Those learning to meditate often agree that the most challenging aspect of the practice is silencing the chatter of the mind. One way to ease into sitting, still meditation is to practice a moving meditation, which can be anything from dance to yoga to walking.
My personal favorite of these moving practices is tea meditation. Taking the time – even if it’s just a few minutes – to brew a cup of tea mindfully can help to quiet the thoughts of my mind and allow me to become fully present in the here and now.
Read on to learn about the history and benefits of tea meditation, as well as the steps to take to enjoy the practice on your own.
The origins of tea meditation
Tea made its way to Japan by way of China around 1100 A.D. when the Japanese Zen monk Eisai Zenji brought tea seeds back to his home country. Tea was swiftly adopted by the Japanese people and became an integral component of the nation’s culture. Zen monks even adopted it as a means to stay alert and awake during their meditations.
Tea’s enchanting aroma, soul-soothing qualities and mindful nature made it a natural inclusion in the daily life of Zen monks who sought satori (or enlightenment) in the midst of everyday mundane activities. Tea then organically evolved, at least for those students of Zen, into yet another beautiful form of meditation.
The modern Japanese tea ceremony is an elaborate ritual made up of countless choreographed movements that take years to perfect. While it is beautiful to watch, the ceremony, in my opinion, is not necessary to learn to enjoy the elegance of tea’s simplistic nature or enjoy the benefits of mindful tea preparation and drinking.
Benefits of tea meditation
By practicing tea meditation, or by mindfully preparing and sipping tea, one can enjoy many benefits that can bolster all aspects of one’s life. Tea meditation helps one to:
- Foster a sense of gratitude and respect for nature and life
- Decrease stress and improve emotional health
- Improve clarity of mind, alertness and attention span
- Establish a morning ritual that gets the day started on the right foot
- Enhance self-awareness
- Enjoy the health benefits of both drinking tea (including a focused energy boost)
- Prepare for and improve sitting meditation practices (especially when practiced in the morning)
- Nurture relationships and generate kindness
How to practice tea meditation
The following tea meditation is one that I try to practice every day. It’s simple, straightforward and immensely nourishing.
The key is to follow each step in mindfulness. No matter how you choose to prepare your tea, what type of tea you drink or where you drink it, do so attentively with a complete awareness of the present moment. Give yourself completely to the entire process of preparing and drinking your tea, from start to finish.
The steps are as follows:
Boil Water. Whoever said a watched pot doesn’t boil clearly didn’t practice meditation. Ignore that piece of age-old advice, and simply sit, watch and listen as the water slowly comes to a boil. Notice your breath as you sit there. Inhale and exhale as if each breath is cleansing your entire body and your mind. How does it feel to be purified by this life-giving breath?
Steep. As the tea leaves steep in the water, allow yourself to steep in the moment: the here and the now. Continue to focus on your breath. If your mind starts to wander, simply note the thought, and let it pass. Bring your attention back to your breath, and the tea leaves as they open and unfurl in front of you. Savor the quiet, and relax into it.
Pour. Before you take your first sip, consume the tea with your other senses. Listen to the tea pouring into the cup like a babbling brook. Appreciate the eye-catching color of the liquor. Feel the warmth and the weight of the filled cup in your hands. Breathe in the tea’s aromas. Does the scent remind you of anything? Grass? Honeysuckle? Chocolate? A forest after the rain?
Give thanks. Take a moment to appreciate the tea and everything that had to happen for you to experience it. Express your gratitude for all the things that made your cup of tea a reality. For a moment, expand that thought to yourself and the knowledge that you, too, depend on infinite things and people to exist as you are. Give thanks to the tea, and to yourself for taking the time to practice mindfulness.
Drink. Take a sip as if it’s the first time you’ve ever tasted tea. Then, slowly, take another small sip. Savor the flavors, the texture and the warmth as the tea coats your mouth and glides across your palate. Take it slow and be intentional with every sip. Notice without judgement any desire to rush through your cup, and any impatience that you experience. Should any thoughts, feelings or sensations arise, gently acknowledge them and return your attention to the tea.
Your tea meditation does not need to be lengthy; simply take five minutes to practice in the morning or whenever you need a break. Or, you can stretch it out to as long as one whole hour, as monk Thich Nhat Hanh explained to Oprah. It’s really up to you, and what your needs are.
You also don’t have to follow this meditation step by step. The key is to open yourself to the essence of the practice, sensing with gentle precision what’s happening in this moment and by returning to the object of your meditation (the tea) whenever you recognize you’ve drifted into thought.
Happy – and mindful – sipping, y’all.