Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Aerial Hoop

Aroha Wikohika transforms the aerial hoop into a thing of beauty. Photo / Michael Craig
Aroha Wikohika transforms the aerial hoop into a thing of beauty. Photo / Michael Craig

What is it? Manoeuvres on a suspended hoop (also known as the lyra, aerial ring or cerceau).

What's needed? Tights, with shorts over the top, a fitted long-sleeved-top, socks.

The experience: When my 5-year-old asks where I'm going, I quip "I'm off to join the circus". Well, I'm not really fibbing. I'm off to an aerial hoop lesson, which could well be a start point if I ever decide to run away to join a circus.

So I head to the swing360 studio where the aerial hoop teacher, Aroha Wikohika, recommended I wear top-to-toe fitted clothing, with shorts over my leggings, to give me "coverage" and "padding" for when I come into contact with the metal hoop.

Aroha also banned "anything baggy". It would only flop over my head when I hang upside down. I agree it's probably best that I can see when attempting aerial acrobatics for the very first time. (I spy just a small foam pad under the suspended hoop, covering an unforgiving polished concrete floor.)

Aroha tells me aerial hoop is "like Cirque du Soleil but without the circus part" or "trapeze-like stuff, but on a hoop".

We start with warm-up stretches. I eye the metal hoop, more than 1m off the ground and covered with tape. The hoop is safe, I'm told, suspended by rock-climbing gear attached to a wooden beam. It's only a problem if I let go - remember that concrete floor.

Mirrors everywhere mean I can watch this car crash unfold, or admire any grace I might muster. I wonder if my girly-girl arms will give way. Or if hauling my baby about has built up my biceps.

Aroha shows me what she wants me to do. She'll then guide me through the paces while by my side.

I watch her in flight and I'm in awe: She's a ballerina in mid-air, gliding from pose to pose and doing shapes in the air, sometimes twisting or spinning or upside down, all while framed by a hoop. Now, it's my turn.

I grip the bottom of the hoop with my hands and put my legs over the hoop to the outer-side of each hand. I then shimmy my hands almost halfway up each side of the hoop, all the while hanging from the hoop and rocking. I then point one foot forward to propel my body to sit in the hoop.

I manoeuvre my body so my back is arced within the hoop. Aroha instructs me to "gracefully" put my feet within the opposite curve of the hoop.

While in the hoop's arc, I make sure the back of the hoop is in the centre of my lower back, for balance, because I'm about to let go with both hands (yeah, right!). But, incredibly, I successfully point both hands out to each side and voila! This is the "man in the moon" pose, which I practise several times.

Aroha teaches me how to dismount and end with another "stylish" pose. I gently drop to one side, while holding hands at particular points of the hoop and holding my weight, and then point one toe to the floor while flicking the other foot back.

I do six moves on the hoop all up - no easy feat. I know it was a good workout because my arms ached for days afterwards, my hands were calloused and my legs were a bit bruised from holding my weight on the metal hoop.

Aerial hoop takes strength, flexibility, core stability, balance, nimbleness and courage. However, it can be beautiful, when carried out by someone skilled like Aroha.

How much? $25 for a 90-minute class.

Worth it? For the quirk factor.

Try it: swing360 studio is on Level 1, 260 Queen St, Auckland CBD.

Rating: 7.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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