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Detox your mind and body in Beijing

Beijing – the giant capital of China overseeing the lives of 1.4 billion people. It has been the capital of China for much of the last 900 hundred years. Today the municipality is home to almost 22 million people, more if you consider the satellite towns fast converging as the Jing-jin-ji megalopolis. It is home to seven UNESCO world heritage sites, China’s best universities including Peking and Qinghua, the country’s major political institutions as well as many corporate headquarters. Its subway is the world busiest and the “city of bicycles” could just as well be dubbed the city of cars, trucks, scooters and motorbikes. In 2008 Beijing hosted the world’s most expensive Olympics and it will host the Winter Olympics in 2022.

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The statistics dazzle with regards to the last of China’s four great ancient capitals. And yet this dynamic and fascinating place does, like anywhere, have its shortcomings that anyone who spends more than a week here will realize. Pollution has become a headline-grabbing problem in the winter. Crowds and traffic make exercise difficult. Beijing’s eclectic nightlife scene invites plenty of drinking while northern Chinese cuisine is dominated by oil and carbohydrates washed down by plenty of lager beer or baijiu.

Yet Old Peking needn’t be as unhealthy as some make it out to be. With a positive mental attitude and a bit of knowledge as to where you might seek salubrity, Beijing is as good a place to detox as anywhere, perhaps better, with its long Taoist history currently driving much of populace to seek wellbeing through a fusion of ancient ideas and modern know-how. So if you feel bogged down in the smog, crowded by the crowds, or boozed out in the bars here are some tips to get fresh in the capital. 

Practice Tai Chi 

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Chinese culture is like a ball of wool with every thread informing the other. Tai chi is no exception. According to Eric Liu, a tai chi master who regularly schools students in the magnificent grounds of the Temple of Heaven, the process of cultivating internal qi was developed by Taoist monks by slowing martial arts' moves down. Through considering their breathing, focusing on their movements and emptying their mind the monks could gradually learn to fuse yin and yang. “Humans are the element between heaven and earth and through tai chi, we can harness the energy of the cosmos,” Liu explains. Like many Chinese traditions, tai chi is holistic, treating the whole rather than the disease. But the observable benefits are many including greater mental wellbeing, longevity, and alignment alleviation. With so many fabulous temple parks festooning Beijing, is there a better place to start patting the wild horse's main?  

Go Vegan

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Beijing’s signature dishes might be Peking Duck or Zhangjiamian (noodles stir fried with ground pork or beef) but that doesn’t mean you need to overload on meat. And even if you’re avoiding oily food rather than meat per se, vegan eateries might not be such a bad idea as they adhere to Buddhist doctrines with regards to hygiene and health. Essentially if you want to skip a course in gutter oil or MSG, Chinese veggie restaurants are the best bet. In Beijing, that means heading Wudaoying Hutong opposite the Lama Temple, an alley and surrounding area festooned with meat-free Buddhist restaurants and hipster health food cafés. Whether you seek some grommet tofu or an avocado smoothie you’ll find it in the winding, labyrinthine neighborhood, which has the added benefit of taking you away from the clamor of the noise of the main streets. 

Drink Tea

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Tea emerged from southwest China over three thousand years ago and was long consumed as medicine before it became a drink and associated culture. The ancient Chinese considered tea an elixir and attributed many healing properties to it. According to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) understanding, tea is said to help to refresh the mind and boost concentration. It can also promote body fluid production, clear heat and phlegm, and aid digestion and urination. Traditionally, it was used to treat everything from bouts of diarrhea to strokes. But today modern science is proving that many of tea’s healing properties are true. Green tea can help diabetics process sugars, tea is linked with lower risk Parkinson’s disease and it is rich in antitoxins, which can ward off all kinds of cancers.  

Though Beijing is not a place typically associated with the cultivation of tea, it is a fine place to drink it, especially if you’re trying to clear your system of some toxins garnered in the capital's many rock n roll bars. Tea Houses litter the city-centre and can even be found in top temple parks like the Summer Palace. Combining a stroll around Kunming Lake with some freshly brewed Camellia leaves is, perhaps, the finest detox there is.

Where do you think is the best place to detox in Beijing?

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About the author

Thomas grew up beneath heavy clouds in the South Wales suburbs. After reading too many books, he decided to see for himself what this weird world had on offer. Now an itinerant traveler, writer and photographer usually lost somewhere in East Asia, he prints his musings in a number of notable publications and has contributed to several guidebooks including Rough Guides China and Dunhuang: A City on the Silk Road. When he's not wandering, he can sometimes be found practising mandolin in Beijing.

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