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aged care

Poi in Aged Care

A Guide for Rest Home and Hospital Level

The purpose of this guide is to provide a simple, practical framework for playing poi with rest home and hospital level adults. It is geared toward those who will primarily stay seated during exercise. Anyone can use this guide; no previous experience with poi or aged care is required. The guide will take you through finding the right poi, setting up the space, and 4 phases of a poi session (warm up, free play, routines, and cool down).

The author of this guide, Dr. Kate Riegle van West, is an interdisciplinary artist with over 15 years experience teaching and researching poi. Her PhD on the health benefits of poi for older adults was the first rigorous scientific study on poi and health in the world. She is currently a poi health consultant, helping organizations implement and maintain poi programs. Kate is available for virtual and in person consultation regarding your poi program.



Finding the right poi

There are many different styles of poi, and unfortunately no "one size fits all"...different people like different poi. That being said, there a few things that work well for most rest home and hospital level residents.

Length (keep them short)

Short poi work best for residents sitting or lying down, as they are easier to wield and have less chance of hitting the arms of the chair or the resident themselves. A good length, from end to end, is from the palm of the hand to the elbow. This is long enough for residents who want a bit of length, but also easy to shorten (by either holding the poi more in the middle of the cord, or wrapping the cord around the hand) without tons of extra cord flopping around. 

Weight (keep them soft and light)

Light poi are less taxing on the muscles and also gentler if they happen to fly into your face. That being said, it is important for the poi to have a little weight, otherwise it is very difficult to sustain the momentum necessary to spin them. The best way to find the right weight balance is to simply experiment…throw some stuffing in there, add a bit of rice for weight, and give them a twirl. Adjust amounts based on personal preference. Whatever materials you are using, make sure to keep them soft (i.e. no tennis balls or other rigid objects!).

Grip (use a thick cord, and don't worry about a handle)

I’ve tried all kinds of knobs and knots and other devices for people to hold on to, and in the end the majority of residents prefer to hold on to the cord itself. This gives them the most freedom (they can hold the poi however they like, and make it whatever length they like). If you are making Maori style poi and are weaving a cord, make sure it is a thick braid. Thicker cord is easier to hold, especially for those with weak grip strength.

Example of Māori style poi. The cord is made of yarn, woven by retirement village residents. The head can be made from a plastic bag or plastic table cloth filled with anything soft and light, such as more plastic bags or pillow stuffing.

Example of sock style poi…it’s literally a sock! Sock poi require a little more weight than Māori poi in order to spin well. Try filling the head with other socks, or some stuffing and a little rice.

Encourage residents to get crafty! Poi making is a great activity for all ages and abilities. Alternatively, there are plenty of ready-made poi for sale online (just google something like "practice poi for sale").


Setting up the space

A well set up space will help ensure residents can enjoy the session and participate safely.

Leave plenty of space between chairs

Twirling poi takes up more room than most people anticipate. As a rule of thumb, leave space for an entire person in between each chair (i.e. if you are putting 2 chairs next to each other, make room for a third chair in between them, and leave that space empty). This will ensure residents have space to move around, and will also cause less alarm for residents who may be present but not participating (it can be frightening to have the poi from the person next to you whizzing close to your face!).  

Circle up

An ideal arrangement for the session is a circle, with the instructor seated in the circle amongst the residents. This arrangement fosters a unity within the group, as everyone can see everyone, and also ensures everyone can see the instructor. 

Set the groove

The right music can really set the tone for a session and keep the energy up. I highly recommend using music from the era of your residents that has a good groove. Some suggestions are Little Bitty Pretty One by Thurston Harris, Let’s Stay Together by Al Green, and Let’s Twist Again by Chubby Checker.


Warm up

It's important to warm up before beginning, as it primes the body for more vigorous movement and helps prevent injury. There are plenty of examples to draw on for warm up exercises (just google some version of "seated warm up exercises for seniors"), but below are a few examples for how to incorporate poi.

holding poi end to end

Around the world
Big arm circle in front of you, go both left and right

Hold poi over lap and twist/rotate torso left and right

Ceiling to toes
Reach up high, then bend over and touch poi to toes. Roll up through spine and repeat

holding poi normally

Let the head of the poi hang near the knee. Lift leg and the poi in unison, as if leg is being pulled up by the poi.

Make a rainbow with your arm in front of you, touching the poi to the ground on each side

Arm circle
Big arm circles on side of body. Forward and backward with each arm. Variation – pass the poi from hand to hand after each circle

Incorporating poi into the warm ups gets residents used to holding and maneuvering the poi. Explore some warm up moves of your own! There are so many ways to stretch the upper and lower body using one and two poi.


Free play

After warming up, 15 - 20 minutes of guided free play gives residents a chance to explore many different poi movements in a low stress atmosphere. The emphasis should be on enjoying the process and feeling of simply moving, rather than trying to get a movement "right".

Start small

Start with very simple movements, such as swinging the poi back and forth, or “stirring the pot” (making a circle parallel to the ground). These movements will build confidence and ease residents into full on spinning. 

Progress from one hand to two hands

It’s always a good idea to start with one hand. For example, you may begin the lesson with something simple as suggested above, such as: “let’s swing the poi back and forth.” You can then prompt them with “let’s try the other hand now.” Residents will naturally start with their dominant hand, so they may struggle a bit when you ask them to switch. After each hand has a turn, suggest trying both hands together.

Try all the variations

Remember that in addition to one hand and two hands, every poi movement can be explored in different planes with different timing and direction. Let’s continue with the example of swinging the poi back and forth. This motion could be done with one poi by your side or in front of you, high or low. When working with two poi, the poi could be swinging together (both left and both right) or the poi could be swinging opposite (poi heads meeting in the middle). Whatever the move, you can take note of which way the poi is moving, and where it is in space, and try a different variation.

Take cues from the residents

Residents are always coming up with new moves and variations, sometimes intentionally and sometimes accidentally! Keep looking around the room and don’t be afraid to follow the lead of one of your residents. It’s nice to give them some positive reinforcement without singling them out too much, such as “I like what you’re doing over there, that’s a great move! How about we all try spinning the poi over our head.”



Routines will give the lesson structure and give residents something to work toward, along with adding another dimension to the session through music and singing.

Choose a song residents know

A good starting place is a song residents know and love. Ask them what songs they like to sing, and then think about what poi movements might compliment the words and the rhythm.

Keep the movements simple

It’s a good idea to keep the bulk of the routine simple and repetitive, so residents of all abilities can partake. For those who want more of a challenge, offer some alternate movements (i.e. try with two hands instead of one, try a more complex movement such as figure 8 in place of a simpler movement).


Cool down

Cool down exercises bring closure to the session and provide a nice transition from vigorous poi twirling to post exercise relaxation.

Let the upper body relax

The upper body has worked hard! Do a few exercises to let those muscles relax, such as shaking out hands and arms, gently stretching the arm across the body, and rolling the shoulders. 

Focus on breathing

Taking some deep breaths in and out is a great way to relax and ground. Try incorporating a few simple Tai Chi movements with breathing, such as slowly raising the arms with a breath in, and slowly lowering the arms with a breath out.

Share a round of applause

Ending with a round of applause brings everyone together and ends the session on a high note. It also creates space for you to acknowledge how well each of the residents did during the session.

Need more help?

Dr. Kate Riegle van West is available for virtual or in person consultation. This may range from a short conversation to creating and implementing a full poi/aged care program tailored to your needs. For enquiries please message Kate at:

Need a bit of help learning poi? We are working on our own tutorial series, but for now, check out these great beginner tutorials from our friends PlayPoi.