Poi and Health

Research

The first research study and clinical trial on the effects of poi on physical and cognitive function in healthy older adults.

Poi Clinical Trial

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About the study…

 
As our lifespan lengthens and our aging population rapidly grows, quality of life in our latter years is of utmost concern. Simple and effective strategies for maintaining health in old age are urgently needed, and this study aims to discover if International Poi (a weight on the end of a cord swung in circular patterns around the body) may be one such strategy. It is the first study in the world to evaluate the effects of poi on physical and cognitive function in older adults. Have a look at the documentary below to see what the study is like, and how the participants are doing.
 



 

Learn more…

 

Methods | Pre- and Post-Tests | Lessons | Results | FAQ


 

Methods

An assessor-blind randomized controlled trial is underway with 80 healthy adults aged 60 years or older. Participants were randomly assigned to either the International Poi group (treatment) or Tai Chi group (control), and took part in 2 lessons a week for two month. Physical and cognitive function were measured before and after the lessons. The hypothesis being tested is: healthy older adults will experience an improvement in physical and cognitive function following training in either International Poi or Tai Chi, and these improvements will be greater for participants who complete International Poi training.

 

Pre- and post-tests

Participants’ balance, bimanual coordination, blood pressure, cognitive flexibility, complex attention, composite memory, grip strength, heart rate, lower body strength, manual dexterity, psychomotor speed, psychological well-being, and upper limb range of motion were measured a total of 4 times (before and after the poi or Tai Chi lessons). All tests were safe, non-invasive, and standard means of measuring physical and cognitive function. To learn more about the tests, click on the images below.

Balance

Balance

Bimanual coordination

Bimanual coordination

Blood pressure

Blood pressure

Cognitive function

Cognitive function

Grip strength

Grip strength

Heart rate

Heart rate

Lower body strength

Lower body strength

Manual dexterity

Manual dexterity

Psychological well-being

Psychological well-being

Range of motion: upper limb

Range of motion: upper limb



 

Lessons

International Poi lessons were taught by Kate Riegle van West, the principal investigator for this study. The lessons focused on exploring and controlling the timing, plane, and direction of the poi with an awareness of ones body in relation to the poi. This was done through specific movements, such as the figure 8, butterfly, chasing the sun, flowers, and pendulums.
 
The Tai Chi lessons, taught by Bruno Rubini (a full time Auckland area instructor with over 30 years of Tai Chi Chuan experience) guided participants through three phases of movements in each lesson: Energizing Joints (strengthening the joints and tendons through a specific set of movements), Silk Reeling, Chen Style (basic warm up movements to connect the upper and lower body) and Tai Chi Qigong Shibashi (using movements from the Yang style Tai Chi Chaun, with an emphasis on synchronizing 18 movements with proper breathing techniques).
 
lessons

 

Results

We are currently in the process of analyzing the quantitative data from round one of the study, but there are plenty of thoughts and stories to share in the mean time! Participants were asked to write down three words describing how they felt after each International Poi or Tai Chi lesson. See how their feelings evolved over the course of the month by clicking on the word clouds below (each word cloud represents one week). Participants were also asked a few questions after they had completed one month of lessons in either International Poi or Tai Chi. Here are some of their thoughts.
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Some positive thoughts on International Poi

  • – I am able to use my left wrist more freely. I am also focusing better, and learning to concentrate more and age in a positive way. A great exercise and I hope to continue with this.
  • – Doing poi I found cleared my head space. A very positive thing. Learning something new at this stage has been a very good experience for me.
  • – My shaking hand definitely improved. Felt positive overall after the lessons.
  • – Positive on flexibility, stress release, coordination and concentration. Totally, totally positive. Mental and physical.
  • – I think it has been helpful for my arthritic wrists. Helpful for coordination. Must surely be good for my brain with the split time movements and crossing the midline.
  • – Felt a sense of achievement. Made me more aware of using my left hand – i.e. now try to do more with my left hand like making a coffee, opening fridge door. Fun class so left feeling good. Made me realize it’s important to try new things even if not easy!
  • – Relaxation – even though I am concentrating on what I am trying to achieve with each move, I find it quite relaxing. I have enjoyed participating in the class, and would like to continue.
  • – I am positive that my coordination has improved since starting, although sometimes not as good as I would like, but to keep doing poi would continue the improvement.
  • – A rewarding feeling to achieve the following week what seemed impossible the week before! A stimulating experience. I feel lucky to have participated in a new form of exercise. I’d very much like to keep going.
  • – Brain was more alert for a few hours afterwards. Positive effect is that I realised my inability to use my left hand and I shall now work on that in other aspects of my everyday life.
  • – Motivation to improve. Pleased when I got it right. Enjoyed the challenge. I feel that my memory has improved and possibly multitasking as well.
  • – I felt good learning a new skill. It was challenging and I did feel myself improving in some moves which I thought I could never ever be able to do. It was an exciting experience.
  • – Realisation at coordination loss as part of the ageing progress. Poi is a gentle way at regaining some more coordination as well as exercising in a rotational manner.

Some International Poi challenges

  • – It was more difficult than I thought it would be as far as mastering the turns and keeping the poi in the correct place while turning. I really had to think hard to master some movements, mainly when both hands had to cross the midline together.
  • – I had sore wrists after the first class, then nothing after that. Also felt very uncoordinated and worried whether that would pass – it did!
  • – I was surprised that poi proved to be so difficult. I’d never actually tried it, but somehow thought it would be quite easy to master, having spent many years watching very young children perform with what I now realise was enormous skill.
  • – Fascinated by the ease of some tasks and the difficulty of others – even though they were derived or progressive tasks. There is much to explore in the field of health, strength, coordination, and aging.
  • – Had a little pain in my left hand initially, but it is ok now. Also had a lot of frustration when I realised my incompetence using the left hand. I thought my coordination would have been better. That was a bit stressful at the beginning!

Some positive thoughts on Tai Chi

  • – My balance has improved, my digestion has improved, and I am sleeping much better – I used to wake often during the night and now I wake feeling fresher. It was a good experience which I looked forward to each week.
  • – After 10 minutes Tai Chi before bed, I sleep better. It soothes the crazy mind. I concentrate better and my balance has improved.
  • – The niggling pain in my right gluteus has gone. Tai Chi is the new aerobics for me.
  • – Reminded to try to be centered – to come back to my core when distracted. Tai Chi is something that can be of value to all.
  • – Flexibility better. Core stronger. Mind a bit clearer. With time and more practice I feel I would become more strong, relaxed, and focused.
  • – Tai Chi helped me feel calm, slow my mind, and release the tension in my shoulders.
  • – Much calmer and more focused. Sleeping better. Fewer Aches and pains in joints – almost none. A general sense of well-being.
  • – I felt stress reduction and control over my mind and movement of limbs.
  • – Calmer for a short while – then back to usual. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.
  • – Balance appears better and my posture is improved – more aware of posture especially leaving class.
  • – Calmness, focus, relaxation. Enjoyed being in a similar age group of people all experiencing a new thing in their lives and enjoying the enthusiasm and commitment.

Some Tai Chi challenges

  • – Wasn’t expecting the meditative aspect of Tai Chi. I have not decided if it’s good / bad / useful – yet.
  • – It was hard to concentrate or slow down initially, but over time that improved
  • – Concentration is required to do Tai Chi, which is none at present!


 

Frequently asked questions

Why do you think International Poi might have an effect on health?
Poi contains a unique set of characteristics which have been proven, individually, to have a positive impact health. Poi is a physical activity which draws upon the key components of fitness and is highly customizable. Physically active lifestyles have been proven to reduce risk factors and improve functioning and quality of life in the elderly (Daley, 2000). Poi is intrinsically playful, and play is proven to have a vital role in keeping the mind and body young by presenting novel situations which foster cognitive innovation, adaptability, and flexibility; which in turn improves reflexes, memory, processing speeds, etc. (Brown, 2009). Poi is rhythmic, and active music therapy has a multitude of physical, mental, and emotional benefits (Drake, 2010). The rhythmic nature of poi can potentially tap into the same benefits as rhythmic, active, music therapy such as drumming. And activities such as juggling (Boyke, 2008) and Tai Chi (“The Health Benefits”, 2008), which share many characteristics with poi (e.g. ambidexterity, rhythm, and meditative movement) are proven to have a positive effect on maintaining both physical and cognitive ability in older adults.

Why did you choose Tai Chi for the control group?
Seeing as there is no known research on poi and health, we cannot compare a poi treatment group to a poi control group. Thus, I wanted to compare a poi treatment group to a control group which was participating in an activity closely related to poi, which also: 1) has both physical and cognitive dimensions, 2) is appropriate for older adults, and 3) has a substantial amount of scientific research proving its efficacy. Many activities were considered (such as juggling, ballroom dancing, and yoga) but ultimately Tai Chi was the best fit based on the methodology above.

I thought poi was Maori…why aren’t you using Maori poi in your study?
The focus of my research is to determine if the fundamental act of a weight orbiting on the end of a string has an impact on health. To do that, I believe it’s important to peal away as many layers as possible and start with the very basics: swinging a weight on a cord in circles. One of the things that make Maori poi unique is their inextricable link to Maori culture…you simply cannot study Maori poi without also studying Maori culture. I believe this depth is extremely valuable, and I would like to conduct future research on Maori poi, but International poi is a better fit for my research question, and it is also where my own expertise lies. If you would like to learn more about the different styles of poi, feel free to check out my about page.

Why did you choose a population of healthy older adults?
As the young-old balance shifts throughout the world, so does the prevalence of chronic disease, making elderly health and well-being an extremely important area of interest. I could have chosen many other populations to work with (people recovering from stroke, people with dementia), and I would like to conduct research on other populations in the future, but healthy older adults is a very relevant and timely place to start with the boom in our aging population. I am particularly interested if International Poi can contribute to prolonging quality of life and possibly delaying the onset of diseases that strike in old age.

 
 

Boyke J., Driemeyer J., Gaser C., Büchel C., and May A. (2008). Training-induced Brain Structure Changes in the Elderly. Journal of Neuroscience. 28. Doi: 7031-7035. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0742-08.2008

 

Brown, S. (2009). Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

 

Daley, M. & Spinks, W. (2000). Exercise, Mobility and Ageing. Sports Medicine. 29, 1-12.

 

Drake, M. (2010). The Therapeutic Effects of Drumming. Retrieved from: http://shamanicdrumming.com/drumtherapy.html

 

“The Health Benefits of Tai Chi” (2014). Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2009/May/The-health-benefits-of-tai-chi>.