives me a brief introduction. She moved to Bali a year and a half ago. “March through May in Bali is just like festival season in California,” she jokes. After returning to the island paradise year after year for six years with Sacred Circularities (a retreat group), she finally moved from Big Sur, CA; however, she spent most of her life living on the East Coast. “Okay, I feel better now that I have my earrings on. Oh...one boob looks lopsided though,” she says, adjusting herself. We both burst into laughter. Even through the pixelated video-chat, Jocelyn’s smile is radiant, her laugh unapologetic, her skin glowing. What is it that makes her so magnetic? She is rooted in the center of her own personal universe: she is grounded and self-accepting, acting out of truth and honor to herself.
Coral: You have said that “the circular nature of the hoop gently encourages movement, freedom of expression, conscious daydreaming (a lost art for most adults!), and improved range of motion.” What exactly do you mean by conscious daydreaming? How have we lost it?
Jocelyn: Conscious daydreaming means actively creating time in the day to let the mind wander in an intentional way. It’s like visualizing what you want to create. I feel that most adults have lost the ability to daydream—that spaciousness where we let the mind come up with possibilities. Thinking is rigid, while conscious daydreaming has a “floaty” quality. When I was simultaneously hooping and thinking about what I needed to do, what I was trying to do, what was on my shopping list, my hoop would drop. I thought, “This is interesting. Let me experiment with this.” And shortly again after thinking about the past or present, the hoop would drop. This was the hoop telling me I was not being in the moment. I found that really helpful, because during a hatha yoga practice, if I were in a warrior or some other static yoga posture, I wouldn’t really know how long I was gone. I would just know when I came back. But when I get to this point—many call this “flow”—I’m just moving organically. It feels great, and there’s the least effort possible in my body. My mind gets wide and ideas come in. All these ideas were coming in—like “HoopYogini™” did. Oh, let me try stretching with the hoop! Or what if I did this? Experiences like this got me thinking about people: As adults, I feel that daydreaming has been drilled out of us. We've been taught to be still, to be quiet, to stay rigidly focused. Hooping provides a safe and liberating space to be creative. To experience flow and peace. It was artistic expansion happening. As adults, I feel like we’ve gotten drilled out of that space. Hooping is safe and freeing.
Conscious daydreaming means actively creating time in the day to let the mind wander in an intentional way.
Coral: I think a lot of what also hinders “conscious daydreaming” is that we’re all so pressed to make the most of our time—whatever that means. I will set aside a two-hour chunk of time to practice hooping. I’ll get the right playlist on. I’ll put clothes on that I feel comfortable in. But then I’ll start hooping and it’ll drop. It’ll hit me in the face. I’ll think of all the ways I could be better, more “efficiently” spending my time. I’ll get frustrated. I’ll start being overly critical of myself. How do you get yourself out of a self-critical mindset? How would you recommend newcomers approach hoop yoga?
Jocelyn: While it’s important to set up the outer environment (you've got your music, and your room, and your clothes, and you’re like "check"), it’s equally, if not more important, to set up the inner environment. Redefining what success is for you. For me and my practice, I go into situations in threes. How can I find the flow amongst these three things? I’ll even revisit tricks and movements I’ve already mastered. Doing something that’s already embodied reminds me that I can do what I’ve asked my body to do. This builds my confidence. To be honest, at this point in my life, I don’t have a trick-based practice anymore. And I feel awkward about it, like it’s a confession, especially when I’m at an event with all these seriously committed, innovative hoopers. But it’s an evolution. Accepting that my innovation is the integration of different modalities and the pedagogy of helping “regular” people—those who are just coming to the hoop—not just the badasses we see on YouTube. I want to create a portal for these newcomers to walk into, so it’s not alienating. Yoga talks about the annamaya kosha, “the food body” (physical body)—that’s the best way, to start there. That's what we do in HoopYogini™. We don’t begin talking about the chakras, or energy, or forms, or kundalini, because I found that would be possibly combative to someone’s psychology. But what we do talk about is the symbology. We guide people. "Stand in the center of your hoop. Hold the hoop with your hands here. Feel your feet on the earth. Establish your posture and stack your body in this way. Now, breathe." And there’s no dogma in that. "Visualize yourself in the center of your hoop. Visualize yourself in the center of your personal universe." We give cues and invitations without dogma. And people start to feel more calm and begin to acknowledge their own energy, their emotions coming up. There’s nothing “woo-woo” about it. We’re just using the symbology of the hoop.
Coral: What are the benefits of practicing hoop yoga (emotional, mental, physical, spiritual)?
Jocelyn: For me, it wasn’t immediate, like OH, I’M GOING TO COMBINE HOOPING WITH YOGA! It just kind of happened. It was my background. I’m a dancer and a yoga teacher and massage therapist. When hooping came into my life, I found it helped to anchor me in the moment. Like the example of the hoop falling—that’s the practical, mental benefit. Creatively, finding that joy when we’re in flow with hooping is no different than the bliss we find with yoga or any other focused meditative practices. Physically, when the hoop is on the waist, it massages the groin area where lymph gets stuck. Hooping on the chest allows for a massaging of the armpits, a space that gets touched the least in our lives (especially when we’re often in a seated, hunched position working at computers). So, I was struck by how there were all these physiological benefits. It’s largely a low-impact activity but, with jumping and faster tricks, can help build aerobic capacities. But mostly, it’s fun! I’m not a fitness person, but hooping is inviting. It’s fun and it’s sensual—which I think a lot of spiritual practices diminish and deny. It’s of the feminine. It helps us connect with our bodies and with the Divine.
Creatively, finding that joy when we’re in flow with hooping is no different than the bliss we find with yoga or any other focused meditative practices.
Coral: What got you interested in hooping? Yoga? Hoop yoga? What prompted you to start HoopYogini™?
Jocelyn: In 1997, in NYC, I had a crush on this really cute guy and he had a crush on me (but it wasn’t as grand as my crush was on him), and he gave me free passes to his gym, Crunch Gym, downtown in Astor Place. I took my first yoga class there. I guess I owe it to that dude.
So, that led me to practice at Jivamukti in NYC. Before that I was doing pan-African dance about four times a week, so I was very into my physical arts. I then became a Phoenix Rising [yoga] therapist. In Washington, D.C., I had a four-year running class for yogis ages 3-7, and every few months, I would look up mandalas online for them to color. And so one night—it was a lame night—I was on Google page 8, just numb and upset about something, but this page called Mandala Hoops came up, and it was a woman in her backyard hooping and doing yoga to Deee-Lite (here she sings "Groove is in the heart..."). But anyway, she wasn’t playing a pop-radio song, she was playing a song that only a true Deee-Lite fan (me!) would know. So, I started crying at 2 a.m. in the kitchen. I was like, “These are my people!” I started researching everything that was online—and there’s still not very much. I got my own hoop and started in my backyard. It was a huge joy. I was going through yoga teacher training while hooping three hours a day. But I lobbied hooping to my instructor––could this be my sadhana (daily spiritual effort)? This is what is tuning me in. This is what is connecting me with spirit. And she agreed. It was a gift. I got to keep hooping, from a yoga therapy perspective.
Coral: With all these yoga trends (e.g., stand up paddleboard (SUP) yoga, yoga for pets, yoga-and-wine-tastings, etc.) and the criticism that’s often lodged against these practices––claims that they’re “superficial,” “watered down,” “too commercial”––what makes hoop-yoga special?
Jocelyn: I can only speak for HoopYogini™ because I’m familiar with the program, and I know it is rooted in the Yoga Sutra. What is yoga? Yoga is when the fluctuations of the mind cease. This is what Patanjali told us. So, when you look at the definition, there could be many things that fall into that category. It could be climbing a mountain or it could be cooking a meal. For me, it could be hooping or meditating. Hooping helps to slow the mind down, and hopefully, eventually, cease those fluctuations.
HoopYogini™ also incorporates affirmations and intentions with body-centered coaching prompts. However, we focus on the physical first along with the breath and encouraging the mind to one single point—the moment, as it is right now. Then, after opening movements linking breath and body, we introduce affirmations. Why? Because we’re not just going to get someone inside a hoop and tell them to say, “Life is awesome.” Who knows what they are dealing with? So, we focus on the body, the breath—the breath linked with movement—and eventually there is a shift that happens. We continue to guide the mind to this moment. Sthira-sukha-asanam (supple steadiness in action). Our connection to the earth should be steady and joyful. Finding that sukhasana—we call it “centered pose” in the hoop—is finding that place of inner ease and alertness. You don’t have to be religious or spiritual. Most people are already striving for that balance of being focused and relaxed. Also the hoop asks, "Where are you efforting?” A lot of women, when waist-hooping, are trying too hard and sometimes push too much with one side. Notice how the hoop is slanted. We need to bring balance in the body. Yoga is about bringing in that harmony. Our strengths can become our weaknesses—there’s the danger of defaulting into your dominant, comfortable side.
We continue to guide the mind to this moment. Sthira-sukha-asanam (supple steadiness in action).
Coral: How does hooping deepen your yoga practice, and vice versa?
Jocelyn: Hatha yoga provides the conditioning, the holding, and a strengthening that happens from linear focus. I feel when I’m in a strong vinyasa program, I can recognize that conditioning. However, right now, my sadhana is neither hooping nor yoga. Right now, it’s freestyle dance, and all of these practices are informing each other. My first love is dancing outside the hoop. The hoop provided a shelter for me and I’m now working on being very vulnerable again in performance outside of the hoop. I know what dazzles. I know what people like. I know what is compelling, but again, it’s grown to be the default. It’s no longer enriching. Last year at this one show, I was performing with my hoop and it just felt like a really tiny space—so I just let it fall. And when I let it fall, I felt, at that time, more pure and really true to myself. That’s what yoga does. It helps us become more essential, more connected to our sattvic (pure) nature, our truth, to be more vulnerable to let that show.
Coral: What do you think are the benefits or drawbacks of posting videos and HoopYogini™ selfies on Instagram?
Jocelyn: Personally, I think I need to be doing more of that! I tend to be very private, but what I’m realizing, more and more, is that with social media, people want to see the details of your life. When I’m at a waterfall, I’m not like, “Oh, I better get a picture of that so I can Instagram it!”, I’m like “Oh, my God! I’m at a waterfall! Wow!” So, I think I need to find the balance, where I’m in the moment but also sharing, because I think people find a connection to that. I don’t personally have a judgment about that (yoga-celebrities). I think if anyone is practicing yoga in a dedicated way—even if they're coming to it for weight loss or fitness—if they’re really practicing, they’re going to experience that transformation. Something is going to switch on. Even if they’re doing yoga with weights. Whichever door you come through, I believe, is going to lead to a transformational experience.
Coral: How do you avoid getting wrapped up in technique or tricks—when that’s really all people on social media want to see—and keep your flow organic and true to yourself?
Jocelyn: There’s flow time and then there’s trick time. I’m a visual-kinesthetic learner and so if I’m learning from a video, I find it’s helpful to watch the video and then close my eyes and imagine how it feels in my own body. I also won’t try to drill tricks for hours. It’s kind of like how I learned how to Samba! I broke it down—maybe a minute or three, twenty times a day. I’ll samba from the kitchen to the sink, from the sink to the couch. I broke it down into small increments, rather than beat it into myself.
In terms of flow, I do this thing called “waiting for an authentic moment.” That requires waiting and being comfortable with not doing anything. There are times in my dance and hoop practice where I feel like I’m trying, efforting, or even defaulting to those four tricks I always do together. So what I’ll do is, I’ll just stop and wait for myself to be moved, and whenever my mind is telling me to do something, I practice restraint—and wait again to be moved. I’ve also shifted away from the idea that I always have to do a lot of tricks. It’s not just exploring tricks, but exploring space. High, low, up, down, front body, back body, having the hoop far, and having it close to you. It’s more inspiring than “I have to do x amount of tricks.” It’s more about “How can I explore this space around me?” And that is what most people comment on when seeing me dance—seeing me really inhabit the space, being natural, and not afraid to just be still. Stillness can be a very powerful communicator of self-acceptance. When I perform, I’m more looking to touch a few hearts to open to themselves, rather than dazzle an entire audience. When I go into a performance like that, with the hope to dazzle an entire audience, that’s when my inner critic comes out. That’s when I start perspiring and I get really stinky, and I’m freaking out, and I need to remind myself: "Okay, I just gotta be authentic.” I hope my authenticity is what touches someone to see who they are. That helps to calm my ego, and that helps me to be vulnerable. So be vulnerable in your practice. Be willing to stop and allow for movement to happen, rather than forcing it to happen.
It’s more inspiring than “I have to do x amount of tricks.” It’s more about “How can I explore this space around me?”
Coral: If you had to leave a new HoopYogini™ with one tip, what would it be?
Jocelyn: Oh goodness me, one tip! Well, I don’t know if this is the most profound tip, but this is the one coming up right now: hoop in both directions. Then it’s your modus operandi. So many of us have had to reprogram, recondition ourselves [in order to hoop in the other direction], so starting early would allow you so many more opportunities. You’d be hoopidexterous! Hoop in both directions. It’ll expand your possibilities.
Jocelyn Gordon is the founder of HoopYogini™. In addition to the many online courses and live teacher trainings (held this June 2015 in the U.S. and April 2016 in Bali, Indonesia). Jocelyn will soon be releasing instructional videos with preconception and prenatal content, as well as an online HoopYogini™ teacher training and a new waist-hooping course titled “Define your Power.” Building on lessons from Jocelyn's two introductory courses, “Spinal Awakening Series” and “From your Core,” “Define your Power” will not only define your waist, but help you find your unique center—and how to move authentically from that grounded, truthful center.
Coral Lee is an Editorial/Content Assistant Intern for Yoga International, a 200-RYT instructor, and is currently studying English and Art History at Kenyon College in Gambier, OH.