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Stillwater Hospice offers hula hooping as grief support

Hula hoop instructor Julia Hyndman demonstrates what to expect from one of the classes at Stillwater Hospice.
Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
Hula hoop instructor Julia Hyndman demonstrates what to expect from one of the classes at Stillwater Hospice.

Julia Hyndman is teaching hula hooping as a therapeutic technique at Stillwater Hospice, helping those going through a time of grief.

The program is a form of movement therapy, which is a psychotherapeutic use of movement for the purpose of improving health and well-being. Most commonly, people practice dance or yoga therapy for things like PTSD, anxiety and depression, as well as physical illnesses.

This is the first time Stillwater has offered a hula hooping program. Vicki Eber is the therapeutic program coordinator at Stillwater. The hospice began programming in 2022 and Eber has been trying to build out that programming.

"Started with things that are familiar, in our comfort zone, like yoga, writing," she said. "And then, this year, I decided to step us out of our comfort zone a little bit with hula hooping, grief hikes."

Eber invited Hyndman to facilitate the program.

Hyndman is a licensed massage therapist and the founder of Tulip Tree Healing Arts Collective. Tulip Tree was founded in 2021 following the divisiveness of the pandemic and aims to bring people together through creativity and wellness.

Hyndman teaches several classes at Tulip Tree, including modern hula hoop dance.

Hyndman makes the hoops herself. She makes hoops for various skill levels and different types of hula hooping. She said they're different than ones you'd buy at a store because they're made of sturdier materials, such as irrigation tubing, that give them more weight and balance.
Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
Hyndman makes the hoops herself. She makes hoops for various skill levels and different types of hula hooping. She said they're different than ones you'd buy at a store because they're made of sturdier materials, such as irrigation tubing, that give them more weight and balance.

"I have a background in doing body work, so I’m very familiar with working with people through harder times in their life," she said. "So, I kind of infuse that into the hula hooping.”

It might sound silly, but a lot of various therapies involve being aware of not just your mind, but your body. When dealing with anxiety, many people are encouraged to use a coping technique that involves finding five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

The idea is to bring the person out of their anxiety and ground them back in the present.

Hyndman said there’s two parts to utilizing hula hooping as a therapeutic tool. One, she said strengthening your core helps strengthen your mind, giving you more resilience and adaptability when stressors come up.

Second, Hyndman said any movement that’s bilateral, going from one side of the body to the other, can help the mind and the nervous system calm down.

"So, hula hooping, when we think of it, we think of hooping on your waist or your hips, but there’s a whole range of movements that are not even done on the body, that are done with the arms crossing across the body," she said. "Also, handing things from one hand to the other hand, gripping, is really good for the mind."

Doing those movements regularly also helps create regular habits in the mind.

Hyndman demonstrates the types of movements she's have someone sitting in a chair do during the class to keep them engaged and moving their body in the same ways.
Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
Hyndman demonstrates the types of movements she's have someone sitting in a chair do during the class to keep them engaged and moving their body in the same ways.

"You’re creating these pathways of movement that kind of require you to use your thinking, pragmatic mind, and that’s just in general really great for the mind, really good for shifting out of anything you're stuck in and bringing you into the moment and kind of problem solving in a way," Hyndman said.

The hula hooping began at the beginning of June and runs for four weeks, but Eber said if the response is positive they’re prepared to offer another series. Anyone who signs up for any of the four-week programming at Stillwater is required to attend the first week.

"Just because we’re building community, we’re getting to know each other, and then if a stranger jumps in on the second week it’s kind of like ‘whoa, who are you?’ So, we just try to be mindful of building that connection and foundation and trust with each other," Eber said.

The hula hooping isn’t a talk therapy group, but it can bring out big emotions of both joy and grief while attendees begin to move their bodies, so it’s important that group members feel a sense of trust and safety with one another.

Hyndman and Eber demonstrate a few hula hooping techniques in the garden at Stillwater's Peggy F. Murphy Grief Center.
Ella Abbott
/
WBOI News
Hyndman and Eber demonstrate a few hula hooping techniques in the garden at Stillwater's Peggy F. Murphy Grief Center.

"At the beginning, we’re kind of circle up, everyone’s gonna introduce themselves, they’re gonna kind of share what they’re hoping to get out of this experience so I can shape it to be that for them," Hyndman said.

She even has a version of the techniques she’ll be teaching that people can do while sitting in a chair, if they’re wheelchair bound or can’t stand for long periods of time.

Eber developed the program with Hyndman in mind. She said she’s known the other woman for quite some time and knows what she’s capable of in her teachings.

"I just thought this is such a cool opportunity to branch out of our typical therapeutic realm," Eber said. "I thought let’s take a different outlet that people wouldn’t typically think of."

The most common form of movement therapy is dance therapy. It relies on the idea that the mind, body and spirit are all interconnected, and that movement can be used as both an assessment tool and a primary mode of intervention, according to the American Dance Therapy Association.

Still, the practice is new and hula hooping itself sounds like a less than serious way to deal with something as serious and life altering as the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one. Eber said, while there’s been a lot of interest in the program, she’s also had people respond surprised by the activity.

"I always just remind people it’s about finding joy alongside your grief," Eber said.

We should disclose that Stillwater Hospice is an underwriter of 89.1 WBOI.

Ella Abbott is a multimedia reporter for 89.1 WBOI. She is a strong believer in the ways audio storytelling can engage an audience and create a sensory experience.