Last May, I decided I was going to practice monkey bar hanging every day for a whole year and document my progress month to month. I did this because the year before, I had practiced deep breathing every day for a year and documented it. Practicing breathing for a whole year brought amazing benefits into my life like more energy and walking long distances.*
I was really excited about my monkey bar hanging experiment and the progress I made in the first couple of months. But after this, my progress slowed, and then I hurt my back in month five. I had to stop.**
I used to have an all-or-nothing attitude towards exercise. Either I had a perfect workout, or I viewed my endeavor as a failure. This was a punishing attitude, and it eventually caused me to suffer an exercise burn-out.
Thankfully, I eventually found my way back through an attitude of play. I realized one day that exercise was not about moving so there was less of me in the world but rather so there was more of me–more spirit, joy, curiosity, playfulness, strength, power, and adventure.***
One of the great things about my change in attitude towards exercising is that it helped be curious about failure. If I tried a new exercise like burpees or long-distance walking or (in this case) monkey bar hanging, and it didn’t go well, I could become curious about my experience and see what lessons I could learn from it, rather than viewing it as a failure.
And that is what I did with my monkey bar hanging failure. I became curious about it. And something cool happened.
I took a break for a couple of months to rest. I thought about why monkey bar hanging was hard for me, and I realized I had weak overall body strength. I decided I wanted to change that, so I began doing a series of yoga, pilates, ballet, dancing videos to help build and balance my overall body strength.
These exercise DVDs give me life.
I started feeling stronger and more connected to my body and muscle strength.
But something was still off.
So I got curious about what felt “off”, and I realized I was having problems breathing again, and because of it, I was having problems feeling weak, anxious and lethargic. I tried to start my breathing practice again, but it still seemed like I needed something more.
About this time, I found out that a friend of mine was teaching a hoop dancing class.
I have been a long-time fan of hula hooping. In fact, several years ago I hula-hooped across the United States when my husband and I took a cross-country road trip.****
Here are a few photos from my cross-country hula-hooping adventure (Utah–the top two pictures–and Oregon–the bottom two.)
So when I found out about the hooping class, I signed up, and I am so glad I did.
Hula-hooping is exhilarating. Many people don’t realize this, but hula hooping is not just that fun activity you did as a kid when you spun a hoop around your waist. It can also be a really fun activity for adults and can be an intricate and complex sport or dance style (depending on your preference) that involves all sorts of hoop tricks.
Really skilled hoopers can work magic with their hula hoops, making the hoop glide up and down and on and off their body, in a combination of spinning and floating magic. There are hundreds of on-body and off-body hula-hooping tricks you can learn, and while some of them are really challenging, a person can make significant progress in hooping fluency and movements with even just 10 minutes of consistent practice on a regular basis.
This is the door to my hoop-dancing studio. Isn’t it beautiful?
But there is something else about hula-hooping you might not know. Hula-hooping is really, really good for building heart strength and cardiovascular endurance. It may not seem like it, but the energy required for hula-hooping is equivalent to that required for walking fast, running on a treadmill, or doing a boot-camp or step aerobics class.
It’s no joke.
It takes me about five to ten minutes of hula-hooping, and my heart starts pumping; I start sweating profusely; and I breathe deeply.
Breathing deeply through movement: this was the missing piece. My body had been telling me that I needed the deep breathing that comes from dancing.
The last couple of months, I have been hoop dancing almost every day. My heart strength has been improving; my breathing has deepened; my anxiety has lessened; I am sleeping better at night; and I feel more joyful and playful. In addition to this, I have begun to incorporate all sorts of strength exercises into my hula hooping. I will hoop for a while and then do squats or lunges or planks or push-ups or kettelbell swings.
And I am very happy to say that monkey-bar hanging is one of the strength exercises I have been incorporating as well, although right now I am hanging inside on a pull-up bar. When it gets nicer outside again, I will start monkey bar hanging again.
So it turns out that I am really grateful for my monkey bar hanging “failure”. It lead me to hula hooping and back to monkey bar hanging again.
And this is the power of exercising so there is more of us, rather than less of us. Exercising is never really about keeping ourselves under control. It’s about opening us up to the world around us and what is going on inside of us. As we do so, we strengthen our body confidence and our ability to move about skillfully and playfully in the world.
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*You might like this post about my breathing experiment:
**Here is my first post about monkey bar hanging:
***You might like these two posts about exercising so there is more of you rather than less of you.
****You might like this post about my cross-country hula-hooping adventure: