“Tea is more than an idealization of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life.”
—Okakuro Kazuko, author of the 1906 classic The Book of Tea
Tea has captivated me for many years. It’s been my morning elixir, my work companion during tedious (but unavoidable) tasks, that long warm hug on a tough day, and my inspiration to launch a small business. Tea is simple, yet complex. It has a way of helping me find my way back to myself. Each sip seems to slow down time, allowing me to notice what is right in front of me and to feel the sensations it brings to my body.
Slowing down and focusing on myself has been a priority for some time, especially since having two kids less than 18 months apart. I’ve wanted to learn how to meditate and create a consistent practice over the years, but it’s always been a struggle.
I understand the benefits of meditation, but I'm also a busy body. Historically, I’ve put productivity above all else when it comes to my own self-worth, and I grossly overestimate how much I can get done in a given day. This makes for a significant internal conflict when it comes to sitting still and “doing nothing.”
The Magical, Meditative Components of Tea
I was thrilled to find out that something I already do and love could actually help me be better at meditation: drinking tea! Buddhist monks discovered a long time ago—we’re talking around 1,000 years ago—that drinking tea before meditation sessions helped them feel alert and relaxed at the same time.
It seems slightly counterintuitive that something like tea could change our state of mind, but the components hidden inside the tea plant activate together to create the perfect mental state for meditation.
Monks had centuries of field testing with real-life results. The science came later; numerous studies confirm what the monks already knew, and put a name to the two compounds that help us achieve a relaxed, yet alert mental state. In tea, nature combined caffeine and L-theanine, the perfect recipe that helps us maintain a meditative state.
True tea, from the Camellia sinensis plant, has naturally occurring caffeine in the leaves. While in small doses caffeine can be helpful in staying alert and focused, it also has a stimulating effect within the adrenal system that can create anxiety, restlessness, increase in blood pressure, and a rapid pulse. As you can imagine, these dramatically affect the ability to slow down thoughts and relax into a meditative state.
Enter the unsung hero, L-theanine, the amino acid that increases alpha-wave activity in the brain, relaxing the mind without drowsiness. When our alpha brain waves are increased, this allows us to reach a meditative state while also helping our body reduce anxiety and stress. Additionally, L-theanine counteracts the pulse and blood pressure effects of caffeine, making the two compounds an ideal match, leaving us with an alert, but calm state of mind.
I put this discovery to the test and created a meditation practice specifically to piggyback on my regular tea time. My five-day experiment taught me these critical pieces of meditation success.
Putting a Plan Into Action
My plan was to schedule time to meditate every day around 4 pm, just after drinking a cup of green tea. I only wanted to meditate for 10 minutes; I felt like 10 minutes was achievable, and what I’ve learned from James Clear and his book Atomic Habits is that I needed to make my new habit as easy as possible in order to stick with it. (Follow-through isn’t my strong suit when it comes to brain and body exercises.) Plus, I felt like I could make time for it. It was just 10 minutes after all.
Choose the Right Tea for Meditation
I made sure that I had chosen a tea that would work for my experiment, one that encouraged me to look forward to meditating. These were my criteria:
- Moderate caffeine level: white, green, or light oolong tea.
- Limited amount of sweetener so the sugar wouldn’t affect my body and mental state
- Tea with flavor that I absolutely love
- Tea that’s easy to prepare so I don’t subconsciously avoid set-up and clean-up
Find a Comfortable Space
The space I gave to my meditation experiment wasn’t ideal, but I don’t yet have a dedicated area of my house for relaxation. I picked my most comfortable chair—one that my husband made in a woodworking class with nice cushions and back support—and brought along my favorite fuzzy blanket.
I set a time on my calendar for the next five days and included a reminder (nothing happens for me without that reminder chime) so I felt fully committed and nothing would interfere.
Choose a Meditation Type
Once I became a little more educated on the various types of meditation, I realized the method is important. I used to think meditation was an attempt to clear the mind of all thoughts for a period of time, but there’s more to it than that, and there are countless different practices. I encourage you to do a little research and pick the one that’s right for you.
Here’s a short list of the popular meditation modalities, but there are many derivatives of this list:
- Mindful meditation
- Visualization meditation
- Spiritual / chanting meditation
- Movement meditation
- Focused meditation
I’ve experimented with a few different types of meditation; my preference is guided visual meditation. The guide’s voice can help give you something to concentrate on, or in this case visualize, so your mind doesn’t wander as easily. It’s great for beginners, and there are many guided meditation podcasts, apps, and videos available for free.
I drank a jasmine green tea with honey 30 minutes before the scheduled meditation session, as this was the timeframe used in the scientific studies showing how long it takes L-theanine and caffeine to fully activate in the body.
After the fifth straight day of drinking tea before meditating, I noticed a few things:
- Because I really looked forward to drinking my favorite tea, I also looked forward to meditating.
- 10 minutes was the perfect length to be able to hold my attention and feel like it wasn’t intruding on my productivity time.
- I didn’t accidentally fall asleep. I didn’t feel jittery or anxious either.
- I felt the need to meditate toward the end of the day, when I was mentally fatigued from working and being with my kids.
Since the meditation experiment, I’ve explored other methods, different teas, and different lengths of time, but pairing my meditation practice with tea really helped me break the barrier to feeling like I could do it.
If you only take one thing away from my experience, I hope it’s that meditation isn’t one-size-fits-all. It takes practice and experimentation. Don’t overcomplicate it—or be afraid to actually enjoy it!
Want more? Download our ebook Tea: Handheld Meditation.