Sun | Oct 24, 2021

Hot fit mamas

Published:Thursday | April 28, 2016 | 12:00 AMNashauna Lalah
Shani balances it all: her three children, duties as wife and running a successful business.
Shani McGraham-Shirley with her children from left: Thai, Mali and India.
Zoe Arscott and her daughter Jayla
Zoe grew up in an active household and hopes her daughter learns from her example.

CHAi Studios is in the business of transforming lives. For this, our special Mother's Day issue, we share the stories of the boutique fitness studio's tag team owners, Zoe Arscott and Shani McGraham-Shirley who are helping mothers become the best version of themselves, even as they balance work and motherhood themselves.

Zoe Arscott

The mother of two-year-old Jayla, tells Flair that some persons may think that as a fitness professional, it's easy to balance motherhood with health and fitness. "Most people think that as a fitness professional, you are working out all the time, when really and truly we are instructing and ensuring that our clients are in proper form and doing the exercises properly. So while teaching a class, it's not always a workout for me. I still have to find the time to do my own personal training, which tends to be in the wee hours of the mornings."

She typically gets an early start on the day, rising about 4 a.m., and jumps into her personal workout followed by devotion with her daughter before getting the child ready and taking her to school. Then, she heads to CHAi for classes. In the afternoon, she juggles her daughter's after-school activities with her private classes.

Eating healthy

With this hectic schedule, it is still important that she eats well. "Just like everyone else, eating healthy is a challenge. Eating healthy is extremely important to me but we all have our breaking days, triggers and cheats. To get back up and stay committed is a challenge but it's a priority, so I make it happen."

For Arscott, breakfast usually consists of a protein shake, or a midmorning snack like eggs, trail mix or a green juice. "Lunches, I have delivered to the studio, which is usually a salad with grilled chicken and sweet potato. I enjoy a fruit in the mid afternoon as my sweet treat; and mango season has started so I occasionally cave and share a mango with my daughter. In the evenings I have a lighter version of lunch and almost every night a serving of popcorn."

Growing up in a healthy household, Arscott was raised to think health first. "I was always active and conscious of my food choices and it has now become my job. I live it and so does my daughter. But I definitely hope my daughter sees the importance, not just for physical appeal, but allowing our bodies to be strong and capable to heal itself, the mental clarity it enhances and the overall feeling of self-worth. Living a healthy lifestyle spills over into more aspects of our lives than we realise. Our habits and choices of what we eat are impacted by our relationships, career, emotional state and even our physical activity. If my daughter can see from my example and learn from it, she will definitely be in a good state of mind and health."


Her advice to other mothers: "Stay committed. The hardest part is always starting, so stay committed. Make a plan and stick to it. All you need is 30 minutes a day. Choose something you enjoy, find ways to even include your kids. Have active bonding time or make it your 'me' time. Carve out your time and just like everything else, make sure it gets done. I choose first thing in the morning so that I don't find an excuse to put it aside. Change will always take time to get used to, but make it a priority and stay committed. I promise you will feel and look better."

Children's diet

While for most parents it's a struggle to keep their children eating healthy, for Arscott, a good practice is limiting the amount of 'junk' she buys and keeps in the house. "Juice is a no in my house unless it's green or from a vegetable. My daughter is quite a good eater but naturally has her picky moments. I know she loves broccoli and corn, so I try to include those in most of her meals. As for other vegetables, I have to sneak them in. So, I will do the grater trick - grate some carrots and mix it with cheese in macaroni and cheese or make a lasagne with zucchini instead of pasta. I use cauliflower to make a fried 'rice' or 'mashed potatoes'. And, I add peas and carrots where I can hide them. She loves yogurt and all fruits, which I don't mind her eating. I also give her a hearty breakfast which is usually, cornmeal porridge or oatmeal."

Shani McGraham-Shirley

With three children - India, Thai and Mali - ages 11, 10 and six, she has a full plate to balance with its fair share of challenges. "It's hard because you want to please everyone - the clients at CHAi, my kids, my husband - and sometimes 'me time' just doesn't fit into the equation. We live in a world that multitasks, but sometimes you become a jack of all trades but a master of none. You simply hit the autopilot button and just cruise. And at the end of the day, everyone expects to see high energy from you and a smile on your face. Thankfully, because of my love and passion for all, I'm always able to deliver."

McGraham-Shirley has never has a 'typical' day and her household operates under a tag team system with her husband, David. Some days he takes the younger children to school while she takes her eldest daughter to gymnastics. She sometimes gets some 'me time' in between these movements, before taking her to school and heading off to CHAi. With supermarket runs sometimes fit in between, and after-school activities to manage, she has a lot of ground to cover.

Healthy eating

"My children have already started learning that health and fitness are a lifestyle. Kids live what they see, and they have seen me for the past six years be extremely physical and dedicated to movement - dance, pole, sculpt, kick-boxing, etc. As a result, all my kids are active, athletic children. They love to run, jump and climb. They spend more time outside on a trampoline or climbing trees than they do on electronics. All three do gymnastics; the girls do ballet, my son does tae kwon do."


She notes that starting or resuming a fitness regime is difficult, so she encourages mothers to start with something they enjoy. "If you love music then rock out at a dance class. If you love the freedom of running, slap your iPod to your hip and hit the pavement. Meet up with a friend and make a commitment. Sign up at CHAi Studios! It helps when you have to be held accountable. Just start."

She recognises that we humans are born procrastinators, and like to put things off until 'tomorrow'. "I believe there is no time like the present. I also believe in starting small, and being realistic. When we set huge goals, they eventually become overwhelming and promote giving up. Yes, wellness is a mix of diet, exercise and mental state, but if you start with one, the others will slowly fall into place. Most mothers put themselves last. But if you do not take care of yourself, you may not be around to care for others. So, take the time to be a little selfish. in order to be selfless."