Sense to Soothe
This is the first post in our blog series, Sense to Soothe. As we shared, the Sense to Soothe blog series is aimed at helping you identify your sensory preferences and create a corresponding sensory kit.
For our first article, we are pleased to introduce the multi-faceted sensory experience associated with preparing and drinking tea.
The first cup moistens my lips and throat.
The second shatters my loneliness.
The third causes the wrongs of life to fade gently from my recollection.
The fourth purifies my soul.
The fifth lifts me to the realms of the unwinking gods.
– Chinese Mystic
Overview of tea
In her CupandLeaf.com blog post, “What is Tea? The Difference Between True Tea and Herbal Tisanes, Erika Marty writes,
Tea has been a central part of society for centuries. The ancient Greeks and Romans, indigenous tribes in the Americas and monks in Asia used tea as a medicinal herb. Tea is a key part of social engagements, where it plays a central role in political meetings and celebrating special occasions. Tea culture varies dramatically in style from Japanese tea ceremonies to a simple afternoon cuppa with friends and family on the veranda. Tea is beloved by cultures as diverse as the Americans and Portuguese and comprises a large portion of exports in African countries such as Kenya. Tea preparation also consists of elaborate rules for how to brew tea depending on local tradition. Tea accessories can turn an ordinary cup into a special ceremony, making this a beverage that has the power to unite communities and heal various ailments.
- Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, surpassed only by water. More than two-thirds of the world’s people drink tea!
- All teas (Black, Green, Oolong, White, and Pu’erh) come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis.
- Camellia sinensis is a sub-tropical, evergreen plant native to Asia but is now grown around the world.
- Studies have found that some teas may help with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; encourage weight loss; lower cholesterol; and bring about mental alertness.
- The main health-promoting substances in tea are polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins. Lab and animal studies say these molecules have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Tea types include green, black, white, oolong and pu’erh. Below you will find a brief description of tea types, courtesy of theteaspot.com:
- Green tea: Green tea leaves plucked in the morning are ready to be brewed in a pot the same night. The bypass of oxidation allows green tea to retain most of its natural dark green color, tannins, vitamin C, chlorophyll and minerals. The taste of green tea is therefore more astringent and subtler than oolong or black tea.
- Black tea: Black teas are fully oxidized teas. Black teas brew a liquor from reddish brown to dark brown. They are the most popular type of tea in the Western world. Black teas range from 40 – 60 milligrams of caffeine per 8 oz cup.
- White tea: White teas are the least processed of all teas. They release the least amount of caffeine of all teas, generally ranging from 10-15 milligrams per 8 oz cup. Almost all white teas hail from Fujian Province, China.
- Oolong tea: Oolong teas are semi–oxidized, which places them mid–way between green and black teas. This gives them the body and complexity of a black tea, with the brightness and freshness of a green tea.
- Pu’erh tea: Pu’erh teas are aged and fermented. These aged teas are revered throughout Asia for their medicinal benefits, which range from curing hangovers to reducing cholesterol.
- Herbal infusions are not tea, per se, because they don’t come from the Camellia sinensis plant. The same goes for rooibos, a naturally caffeine-free herbal tea also known as red bush tea.
Enjoying a cup of tea engages our senses of taste, smell, sight, and touch.
Why should I consider adding tea to my sensory kit?
Tea has been shown to reduce stress hormone levels and reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. It has also been linked to a reduce risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Tea’s main health-promoting properties, polyphenols, especially catechins and epicatechins, exert anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
Tea can also be a powerful enhancer to our calming rituals. By deliberately focusing our attention on the act of holding, smelling and sipping tea, we slow things down. A tea drinking ritual involves selecting a preferred tea, heating the water, pouring the water, steeping the tea, disposing of the tea bag, and smelling, feeling in our hands and sipping the warm or hot tea.
What types of tea do you recommend?
What is an example of a mindful tea experience?
Below you will see two mindfulness tea experience “options.” One is long, the other short.
This mindful tea experience is done while the tea steeps. It is ideal for those who don’t necessarily have more than 3-10 minutes to tune out and relax.
- Select your tea.
- Warm the water. As the water warms, close your eyes and place the tea bag or tea leaves near your nose. For a minute or so, breathe in and out at a pace comfortable for you. Take in the smell of the tea bag—the leaves, herbs, and spices.
- Place the tea bag or tea leaves the warm/hot water. While the tea steeps (perhaps 3-7 minutes), hold the container and again breathe in the aromatic wafts of the tea leaves. Inhale the steam as it rises from the cup. Is the smell fainter or stronger from when you smelled the leaves alone? Notice the feeling of warmth in your hands. If you wish, turn on soothing music (e.g., binaural beats) as your tea steeps.
- Use the steeping time for meditation and relaxation. Focus on the sight of your tea steeping, the smell of the leaves, and the feeling of warmth in your hand. If you’re playing music, listen for rhythms or tones that calm you. Breathe in, breathe out.
- Once the tea has steeped, sip it at your preferred pace. Indulge.
In “How to Be Mindful With a Cup of Tea,” Ed Halliwell offers these steps for a mindful tea experience:
- Pay attention to the sound of the water heating and boiling in the kettle. Hear its bubbling and gurgling. Can you see wisps of steam coming from the spout? Does the kettle subtly shake from the movement of the water inside? Be open to your senses, rather than try to analyze what’s happening. *If you heat water in the microwave, carefully remove the container and observe the water. Is it bubbly? Energetic? Do you see or feel steam rising?
- Notice the feeling of being in your environment: your bottom’s contact with the chair or the floor, if you’re sitting down; the weight of your feet on the ground, if you’re standing.
- Pouring the tea, watch the color of the water change as it meets the teabag. Be interested in the transformation from clear water to tea, and the tinkling of liquid as it fills the cup. When your mind wanders into thought, as it probably will, gently return your attention to sensing.
- Lifting the teabag out with a spoon, feel the touch of the handle against your fingers, and the weight of the bag dropping away as you tip it into the bin. Let yourself hear any related sounds, such as the opening and closing of the bin lid. Notice any tendency to do this on autopilot, and come back to present-moment sensing when you find you’ve drifted to distraction.
- Notice the warming of the cup that contains the hot liquid. How do your hands feel as you hold it?
- Now, bring the cup to your lips. Be interested in how your hand and arm know how to move in this direction without you having to tell them consciously what to do.
- Take a sip of tea. Rather than gulping it down, see if you can let the taste tickle your tongue. Perhaps gently move the liquid around your mouth. Savor the taste—is it pleasant? Or perhaps you’d prefer it stronger or weaker? You don’t have to do anything about it (unless you choose to). Just be aware of your sensations and the liking or disliking of them. If there are thoughts, let them enter into and then pass through your mind without following them. Try to stay with the tasting. Notice without judgement any desire to rush the drinking, and any impatience that comes.
- When you decide to swallow the tea, notice how that decision is made. Is it a conscious choice, or does it happen automatically? Stay present to the swallowing, the reflex movements in the back of the mouth and the throat, the trickle of liquid down into the stomach. How does it feel to be swallowing?
- Notice how the liquid seems to disappear. Is there a point when the tea stops being separate from you? When and how do you recognize that moment?
- Pause now, noticing any feelings of irritation, or thoughts such as: Hurry up, I’ve got better things to do. Or perhaps a sense of peace or stillness enters you. If so, where do you feel it? Is it changing from moment to moment, or staying the same? Maybe there’s something else going on in your mind and body, perhaps unrelated to the tea-drinking, pulling you into thoughts of the past or the future. If so, just notice it. Whatever comes up in your experience is okay from the perspective of meditation—there’s no right or wrong thing to notice. Bring gentle awareness to whatever emerges. Becoming conscious of how much the mind wanders is a sign of growing awareness.
- Take a look around you, opening your eyes to your surroundings without buying into evaluations about them. Just be aware of any thoughts or feelings that come up.
- Now, return your attention to the cup of tea in your hand. (Has the temperature dropped?) Watch as you decide when to begin the process of taking another sip. Return to step seven, and continue drinking the tea until the cup is empty, or you decide to stop drinking. If the latter, be curious about what is prompting that decision. Has the tea gone cold, has the taste changed, is there an impulse to get on with your next activity? (If the latter, what does that feel like? Is there a place in your body where you feel it most strongly?) Whatever you choose to do in each moment, try to watch the experience from an engaged observer’s perspective.
Halliwell cautions that you don’t have to follow these steps like a strict to-do list. Instead, he says the key is to open yourself to the spirit of the practice, sensing with gentle precision what’s happening, moment by moment, and coming back to sensing whenever you notice you’ve drifted into thought.
- Keep a few tea bags in your backpack or purse. Anywhere you encounter hot water, you can transform your ‘world’ into a mindful tea experience.
- Have warm/hot water at the ready! On the topic of hot water, nowadays you can buy water flasks that keep water warm for hours on end. Why not boil your hot water before you leave for the day, pour it into a flask and be ready for steeping at a moment’s notice?
- Consider blooming or flowering teas. Want to enhance the visual experience of your tea preparation and enjoyment? Check out Tea Bloom, Flower Pot Tea Company or Numi’s collection of blooming teas (among many others)…
- Attend a mindfulness tea. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, consider participating in Samovar Tea Lounge’s Mindfulness Tea. Ask for “Mindfulness Tea” and get a house-selected tea — for free!
- Prepare words or statements to read during your short or long mindful tea experience. Words may include peace, relax, soothe, calm, rest, tranquil, or grace. Statements may include “My body and mind feel calm and peaceful;” “I feel calm and relaxed because it’s good for my health;” “As this tea steeps, I choose to release feelings of stress and embrace rest.”
Links + Resources
- Men’s Health: The 9 Best Teas
- Mind Body Green: We Tried All The Calming Teas. Here Are The Ones That Actually Eliminated Our Anxiety
- The Cut: Will Chamomile Help Ease My Anxiety?
- Dr. Andrew Weil: 10 Reasons to Drink Green Tea
- Huffington Post: 6 Natural Tea Remedies for Stress and Anxiety
- Sip and Om – Combine your daily cup of tea with a guided meditation
Now that you’ve learned about tea, tea types, recommended teas and why tea is useful for a sensory relaxation kit, we encourage you to try different teas at different times. Before you know it, you’ll have your favorite teas for morning, noon and night; for various ailments, or for moments that call for focus, calming or celebration. Be sure to add a few tea bags to your sensory relaxation kit/bag/box and to your backpack, purse, glove compartment and wherever else.
You are worth taking time for.
Be on the lookout for the next article in our Sense to Soothe blog series. The topic? Aromatherapy.