Fit and Fearless: Motivation beyond PBs and weight loss

Thanks to my pal Sophie, I recently discovered the Fit and Fearless podcast. I began listening with an episode on pre- and post-natal training but rapidly began mining their backlist, enjoying episodes on working out when busy, nutrition and body confidence.

Listening to this podcast threw into focus thoughts that I’d been having about what motivates me and how I measure success, both in terms of my exercise routine and my diet.

the girl gains
@thegirlgains

Eating and exercising throughout pregnancy can be a bit of a minefield, and while I usually measure the success of my workout routine by how fast or far I can run, how heavy I can lift, or how many burpees I can do before collapsing, right now none of these measures are applicable. Similarly, I would ordinarily gauge my diet on how my clothes are feeling and cutting down on calorie-dense foods if my jeans were to get a bit tight. But at the moment pretty much all of my clothing is tight and, all being well, it will only get tighter. So what other measures should I be using to quantify my success and to keep myself motivated to continue training and steer clear of the tempting treats?

One of the messages I loved from Fit and Fearless is that success can just be about getting yourself to the gym (or by extension, to an exercise class/your yoga mat/the pool/into your trainers). Even if, on arrival, you decide it isn’t your day, by just scheduling the time and getting yourself there you are developing a routine, which in all likelihood will turn into a workout. I know that sometimes the hardest part of getting out on my lunchtime run is just getting into my gym kit. It’s so easy to continue sitting at my desk, responding to emails and letting the moment pass, but once I’m over that initial hurdle the actual act of going for a run is easy (well, easy-ish!).

The other thing that the podcast reminded me is that exercise should be about having fun and treating your body. I always feel better after a workout, even if all I can muster at the moment is a 3 mile walk/run around the park. Exercise gets the endorphins pumping and keeps me sane during a hectic day. It’s an opportunity for ‘me time’, a chance to clear my head and reset. I loved that in the body positive episode of Fit and Fearless the team talked about not just thinking about exercise as a means of burning x number of calories, but as a time to enjoy yourself and feeling strong. They promoted the idea of exercising with the real intention of focusing on being present in your body and not thinking about weight loss.

The other big message of both this and the pre- and post-natal fitness episode was that exercise shouldn’t be about what you look like, but rather it should be about what your body can do. I love this sentiment and I have to remind myself that what my body is doing is not only going for a 30 minute swim or a 45 minute spin class, but doing those things while also growing a human!

So how am I implementing these messages as part of my exercise routine, attitude to exercise and diet more generally?

1. I’m reminding myself that no matter how brief the session, exercising always makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel strong and empowered and reminds me that I run this body.

2. I’m committing to getting myself to the point of exercise, even if that fails to turn into a hard workout. If I walk instead of run, that’s ok, the important thing is staying in the routine of getting my trainers on and getting outside.

3. I’m eating mindfully and in a way that nourishes my body and not letting my rapidly expanding belly act as an excuse for overindulgence (which I have been doing!) instead, I’m asking myself if I feel good from what I’m eating, whether I’m getting plenty of nutrients from my diet and would I choose to eat x or y if I wasn’t pregnant.

4. Finally I’m reminding myself to enjoy this time: to enjoy being in my body and embracing the challenges it presents as well as knowing that now, more than ever, the imperative to be well nourished, fit and fearless is greater than ever.

Until my next, enjoy the Fit and Fearless podcast here and follow the girls @thegirlgains in Instagram and at http://www.girlgains.co.uk.

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Marathon mums

(image from netmums.com)

With marathon training season in full swing, I’ve been enviously looking on as my friends on Strava and Instagram crank up their weekly mileage. While on the one hand the talk of their long runs makes me want to sign up for a marathon immediately, on the other, the reality of my running form at the moment makes such a challenge seem further away than ever. Although it’s pretty tricky running through pregnancy, both my husband and I are very aware of the additional challenge that will come (we hope!) from trying to train with a baby. While we have heard horror stories of babies who have screamed for the entirety of a run from the comfort of an incredibly expensive running buggy (which was never used again), we also have lots of inspiring fit friends who seem to manage to combine being model parents with having model bodies.

One such friend, Jess, recently became a mum herself, and less than a year since giving birth she is now in the midst of training for the Paris marathon (a race we ran together back in 2015). Seeing her posts on Instagram and reading her blog really inspired me and made me want to absorb some of her knowledge and motivation in the hope that it might see me running marathons again in the future.

I wanted to write a post about a female powerhouse for International Women’s Day and this interview with Jess – doctor, runner, blogger and mum – seemed the perfect fit. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions on training during pregnancy, being a running mum and Paris marathon prep. I hope you find her as inspiring as I do. 2019 marathon anyone?!

What did your weekly exercise routine look like pre-pregnancy?

Before pregnancy I was training for the Santa Rosa Marathon (I found out I was pregnant the day after I ran it) so I was running 4 times a week, including speed/hill sessions and long runs of up to 20 miles. I‘d also started barre classes and was going about twice a week.

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How did you adapt your workouts during pregnancy?

I made sure I listened to my body and did what felt right. I hardly moved in the first trimester as I was so exhausted and just needed to rest. The idea of going for a run was horrific! Fortunately, the exhaustion settled and I started running again at 11 weeks. The runs were short and slow – 4 miles was my limit, I think.  I eventually stopped running at 26 weeks as it was uncomfortable (I always felt a lot of pressure on my pelvic floor and constantly needed to wee!) and stopped me from enjoying my runs. From then on I did lots of walking and pregnancy barre DVDs.

How did you feel about the changes to your body and fitness during pregnancy?

I was surprisingly OK with all the changes. Pre-pregnancy I thought I’d find it hard, but I just tried to focus on what I could do, rather than dwelling on what I couldn’t.

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At what stage and how did you start to rebuild your fitness after giving birth?

I had an emergency C-section so knew I had to give my body time to heal before starting to run and workout again. I started by walking daily. I felt very weak initially and walking a few miles was a real challenge. I gradually got stronger and went for my first run at 7 weeks. It felt great, however, after a few runs I noticed a pulling sensation around my scar. It wasn’t painful but also didn’t feel normal. I booked in with a women’s health physio for an assessment. She told me I was running too soon and needed to hold off for longer. I was really disappointed but deep down knew she was right. I started running regularly again at about 4 months post-partum. About the same time I started going to a CrossFit class called ‘Strong as a Mother’, which has been amazing. It focuses on core stability, mobility and strength for mothers and has definitely helped me get stronger.

When did you decide to set yourself the challenge of running another marathon after pregnancy?

All through pregnancy I knew I wanted to run a marathon in the first year postpartum. Pregnancy and motherhood is life changing and it can be easy to lose your sense of self amongst it all. Marathon running has been a passion of mine for almost a decade and I knew that training for a marathon would keep the ‘old Jess’ alive. I think I was scared that motherhood would mean no more marathons (at least for a long time) so setting myself the challenge of doing one in the first year was a good way to keep me running!

Why did this challenge appeal?

I love running marathons and I wanted to prove to myself motherhood didn’t need to stop me running them!

How do find fitting in your training around childcare?

I’m lucky because my husband works from home a lot so I run early in the morning or during nap times. I have to be ready to go as soon as the time is right, there’s no time to faff around! It can be tricky when my husband is travelling for work (sometimes for up to 4 nights at a time) but I just try to re-jig my schedule, call in some favours, or run with my heavy, non-running pram! I recently joined the local gym which has a crèche for babies over 6 months. I’m hoping that this will be a game changer when my husband travels as I can use the treadmill while Leo’s in the crèche.

So you haven’t been tempted by a running buggy?

So far I haven’t needed one as I’ve managed to schedule my runs without taking Leo. It would offer more flexibility so I’m tempted to get one, but they also take up loads of space in house which is probably why I’m holding off. It’s also nice to run on my own and have a break.

How does running feel now compared to pre-pregnancy?

It feels exactly the same, although I’m sure it helps that I had a C-section. The main difference is that I’m still slower than I used to be. I had to start from scratch and it’s only in the last few weeks that I feel like everything is coming together and I’m hitting the paces that I used to. I’ve got my endurance back, now I need to focus on speed!

How do you motivate yourself to get out for a run after a bad night’s sleep or a busy day of looking after Leo?

I’m not going to lie, if I’ve been up all night it’s tempting to press snooze and forget about running, but I try my best not to! I love the mantra ‘I get to run’, as it flips my mind set and reminds me that running is something I love, that I chose to do. I remind myself of how much I missed running when I was pregnant and how good I’ll feel after I’ve been. I also know that if I miss my run slot I probably won’t get another one that day which is usually enough to get me out of bed…

What does your current training plan look like?

I’m marathon training and run 4 times a week, including a long run at the weekend. I’ve just started to add in some speed work but I’m mainly focusing on getting my endurance back. I’m aware that a marathon is a big challenge this soon after having a baby so my focus is on enjoying the experience; speed can come later!

 

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What will be your next challenge after Paris?

Now I’ve got my endurance back, I want to improve my speed. I’m hoping to do an Autumn marathon (maybe Richmond) where I’ll be aiming for a PB!

Who are your fitspirations?

Charlie from The Runner Beans. She is so dedicated to her training and somehow manages to fit it around a crazy schedule. It’s really inspiring to see her smash her goals and it helps me believe I could do the same.

What would your top tips be for me as a pregnant runner and mum-to-be?

Enjoy a fit pregnancy but listen to your body and change your goals and expectations accordingly.

Remember that every pregnancy is different so there’s no point comparing yourself to other pregnant women, especially pregnant runners. Some can run up to their due date, while others have to stop much earlier. Everyone is different!

When the baby comes, get outside for some fresh air and movement every day. Even if it’s just a walk around the park, it will make you feel much better.

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Beware the judgemental eyebrow, ditch the hot baths and go decaf: Lessons from a 17 week pregnant running vegan

(Image © babycentre.co.uk)

The other day it really struck me: there is another human being growing inside me. At this very moment, there is a future person dwelling in my ever-expanding uterus, coming to work with me, bobbing up and down on my runs, getting shifted around as I do yoga, hanging out with me as I hang out with friends and enjoying (in it’s own way) everything I eat and drink. And all being well, at some point in the not so distant future, that little being will walk and talk out here in the world. I know all of this is glaringly obvious, but at the same time it’s really weird and totally amazing.

As week 16 comes to a close and I’ve started to look pretty pregnant, I’m finally beginning to let myself hope and believe that this (not so) little bump will become a healthy baby. So what have I learned and experienced over the past weeks (aside from anxious excitement!)?

1. Morning sickness is a misnomer

While some people escape morning sickness altogether, for me it was more of an all day nausea. While it was pretty rough, I was lucky that it only lasted from about week 7 to week 13. Beige food really helped during this time and my go-to meals became porridge, avocado on crackers, peanut butter and apple on rye toast, butternut squash risotto and (bizarrely) vegan curry. I found myself trying to sneak veggies into my meals where I could stomach it, made sure I took my pregnancy vitamins plus a vitamin b complex and daily dose of liquid iron, but if I’m honest it wasn’t my finest few weeks in terms of nutrition. When it passed and I started fancying salad again it was amazing and I welcomed back all of the vegetables with open arms! Now I’m pretty much back to my usual diet with the addition of a 4pm banana or Trek bar snack and maybe the occasional weekend piece of vegan cake (because right now it’s hard to tell baby from belly!).

2. Get ready to slow down and get breathless

I would compare the tiredness of pregnancy with the feeling you get on a Sunday afternoon having done a long run that morning: one minute you’re fine and the next you’re flat out asleep on the sofa, still fully dressed. The benefit of this is that you sleep like a baby (or like a pregnant woman), and during the first trimester I’d be tucked up in bed fast asleep by 9:30 pm.

I’ve also found that I have an in-built slowdown mechanism that kicks in during pregnancy runs and prevents me from going much faster than 8.50 minute miles, but often sees me much closer to 9.30s. I have taught myself to embrace this sedate pace and enjoy the fact that I’m still able to run, rather than worrying about how fast I’m going.

There is also an, initially alarming, breathlessness that comes with being pregnant. In early pregnancy the boost in progesterone causes breathlessness, while later the baby pushing up on your diaphragm and lungs has the same impact. It is still pretty disconcerting finding myself out of puff having only walked up the stairs, but at least I know now what’s causing it and that it’s not indicative of a sudden dramatic drop-off in fitness!

3. Keep moving

Despite being slow and breathless, I still feel best in my body while I’m working out. I’m still able to run 4 or 5 times a week (normally between 3 and 8 miles, but if I have to cut a run short due to discomfort I don’t beat myself up about it), I still do yoga every morning (with some adjustments to allow for the bump) and I’m trying to fit in at least one weights session at the gym a week.

It’s recommended that you don’t take up new sports during pregnancy and that you avoid high-risk and contact sports, but if you worked out before you became pregnant, and still feel ok exercising, then generally there is no need to stop. If you have any doubts or concerns do check with your doctor or midwife and make sure you always listen to your body; if you feel uncomfortable or if something twinges take a step back or call it a day. Exercise at this time should be for general physical and mental wellbeing rather than for any particular goals, so it’s silly to push yourself unnecessarily (that’s what I have to keep reminding myself anyway!).

4. Treat yourself to maternity wear

While in the grand scheme of things you’re only pregnant for a short time, while you are living it, 9 months feels like an age. Now my body is dramatically changing shape I’ve made the decision to treat myself to some new pregnancy-body essentials: underwear (including non-underwired bras, which are a must for growing breast tissue, as well as sports bras, not least as mine have become slightly indecent in light of my recent growth spurt!), maternity jeans (I’ve received two hand-me-down pairs from a good friend of mine and they are the most comfortable things ever! They are still a little big for me at the moment but I don’t doubt I’ll grow into them), and some stretchy skirts and dresses for work. I’m also on the lookout for some over the bump smart black trousers for work so if anyone has any recommendations do pass them on.

While I don’t want to spend a lot of money on clothes that I’m only going to wear for a limited time, I do still want to feel like myself and attractive* (*or at least not like an enormous frump!). At a time when you are feeling more than a little ill at ease in your body – getting used to your new lumps and bumps, and accepting and trying to embrace a larger belly and breasts –  the last thing you want is to feel uncomfortable and self-conscious in your clothes as well as your skin. While I don’t condone fast fashion or materialism, I do think it’s ok to treat yourself to a few new pieces that will keep you feeling good throughout your pregnancy.

5. Don’t play the comparison game

If you Google ’16 week baby bump’ (and I have, many times) the range in the size of bumps and bodies is dramatic. This is a good reminder that every body and every pregnancy is different. While at first I was very anxious to ascertain if I was growing at a ‘normal’ rate and regularly comparing myself with friends at a similar stage of pregnancy, I’ve come to realise that this is really unhelpful. We all grow at different rates and in different places. I feel massive at the moment, especially compared to my tiny friends, but I’m hoping that the growth will come in fits and starts and that I won’t be totally humongous come August! I also know that many women worry about not growing quickly enough in early pregnancy and are concerned that their bumps are too small, so it’s important to remember that one size most certainly doesn’t fit all.

6. Your body will become public property

While you are going through these changes, and trying to get used to them yourself, be prepared for an onslaught of personal, body-related comments from others. Apparently when you are pregnant you are fair game in this regard, who knew?! Some days it will feel like everyone has something to say about your growing body, and not everyone will be tactful about it. Some people will use sensitive euphemisms such as ‘bloom’ and ‘glow’, while there will be others whose comments fall wide of the tact mark (‘I thought you’d put on weight’ and ‘wow you’re so big’ are a couple that I have been treated with). The only thing you can do is try to remain confident in your body and feel proud that you are growing another human (!!!), which will inevitably involve some changes in your shape.

I’ve certainly had a lot of insecure moments lately – my rib cage has pushed out making me feel a lot wider, I’ve gone from being practically flat chested to having a serious rack, any sign of abs that I had are a distant memory and side-on I’m now positively ‘deep’ – but I’m trying to own my new shape and remain focused on the bigger picture (not just my bigger belly!).

7. Beware the judging eyebrow

While the body comments can be taken with a pinch (or two) of salt, the judgemental raised eyebrow, which accompanies observations about your lifestyle choices and what you should, or more often, shouldn’t, be doing, can cut a little closer to the bone. Whether it’s a comment on your exercise regime (‘are you sure you should be running’), diet (‘but you’ll give up veganism now you’re pregnant, right?’), your holidays (‘but you didn’t actually ski did you?’), or your decision to drink one of the two the NHS-approved cups of caffeinated tea a day (‘don’t you want decaf?’) it’s amazing how suddenly judgemental the world seems to be.

Although I know that as a pregnant woman there is a seemingly infinite list of dos and don’ts, when I do make a decision it is usually after an agonisingly long conversation with my husband/mum/sister/mother-in-law/midwife and much careful consideration, not just on the spur of the moment. That said, I also live in permanent fear that I will do something that may damage the baby – should I have used a hot water bottle when i had that stomach ache? Was my bath cool enough? Was that swimming pool water too warm? How long was I asleep on my back before I woke up and realised? Am I getting too stressed at work?  – so rest assured all of you with the raised eyebrow, I don’t need external judgement to send me into a tailspin over whether I’m doing things ‘the right way’.

While I still haven’t mastered turning the other cheek to the judgemental eyebrow, the best advice I can offer is to do things in a considered way, seek advice from those you trust, do your research and feel confident that what you are doing is right for you.

***

If anyone else is going through pregnancy at the moment I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. Until my next, happy growing!

Fit friends: My secret weapon for winter training

When it’s cold, dark and rainy in the winter months it’s really easy to let your motivation for exercise slide. A lunchtime run suddenly seems less appealing when it involves getting soaked through, and the pool seems less alluring when it’s subzero outside. What I find makes things even trickier is the running routes I frequent during the summer become more difficult to navigate in the winter. I don’t like to run home alone along the canal in the dark, many of the parks I like to lap close at 5pm and the off-road routes become so muddy underfoot that I end up walking sections to avoid slipping over.

IMG_2840 (1)While I could use all of this as an excuse to bed down until Spring, I’m making the effort to dig deep and keep going with my training, allowing my fitness routine to take a slightly different form to account for the season. And although my weekly mileage is down, my yoga hours, pool and gym times are all up and I’m focusing on building strength and flexibility alongside a toned down version of my usual cardio.

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Each evening, my good intentions see me packing my swim/run/yoga kit ready for the following day, but what has been really helping me to get out of the door for an exercise session is having training buddies on hand, who are already kitted up and waiting for me outside.

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It’s so much easier to get to the gym or out for a run when you have someone to go with. I’m so lucky that my friends at work are also keen to keep fit throughout the winter and we can all head from the office to the gym/pool/yoga class, or else enjoy a lunchtime run together. And we have a mutual understanding that once we are working out we all follow our own programmes, so there’s no chatting by the water fountain or long rests in the weights room!

Fitfluencers

If you haven’t got fit friends at the ready to keep you on the straight and narrow, I also find following ‘fitfluencers’ on social media really helps. I find it hard to see other people leading an active life and exercising without being taken over by the urge to exercise myself!

On Instagram I love Alice Liveing, Shalane FlanaganCharlotte Kalla, Samantha Gash, Kaisa MakarainenA Pretty Place to Play, The Runnerbeans, Running with Mo Yogi Bare, Tina Muir, Alex Puccio and Shauna Coxsey.

Podcast persuasion

Another great way to make sure I get out for a run is to download a podcast episode I really want to listen to, but only allow myself listen while on a run. Running and fitness podcasts, such as Run to the a Top from Runners Connect, Marathon Talk and Rich Roll are great to stay focused, but I also love escaping run chat with the High Low, This American Life or Reasons to be Cheerful.

Strava stats

Accountability and a little healthy competition with myself also helps keep me going, which is why I love tracking my runs on Strava. It’s a great way to keep an eye on my mileage and gauge how I’m getting on, but I’m also aware that my  running data is public so I can’t slack off too much in case my stats become conspicuous by their absence!

Home workouts

I love at-home, early morning workouts and during the winter these really help to get me going for the day. YouTube is a cornucopia of great yoga videos – I love Sarah Beth Yoga, Yoga with Adrienne and Boho Beautiful – but workout apps are also great for short, focussed fitness sessions. I’m currently using Power 20 Prenatal fitness app, but before this I loved the Weight Loss Fitness app – both free to download.

If you are struggling with winter workouts, or if you have other hints and tips to keep on track when it’s wet and cold outside do let me know.

Now I just need to go out for my Sunday run…

Until my next, happy running.

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Ski Slovenia

I was introduced to skiing by my husband 2 years ago and fell in love.

As an expensive holiday we haven’t been able to go as often as we would like, but this year we took the opportunity to book a last minute trip to Slovenia for some skiing, hiking and sightseeing.

While Slovenia may not seem the obvious first choice for a ski holiday, a recommendation from a Slovenian friend combined with a bit of research and the availability of £80 return flights to Ljubljana (albeit at 6am in the morning) confirmed our decision to book.

There were a number of ski resorts to choose from but we settled on Kranjska Gora, an alpine resort situated in northwestern Slovenia, near the mountains and glacial lakes of Triglav National Park, approximately 5 miles from Austria to the north and 10 miles from Italy to the west. Getting there couldn’t have been easier; a straightforward one hour drive from the airport (in a very reasonably priced hire car) without any of the perilous, steep and winding roads that I associate with getting to Austrian and French resorts.

We chose the perfect time to travel too, arriving to a gentle downfall of snow, a forecast of sun and further snow showers and daytime temperatures of 0 to -4 for the week ahead.

Our hotel was even prettier than the  picture and our room was just perfect – big but really cosy, with a balcony and a beautiful view of the mountains, a sofa, coffee table and plenty of space to read and relax when we weren’t skiing.

The hotel also went out of their way to make sure I had plenty to eat for breakfast everyday, buying in soya milk, vegan cheese, vegan butter and three flavours of soya yogurt, not to mention the extensive range of cereals, fruit, nuts and seeds, breads and jams.

The resort was picturesque, with wooden-fronted chalets lit up with fairy lights. There were plenty of cosy little restaurants and cafes, sports and souvenir shops, stalls serving mulled wine and waffles, a well-furnished supermarket and a pool with a spa (where we may have treated ourselves to a swim and a massage!).

 

Our hotel was only a short walk to the slopes but there were also lockers directly next to the piste so we could leave our skis, poles, helmets and boots at the end of each day and stroll back through town in the comfort of our walking boots.

All of the pistes were below the tree line, offering a stunning alpine, snow-topped landscape wherever you looked. I love being outside and this, almost too perfect setting, combined with the gorgeous mountain air, made getting out everyday irresistible! We were even lucky enough to have warm sunshine on a couple of days, allowing us to sit outside the mountain huts for a hot drink or snack during our breaks, but even taking the lifts up the slopes was made pleasurable as it gave you the opportunity to enjoy the the views.

The runs were graded blue, red and black, with some of the blue routes beginning as red runs. As a second-time skier the resort was perfect for me. I was happy to spend the first few mornings on the blue button and chair lifts, taking lessons to get me back up to speed, while R was able to go off and ski the black runs at the other end of the resort. We would then ski the reds together for the rest of the day, with the occasional stop for a hot drink and some leg rest.

The pistes were open 9am to 4pm and we were on the first lifts everyday. There was also night skiing available every evening from 7pm to 10pm.

We only went one evening and while it was really fun it was pretty busy and there were a lot of kamikaze kids which meant that it wasn’t quite as relaxing as the daytime runs! Still, I enjoyed the incredible full-body workout offered by skiing during the days and was certainly aching by the end of it.

If you are looking for a picture-perfect resort for up to 5 days of skiing, provisions for cross-country and night skiing and a chance to watch ski jumpers in training at Planica, which is just a 15 minute drive away, some spa time, a beautiful little village with lots of delicious restaurants that are more than happy to cater for vegetarian and vegan tastes, then I can’t recommend this resort highly enough.

 

There is also some great hiking nearby and a short walk away from town is the beautiful Lake Jasna, which is well worth a visit.

Skiing holidays are such a unique experience and I feel so lucky that we were able to discover this little gem of a resort. While we were too sad to leave I hope we will return!

The art of good health

(image © David Shrigley)

Art helps us access and express parts of ourselves that are often unavailable to other forms of human interaction. It flies below the radar, delivering nourishment for our soul and returning with stories from the unconscious […] Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane.
Grayson Perry

While a large proportion of my physical and mental health is sustained through time spent running, swimming, practicing yoga and going to the gym, there is another element of my general wellbeing that is nourished through the arts. Whether it is in the hours spent wandering around an art gallery or lost in a book, at a life drawing class or choir practice, the moments when I engage with the art world bring me a sense of total peace, joy, presence and fulfilment.

Over the past year I have found myself thinking more and more about the positive role that the arts can play in our mental and physical health. To this end, last summer I set up a life drawing course at work. With funding support from our staff Wellbeing Committee, the group was established with the primary goal of taking colleagues away from their desks and into a creative space where they could engage in the moment through a practice distinct in pace and style from their everyday job. In these classes the process of drawing – being creative and present, looking, seeing and recreating shapes and forms – served as a meditative and mindful process, with the success of the class being measured as much by the feelings and reflections of the participants, as by the results of charcoal on paper.

This class is, of course, only a tiny fraction of a much wider and ever-growing movement from within the the arts and cultural heritage sector to consider the role that the sector can play within the field of health and wellbeing.

the arts can reconstruct you
© David Shrigley

In 2014 an All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing was launched to discuss developments and policy in the field of arts and health. Two years later, the group published an almost 200 page report entitled Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing in which they assert that:

More and more people now appreciate that arts and culture can play a valuable part in helping tackle some of the most challenging social and health conditions. Active participation in the visual and performing arts, music and dance can help people facing a lonely old age, depression, or mental illness; it can maintain levels of independence and curiosity and […] it can bring great joy and so improve the quality of life for those engaged.

This paper offers a formal acknowledgement of a shift within the sector surrounding the question of who arts and heritage spaces are for and how they can serve audiences beyond the traditional academic and curatorial visitors. Within the gallery world there are signs that institutions are increasingly keen to schedule health and wellbeing initiatives into their programming. Manchester Art Gallery, for example, have a whole of section of their programme dedicated to wellness, with events to encourage visitors to engage with arts mindfully and wellbeing tours of their galleries.

These, and other initiatives hosted within both arts, care and clinical settings, are designed to be expressive, restorative, educational and therapeutic, working preventively, to enhance recovery, or to improve the quality of life for people with long-term or terminal conditions. Here the arts can play an important role in giving patients a greater sense of self; as Eva Okwonga notes in Creative Health:

Artistic self expression gives participants an identity beyond illness.

Programming around dementia is also increasing, as Nicci Gerrard highlighted in her Guardian article last year, pointing to projects including the Wellcome Foundation’s Dementia Research projectManchester Camerata’s Music in Mind, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Music for a While and the Alzheimer’s Society’s Singing for the Brain. As Gerrard observes:

Dementia is an area where the arts can radically enhance quality of life by finding a common language and by focusing on everyday, in-the-moment creativity.

This is a sentiment shared by Lord Howarth of Newport, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group, who stated that:

The arts have a vital role to play for people with dementia. Research demonstrates that visual arts, music, dance, digital creativity and other cultural activities can help to delay the onset of dementia and diminish its severity.

the arts can help you see
© David Shrigley

Meanwhile, organisations such as the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing and London Arts in Health Forum, have been brought to the fore in recent years, at their hearts the belief that:

By supplementing medicine and care, the arts can improve the health of people who experience mental or physical health problems. Engaging in the arts can promote prevention of disease and build wellbeing.

Working in the arts and cultural heritage sector myself, with a passion for art and an interest in health and wellness, this movement fills me with so much hope and excitement. The growing possibility that through the arts – be they visual, practical, musical, theatrical or literary – we can work together to promote health, happiness and wellbeing and that we can help people through times of distress, illness and trauma, has to be a positive thing.

I want to finish with this quote from Nicci Gerrard:

Art can be medicine, for body and soul.

 

2017. A good year.

I wasn’t quite sure how best to follow my last post, hence the recent hiatus in writing. I was reflecting on this last week while browsing through pictures on my ‘phone and it struck me that while that one awful event did cast a long shadow over elements of last year, on the whole I had a really rather good 2017.

Looking at these pictures filled me with such happiness, love and gratitude for all the amazing people in my life and the fantastic opportunities that have come my way. And while I know my friends sometimes laugh at my desire to ‘snap’ everything, looking back over pictures of the year I was so pleased that I’d captured so many great moments.

So to counterbalance the sobriety of my last post, this is a lighthearted recap of 2017; the unadulterated best bits!

January

Mr S and I started the year with our traditional, rather chilly, New Year’s Day walk, followed by cups of tea in the Breakfast Club to warm up afterwards.

January also saw a reunion of my hens. We went to see Kinky Boots, danced to awful music and drank many, many cocktails.

February

In February I went on a weekend trip to Brussels with my wonderful Abbeville Road girls. We enjoyed sightseeing, great art, strong beer and most importantly, lots of quality time together chatting and generally putting the world to rights.

I also started the year with PBs in both my half marathon (1:47:08) and 10km (48:08) as part of the Victoria Park race series.

March

In March I went on a residential leadership course with Clore, where I learned more about myself in a week than I had done in years prior and met some of the most inspiring and supportive people I’ve ever known.

I also marched with these amazing ladies to raise money for the Royal Marsden hospital.

April

In April I went to Chicago for a work trip and had the opportunity to catch up with my favourite snail running buddy who now lives State side. We went running, bowling, spent time at the Art Institute of Chicago (one of my favourite places) and he introduced me to margaritas!

April also saw a trip to Tate Britain for the David Hockney show and to the top of Tate Modern for a view of London with some of our wonderful pals who were visiting from Manchester…

…and we went to Sheffield to meet my friend Kathryn’s little girl, Rose, for the first time.

May

In May I went to Wembley with these great guys…

and we celebrated my father-in-law’s wedding in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.

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June

June saw us in New York and Philadelphia for a friend’s wedding, as well as plenty of sightseeing, art galleries and the mandatory bagel or two!

Back in the UK, June was also the month of my sister’s baby shower and when I met beautiful baby Leo, the son of my family friend and running inspiration, Jess.

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And it was the month R cycled the first leg of the Tour de Yorkshire while I manned the support team with these great guys.

July

In July I ran away to Portugal with my polo girls to celebrate a 30th birthday and to enjoy some sun, inflatables and general nonsense.

And from Portugal to the Peaks for a fabulous family getaway.

August

August marked the arrival of a new member of our family, baby Frankie, as well as the birth of my friend Lucy’s son Arthur.


It saw me in the Wilderness (well at Wilderness festival at least) for my first ever festival.


As well as bouncing off giant inflatables at the Olympic pool in Stratford.


I enjoying Raphael and time well spent in Oxford with my pal Georgina. We went on a visit to the seaside and enjoyed a visit from these chaps.

September

In September I went on my first ever vegan cookery course, walked in the Malvern hills with my wonderful friends and even braved some outdoor swimming.


Mr S and I also celebrated our wedding anniversary and my 32nd birthday at Lake Como with lots of hiking and even more Prosecco!


September also saw us back in Oxford for the wedding of these fabulous folks.

 

October

In October I enjoyed some time in Stoke with my favourite boys, and headed out to Frankfurt for the book fair.

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I did yoga at the top of the Shard with my fabulous pal Sophie, and we also enjoyed the Om Yoga show, London Veg Fest and Birmingham half marathon together!


October also saw a beautiful autumnal trip to Kew with these beautiful girls.

November

In November Mr S and I watched the fireworks in Clissold Park and went walking in Epping Forest.

We visited my sister-in-law and family in Leeds and enjoyed a beautiful stroll in Roundhay Park.

I ran a study day with my Clore team at Alexander Palace, a pop-up life drawing class at the Museum’s Association Conference in Manchester and went on an introduction to art therapy course in Angel.

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I was reunited with my home girls for a pampering day of face masks, nail varnish and lots of hot tub action, and met another wonderful addition to our family, baby Alexander.

December

In December I celebrated Christmas…on several occasions.

We went to the theatre to see the Ferryman with mum and dad and I saw the Modigliani show at Tate Modern, Dali/Duchamp at the RA and Graphic Design at the Wellcome.

We went walking in Yorkshire, spent lots of time with our wonderful families and played many, many boardgames!

And then the year ended, with fireworks and fabulous friends on a rooftop in Clapham Junction.

So all in all, a pretty amazing 12 months. 2018 has a lot to live up to!