25: My Beloved Circle of Plastic

A couple years before my arthritis began, I’d gone online and purchased a hula hoop. I’d seen people hooping in Fairfield, IA some years before, doing all manner of extraordinary tricks. Some of them were truly world class fire dancers who’d moved to town from Chicago. Naturally, I was mesmerized by their every movement.

I didn’t have a stable social circle at the time, or any real connection to the hoopers. But I went to Walmart and tested their hoops in hopes of buying one to mess around with on my own. They were very small and lightweight, and I could barely keep them up. I’d never owned a hoop, but I remembered it being easy when I tried them in grade school. Had I somehow lost the knack in my adulthood? I slinked out of the store empty handed and discouraged.

Then in 2012 I came across a ‘pro hoop’ vendor, took their card, and went to their website to purchase myself a gorgeous, gigantic ‘beginner hoop’. I was advised that this was the hoop to start with if I was serious about learning. The hoop I selected was hot pink, black, and a beautiful reflective silver, in stripes all around it. It looked like candy and I couldn’t have been more thrilled with it.

I immediately began to hoop with ease and quickly learned to take a few steps back and forth and side to side, learning a couple basic tricks I could do in the limited space of my room. Almost simultaneously, I had met Jeremy online and our relationship began as a whirlwind of texting through the week and then spending our weekends together. I finally was in a position to pursue the hoopdance I’d observed so long ago, but my head just wasn’t in that space.

A couple years later I moved to live with Jeremy, and the beautiful candy-striped hoop sat leaning against the wall of our hall like a dusty old trophy. Little did I know that within the next few months, I would become disabled beyond the point of being able to even stand and do basic waist hooping.

Needless to say, for the 3 1/2 years of my pre-diagnosis disability, I lusted after that hoop and the prospect of using it on an almost daily basis. I dreamed of being able to dance Salsa and West Coast Swing again, to hurl my body around a pole and dance a 12 hour shift in high heels again. But I would start with anything, any little thing, like taking a walk or just standing and gently moving my hips with a hoop.

And in late 2017 when I got my diagnosis, that’s exactly what I did. For the last several months of our sessions, I’d been asking my bodyworker, Jim, whether he thought it would be safe for me to just get a little movement into my hips with slow, stationary hooping. He felt it was too risky given the complexity of my injury, and I knew he was right. Every slight physical miscalculation would leave me hurting for days. But as soon as I discovered I was exclusively dealing with arthritis, I got into that hoop.

I began with the most minute thing one can do in a hula hoop — standing and hooping very slowly, with the minimal movement required to keep the hoop afloat. This was easy in my great big heavy, slow-spinning hoop. There was too much pain to take steps back and forth or side to side, so I put on slow, lusty torch singer jazz and stood gently undulating my hoop to the voices of Julie London, Sarah Vaughan, and Anita O’Day.

This went from one song daily to 30 minutes in a fairly short while. I was so ecstatic, sometimes tears of bliss would flow down my face as I stood and hooped through whatever pain I was in that day. Even on days of considerably severe sciatica I would hoop, because the pain was always lessened by this movement. It was unfailingly easier to walk after my daily session.

And so it began. After the first couple months I was able to take some steps with the hoop, most days. I knew it was going to be my partner in unlocking and rebuilding all the joints and muscles of my body over time. What an incredible way to rehab! Finally it was time to pursue my relationship with hula hooping, and I would never look back.

This is the ongoing story of my experience with a crippling autoimmune disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis, that I’m putting in remission with diet and stem cells!