As I mentioned in my last post (on Blue Sky Days) I have been feeling more settled in Beijing lately. I feel like I have a better sense of my life here, who I am and where I am and what I do. I am starting to find some semblance of routine. I’m definitely not all the way there yet, not completely comfortable, still on edge much more often than I’d like, but it’s still a big change from how I felt a few months ago.
Part of the change is I feel like I’m getting through the fog of transition – I have more capacity to think, more concentration to focus, more energy to do things. I have been able to think more clearly about what will help me feel settled and connected and ease my anxiety – and I’ve had the energy to start following through on some of those things.
That’s a lot of preamble just to talk about going for walks.
Going for walks around our neighbourhood is helping me. Walking in general is relaxing for me. It helps calm my mind. It helps stretch my body. It helps ground me, and give me a sense of connection rather than isolation. The problem is it’s a bit dependent on things outside my control. Going for a walk isn’t particularly pleasant on a rainy day, or (more common here) a polluted day. That said, I’ve done both, by choice!
Walking also depends on my physical capacity. Some days my body doesn’t cooperate – one of my various chronic pain issues will flare up and make taking a walk difficult, or stupid. This morning was a stupid day to walk (I was sore before I even got out of bed) but I went anyway. Walking was good for my mind, but oooh my body is making me pay for it now! A big reason I was already sore was taking too long a walk a few days ago. I usually judge how far I can go by how my knees are feeling. On this particular day I forgot that I was taking strong painkillers for my headache and that my knees therefore weren’t giving me the normal cues. I walked for an hour, and it wasn’t until the last 5-10 minutes as I was nearing home that I realised how tight my hips and knees were feeling – and knew I was going to pay for it the next few days.
Despite the difficulties, these walks really have been worth doing. The weather has been gorgeous lately (as it generally is for a few brief weeks in Autumn) which has really helped me make the choice to get up and go out for a walk.
I often grab street food to eat while I’m out – baozi for breakfast, or a jianbing at other times of day. It’s another connection with this place – something unique to here, that reminds me I love this place, and grounds me.
There are lots of little places to sit in our neighbourhood, and sometimes I’ll stop for a while, to give me more outside time than my legs could handle if I were to walk the whole time. I’m realising if I look around I can usually find one that no one else is using. Although I’m far more likely to note them as I walk past, without actually taking a break. Most days I don’t feel comfortable sitting and resting outside. I feel so foreign and don’t like to be stared at or talked about. But sometimes it feels okay, and I can enjoy sitting outside for a while, reading a book or listening to a podcast.
To my surprise, several times I’ve gone walking very early in the morning, around sunrise. I realised that when I can’t sleep, or wake early with my mind buzzing, a walk in the early morning cool air and (relative) quiet helps a lot. Anyone who knows me at all will realise what a stunning departure this is for me. I am NOT a morning person. I don’t like thinking or processing or dealing with people or leaving my house for at least two hours after I wake up. And my normal sleep patterns rarely have me awake before 7 or 8 am. An early bird husband is changing that! I’m still not a morning person, but now I’m much more likely to wake before 6am than after 7am. And I’m usually in bed before 10pm. (Every housemate I’ve ever had will be dying laughing now…)
I still have to work on the balance – how much is too much, whether calming my mind is worth wrecking my body, how to make the most of short walks. But this is helping, and giving me hope (which in itself helps).
By the way, I often post photos from my walks on instagram, so if you’re interested in seeing more of my neighbourhood feel free to follow along :)