Under normal circumstances, taking a daily walk is not usually my thing. I am notorious for overtly (or overly) expressing my love for burpees and handstands in my classes and on Instagram and for filling my calendar with drench-me-in-sweat workouts like running hills, stairs, HIIT, TRX, and power yoga. My attraction to all things filed under “intense” makes it hard for even me to believe myself when I say this, but I’m kind of in love with my daily walk. Yes, walks! I swear to you, they have been my everyday anchor during this unprecedented time.
How did I go from being the self-professed burpee lover to all of a sudden smitten with a leisurely stroll? Knee surgery, that’s how. I won’t even pretend that it was some kind of enlightened epiphany that got me out walking around my neighborhood. It was quite literally the only thing I could do for a bit. Right before the Bay Area went into quarantine, I went in to have a meniscectomy (partial removal of my meniscus). Surprising no one, I am not that great at slowing down. One might say I have a sheer inability to sit still, and one might be very correct. Nothing like the oh-so-classic tale of having to be forced into behaviors that are good for us (see: flossing, eating more vegetables, wearing masks, staying at home). Knee surgery was that force for me.
Thankfully, my procedure was minor enough that I walked out of the surgery center without crutches and I was encouraged to begin moving around my house almost immediately. Obviously, I happily obliged that recommendation because the pre-quarantine thought of having to be homebound for a few days already had my anxiety on edge. A FEW DAYS. Oh, the naivete. Now, months into staying at home, I fully realize the ridiculousness, but back then I was itching to get outside and walk around more than just my house after like 12 hours.
A few days later I was (finally) out on my first post-surgery walk. It was Super Tuesday, and exercising my right to vote was about the most exercising I could do, but I decided to walk (around the corner) to drop off my ballot. It was the best walk of my life. All 0.2 miles of it. It was a walk taken with purpose, on purpose. I gave myself a destination that really mattered to me (vote!) and that wasn’t overwhelming for my abilities at the time. It was glorious.
And then I kept walking. Every. Single. Day. Slowly, the compensatory limping subsided, the walking became easier, and it started to feel more normal. The story could very well end here. I could have used these walks as rehab, and by the time I was healed enough, I could have just returned to my normally scheduled routine. But let’s keep it real, there is nothing normally scheduled or routine about anything in 2020.
Here in the Bay Area, we had the first stay-at-home orders in the U.S. As a public health advocate, I’m proud and grateful for these stringent orders. At the same time, I know that following stay-at-home orders brings with it a whole new set of challenges for all of us, not the least of which are strains on our mental health. While I started these walks for physical rehab, they quickly transitioned into emotional and soul rehab. They brought me daily peace. And, given that any moments of internal peace during this time are more highly coveted than toilet paper, I kept the walks.
I began to notice just how much I noticed. Aside from my physical progress and the obvious environmental things like trees, birds, cars, people, houses, buildings, weather, sounds, et cetera, I noticed bits and pieces of the stories in which all of these things reside. I stepped through the neighborhood matching houses with their humans. I watched sidewalk etiquette change, noticed greater eye expression as masks became the norm, I saw graffiti cycle through messages about the latest injustice, I witnessed garden beds go from a pile of wood to construction to harvest. I noticed the pulse of the neighborhood. I noticed how there was a comfort in feeling that pulse in my steps. I noticed change. And, let me tell you, there is something incredibly grounding to witness change, movement, growth, and humanity when the world feels like it’s on hold and every day seems to blur into another. I walked with purpose, on purpose. Almost like meditation. Sometimes exactly like meditation.
Do I always walk in silence, then? No. I’m a realist when it comes to any type of self-care, mental health, health, or wellness practice. Sometimes sitting for an hour with incense burning in complete silence for meditation is unreasonable for me. Okay, it’s almost always unreasonable for me, but that’s another story. I do what makes sense for me and what seems attainable enough that I will actually do it.
I let my walks reflect my reality and my needs in that moment. Let’s face it: Sheltering in place toys with our emotions. Every day presents a new opportunity to ride the wave of fear, gratitude, loneliness, anxiety, anger, acceptance, and literally everything in between. Paying attention to these emotions and allowing myself whatever it is that I need is a mindfulness practice in itself.
On the days when I feel like my brain is on overdrive and I’ve been on 79 video meetings, I walk in silence and on Do Not Disturb. On days when I am angry at the injustice that continues to plague us, I educate myself by listening to a book on anti-racism. On days when the loneliness of quarantining by myself is more overwhelming than I would ever admit, I use the time to call a friend or family member. On days when I feel particularly scattered in my emotions, I throw on hip-hop. On days when I just need to get outside regardless of what my schedule says, I might even be on a Zoom meeting
There’s really no way to do it wrong, and that is yet another benefit.
Are you convinced? Ready to lace up, mask up, and head out the door?
Here’s how to start:
Keep it short at first. Even if that destination is home/your starting point and you walk around the block, it’s easier in the beginning to know where you’re going. Remember: with purpose, on purpose.
Maybe you go first thing in the morning. Maybe you go when you finish replying to emails or get off a call or when you’ve been sitting too long. Up to you; but go when you feel ready and up for it.
Know that you don’t have to commit to the same thing the whole time.
Pay attention to anything and everything. Notice and note it.
We are all still learning how to adjust our normal social etiquette for social distancing. The more you are paying attention to everything and everyone around you, the easier it will be for you to adapt to others along the way.
Or don’t. Maybe this isn’t as soul saving for you as it is for me. And that’s okay. I just hope you find something that works for you.
If there’s anything to remember about this year it’s that we need to take care of ourselves and our communities in order to progress through the phases of reopening and getting back out into the wild. I know fatigue is setting in. I know we are aching for normalcy. Find something, like these walks, that brings you some semblance of normalcy, that helps anchor you. Every day. We will all come out of this, one step at a time. One foot in front of the other. With purpose, on purpose.