meditation

Need More Self-Control? Try a Simple Ritual.

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A few days ago I posted a video entitled the Importance of Ritual and Matcha Making, in which I was sitting on my deck on a clear Seattle morning, capturing the my process of sifting and whisking my chawan of matcha before sitting down to meditate. Imagine my surprise when I find an email from one of my favorite magazines (sadly now only online), Scientific American Mind, declaring how any simple ritual can improve overall self-control. To add to my delight, the image was of a hand whisking a bowl of matcha. I guess science has now proven what we in the tea and matcha tribe have known all along - our daily ritual can improve our life.

Making Matcha

Making Matcha

My Morning Matcha on My Alter

My Morning Matcha on My Alter

 

One of my favorite classes to teach at Bastyr University was Myth, Ritual and Health, where we explored the power of both stories and rituals to influence, shape and heal our lives. During class, we took a closer look at our daily routines, and considered how to elevate our unconscious, mindless habits to the status of ritual, thereby infusing them with meaning and purpose. Together, the students and I soon discovered that the key is not what we do, but how we do it. For example, consider something you might do daily, like taking a shower. How do you take a shower? If you add it all the minutes, how much time have you spent bathing? And during all that time, how present were you? This, of course, begs the question, how present would you like to be in your life? Rather than mindlessly rushing through the process, you could engage fully in the moment by embracing all your senses: the feel of the water as moves across your skin, the fragrance of the soap, the texture of the towel as you dry off. Or you might meditate on gratitude: for the clean water itself, for the access to water, for the time and safety to bathe, for all those people who had a hand in ensuring that when you turned on the facet, fresh water spilled forth. Rather than viewing each activity as tasks to check off our list (a formula for stress), what if we were to have respect for every minute of our lives and honor each daily experience by showing up for ourselves in the present? 

 

How can you add more meaning and purpose into your daily life? 
Which daily habits would you like to elevate to the status of ritual? 

Meditation & Matcha on my Yoga Mat

Meditation & Matcha on my Yoga Mat

The Importance of Ritual and Making Matcha

I believe in the power of ritual. Most of modern life seems to be collection of leaping from one event to the next, often while doing something else like texting or checking one's schedule, preventing us from being present to the moment, missing our transitions and goodbyes. 

I am so appreciative that my daily morning ritual begins with matcha. While much shorter than a traditional ceremony, I still manage to practice patience and presence. I don't use a kama or a furo to hold the water. I don't use my hishaku to pour the water into the chawan. However, my process is still meditative, reflective and intentional. I sift the matcha slowly, pushing it through the strainer rather than scraping. Yes it takes time, but I try to be with the matcha. While whisking, I silently recite my morning intentions and prayers, infusing my elixir with meaning and purpose. Then I arrive at the rich and complex sensations which come from the first sip. Meditating on the physical sensations of taste is a wave that lasts for several minutes. Then I sit. 

How much of our day is spent mindlessly moving from one event, task, conversation or connection to the next without honoring the process or the people involved? Make some matcha, have a cup of tea. Take your time and savor the moment. Practiced daily, perhaps it will change your world. 

A Teapot & A Teacup

On Instagram last week, one of the people I follow, Arturo Alvarez, also known as your_pencil, was doing a Teapot Giveaway. The winner was drawn from anyone who reposted one of his photos. I have followed him for a few months now, and adore all of his creations. So in an Instagram instant, I scrolled through his photos and picked this gem to repost, and waited, knowing that the recipient would be announced after the weekend. 

Monday morning I opened IG and was surprised and delighted to learn that I actually won the enchanting yixing and cup below.  In the traditional gong fu tea ceremony (工夫茶), which translates to making tea with skill, pu erh or oolong tea was used, and not green tea. I have no photos of the pot with tea since I cannot decide whether or not I want to use, let alone the type of tea to choose - oolong or pu erh. Decision, decisions!

I am so impressed by the intricacies of the design. I cannot imagine how much focus and control is involved in creating these beautifully delicate and detailed vessels. Studying my new teapot reminds to appreciate all aspects of the meditation on tea, and this include the craftsmanship and artistry of the tea ware.

How much do we take for granted?  How often do we feel isolated and alone? Moreover, how often do we tell ourselves we are strong and independent, without need of help, support or the influence of anyone else? If you are reading this on a phone or a computer, can you appreciate the number of people who have touched your lives in this moment? Did you build your own phone? Did you generate your own electricity to charge it?  Did you even lay down the cables, cords, and wires through which your power and internet run?  Do you even know how to make cables and wires? We flip a switch, press a button or turn a key, and expect magically that lights will appear or machinery will move, and we smile and think we did this ourselves. But how many people are actually involved in every aspect of our lives - from growing our food, transporting it, stocking it, selling it?  When you begin to think about it, in very rare instances do we do anything without help or assistance. 

Thank you, your_pencil, for reminding me to examine the details in life and appreciate our interconnectedness and interdependence.  

O-My, I Love O-5Tea

A month ago I was invited to speak at the naturopathic medical school in Vancouver, BC about my some of my favorite topic, mind-body medicine & the healing power of the breath. As is typical before any travel I take, I jumped online and googled "teahouses in the Vancouver area". Since neither close to my hotel nor the school, I was resolved to spend my remaining time in Canada drinking in the beauty that O-Five Tea Bar was, before returning to Seattle, and I am oh so glad I did. 

The O5Tea Bar

Being mid-day on a Wednesday, and armed with my gift of parking karma, I found a spot directly in front of the storefront. When I got out of my car, however, I became slightly disoriented when I looked up to see a DavidsTea in front of me. Immediately my heart sank, and I feared that O5Tea had been purchased by the larger company or was put out of business since people might mistaken one tea store for the other. However, looking around I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that O5Tea was still there. I have nothing against DavidsTea. How could I? A day earlier, I found one of their locations a block from my hotel, and grabbed myself a quick matcha latte before heading to teach. I have visited their establishment on several occasions when traveling, when unable to find a teahouse, or when I am on the go and crave a matcha latte. It is never a replacement for my morning matcha meditation ritual, yet it is still enjoyable. And I can appreciate that DavidsTea and other such chain stores are exposing more and more people to the joy of tea. That said, O5Tea is in another league.

First of all, O5Tea is not your typical shop. It is a teahouse which pays attention to every detail. They are Obsessed with the Origin or source of their tea (the O of O5), and they are passionate about and care deeply about the earth from which the tea is grown as well as the people who farm the tea. Believing in harmony and balance, the 5 stands for the elements - Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and the Void. 

Due to their respect for balance, harmony and the elements, O5Tea encourages the meditative experience of tea. Walking through the door, the calm energy is palpable. The lighting is cool, the colors and materials (wood) are rich and deep. No cold or sterile feeling with bright fluorescent lights at all. This is where you can sit and savor the entire tea experience, and not just grab a paper cup of tea while on the run. 

As a matcha-holic, I felt as if I entered a matcha nirvana. Not only do they have numerous chawans on display, you are able to select the chawan in which you would like your matcha served, which only enhanced the overall experience. Being able to spend time holding, feeling and examining the bowls that called to me initiated the meditative experience.  At first making a selection was daunting since each and every bowl was a stunning work of art. Yet quieting myself, I was drawn to a specific few. Each had its own story and I was please to know others would be standing on this spot, repeating this experience of taking time to be present and examine the vessel in which they will drink their tea.

 

Matcha & Green Tea Menu

 

Of course the chawan was not the most important selection in the overall process.  I still had to choose my matcha. Fortunately my options were not as numerous. With only four on the menu, I still struggled nonetheless. Thankfully with a recommendation from Jacob who was preparing my matcha, and I settled on two - the organic Kirishima and the Okumidori. Then I sat down at the only table by the window, and patiently waited as my elixirs were prepared.

To my table were delivered two intoxicating bowls of thick, rich and vibrant green matcha. Whenever there is organic matcha to be tasted, I must try it, and the Kirishima did not disappoint. It was smooth and creamy with just a slight bitterness, yet it had a lovely sweet vegetal finish which lingered. I loved it. Then I tried the single cultivar Okumidori which whisked into such a rich broth, with a thick creama, and an intense smoothness without any astringency. The finish lasted quite some time and I could feel myself exhaling fully. Of course I couldn't leave Canada without my own supply. I wish I had stayed longer to try the other two matchas on the menu. Were they half as incredible as these... I can't even imagine!

You can select the chawan you want to use for your matcha. Each are a work of art.

The Process

Kirishima & Okumidori Matcha

 

Of course O5Tea serves more than just matcha. They carries a selection of greens, senchas, oolongs, blacks, pu erhs, and even kombucha. And of course, they know the land on which all the teas were grown, and the farms cared for it. Since I fell in love with the Kirishima matcha, I did decide to purchase a few grams of the Kanyamidori sencha from the same farm as well without even tasting it. Once at home, I made a pot and was intoxicated by its subtle aroma and sweet and earthy refined taste. 

I appreciate all that O5Tea has to offer.  If you are a tea drinker of any variety, when in Vancouver, you must visit this place. I promise you won't be disappointed. You can also order online which I plan to do soon as my supply is dwindling.  

 

Pu erh Selection

Making the Kirishima Matcha at Home

What I love about high quality matcha is not just the unique, incredible, and layered flavor profile, but also the way I feel mentally, emotionally and physically after a few sips. As the Zen monks, samurai and shogun have all recognized, matcha brings clarity to the mind-body. The entire process, from selecting the chawan, to drinking the matcha was an act of mindful attention. The matchas from O5 were incredible, and I with each sip I could feel my entire mind-body respond, as if exhaling completely and fully, releasing any tension and tightness. My mind clears and I am focused. This is not to say such clarity is absent the rest of the day; it is just enhanced. 

An important point about daily meditation practice, which includes my matcha ritual, is that it trains and re-wires the mind-body to respond in a particular way. If you want to cultivate peace of mind, mindful presence or even compassion, you must practice. As I sit here writing this, all my years of practice enable me to recall that sensation of release, even without tea, allowing me to settle a bit more.

One breath practice I often use to further that release of tension is to imagine the breath like a healing wave, traveling throughout my mind-body to the places that require attention. I envision my tension (physical, mental or emotional) as the seashore riddled with footprints, seaweed or small shells. This healing breath washes over those places of tension, wipes them clean, then carries any debris out to the vast eternal ocean and transforms it to peace. Thus with each inhale, I invite in healing and peace, and with each exhale, my mind-body softens and soothes.

Walking into O5Tea was like breathing in the healing wave. My mind-body calmed, I settled, and I enjoyed the experience.  The next time you sit down with your bowl of matcha or cup of tea, my you find peace and tranquility in the moment. 

Encha Matcha & Gratitude for Gaia

Encha Matcha & Gratitude for Gaia

 

The Matchaeologist Has Me Counting my Breath

My first Matchaeologist Set with their Matsu variety of matcha

My first Matchaeologist Set with their Matsu variety of matcha

Before I conceived of this blog, I went on an ordering spree and purchased matcha from everywhere. Reading the reviews of fellow tea fanatics, I was drawn to the aesthetics of the Matchaeologist.  The muted tones of the website, the simplicity of the chasen (bamboo whisk), the beautiful of the chawan (matcha bowl), the sleek and fragile nature of the glass chashaku (scoop), and the packaging all took my breath away. Little did I know that their matcha would steal my heart and taste buds!

I had purchased my matcha set that contained the Matsu variety several months ago, but that quickly disappeared with daily (or twice daily) consumption. The small glass, hand-blown chawan accompanying this set is a perfect size for a single serving. Personally, I vacillate between preferring koicha (a thick froths concentrated shot of matcha) and ushacha (the traditional thinner form made with more water making a top layer of froth).  This chawan is perfect for both. It is easy to hold, the double walls prevent quick heat loss, and the rim allows for all the matcha to make it to your mouth, unlike the lips of some bowls and tea cups. Since the mouth of this chawan is smaller, the chasen (whisk) needs to be smaller, too, and I love their whisk (which I find myself using frequently regardless of the chawan I use).  The glass chashaku is beautiful and sleek, yet fragile. I broke the first one quite soon after my initial purchase.  With my recent order, I purchased 2 more. However, within a day of its arrival, I dropped one on the counter and shattered it to pieces. Although I still love it, I have gone back to using my bamboo one for safety sake! 

I was so excited to compare all three ceremonial varieties - and Matchaeologist, you may have become my favorite distributor yet! This week I posted pictures with a short review of about each on my Instagram account. Yet for this post, I am tasting each of them again (one after another - luckily it is still early in the day), and my opinions have shifted a bit as I am tasting koichas of each.  However, overall theme - PURE LOVE!!!

Three Ceremonial - Grade Matchas from the Matchaeologist

Three Ceremonial - Grade Matchas from the Matchaeologist

 

First of all, all three of these matchas have a deep emerald rich green that is stunning to behold.  You do not need to sift these matchas since they do not seem to clump even with the smallest amount of water. And the smell - while all are different, my mouth starts salivating from the whiff of the grassy, vegetal aroma. 

Let's start with the Meiko. The website describes on their website as brewing as a "deeply rich emerald green cordial with robust body, sweet-savoury undertones and a bouquet of floral notes and delicate tannins." The color is a stunningly gorgeous emerald green. Meiko has a sweet ooika fragrance (an aroma found in shade-grown green tea), which is grassy and vegetal. But the taste!  Ahhhhh. It is full, rich and savory, with only a slight note of tannins to my palate and not at all bitter and left that exciting light sensation on my tongue.  Yum!

 

Their website calls this next matcha the jewel in their crown, their creme de la creme of matcha, Misaki. Again the intensity of the color is bold and striking. I found this matcha the lightest and sweetest of the trio, and I definitely prefer Miaski as a koicha (what I am sipping right now). I found no bitter notes nor unpleasant aftertaste at all. My nose detected less aroma for both the matcha or koicha of Misaki than the other two, but that is not to detract from its amazing taste.  

Even though Misaki may be their jewel, my favorite might be Matsu. When I opened the package, again it was richly green, but I noticed the aroma was less intense, less vegetal and grassy, so I thought the taste would not be as complex. But I was wrong. I find it the richest and most full-bodied of them all, with the wonderful umami (savory - sweet) undertones. It whisked easily and the flavor remains after each sip. 

 

In all honesty, each of these matchas are exceptional. After each bowl, I feel clear, alert and calm, without any jitteriness or hyperactivity.  With clarity of the mind, I can meditate and focus with ease. 

Since I am comparing three different teas, my mind is drawn to breath counting meditation.  The goal of breath counting is to cultivate skill at attention, focus and concentration.  When we concentrate on a singular object, like counting the number of breaths we take, we are able to briefly disrupt any unwanted and intrusive thoughts, and bring the mind back to the moment.   

Allow the body to settle into a gentle, easy posture, preferably seated, in which you can rest for several minutes.  Begin by observing the air as it comes in and out of your body, filling your lungs, and leaving your lungs.  Notice what happens, what you experience, without expectation. Observe the natural movements of the body as you breathe.  Observe any impulse to change or manipulate your breath in anyway.  Observe this, then practice simply allowing the breath to come in and out at its own pace, rate and rhythm. 

For the remainder of the practice, count every inhalation and every exhalation in this manner: 1 in, 2 out, 3 in, 4 out, and so on until you get to 9 in, 10 out.  Once you reach 10, simply start over again at 1 in, 2 out. 

But here is the catch, every time you find that your mind wanders, start the entire cycle over again.  For instance, you might find you experience something like this:  1 in, 2 out, 3 in..oh, I forgot to get something at the grocery store..1 in, 2 out, 3 in…oh, the dry cleaning is…. 1 in, 2 out, 3 in, 4 out, 5 in..did I pay that bill yesterday?… 1 in, 2 out… 

Whenever you notice you got lost along the way, start over.  Sometimes people loose track of counting and forgot to begin again once they reach 10.  If this happens for you, smile inwardly and start again at 1.  Bring your mind back to the breath and back to the count.  

Mentally try to become the count.  When you are counting “one” imagine every part of your being is saying “one” and nothing else.  When you say, “two” – everything about you is saying two and nothing else – as if your whole mind-body is saying “two”.  Every time a thought comes breaks free and takes up residence in your mind, notice it, acknowledge it, then gently bring your mind back to the breath and the count.  If an urge to move arises, notice that, and keep counting. If you feel an itch or urge to blow your notice – watch those sensations.  See what happens if you don’t follow every impulse you have. If it is a strain not to move, then do so mindfully.  And in the next moment, bring your attention back to counting your breath – 1 in, 2 out… 

The goal is not to make it to 10, the goal is to notice when the mind wanders and bring it gently back to the present and back to 1.  If you notice that you never make it to 10, then you succeeded in being mindful.   Be gentle with yourself and see what happens.   ☺

Mauna Kea Tea Farm

The Tea Fields at Mauna Kea Tea Farm 

Before every trip, whether traveling in the US or internationally, I scour the guide books and the internet to discover if my destination might have local places that serve tea. At the very least I hope to find for a spot to grab a cup of tea. If luckier, I might discover a quaint little teahouse. If truly blessed and I find nirvana, some place is serving (unsweetened) matcha in a real matcha bowl. Although I knew of many types of farms on the islands of Hawaii, I never Hawaii was home to several tea farms. I never heard of Hawaiian tea. But now I was not only going to go on vacation in the SUN, I was going to tour Mauna Kea Farm, an organic tea farm on the Big Island.   

The Tea Fields at Mauna Kea Tea Farms#2

When I arrived I was greeted by Kimberly Ino, who started the farm with her husband, Taka, about 10 years ago. Kimberly walked us through the sloping fields and shared the story of Taka's passion for  nature farming and tea.  Wandering the crops of camellia sinensis at various stages of growth and development, with the mid-morning sun cascading over the trees, I was in heaven. I realize that being off the mainland and unplugged from my daily life had such a calming effect. Yet the plants were calming as well, and Kimberly had me taste a few of the fresh tender leaves. 

 

Fortunately, that was not the end of the tour. Kimberly took me inside for a proper tasting of their harvest. At Mauna Kea they have several levels of tea, and we tried them all (even the blended teas, which I usually don't like, but more on that in a bit). 

Mauna Kea Premium Green Tea

Mauna Kea's Premium Green Tea is considered their "queen of teas,"  where they harvest only the tender bud and top two leaves. Next down in price point is their Island Green, which also has the bud, but also the top three leaves.  And finally, they have their Sweet Roast, where the plants are mechanically topped in the final harvest. And I loved them all (I bought some off each, including their blended teas), savoring each for their different flavor profiles. 

As I write this now, I am sitting here, on a snowy day in Seattle, sipping their Premium Green. It is clear, light green in color, very smooth, not astringent at all, and delicious. I don't recall tasting a green tea quite like this one, and I immediately calm and and settled. 

 

 

 

The Sweet Roast is also very unique.  In lieu of my afternoon Dragonwell, I have started drinking this unusual blend. This is the last harvest and the leaves, stems, etc. are mechanically topped off before roasting. 

 

 

 

As I mentioned, I tend to not be a fan of blended or flavored teas. Being a bit of a purest, I find mixing green tea with anything is sacrilege, although I will indulge in a matcha latte from time to time. However, Mauna Kea Tea has two amazing blends - one with Coconut (and I am not talking about synthetic coconut flavoring, but real dried coconut) and the other with Turmeric and Ginger. Home timely that I purchased these since a week after returning from Hawaii, the cold I so valiantly was fighting got the better of me. Not want to be completely without green tea, yet craving some warming spices, I found my healing solution right here - their Sweet Roast blend with turmeric, ginger, coconut, cinnamon, and black paper. In my mind, it aided in my healing time. 

I remember learning about a Hawaiian reconciliation practice called Ho’Oponopono. This practice was used to heal relationships, whether within a family, a community, between neighbors or with the gods. Ho'Oponopono invites you to make amends, thereby addressing the true cause of dis-ease - fracture relationships. Some believe that all illness stems from the tears in the fabrics of our relationships. By healing these rifts and making amends, we heal.

While often done in the presence of those with whom you are having difficulties, Ho'Oponopono can be practiced as mantra meditation, where you recite four simple phrases repeatedly, much like Metta Meditation. 

I'm sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

I love you.

  1. Make a commitment to yourself (and your loved ones) to heal. Ask yourself, if I truly want to improve this relationship, am I willing to put in the time and effort to do what it takes.
  2. Set your intention. Call to mind the person or persons with whom you wish to create a more fulfilling and positive relationship. However, you can work on creating a more healing and supportive relationship with yourself. How often do we repeat negative comments to ourselves, criticizing and chastising ourselves for not being good enough, productive enough, smart enough, creative enough, etc. If that is the case, you can call to mind a quality you would like to cultivate in yourself, for instance more compassion or kindness. 
  3. Blame less; take responsibility. Release any story of right or wrong, who is at fault, and or what is wrong or right that keep you stuck in the past. To take responsibility means to take action and begin the practice. 
  4. Practice. Practice. Practice.

So after a few sips of my Premium Green Tea, I sit down on my cushion and begin. Breathing out and breathing I say silently to myself:

I'm sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

I love you.

Try these steps and see what happens.  I would love to hear about your experience. 

 

Samovar Tea & Chai Providing Green Ecstasy Tea & Loving Others

Samovar Tea & Chai Providing Green Ecstasy Tea & Loving Others

 

Marcus Aurelius and Metta Meditation & Matcha from American Tearoom

Marcus Aurelius and Metta Meditation & Matcha from American Tearoom