Buddha and teapot image

Tea & Yoga are a match made in heaven.

Many people throughout the world use yoga practice as their morning wake up, helping them to start the day in a relaxed, yet energised way, using the practice to centre themselves and become aware of and connect to their body, ready to face whatever the day throws at them.

Others use a tea meditation, or some form of it, by mindfully focusing on the preparation and drinking of tea, again allowing their minds to focus, become relaxed yet more alert.

And throughout the day, in times of stress, yogis will find time and space to stop, bring awareness to their breath and / or “do some yoga”, some gentle or energetic postures or flows to bring themselves back to themselves, to de-stress, relax and refresh.

Others will resort to a cuppa in such times of stress. Remember the advert in the eighties: “I could do with a D?” If not, here’s my gift to you… https://youtu.be/ZskExmLCTIM

How many times have we said “I need a cup of tea!” and then, suddenly, when we’re sitting down enjoying our brew, everything suddenly seems ok, we’re relaxed and revived.

The similarities are many.


Why though?

Well, anyone who mindfully enjoys tea, or practices yoga, or both, will probably know that it’s true, but they might not know why.
As with everything in life, it’s all to do with chemical goings on.

More specifically in this case though, amino acids, methylxanthines and endorphins. Don’t worry, I’ll explain!

Here’s what happens with tea. (It’s about to get geeky…)

Fresh tea leaves contain stuff called amino acids and other stuff called Methylxanthines.

The amino acid we’re concerned with right now, that you’ll probably not have heard of is Theanine and, specifically L-Theanine. The Methylxanthine we’re concerned with is called caffeine. Bet you’ve heard of that.

 

Chart showing effects of L-Theanine on Alpha Brain Wave Activity versus placebo

Chart showing effects of L-Theanine on Alpha Brain Wave Activity versus placebo

Theanine & Alpha Brain Wave Activity

So, Theanine promotes alpha brain wave activity, which are the type of waves our brains produce when we are “awake but relaxed and not processing much information – such as first thing in the morning, just before you go to sleep, when you’re daydreaming or practicing meditation.”

 

“In studies, alpha activity has been linked to a reduction in stress, anxiety, discomfort and pain. It may also help with memory.” [2] So THAT’S why you need a cuppa when you’re feeling stressed & frazzled. Back to our “I could do with a D” ad… Well that’s why. Brooke Bond D, like all teas, contains L-Theanine to help you chill the hell out.

 

And caffeine? Well, you know what that does…

Caffeine is a Methylxanthine that exists naturally in tea leaves, and it’s a stimulant whose most noticeable effect on the brain is alertness, so you’ll feel more awake and less tired after a brew.

So Theanine and caffeine lead a merry dance to leave you in a state of “mindful alertness”!
Ahhh bliss.

(Thanks here to Tony Gebely, whose wonderful book “Tea: A User’s Guide” has helped & inspired us on our tea journeys and provides the basis for the above chemistry lesson.)[1]


So that’s tea, what about yoga?

Person doing yoga meditation with sun behind

Well, yoga asana (postures) practice is only one of 8 “limbs” of yoga, intended to get the body and mind ready for meditation practice.

And many yoga classes will incorporate pranayama (breath focus) practices that will lengthen the breath, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – your body’s rest & digest state – releasing feel good endorphins such as oxytocin & serotonin, to make you feel relaxed, calm and happy. In fact, the word endorphin was an abbreviation of “endogenous morphine”, which means “morphine produced naturally in the body”[3]. So there you have it.

Put another way, your alpha brain wave activity increases when lengthening your breath and focusing mindfully on your practice. Sound familiar?

 

A powerful (and peaceful) combination

In combination with this increased alpha brain wave activity and relaxation, these practices and a constant focus on the breath whilst undertaking your practice (a mainstay of many types of yoga (asana) practice), enables you to take on and circulate more oxygen round the body, which in turn is transmitted to the brain, allowing you to experience higher mental ability and alertness.

In addition, the natural stress releasing from stretching out tight muscles, and the release of endorphins from the aerobic movement increase both sides of this relax & refresh practice.

 

As my yoga teacher Simon says: “…you will find two important pathophysiological changes happening: Your respiration rate slows, stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system, making you feel more calm & relaxed; and secondly, you take more air into your body, and when this extra oxygen hits your brain you will become more alert, bringing about the perfect state of relaxation combined with mental alacrity not just for yoga asana and meditation, but for everything you do in life.”

So, you might say the combination of natural relaxants and feel good endorphins released by the body, coupled with the increased alertness derived from a yoga practice is much like the combination of increased alpha brain wave activity from L-Theanine in tea, combined with the alertness derived from the caffeine hit of your brew, making tea & yoga perfect bed-fellows!

So next time you’re stressed desperate for a brew, you’ll know why. And when you feel that connection with your tea as a yogi you’ll understand why. It’s all in the chemistry.

Marco x
(Marc is a qualified yoga teacher who runs classes in Sheffield, UK & is also what he might call a “Qualified By Experience” Tea Maestro)

 

 

[1] Gebely: “Tea: A User’s Guide”, Eggs & Toast Media LLC, 2016
[2] https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides/information/how-and-why-boost-your-alpha-brainwaves
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorphins
[4] Borrowed with permission from Simon Barth. Simon is a wonderful yoga teacher & exceptional human being who teaches yoga classes in Sheffield and also runs a yoga teacher training school

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  1. […] But there are deeper ties for us between tea & art. Tea and art both have meditative effects. Tea can inspire art, help artists discover a sense of peace and focus, or conversely, a caffeine hit to keep them going (see our piece on Tea & Yoga). […]

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