What Is Movement Meditation?

“When you put the psyche in motion, it heals itself.”    —Gabrielle Roth

The last couple of rainy days here in New York have given me the necessary time & space to do what I haven’t quite had the patience to do yet:  putter around in my (still) new (to me) apartment here (a beautiful two-floor unit in a renovated candle factory), putting things in their proper places (a wall of cubbies and open closet space downstairs make this a joy), creating an “office” space (this hand-hewn table, made by the young designer I’m subletting from), and–last but not least–moving furniture out/away/back to open up the upper floor for my meditation practice:  movement with the hoop.

Feeling a tiny bit buggy–tired, swollen glands, sore-ish throat–as well as preparations for Hoopcamp (starting in 2 days!) have kept me from inaugurating the space with hoopdance.   Also, there is the looming issue of the ceiling fan.  I won’t be able to comfortably, fully release myself into the dance until this large fan, along with a few choice pieces of art, are temporarily relocated and out of hooping harm’s way.  My hoops, though tiny and light, can really gather momentum–especially these high-performance polypropylene hoops brought to the common attention of hoopers by my dear pal Rich Porter of Isopop & Hoop Technique (click here for Rich’s open-source breakdown of how to make these delicious, Lamborghini-like hoops).  I don’t know what kind of damage they might cause, but I know I ain’t gonna risk it–the stuff in this apartment is too nice!  Already looking forward to the hours I will be able to practice in this gorgeous, high-ceilinged room.  And no neighbors below me to annoy with the sound of dropped hoops (yes, I still drop the hoop–ALL THE TIME).  Just my loyal pup Vincent, and he’s pretty used to it at this point.

I came to New York not only to fulfill a long-deferred dream of taking in all this grand, unimaginable arts mecca has to offer to an adult with (somewhat) discerning tastes (as opposed to the 18-to-22-year-old preoccupied bumpkin student I was when I lived here twenty years ago), but also to concentrate specifically on learning more about dance and movement, both to deepen my own practice with the hoop and also to enrich what I have to offer as a teacher.  I’ve spent the last four years closely studying the broad range of technical skills and small universe of ineffable nuances in the art of what is often called ‘holding space’—creating and sustaining a tone in the classroom that allows people to relax their guard and open into authentic movement—necessary to embody the confidence and excellence that students of an art form, even a new and uncanonized one, require.  These are skills and knowledge I believe to be absolutely essential to facilitate a rich experience for a wide variety of hoopdance students.

I was impossibly lucky to be guided in this journey by my first–and really only–hoopdance teacher, hoop pioneer Jonathan Baxter.  Often my musings about my hoop life invoke his influence, spirit, language, and memory, and with a truly great teacher, this is (I believe) as it should be.  There is absolutely no way I can imagine having found my way into the hoop without Baxter.  There is absolutely no way I can imagine hooping every day for years on my own and formulating an original, metaphor-based hoop meditation practice and curriculum, as he did.  I could go on and on (and on and on) about Baxter, and perhaps, for a moment, I will.

Many newer hoopers–say, folks who have picked up the hoop in the last couple of years–have no idea how many basic and widely-practiced hoop moves and ideas originated with and were popularized by Baxter.   Hooping blindfolded…breaks and reverses…paddling…samurai (holding the hoop in a one-point handgrip so as to easily switch between horizontal and vertical planes, among other things)…second current…touch technique (lightly swinging and balancing the hoop off-body, using little to no grip)…the use of myth and metaphor as teaching tools…even the very idea of hoopdance as a meditation practice that could be embraced for its transformational benefits alone–without choreography, costumes, and intentions to perform for an audience–was brought into the hooping “mainstream” (ha-ha…a mainstream of maybe 100 hoopers TOTAL, at that time) by Baxter.

I say all this NOT to minimize any of the beautiful, inimitable, and essential contributions made by so many other hoop trailblazers (Anah, Spiral, Malcolm–to name a few of the great early innovators) who have so shaped the practice and teaching of hoopdance, but, rather, to acknowledge and honor the specific, unique, and life-changing (for me) contributions of my own teacher, who opened the world to me in a way I did not even realize it had been closed.  I was 35 years old when I walked into my first HoopPath class without the tiniest whiff of an inkling of how much healing I still needed or how on earth to go about getting it.  I was hopelessly mired in a post-breakup feedback loop of drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and mooning over my ex, which I, at that point in my life, considered “just a part of my process”–after every breakup I would spend months and months (even years) in this state, unable to imagine, hope, feel, talk, or think my way out of it.  This state of punishing bleakness would always just finally fully evaporate, but only after long and incomprehensible periods of agony.

Which, oddly enough, wasn’t even what brought me to the class.  I wasn’t looking for healing–in fact (and some of you have heard this story before) I actually had recently developed a crush on Baxter (after seeing him hoop, naturally) and a mutual friend of ours had invited me to come to the class.  I thought, “Wow, what a *perfect* way to get to know this new, cute guy!” (And, of course, I was always looking for ways to distract myself from thoughts of my ex-boyfriend).  I prayed not to drop the big, leopard-fabric-covered hoop (I didn’t) as I first tried it around my waist during the warmup.  If I could just make it to the end without dropping it…

Then, the strangest and most wonderful, unexpectable, bizarre, beautiful thing happened:  my body, and all its power, was suddenly united with my psyche, and everything it needed to deal with.

(And *you* thought we had fatally digressed, and would never make it back to New York, or Gabrielle Roth!)

I return to this moment again and again, because everything–and I mean everything–since it, has changed.  Even at the time I understood how powerful it was to move, for the first time since childhood, in response to my imagination.  I could feel my heart open into movement with a fluidity and ease that had eluded me in eight years of yoga practice.  The first movement meditation I learned was Two Birds, that same night.   In the rhythm of the moving circle of the hoop around our waists, we began to explore the space around us by imagining our hands as two birds, flying in an open sky.  The simple beauty and sense of freedom that came through this exercise brought tears to my eyes.

“When you put the psyche in motion, it heals itself.”

Imagination and memory are two of our most human attributes, pointing not merely to the existence of a big brain (a computer, after all, is a big brain) but to the existence of a psyche– a spontaneous phenomenon of self-awareness utterly unique to the human animal in its depth, complexity, and active role in our lives (no matter how strenuously we try to avoid or suppress it).  The psyche encompasses every single idea, memory, thought, or feeling any of us has ever had.  Every.  Single. One.  And then the uncountable billions of unacknowledged, forgotten, rejected, and repressed thoughts and feelings that party on, with or without our consent, in the darkness beyond our everyday awareness.

The richest gift that has ever been given to me–the gift of taking an active role in my own healing process–is the understanding that dealings with the psyche do not have to be conducted THROUGH the psyche, or through one of its subcontractors (the mind being my own habitual default interface), but that the psyche can be addressed DIRECTLY THROUGH THE BODY.  That was the elemental truth that suddenly became clear to me the first time I danced with the hoop.  Until that moment, I truly did not understand dance at all.  I could not see that dance was the soul itself’s mode of expression.  Having always been a highly verbal person (ha!  surprised you there, didn’t I!), it never occurred to me that truth could arrive on any vehicle other than language, or that healing–confronting and reckoning with the memories, emotions, and thoughts that caused me pain and suffering–could happen without any language at all.

One definition of movement meditation, to me,  is the act of allowing the psyche to speak (Scream!  Laugh!  Cry!  Moan!  Sing!) through the body.  It is amazing–and very sad–to me that huge swaths of human culture have reduced and marginalized the role of dance, consigning it  to experts who are paid to be both predictable and perfect in their movements, when dance is quite possibly the most powerful and natural healing tool we as human beings have.  In fact, this misappropriation of dance is the very reason why I tend to use the term “movement meditation” to clarify the way I learn and teach hoopdance.  “Dance” has split off to be understood as belonging in the explicit purview of trained professionals and having very specific forms and functions, when in truth the soul’s ecstatic movement through the body belongs–by divine right–to every living human.  This, for me, was the gift of the hoop, the gift of Baxter, the gift of this unbelievable accident that a handful people had gotten fascinated by moving with this plastic object for long enough to begin the makings of a dance which came through just the right person at just the right time to me who needed it so terribly and never would have known it otherwise.  This miracle.  Dance.

HoopPath Retreat 2009

photo by mARTa Sasinowska

About annhumphreys

I travel and teach hoopdance as a movement meditation. Yes, I mean meditative movement with a hula-hoop. The hoop can playfully and gently bring anyone into their embodied center and open the world of dance and creative expression. My greatest joy is to witness this blossoming in my classes and workshops. http://lineandcircle.com/
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2 Responses to What Is Movement Meditation?

  1. Huyen says:

    Ann – as always – a huge thank you for your thoughtful, insightful and soulful posts. I’m sure you have many dedicated readers, and I can assure you that you have been my one and only hoop idol that I’ve been following since I meet you at Hoop Camp last year. Each time I watched you hoop the world around you was invisible. You were in your own “hoop space” in every sense of that phrase and I have slowly come to reach that point myself. I recently moved into a new home as well, and love my bedroom, which is on the top floor with high ceilings. I never knew what a difference in hoop practice made having your own personal, dedicated space. Yes, a studio and teacher is important as well, but sometimes you need a space that is just for you. Outdoors is amazing, however, often times the weather does not permit.

    I read this post after a grueling 12 hour day/night at school. I composed a 3 page to do list and tried to get myself to bed with my brain racing. It was past midnight, 80+ degrees outside (unheard of in Santa Barbara) and impossible to lie still! So, I reflected on mediation and my hoop – got up, grabbed my hoop and danced in the dark for as long as I could. It was awesome! I stretched with my hoop and my mind became so calm. Forget smoking pot or that glass of wine before bed! This is what I’m going to try to do each time I feel I’m on a mental overload.

    I have been blessed to experience a taste of Baxter’s hoop philosophy when he came to Santa Barbara last spring. I only wish I could take your classes, and be at Hoop Camp this year. School duties call. But thank goodness for technology, cyber world and youtube!

    In hoop bliss,


  2. Nicki says:

    Oh Ann, this is so Beautiful! Thank you Thank you Thank you!

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