Beginner Poi (Hoop, Fan, Staff, Flow): 10 Thoughts to Keep You Sane

Hey everyone — GlitterGirl here.

This article comes as a response to a post I saw on a web forum that read:

“Friday my friend came over and wanted to spin poi, shes only been doing it for about 3 weeks, and she decided to teach me. I’m pretty shitty at it, and was wondering if anyone had any suggestions at all for what I could do .”

Here’s some ideas and resources to get started with your poi (hoop, fan, staff and any other flow) practice (you may be pursuing).

  1. Take your poi on as a practice, not a goal. That is, focus on the growth and learning rather than focusing on getting a particular movement because no matter what moves you know, you’ll always want to know more and that continues year after year after year. We find students get frustrated when their focus is on getting a move and they acquire the skill easily — which happens eventually for each artist. If the focus is on the destination (getting the move), then the interest may wane just when it starts to get really interesting and challenging with the poi.
  2. Get soft poi – not tennis balls, not hard LED poi, not fragile poi and not jenky poi that are hard to manipulate. Well crafted, swiveled, bean bag poi are my recommendation for beginners because they are less painful when they hit you and you are going to get hit… if not the first day, eventually. If you’re looking for this kind of practice poi and don’t want to make them yourself, we sell two different kinds: ones which are shaped like teardrops and ones which are pyramid shaped. Though sock poi and cone poi are popular, I prefer poi with leashes that hang off the fingers rather than poi that require the artist squeeze the grip to hold on because squeezing encourages the hand to tighten up rather than remain loose and open.
  3. If you’re not hitting yourself then you’re not expanding/stretching/growing/learning/evolving. Hitting your body is your way of getting feedback for course correction and future learning.  Your best bet is to recognize up front it will happen. Sure, you can try to duck… though in the long run, ducking doesn’t really help since you’re more focused on ducking than on flowing. How you “be with” being hit will really determine a lot about your practice. If you are afraid, then you will hesitate and won’t generate enough momentum (which will cause you to get hit) or you may be ducking which will ruin the plane of the poi (which will cause you to get hit) or you may be in your head which will have you miss the flow (which will cause you to get hit) or… or… or… there’s so many more possible reasons you may get hit and the list is way too long to articulate! We suggest students stand up, be courageous and since they are going to hit themselves, laugh about it — even, and especially if it hurts. Laughter heals frustration and brings our bodies back to a place of openness to learning.
  4. Have fun with it. Laughing at yourself is a part of having fun with it. Doing what you enjoy doing in your practice is also a part of having fun with it. You do not need to have your practice focus on learning specific moves or drilling skills all the time. Too much emphasis on “getting the move” may have you miss what is happening right now: the practice and the process. Just like life, if you wait to have fun until <insert some random goal, like, say, retirement>, you’ll miss out on living your experience fully until that random goal has been met. Your life and practice are moment to moment, not just the achievement of goals.
  5. You are good enough just the way you are. Celebrating each moment as it is — with compassion and self acceptance — has our students enjoy the process more and appreciate the experience as it is happening rather than having them feel like they “aren’t good enough” or need to be a certain way to be “good enough.” We encourage artists to recognize that “good enough” is an arbitrary standard that is subjective and, as such, we can choose to believe that “good enough” is just a meaningless construct that keeps us out of our practice and puts us in our heads instead. This statement is not intended to discourage artists in their pursuit of excellence. Rather, it is designed to encourage artists to appreciate that excellence is an ever evolving standard always out of reach. If we chastise ourselves rather than appreciate the journey as we climb the mountain, that lack of kindness can equate to uninspired feelings about ourselves, our practice and/or the process of learning.
  6. As my lead instructor says, “never underestimate the value of f*cking around.” You can be taught stuff, you can know moves, you can have a combo that flows… and, at the end of the day, when you are open to things coming up (aka, f*cking around), you are likely to learn, grown, flow and uncover things that will keep you interested and inspired in the practice. Experimentation is just as valuable a growth tool as structured learning.
  7. Approach your practice as play and your play as practice. We believe that eventually the line between the two will become so blurred that you will simply experience yourself as Becoming every time you pick up your toy since play and practice marry fun and growth in a way that helps create the opportunity for artists to shine.
  8. The practice is to return to the practice. It doesn’t matter how fast or slowly you progress. It doesn’t matter what you learn. It doesn’t matter if you think you should know some move. It doesn’t matter if someone else can do something you can’t do. It doesn’t matter if you can’t yet do what you thought you should have been able to do “forever” ago. What matters is that again and again you simply return to the practice and connect with your tools. Picking up the toy creates the relationship necessary to develop the mastery we seek.
  9. Even if you feel like you’re not growing, you are. Most of what we humans do is done with our subconscious mind — something like 90% of it. So even if you can’t consciously comprehend how you have grown, even if you feel like you have regresssed, even if you “still” haven’t gotten that move you’ve been working on for weeks/months/years, you are making progress. When you doubt that you are making progress, you are questioning the reality that muscle memory is not a conscious experience and therefore not something you can necessarily measure. Allow that process to be what it is so you can be with the process rather than in your head about the could/should/wish/want of your experience.
  10. Your practice will change as you do. I’ve been practicing poi for 11.5 years at the writing of this article. My practice has been different at different times. Recognize that you are constantly changing and it is very normal for your relationship to your practice to evolve as you do. Some days you want to play. Some months you don’t. Some years you feel stagnant. Some moments are the divine high we wish each moment to be. This is part of being in any practice over the long term. Beginners have the steepest learning curve usually (even if the first few weeks you feel like a total dork) so it is easiest to stay motivated when you’re first learning, especially since the things you learn are generally new moves and lots of them. After months pass, you might want to find inspiration not in the moves themselves, but your ability to flow for long periods of time. After more months pass, you might want to add more expression to that flow. After more months pass, you may not want to play for a while at all. Weather you’re loving your practice and pick up your poi 3 hours a day or you haven’t picked up your poi in 3 months is not relevant from the perspective of the lifespan of your practice. I have sustained injuries which have kept me from my practice for months — I changed, my practice changed. Whatever happens, give yourself permission to experience it as it is, rather than trying to force it to be something else.

Flow is not about forcing things, nor is it about impassivity. It is about the right amount of challenge coupled with the practice necessary to master it and a desire to continue to BE at one with your toy, with your skills and with your divinity as it arises and passes through. If you haven’t yet read it, we recommend The Flowology Mindset(TM) to give you three simple ways to help keep all this alive in your practice. Of course there’s lots more to say though these 10 ideas may help keep you in your practice with joyful exploration and lots of fun all wrapped up in your higher education of flow. If you’re looking for more specific technical instruction, we recommend you also read the Poi Beginners: Resources to Help You Get Started article.

Happy twirling!