Weekly Watch

by Fiona B

Hiya pals!

For our second pick, I’m offering another well loved classic which was recommend by Kel. Like last week’s video, I watched this fairly early in my training, but I had totally forgotten about it. I’m happy to reshare it with yous because it’s such a nice wee video. I’m a huge fan of night time training, I think it’s the best. There’s nothing better than heading out in the dark to have some chilled out training and enjoying jumping around while people are going to bed. This video really sums up that feeling for me, it’s relaxed but at the same time it still makes me feel a bit buzzed to go training. I hope you find yourself inspired to go out and train tonight.

[p.s. Weekly Watch posts have now been moved to a separated page. Click the Weekly Watch tab up top for a new video recommendation every Monday]

Weekly Watch

by Fiona B

Hello, and welcome to weekly watch, where we’ll share with you our favourite parkour videos, old and new!

To start us off, I’ve picked what is possibly my favourite parkour video ever. I find it to be incredibly inspirational, and to me, sums up the spirit of parkour. I first saw this fairly early into my training, and it was the first video that I felt I really connected with, and showed something that felt more realistic to me. While it’s great to watch people doing amazing movements, I find watching Jo try this wall climb again and again is more relatable to my training. All in all it’s a beautiful video, so enjoy!

If you have any suggestions of great videos for us to watch and share, post them in the comments or on our facebook.

[p.s. Weekly Watch posts have now been moved to a separated page. Click the Weekly Watch tab up top for a new video recommendation every Monday]

Training and Mental Health (part two)

Some advice from a fellow traveller…

If you are experiencing depression yourself, some of the points below may be helpful. This is not an exhaustive list, and it’s not medical advice. These things are what I aim for in periods of depression; I certainly don’t manage it all the time. Remember, relapse is part of recovery- this is not a checklist to judge yourself against.

– The first thing to do is stand up straight. Keep your head high, roll your shoulders out and back, fill your lungs with air and breathe out slowly. And again. Think about how important posture is for our physical strength, then remember it’s equally important for your mental strength. I know I often experience depression as a physical sensation (among other things.) My backbone literally feels heavy, like it’s made from lumps of rock. I feel like this stone-spine is pulling my chest down and making me slouch. Which obviously makes me feel worse. You’d be surprised how helpful posture can be for your mood. So whenever you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, pay attention to how you’re standing.

– Ask yourself, ‘Have I been training too much?” If the answer is yes, or even maybe, take two or three days off. In a row. Then, dial it back a bit. Many of the symptoms of overtraining syndrome are exactly the same as the symptoms of depression. You may have just been overdoing it. Remember to manage your rest. Without sufficient rest, your muscles simply will not be able to rebuild before you tax them again: it will make you weaker. Rest is equally important for your mental health. Functioning under constant fatigue will hinder your ability to make precise and swift decisions, it’ll weaken your concentration and will sap the joy out of your training.

– Talk to your doctor. Make an appointment for as soon as possible. The first thing to do is rule out physical causes for your mental state. There’s no point in just ‘putting up with’ depression or anxiety, and sometimes simple things like a vitamin D or B12 supplement can go miles to alleviate your symptoms. (A quick note; some GPs don’t have much experience with mental illness, and most are overworked. I’d recommend making an extra-long appointment if you can. If your regular doctor doesn’t understand, find one that does.)

– Minimise use of drugs and alcohol. Good advice at the best of times, the best advice at the worst.

– Here, I have to be blunt. If you have been experiencing suicidal thoughts, now is not the time to train at height, or work on the riskier stuff. That’s when you need your sub-consciousness and your consciousness to be on the same team. That jump will still be there when you’re feeling better. (This deserves much more than a side-note, but if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, and I can’t stress it enough, talk to someone immediately. If talking about this with your family and friends is not possible for you, talk to your doctor, psychologist or counselor, or call a help-line. If you are in imminent danger of taking your own life, go to the A&E department of your nearest hospital.)

– Avoid attaching too much importance to changes in your weight in times of depression. Rapid loss or gain of weight is a common symptom. Remember, it’s just that, a symptom.  Overloading yourself with pressure to diet away some weight gain, or to kick yourself back up to a fighting weight when you’ve lost interest in eating, ignores the cause of that change. Try to maintain healthy and regular eating patterns, as always, but it’s more important to focus on your recovery. You’ll return to your normal weight soon enough.

And, if you do lose weight, try not to set that as a new goal weight for yourself, or to view gaining the weight back as a failure. Remember, the weight gain is due to illness.

– Keep in mind that your training will probably have to change when you’re depressed, and this is not a sign of weakness. If you sprain your ankle, you don’t drill 500 jumps. You might work on handstands instead. So, if you’re in a period of depression, you will have to find the style of training that is best for you right now. I know when I am very depressed, I have a constant stream of negative self-talk in my mind, and if I am faced with consistent failure to break a particular jump, that negativity is reinforced in a vicious circle.

You may not have the mental capacity to break jumps right now. It might be time to focus on technical foot placement drills. Or, if your concentration is shot, beasting conditioning might be the path for you. Everyone is different, and the breadth of possibilities within parkour training means there is always another option. This is not about avoiding what is hard- your training should still be difficult, and should challenge you every day. The key is to find what is most productive for you right now, and what is not going to exacerbate your condition. See above, re: sprained ankle.

– Be proud of your achievements. It’s not the size of the obstacle that matters, it’s how you overcome it. And when you’re experiencing depression, there will be days when simply getting up and going for a walk in the park takes more effort, energy and persistence than a round of climb-up ping-pong at the Wall of Tears ever could. Don’t berate yourself for imagined failures; be realistic, recognise your achievements and be proud of them.

– Get out of the house. When you’re depressed, you might try to convince yourself that a few rounds of tabata alone in your bedroom is just as good as playing outside, with the sun (or rain) on your face and your friends by your side. It’s not. So remember to get outside as often as you can. (On a similar note, don’t avoid your friends. Solo training is important, undeniably, but don’t find excuses to hide from social situations.)

– Drill it! There are various kinds of mental exercises you can do which may help. Do your research, look into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) exercises, and see if they work for you. The mind is a muscle.

– Find an activity that has a meditative effect, allowing you to ‘switch off’ the feedback loops in your mind that can be a part of depression. It could be any of the thousands of techniques for meditation; try as many as you can, in a class situation or by yourself. Or it could be something else; for me, it’s distance running- on a good run, I can achieve a kind of flow state that allows my mind to rest.

– If your regular training is causing you distress, or exacerbating your depression, step away for a while. There’s no shame in taking a few weeks off, and you’ll probably find it has helped when you get back into it. I know I’ve made some big progressions after a little while away from regular training. But, whatever you do, don’t just stop – try something new instead. Go to a dance class, or try martial arts or circus or climbing or yoga…

– Regarding your medical options, if you do decide to start taking some sort of medication, remember to ask your doctor all the questions. I have been on anti-depressants, and to be honest, it probably saved my life. But I’ve also come off anti-depressants. And that affected me a lot: any impact or sudden change in direction gave me ‘brain jolts’, and my balance was so badly affected I couldn’t stand on one leg. Make sure your doctor understands your training and other needs, and ask questions about both the possible side-effects of the drugs, and about what happens on the other side. Also, remember, you will be taking the medication for a long time; at least a year, and probably a lot longer. Some medications can make some conditions worse, so you will need to monitor your emotional state well, and keep in contact with your doctor and/or counsellor. I am not advocating against medication, as I’ve said, it’s been hugely beneficial to me. But remember, medication is not a silver-bullet, and this is not a decision to be rushed.

After all that, I think the two best things you can do for yourself if you are experiencing depression are to talk, and to move. Talk. Talk to your friends and family, talk to your doctor, talk to other people you know who’ve experienced depression. Talk until you’re bored of talking. Talking will help you to understand what you’re experiencing, and to keep yourself on track to recover. And move. Just MOVE. The feelings associated with depression are all about heaviness, and dragging down, and weight. But if you just start moving, that heavy burden will drop away, at least for a little while. Start running, and the black dog can’t keep up with you. So, run and skip and dance and laugh and climb and jump. I’m right there with you.

By Kelley

Training and Mental Health (part one)

The view from where I’m standing…

I have depression.

Looking back, it has been a part of my life for a long time, probably since I was about 13 or 14. It has affected me in various ways, and led to some less-than-healthy behaviour over the years. Since finding parkour, I can honestly say that it has been (among other things) the most powerful and effective force in my life for dealing with depression. I’m writing these blog posts partly to offer some small pieces of advice gleaned from my own experiences with depression, and how it affects and is affected by my training.

I’m also writing because I hope this may start one or two conversations about mental health. I know first-hand how beneficial parkour training can be in combating depression. I also know that the issue doesn’t come up in conversation all that much, certainly not compared to how much we chat about DOMS or shoulder mobility or other physical issues; and this is despite the inestimable importance of mental focus, and health, in our training.

So, what is depression? It’s usually defined as a persistent state of low mood, but this doesn’t really convey how debilitating depression can be. Symptoms are complex and interrelated; they can include (but aren’t limited to):

– continued low mood or sadness, feelings of hopelessness, apathy

– loss of motivation, in work, training and everyday tasks

– loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable

– difficulty concentrating

– thoughts of suicide or self-harm

–  changes in appetite, rapid loss or gain of weight,

– changes in sleeping patterns: sleeping very little or far too much, sleeping at weird or inconsistent times of the day.

– feelings or worthlessness or guilt, and inability to control negative self-talk

– avoidance of social situations

– unexplained muscle fatigue or weakness, aches and pains

– feeling tearful, crying for little or no reason

– feeling angry or irritable for little or no reason

Changes in behaviour that match these symptoms could point towards depression, so watch out for them in yourself and your friends. So, what should you do if you think a friend may be suffering from depression (or any mental illness)?  You should talk to them about it.

The point of talking with those who may be suffering from depression is not to take on emotional responsibility for other people’s problems, nor is it to act as a proxy doctor or therapist. That is not the role of a friend. The aim of talking is to open up a safe space for your friend to admit that, yeah, something is wrong.  Unfortunately, depression and mental illness still do carry heavy social stigmas. People will often “put up” with depression for fear that others will see it as a weakness, judge them for it, tell them to just “get over it.” I know I did for years. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.) If you start the conversation, your friend may let go of their fears of being judged as weak or ridiculous, and begin to address their illness.

Because mental illness is not weakness. And it’s not going to just go away. It is not something that you should put up with either.  You are stronger than that, even if you don’t know it yet. 

If you saw a friend limping on a swollen ankle, you wouldn’t ignore it. You’d ask them how it felt. You’d tell them to address the problem, and help them if you could. I’ll return to this comparison, because depression is like a sprained ankle in many ways. Sometimes you can identify how and why the problem arose; stressful life events or loss of a close relationship. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes it’s a diminished capacity that passes quickly, if given the required care. Sometimes it’s a chronic recurring problem, which needs to be managed vigilantly.

Just as most of us get injured at some point, mostly minor things but sometimes not, most of us will have some experience of depression or other mental illness, to varying degrees, at some point in our lives.

In a community that focuses so much on strength, the nature of mental strength can so easily be misunderstood. Mental strength is not some kind of hyperbolic toughness, or the cerebral equivalent of brute force. That’s not what we identify as strength in the physical realm; otherwise we’d all do nothing but deadlift all day. The key components of mental strength, in my opinion, are flexibility, adaptability, agility, humility, perseverance. It’s exactly these qualities that come to the fore when recovering from depression; it seems odd to say, but in my experience, taking on depression and working to overcome it has made me stronger in all of those areas. We aim to be strong to be useful. Pretending there’s nothing wrong is no use to nobody.

I worry that some of the rhetoric surrounding parkour may discourage people from speaking about their mental health, precisely due to those social stigmas that paint depression as some sort of silly affliction for the weak-willed. This is the most heart-breaking part, because I know it’s so far from the truth. These ideas are not generally held or defended by individuals; stigmas exist like a kind of cloud of illogic and negativity, and guesses at what others might think. They are only kept alive in darkness, and can potentially disappear if we simply speak openly. I know that the parkour community is a supportive one, and that speaking to my training buddies will not be met with scorn or censure, but with care. I want everyone else to know that too.

We need to ensure that the discussion of mental illness is just as open and socially encouraged as the discussion of physical illness or injury. The question “How are you coping with depression?” should be asked and answered as freely as the question  “How’s that ankle recovering?”. I feel this is particularly important for our community because I know that parkour training can be a catalyst for change in the lives of people with depression. The discipline can provide a structure for those who feel helpless, the community provides support for those who feel hopeless, and the daily achievements and progressions give confidence to those who feel worthless. The experience of flow can approach meditative focus to calm the mind and the physical exertion is a key to recovery as well.

As I said, I hope this can be the beginning of some open conversations, and I know we can all help each other. In a blog post to follow, I’ve written some snippets of advice for those who may be struggling with depression.

By Kelley

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For more information on depression, and how to help others or where to find help for yourself, check out:

Scottish Association for Mental Health – www.samh.org.uk

Whose city? Our city!

by Fiona B

Girls' Night Mission

Within the discourses of parkour, the idea that practitioners are able to reclaim urban space, through disrupting social conventions on how we should use that space, is a well established one. If you google the topic, you can find many blog posts, and even academic articles, on the subject. For this post, I would like to focus on how I think this idea of parkour being subversive in regards to public space is particularly relevant to female practitioners.

From a young age, women are taught to fear (or at least be cautious of) public spaces, especially at night. Look at advice that is given in regards to preventing rape: we tell women to always take taxis home, walk along well-lit areas, stay in groups, and so on. These messages, combined with the lived experiences of women, can produce a fear of public spaces that restricts women’s movement. If you don’t believe me, ask the women in your life about walking home at night. Or consider if arming yourself with keys is common practise for men in the streets after dark.

This fear of the nighttime city streets can merge with anxieties women may have about being catcalled or heckled. This can give women a degree of anxiety about simply being visible in public spaces. According to Mind, over 50% of surveryed women don’t leave the home when exercising, so as not to be seen in public – even though exercising outside is more effective for lifting mood than inside. And of those that do head outside, almost two thirds choose to exercise in a location where they’re unlikely to bump into anyone they know, and a similar proportion wear baggy clothing when exercising in order to hide their figure. (http://www.mind.org.uk/news/6732_new_findings_show_women_run_scared_from_outdoor_exercise). That means there are literally millions of women avoiding outdoor exercise altogether, and millions more battling with their own self-confidence when they overcome that avoidance.

The reclamation of public space as a woman is very central to my understanding of  parkour, and my love for it. Practicing parkour has opened up access to new areas of Glasgow that I would have never gone to before. Several of these areas may even be classed as ‘dodgy’ or ‘unsafe’, but parkour gave me a reason to enter them, and allowed me to form positive bonds to those areas. Practising parkour in the evening and nighttime also serves as a way to fight back against fear that, as a woman, I have been trained to feel.

Parkour lets us create new emotional bonds to space. We begin to see the city in a new light as our parkour vision develops, allowing us to view our surroundings in a new way. For all practitioners, this allows us to reclaim our city space, using it as our playground, rather than being boxed in or herded by the architecture. I have strong emotional attachments and many happy memories in my training spots. Parkour allows a female practitioner, through new positive experiences in city spaces, the chance to create new emotions towards these spaces, which can replace the old ones of fear.

Following on from this is the idea of control. As noted above, many people can feel constrained by their setting, and parkour allows us the chance to feel freedom through movement and the corruption of space. By purposefully misusing buildings and walls as a training ground, we can take back a sense of control and ownership of our city. In an article on practitioners training on school buildings, Elizabeth de Freitas states:

“The traceur unfolds the school structure and refolds his or her body back into the building. The body is put back into the architecture. In touching and being touched, the traceur affirms the materiality of the site, destabilizing the building’s status as a symbolic signifier. The traceur deliberately undoes the ideology built into the built environment, and addresses the building in terms of its physicality. And in doing so, the traceur is present at school in ways that re-introduce his or her body back into the building.”[1]

While this is obviously in relation to the school building as a symbol, it isn’t too difficult to apply this analysis to the symbol of the city streets. Women, who often face the streets as a symbol of fear and danger, can transform this symbolic value. Through parkour I have changed my feelings and viewpoints of my surroundings, rather than it being dictated to me. This is an empowering feeling for most of us, but it is particularly positive for women. As noted above, women are taught to fear the streets and can be left feeling helpless and powerless. Through parkour, we can regain some control and a feeling of ownership of our cities and their streets.

And so, while the practise of parkour can be viewed as subversive no matter who does it, I find it to be a more powerful image when it is a woman training. This is a woman, being visible in a public space and reclaiming her city and her home. For me, I have found this to be one of the greatest benefits of doing parkour. I have gained a new love for Glasgow, and a new understanding of the city. I feel less afraid to move about, especially at night, and I have reclaimed a degree of ownership of the streets. Parkour brings so many incredible things to individuals and communities, and surely one of these amazing possiblities is that women can be comfortable, unafraid and powerful in their environment.


[1] De Freitas

Shetland Parkour Experience

By Fiona B

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Last weekend was SPE 2, a 4 day parkour event hosted in Lerwick, on the stunning Shetland Islands. A group of us travelled up from Glasgow, with a 15 hour journey up north from Aberdeen. The ferry ride from Aberdeen proved to be eventful for all the wrong reasons, but luckily us parkour ladies are pretty hardy, and it takes more than 8ft waves and extreme sea sickness to stop us from jumping.

And so we staggered off the boat and lurched along to what turned out to be an amazing weekend of training. The itinerary for the weekend was pretty intense, with multiple classes running each day, and it proved to be a lot of training even for more experience practitioners. However, we were treated to some fantastic weather (and sunburn) and incredible training spots. Despite Lerwick being a small town, the quality of places to train is unreal. And where else do you get to train on natural features like rocks, 15 minutes away from more urban spots?

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All the classes were great, with all of us conquering at least one new thing. We’ve all returned from Shetland feeling confident and renewed in our training. It was especially great to have women’s only classes, run by Shirley Darlington from Parkour Gen, which provided that essential time to train with other parkour girls from around Scotland.

The weekend created so many amazing and memorable moments: watching the moon rise after a night mission, the sense of accomplishment after finishing the 7am wake up class, the exhaustion of the Final Push, that feeling you get breaking a jump… These kinds of gathering also offer a chance to meet lots of other practitioners – from those we haven’t seen since last year, to new pals we’re already planning to see again. Where else can you go and know you’re gonna get non-stop quality chat all weekend with people you’ve only just met?

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I could write for pages about all the amazing things we did, and the great friends we made, but ultimately it is summed up by the name of this event. Honestly, I first thought the idea of a Shetland ‘experience’ to be a little cheesey, but that is literally what you get with SPE. I would seriously encourage anyone who missed this year to go next year. It’s one of the best parkour events out there and incomparable to anything or anywhere else.

(Keep an eye out for more photos going up later)