The Dervish at the Center of Your Whirl

December 27, 2018 4 min read

Tips for Sustained Spinning from the Masters


This week we take a cue from the Order of the Whirling Dervishes to explore just what exactly keeps many hoopers coming back for more.
"The stars form a circle, and in the center we dance." - Rumi


The Sama, or meditative whirling, the ritual is just one part of the mystical branch of Islamic Sufism we know as the Whirling Dervishes (Mevlevi). It is a stunning ceremony of worship that has long inspired my imagination and certainly my hooping.

Based on the belief that the "fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve," those who whirl as part of their Sufi spiritual practice do so in order to "intentionally and consciously participate in the shared revolution of [all] beings."  

The spiritual practice of whirling is rich with history and symbolism, assigning layers of meaning to each segment of what is a carefully and deliberately organized religious ritual.

The Legend

But as legend has it, it didn't start out that way.  The whirling tradition is attributed to renowned 13th century poet and Sufi master, Rumi.

It is said that Rumi, discerning the name of God in the rhythmic sounds of the gold hammerers in the street, began spontaneously spinning, arms outstretched, in celebration.


He was, as the story goes, compelled to turn, and turn, and turn in the public streets in impromptu honor of the synchronicity between his body and the universe..

While my first hooping experience can't be couched in terms of the divine, it was no less ecstatic.  And like many modern whirling dervishes, I often feel that my preference for sustained spinning is a primal aching to re-create that first life-altering encounter with life and sound.  

What fascinates me so about the legend of Rumi's first whirl is the idea of a "spark" in his mind, or heart, that sent his body into intuitive and immediate motion.  

How that SPARK (r)evolved into an entire tradition of physically engaged worship and meditation for the Sufi. And how it continues today in modern hoopdance.


Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes begin their training in early childhood, slowly building their amazing ability to whirl continuously for extended periods of time without experiencing dizziness.

If you already practice sustained spinning in your hooping whirling may feel somewhat familiar, but you should still start very slowly and increase your twirling times in small increments each time. I recommend practicing extensively without
 your hoop at first, and then when and if you desire, add in your hoop later.


Ready to give it a try?  Here's how!

  • Determine in which direction you'll be turning.  You will likely prefer your dominant (or more natural) direction at first. As you gain ease in spinning, try the other direction - it will have a distinctly different feeling.


  • Raise your directional hand toward the sky, palm upward.  This will be your left hand if you are spinning counter-clockwise, your right hand if you are spinning clockwise.

  • Raise your other hand, palm down, outward in front of you at heart level.

  • Keep your gaze on the non-directional hand as you spin.

  • Many people prefer to SOFTEN the gaze rather than keeping it in focus.
  • When adding your hoop to whirling, shift your gaze to just above the hoop or your hand, depending upon how you hold it.
  • After substantial practice, you may later choose to alternate your gaze on the directional hand or close your eyes.

  • As you begin to turn (very slowly!), pivot by moving your heels around your toes, imagining that your toes are rooted to the ground.

  • Don't forget to breathe! Breathe slowly deeply into your back.

  • Increase your speed only if you feel balanced and comfortable doing so.

  • To come out of the whirl, slow down while gradually lowering your hands. Take a few moments to stand still, sit quietly, or lay on the floor.



Whirling can be physically demanding. Your thigh muscles will quickly tell you when you've had enough ... if you don't get out of breath or dizzy first. Just take your time and be patient. Music can be extremely helpful for focusing you -- just stick to the instrumental variety (I've been enjoying Rodrigo y Gabriella myself!).

As always TAKE CARE of yourself. There are certain medical conditions - and even psychological resistance - that may make you unsuited to sustained spinning. Never push past your comfort level - it may not be for you and that's perfectly okay.

I recommend adding a few seconds or minutes of whirling to your hooping practice as a warm-up or cool-down. Not only will it provide an opportunity to gradually increase your "flight time," it will help
frame the sensations you experience while in this state in reference to your hoopdance.



Over time, whirling can direct your understanding of what you feel in the hoop, what connects you to it, and what you celebrate there.

Dervish orders practice whirling to intentionally connect with what they perceive as the natural but unconscious revolving nature of all things.It is, in other words, a conscious attempt to close the distance between the human mind and intelligence in order to participate in the"shared revolution of all beings."

The seven centuries-old Sema
 ceremony is rich with beautiful and meaningful symbolism, which I encourage you to explore about at


Originally written by Lara Eastburn

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