Thursday, 2 September 2010

Poi: My New Obsession

Today I’d like to talk to you for a while about my newest hobby obsession. Those of you who follow me on twitter will be more than aware that I’ve been talking about poi quite a lot recently. Not the food, but something quite different.
Poi, according to the resources I’ve been using, is the Maori word for ball. The art certainly comes to use from the Maori tradition, where poi is the object itself, the accompanying dance or the music. Modern poi often involves swinging about fire or glowsticks rather than the traditional Maori style fluffy poi.
I got into poi in a rather roundabout manner. A friend of a friend put some pictures on Facebook of him doing poi, and my brain sort of went “I must know how to do that”. After watching a large number of youtube videos, and reading lots and lots of articles on how to make and practice poi, I made my own pair of sock poi. I’ve been through several designs and am finally happy with my homemade ones. Though I have purchased myself a set of these, and am eagerly awaiting delivery.
Poi is a performance art, a flow art, a skill toy and a dance. It has been combined with various martial arts and other performance arts to create a number of different styles. Poi can help improve co-ordination, balance and overall physical ability. For me, it is primarily a pleasurable way to move my body.
I know that not everyone in the fatosphere subscribes to the Health at Every Size principals (and there’s no reason why they should). But for me, the most important part of HAES is the idea that we should be moving out bodies in pleasurable ways. Not exercising in ways that we find pleasurable, just moving our bodies in pleasurable ways.
Now, I like this for a number of reasons. One, it helps dispel the myth that calorie burning exercise (i.e. good exercise) is only done during dedicated sessions using specialised equipment or doing a recognised sport. Vacuuming the house is exercise. Walking to work is exercise. Cooking dinner is exercise. Lugging heavy things around because you’re moving house (or helping move house) is exercise. Sex is exercise. Any number of things are exercise but are often seen to not count under conventional ideas of exercise. It also helps people move away from measuring the value of exercise by number of calories burnt. Had fun doing that thing you do to move about? Job done!
Another reason I like the idea of pleasurable movement of body is because it is the least ableist model of exercise I have come across. Exercise will always have ableism running through it, because there will always be people who aren’t able to exercise. And isn’t it funny that my word processor doesn’t recognise the words ableist and ableism? But the HAES model of exercise encourages people to work within their limits instead of challenging them.
For me poi is the perfect pleasurable way to move my body. It allows me to explore the way my body can move, and has already surprised me. I can move my body in ways I never would have thought possible. It is allowing me to use muscles and tendons that are under- or un-used in the rest of my life. It is a beautiful art and a way for me to express myself physically. It is a challenge, but I have found that I can progress quickly enough that it never becomes a chore. I am always striving for the next move, the next challenge. I am looking far ahead and thinking “I wish I could do that”.
Because of poi I am going to bed at night and I am tired, and as a result I am sleeping much better. Because of poi I am filled with a passion and commitment for something physical for the first time in nearly four years. Because of poi I am finding joy in movement again, and that has resulted in my finding joy in other things as well.
Last night I took my poi with me to St John, and spent the evening teaching some simple moves to my badgers. At the beginning of the evening they asked me what the point of poi was. I told them of the history, of the physical benefits and that most importantly of all it was fun. They didn’t believe me that it was exercise. We spent two hours playing with poi; two hours in which some of the Badgers showed a greater ability than I did. And I know that at least two of them will be taking it up at home. At the end of the night, when we were all tired out, I asked them if they believed me now if it was good exercise. They said yes.
Poi is not for everyone. I know that. But if you are reading this and you are a highly creative, expressive person who is looking for a new skill, a new way of moving or a new exercise, I urge you to give poi a try. Check out and see if you can find the magic; see if you can catch the bug like I did. Because if poi is for you, then it might just change your life.

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