Spinning poi could prove good for your health

Kate Riegle-Van West says spinning poi is a form of relaxation and helps ease stress.
CATRIN OWEN/ FAIRFAX NZ

Kate Riegle-Van West says spinning poi is a form of relaxation and helps ease stress.

There are hidden health benefits behind one of the oldest Maori traditions. 

This is what student Kate Riegle-Van West is trying to prove in her PhD looking at the physical and cognitive effects of spinning poi.

Originally from the United States, West moved to Auckland nine months ago to further her studies.

Kate Riegle-Van West is comparing the difference between the benefits of Tai Chi and poi in her clinical study.
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Kate Riegle-Van West is comparing the difference between the benefits of Tai Chi and poi in her clinical study.

The poi, which are balls attached to flax strings and swung rhythmically, was originally used by Maori to increase their flexibility in their hands and arms, West says.

West lives in Grey Lynn and was first introduced to the international style of poi while studying at university 10 years ago.

She has since developed a fascination with the art.

"It just started popping up, actually doing it feels really amazing, even just spinning it in a circle," she says.

International poi is a style which involves swinging a weight on the end of a cord in circular patterns.

West taught lessons in poi in Chicago and Boston while furthering her studies. However upon moving to Harvard University she was unable to find any research behind the benefits.

West knew little about the traditional Maori poi before moving here but has since spent time learning and gaining an understanding of its differences from Maori poi artists.

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"I knew that if I wanted to get a PhD that the place to do it was New Zealand and Maori poi had to be a valuable part of the discussion even though I'm not focusing on that," she says.

"There's something unique about poi in that it puts you in the zone once you start spinning,"

During her clinical trial she will test balance, grip, strength, heart rate and cognitive flexibility while conducting both pre and post tests.

West is looking for volunteers over the age of 60 who have had little to no experience practicing international poi and will compare to those practicing tai chi.

The free lessons will begin in March and are to be held at the University of Auckland Tamaki Campus.

Email krie192@aucklanduni.ac.nz for more information or if you would like to participate.

 - Stuff

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