Rutgers students spin poi to relieve stress, anxiety


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Photo by Shawn Smith |

Alex Pelham-Webb, a School of Engineering sophomore, performs in the poi class at the College Avenue Gymnasium.


Of all the ways to relieve stress, spinning “poi” is one of the most engaging, according to those who engage in the activity.

Rutgers Recreation offered the first ever poi spinning class this semester, and yesterday was the final session, ending with a poi show on the lawn of the College Avenue Gymnasium.

Irina Maryanchik, a certified energy medicine and reconnective healing practitioner, instructed the eight-week class. The class had 11 students registered, and an average of about nine students showed every week.

“Poi is the most fun way to improve your energy. Your mood changes in five minutes,” she said.

Photo: Shawn Smith

Omer Tanrikulu, a graduate student, performs poi while celebrating Halloween.

Photo: Shawn Smith

Students from the poi dancing course performed yesterday in front of the College Avenue Gymnasium. The dance is said to relieve stress and anxiety.

Having begun spinning poi, which means “ball” in the Maori language, as a way to deal with her depression and anxiety, Maryanchik said she enjoyed it and decided to teach others the practice.

Carmen Valverde, instructional program coordinator for Rutgers Recreation, said when she first saw poi spinning, she was blown away.

“It is different. In the first class when [Maryanchik] started spinning the light balls it looked really cool,” she said. “It’s a way to relax and deal with stress. [Students] have to concentrate and focus on the balls and forget everything else.”

While Valverde said she feels she is not good with the balls, she said Maryanchik provides constant encouragement.

The final class began with stretching and breathing exercises to relax the students into the routine. Maryanchik then told the class she would be teaching them three new techniques — threading the needle, the butterfly and the windmill.

All three new techniques take motions the students previously learned one step further. They are fairly advanced, and when done correctly, the students looked like they had found their flow.

The classes took place in the basement of the College Avenue Gymnasium, where students were able to study their technique while surrounded by mirrors. For some, the low ceiling proved to be an obstacle, but once outside, everyone seemed to find their rhythm.

After the final class, the group moved outside, where they displayed what they had learned to passerby and those getting on and off the busses. They spun to the rhythm of Middle Eastern-style music, which Maryanchik says she likes to use best.

“I use a lot of Enigma and Prem Joshua in my classes,” she said. “I like to use music that doesn’t have words and is all instrumental. It’s there to keep the students in the mood [when spinning].”

Kevin Do, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said the class was something he was really looking forward to.

“[Poi] is something I have been interested in for a long time,” he said. “It is related to glowstring and is a part of rave culture.”

The class cost $45, Do said, and makes learning how to spin poi much easier than watching a YouTube video. After registering for the class, Do and some of his classmates went out and bought their own poi balls online.

Maryanchik said spinning poi gives people a feeling that some have a hard time describing.

“In DNA, everything naturally crosses,” she said. “Your energy should cross as well, and poi helps that.”

Omer Tanrikulu, a graduate student, said he tried poi in college and thought it was a lot of fun. It helps with concentration and feels like a form of meditation.

“I like rhythm and concentration,” he said.

Didem Aksoy, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she thought it looked cool and wanted to get involved.

“It’s a great coping skill,” she said. “You want to forget everything else and concentrate really hard on the rhythm and music.”

When practicing at home, Aksoy said she listens to similar music. She feels the rhythm makes spinning easier and increases her flow.

Maryanchik said her main goal in life is to make people happier. She attempts to do that by focusing on energy medicine and healing, and in her mission is to improve people’s lives, spinning poi is just another tool.


By Shawn Smith

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