Monday, April 20, 2015

A Gentle Cup of Tea to Help You Relax

According to legend, the great Chan (Zen) master Bodhidharma was angry at himself for falling asleep while meditating.  So he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground where they became the first tea plants.  This is why many depictions of Bodhidharma present him with large bulging eyes. 

Stories like this are a part of the rich history of tea preparation or drinking, and frequently associates tea with meditation, mindfulness and relaxation.  Sitting down for a cup of tea can include the feel of a warm--and many times decorative--cup in your hands, the aroma of nicely brewed tea selected from the multiple varieties available, and the gentle slow pace involved in mindfully preparing and drinking it.  It can be a very spiritual experience and many times has a ritualistic process and history.

Stress reduction is just one of the many benefits associated with drinking tea, but the knowing is in the doing--or I  should the drinking.  A cup of tea gives us grounding--something that anchors us to the present moment.  Our full attention is given to the senses of taste, smell, touch, and vision.  If conversation is present, it may only be about the taste of the tea, the beauty of the cup, or the tea's aroma and color--all of which are in the present moment.

There is a quote by the renowned Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh that reads, "Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future."

Some people worry that they will have to bypass the great experience of tea drinking due to the caffeine content in many teas, but keep in mind that it's not necessarily true that the caffeine in tea should counter the body's relaxation process.  According to my teacher Ken Cohen (Gao Han)--a tea connoisseur and life-long practitioner of qigong and tai chi chuan--caffeine is water-soluble, so the pre-rinsing and first steeping tease out a significant amount of flavor, aroma and caffeine, which creates a decaffeination process that increases with each subsequent steeping.

You don't have to be an expert in the history of tea or its preparation in order to benefit and enjoy an occasional relaxing cup of tea.  Just allow yourself to start with a simple loose leaf, oolong or green tea, and follow the basic brewing steps noted on Cohen's website (see link above).  Once you get the feel for it, you can determine your level of interest and enthusiasm from there.

Thanks to Fred Jala for his great photograph