What are Poi and Flow Arts?

The word “poi” refers to any singular or plural set of tethered weights that may be held in the hands and spun around the body in a fun, rhythmic, and controlled fashion. More simply put, put some hacky sacks in a pair of socks and spin them around, and you’ve got yourself some poi! Poi is originally an ancient practice of the Māori people and other Polynesian indigenous cultures that has been adapted as a modern form of dance and exercise. Outside of traditional Māori culture, it has been modified into hundreds of variations and is practiced around the world. It is a kind of three-dimensional, kinetic puzzle that enhances muscle strength, coordination, stability, problem-solving skills, concentration, and the ability to self-motivate. It encourages social interaction and can be used as both a calming and energizing activity. It is safe, inexpensive, portable, endlessly progressive, and a lot of fun!

“Flow Arts” is a general term used to describe the intersection of a variety of movement-based disciplines including dance, juggling, fire-spinning, and object manipulation. The broad category Flow Arts includes a variety of pursuits that harmonize skill-based techniques with creative expression to achieve a state of present-moment awareness known as Flow. Common forms of Flow Arts include Poi & Staff spinning, hula hoop (or “hooping”), juggling, sphere manipulation (or “contact juggling”), and fan dance. New props and expressions are emerging all the time as flow artists cross pollinate with martial arts, yoga, circus, belly dance, and beyond. (www.flowartsinstitute.com)

A popular extension of Poi spinning and Flow Arts involves the use of fire. This activity is for TRAINED PROFESSIONALS ONLY and should only be attempted with the supervision of a fire performance safety expert! Contact us for professional fire performance training, resources, and information!

Therapeutic Applications

UPDATE 10/20: Read Lori and Jewels discuss in-depth the potential therapeutic mental health applications of poi spinning in our article here!

Therapeutic goals which Poi can support and accelerate include:

Regulation of attention: Spinning poi during breaks or when frustrated, distractible, or tired is a great alternative to watching TV or scrolling on the smart phone.  Poi can be used to both energize and calm the nervous system, bringing it into parasympathetic and sympathetic balance. Creative, bi-lateral movement helps the brain “reset,” improves communication between the hemispheres of the brain, increases blood flow, gets ideas flowing, and improves focus!

Behavioral regulation: Poi spinning gives the learner feedback yet is not punishing for “incorrect” moves, thus order and creativity are simultaneously encouraged! As the student progresses, s/he learns how to better manage his frustration and becomes more effective and skillful at self-teaching and regulating incoming information.

Emotional regulation: Flow artists often report feeling more centered, playful, relaxed, and engaged while spinning poi. Frustration thresholds can also be challenged and persistence is greatly rewarded, bringing real satisfaction and joy to the spinner. Poi practice in particular activates both sides of the brain, allows for rhythmic movement, both of which are powerful regulating inputs for the nervous system. Poi spinning balances silliness, grace, and power, activating the prefrontal cortex and engaging all of the brain and body – a great recipe for channeling negative emotions and activating positive ones!

Social regulation: Poi spinning can be an activity for engaging and playing with others of all ages and interests. Poi spinning and FlowArts are inherently social – you will want to teach all your friends (and they will want to learn)!

Flexible thinking and problem solving: There are endless ways to move the poi in relation to the body and each other; there are also endless ways of thinking about the process and applying fun metaphors to other life tasks and challenges!  Poi spinning stimulates creative thinking in order to correctly execute various movements.

Self-esteem: Fostering creative expression, self-motivated goal-setting, and exercise, poi uniquely bridges non-competitive playfulness and skillfulness. You look and feel great when practicing and flowing <3

Fun!: Poi spinning and the FlowArts bring a fun, interactive, and playful element to the therapeutic experience.