On fire for exercise

Megan Ham

Peoria’s Bradley Park was shining bright June 22, as the fire poi performance group, known locally as Luxorbis, kept its weekly tradition burning.

Armed with an old and brightly colored, tattered sock weighted with six ounces of rocks, poi instructor and group leader Joe Spanier began his lesson.

Poi can be described as an exercise for the mind through a series of consistent and almost robotic arm movements involving weighted socks and, after mastering basic movements, can involve fire-lit balls attached to Kevlar rope.

The foundations of poi stem from centuries ago in New Zealand, in which the Maori people used the art to hone their upper body strength and poise for everything from combat to dance performances.

Poi is closely related to yoga and requires the same ability to concentrate and visualize.

The fire poi group consists of about six other brave followers who are avid poi and fire poi followers. 

“Most of them start spinning fire when they feel comfortable after several months of poi practice, ” Spanier said. 

No one in the group has ever been seriously burned, but that does not stop them from taking every precaution available. 

“We never fire spin alone. It’s like swimming alone. You don’t do it,” Spanier said. 

The group takes fire poi very seriously, and a wet towel is always feet away from the spinners.

“Fire is the most destructive thing on earth and you have to respect it,” he said. 

The 23-year-old printed a brochure for his class, advertising that people who practice yoga and poi regularly see increased self-esteem, strength and reduced stress levels. 

Spanier said he is no exception.

Poi was introduced into Spanier’s life nine years ago, when he was told by his doctor that he would need to undergo intense back surgery by the age of 22 due to a curved and uneven spinal cord.

At the time, touching his hands to his knees was painful and nearly impossible. 

Determined to avoid his medical fate, he turned to a more holistic approach and has since practiced yoga and poi weekly.

Spanier said it has helped him in both his professional and personal lives.  

“It’s helped me become more outgoing,” he said.

“I used to be one of those kids who would hide in the corner, but once you start becoming successful at poi, you’re learning something not a lot of people know.”

Spanier said everyone is capable of learning the basic movements of poi, although according to him, he is still a student to the many forms and routines of poi.

Spanier is studying to earn his engineering degree at Illinois Central College through Southern Illinois University’s outreach program and works full-time in East Peoria at Caterpillar Inc. 

“I’m a lot happier than I was before poi. Five or six years ago, I was a totally different person,” said Spanier. 

“It helps you to see the bright side of life because it has a lot to do with praising life,” he said. 

“I think a lot of people get caught up in the miniscule things in life. Poi really focuses on teaching you to look past those things.”

Spanier said he hopes to continue teaching poi and fire poi for as long as his back will allow. 

For more information on class time, visit http://namastewellnessstudio.com/the-studio/