Hooping and healing

Hula hoops bring laughter and help trim the tummy, but an Ashland pediatric nurse has found a new use for them: healing post traumatic stress disorder in abused children.

Denise Kesti Ewing says trauma makes children (and adults, too) disconnect from their bodies and feelings. Hooping, with its fun, perpetual rhythm, gets them back in their body, where they begin feeling their emotions again and healing them.

A survivor of childhood trauma herself, Ewing last June discovered hooping while in therapy for PTSD. She bought one from a street vendor and secluded herself in her garage for hours to learn it. The process brought up and helped her heal childhood memories of abuse and "dissociative" (distracting, repetitive) behaviors used as a defense.

"I was mesmerized while watching a hoop dancer at a local crafts fair," she recalls. "The memory of my imaginary hoop dancer, the one I became when experiencing trauma, hit me right in the heart.

"I bought a hoop the next day from a street vendor and three hours later I had a steady spin. The sensation was amazing, euphoric and familiar, like finally coming home. In the hoop, in my physical body, I could experience the integration of my childhood friend.

"The memories of the trauma followed as time went on and my hooping got better. I had found a safe place for the secrets, a safe place to heal."

In her work as a nurse, Ewing found PTSD to be "huge and horrifying" in the region. It can come to children from many directions, she says, including domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse, poverty, neglect — and if it's severe or chronic, it shows up as depression, hyperactivity, aggression, poor academics and alienation, she says, with most victims feeling overwhelmed by it and unable to remember it or recognize it as serious.

Ewing was inspired by World Hoop Day, a California-based nonprofit that has given 10,000 hoops to kids living in poverty in the Third World, helping them experience dance, music and joy, according to its website.

Ewing has started her own nonprofit organization DesignCare (designcare@charter.net) and is beginning fundraising and teaching children to build their own hoops with irrigation pipe and fasteners — materials commonly available at hardware stores for $10 — then to fill them with meaningful trinkets and decorate them with ribbons.

"It's a delightful craft project and with a little personalization, the kids claim the hoop as their very own safe place, like a transitional object," she says. "They can spin with joy or just sit still and feel the safety of their circle. We start with a brief kid meditation to get them in their bodies. Then, total self-expression is encouraged."

Raymond Giles, a Medford trauma therapist who worked with Ewing, says any dance or movement therapy is "calming, soothing and helpful" for people with severe trauma history, especially women who've had sexual abuse and dissociated from their bodies.

"Hooping is great for adults too," she says. "We all have stress, past traumas or difficult emotions perhaps best dealt with in a hoop.

"It's great for menopause and losing weight. Tone, balance and core strength improve, plus it negates insanity, although people might think you're a little crazy. After just a few tunes, I'm feeling the balance, life's stresses have left me and I feel great."

Ewing led Ashland's Halloween parade, hooping half a mile, a challenging experience that fully exposed "my dissociative little girl" but also served as a triumphant public announcement, she says, of her healing and wellness.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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