Brace yourselves. Alex and I have a confession to make.
We have both found The One.
Not that One. The other one. Exercise. We feel stronger, healthier, more balanced and sleep better. What’s not to love?
Once upon a time, the thought of bounding out of bed early to fit in a gym session or quick run filled me with abject horror. Those fitness classes in the park where you’re barked at my military personnel inspired genuine terror. The gym I eyed askance as a place where where my soul would go to shrivel. I listened, agog, as people told me of the joy of running, or the rewarding slog of training for a triathlon and the thrill of beating your own time. There I stood, in a state of awe and wonder – impressed, yes, but also baffled. Who were these people?
(Please note that this is no obstacle to friendship. On the contrary, I am drawn to the impressive nature of those who bestir themselves to such sporting lengths. One of my dearest friends, Katie, is a proper runner. I met Emma on holiday last year and liked her immediately, despite the fact that she willingly elected to go running in the searing Greek heat. It’s all so impressive I was almost tempted.)
Almost. But then, work/tidying/cooking/whatever book I am currently reading/the children call and I went back to my usual ways. I am not inactive. On the contrary, I am one of those people who spent their childhood being told to stop fidgeting and sit still, and I still do everything at a mile a minute. Like most parents I know, I run around like a loon. and, just like Alex when she lived in London, I walk everywhere. And, whilst I enjoy chocolate/wine/a cinnamon bun as much as the next woman (particularly if the next woman is Alex and we’re meeting in Gail’s for the one of the aforementioned buns), I also love healthy food. So, you know, it was good enough.
But then something changed. It wasn’t a Damescene conversion, more the cumulative effect of various factors. Getting older. Being seriously ill after I had my son and noticing how my body was simultaneously weakened and yet incredibly resilient. Having children – by which I mean not only pregnancy and breastfeeding (it still impresses me that the female body can grow and sustain another human being); but the renewed appreciation this gave me for my body. What it had done. What it could do. How it survived and healed and is now imperfectly perfect. And also that I want my children to see that we respect our bodies, look after them, feed them well, treat them on occasion, and help them to be strong.
(This is genuinely when my yoga practice looks like at the weekend. He is definitely better than I am when it comes to a downward dog.)
So there was that. Less profoundly I also – after years of not-trying and strenuous avoidance – finally discovered a form of exercise which spoke to me and – more crucially – that I could fit into my life: yoga. I’ve flirted with itsince my twenties, when I started Ashtanga in a local church hall. Since then, I’ve been to trendy London classes where everyone was svelte, blonde and looked like they might be famous. Envisaged my baby ‘floating happily in my belly’ during pregnancy yoga (with baby no. 1. With baby no. 2 I was too busy with work and baby no. 1). Attempted to commit to a weekly yoga class post-baby-no.-2, which required my husband not to have any work commitments on a Wednesday night so he could sprint home and take over bath and bed, allowing me to power walk to the class (bonus unlooked-for exercise). It was tricky to make it a habit.
And then it happened. I met The One. Her name is Juliana. She is kind and calm, with the lilting tones of an American-by-way-of-the-Ukraine angel. She is lithe, toned, tanned and may just have the most phenomenal body I have encountered in close proximity. She never hectors, but gently encourages. She is available around-the-clock, whenever I need her. She is Boho Beautiful and three times a week (ideally), we rendez-vous in my living room. I throw back the rug, roll out my yoga mat and choose a mix of YouTube videos featuring yoga and Pilates with a cardio section (to get my heart rate up).
It works for me. It fits in with my life. I usually do it after the kids are abed whilst supper is cooking, but I can also it after the nursery/school run, or – at the weekends – with the children. “This is so easy,” says my daughter, doing her own version of the crow pose (or whichever position I am attempting to hold whilst also remembering to breathe). My three-year-old son might think plank position is an excuse to clamber on my back, but with the astonishing flexibility of extreme youth, does an effortless downward dog. They think it’s fun. They don’t realise the importance of the subtext. But I know –and it makes me happy.
Alex revealed one of her many talents when we discussed finding our exercise The One. She used to event in her teens (yes, I had to look that up). “I did a snowboarding season,” she continues, impressing me anew, “and dabbled with running. But, it was very much ‘dabbled’. Short runs on my own, which, inevitably, I got bored with and stopped, or got a stitch and then stopped. In my twenties, I ran quite maybe 2-3 times a week, but again it was on my own and probably about 30 mins max, not particularly fast. I loved doing it outside and just being outside was enough, although I never pushed myself. After I had kids I ran occasionally, but, again, on my own, not for long, around the park once or something like that.”
Her conversion was two-fold: country living and running with friends. That received wisdom about finding yourself an exercise buddy? Totally works for her.
“I properly fell in love with running when I moved to the country and started running with friends. It makes the WORLD of difference. I love it. Because you are running with others, you just keep on going. We take a map, go off piste and discover all these beautiful places that are just on our doorstep, whilst gossiping all the way. I’ve gone from not very far, not very fast, often stopping to regularly running 7-10k at a weekend. On Sunday we did 9.2k in the sleet and mud, across boggy fields and up muddy wood paths and it was amazing. We also do ‘races’ together. I’ve run two 10k’s now and feel a proper high for having done them. I’m considering a half marathon. Running outside is hands down the best thing for me mentally and physically. There is nothing quite like going running on a beautiful summer’s morning or evening with your heart pumping and your legs aching. My husband and I now even sometimes go on a run as a ‘date’!”
Getting the Kit Right
Once you find the One, you want to look the part.
1.Sleek energising sports jacket with hood, £80, Elle Sport; 2. Palm print leggings (capri version as long have sold out), £25.60, Biba; 3. ‘You Don’t Know Squat’ tank top, £14.36, Reebok; 4. Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley; 5. Mesh trim bralet, £20, Biba; 6. Elle Sport Performance vest, £42; 6. Neom Energy Burst body wash, £16; 7. Elle Sport leggings, £50
Running: The Essential Gear
Other than a sports bra and trainers, which should be fitted in a specialist shop, and replaced every 450-500 miles, you will need…
Leggings. I, quite possibly, can’t emphasise enough how I much I LOVE running leggings. Not only can you wear them ACTUALLY RUNNING, you can also wear them to do the school run, even if you have no intention of doing any exercise that day whatsoever. Obviously, it’s personal preference, but I love brightly patterned leggings, often with mesh inserts. They have to be high-waisted, made of sturdy fabric to suck you in and look like they’ve been dreamed up by someone who went on a rave in the ’90s and never quite made it back. Heaven. In the summer, when not running through brambles, these can be replaced by shorts.
Vests. Because of the loudness of the legs, I tend to go for plain, yet often brightly coloured vests. Although I do also run in black tops. I don’t like sleeves as they get quite hot, so a vest really is the best option, a long line one to cover the bum even better.
A Running Jacket. It’s cold at this time of year, so you will need a jacket. It’s also a good option for keeping a key and a phone in a pocket. Go for a slimline one (too much fabric is annoying) with a hood for rainy days. The Elle Sport one is super-flattering and also covers the bum (hurrah!) If you’re running when it’s nearly dark, then a reflective coat is a good idea.
Optional extras. In deepest, darkest winter running gloves and a band to cover your ears are recommended – otherwise you may end up with earache. I am also partial to a bum bag. Don’t coil away in horror, they’re great for stashing keys, a map, money and a phone. If you like running with music, invest in bluetooth headphones.
Yoga: The Essential Gear
Leggings. Some people can do yoga in free-flowing trousers that yogis of old tended to wear. I am not one of those people. Yoga demands contortion and I demand the power of leggings to suck me in. When I’m attempting to hold a posture, it’s enough to remember to breathe, I don’t want to worry about my trousers flapping around, sliding down my waist, or riding up my calves. I want them to STAY PUT (and if they can hold in my stomach whilst they’re at it, all the better). Unlike Alex, I am a devotee of solid, dark colours.
Top. Not the old t-shirt I used to wear which ended up around my neck when I was attempting a headstand, or which distracted me by riding up, exposing my midriff (not what it was when I first attempted yoga in my twenties). A proper top which stays put and helps keep me cool is a must.
Bra. I used to operate on the basis that I have almost nothing to hold in. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even the most modestly endowed need proper support. (If Bikram is your yogic bag – a bralet like the one above is brilliant.)
P.S. Get yourself a good mat. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does need to be non-slip. Yogamatters Sticky Yoga Mat is only £17 and an excellent place to start.
This post was sponsored by House of Fraser, but all content, styling and ideas are our own.