Tea and yoga: an invitation to slow down
by Ariana Salvo
Picture this: you climb into a bed just made up with the softest sheets on a lovely breezy evening. Your windows are open. You can hear birdcall outside. The air is crisp. Moonlight pools across your bedroom floor and ripples over your bed linens. You fall back into the nest of your pillows, close your eyes, and slip into a deep, dream-filled sleep. The next morning, after a full night’s sleep you wake at first light feeling energized, your body and mind ready to begin a new day. You rise and go to the kitchen to put the kettle on—stand barefoot and listen to the pigeons on the windowsill. Inky blue light is slowly warmed by the sun. Your breath is deep and even. You can hear your own heartbeat. The kettle boils. You scoop a teaspoon of your favourite loose-leaf tea into the tea strainer and pour boiling water through it into your favourite mug. You savour the aroma released as the leaves unfurl in the water, watch steam spiral up into the hazy morning light. When it is steeped to perfection you carry your mug into the living room. Or out onto the deck under a lightening sky. You unroll your yoga mat, set your mug down on the floor beside it, and take child’s pose on your mat. For a few minutes you remain in the stillness—feel your own heart pumping in your chest; deepen your breath; enjoy the sensation of letting go of anything not essential to this moment. For the next hour there will be no alarms or phone calls or texts. Nobody will ask you for anything. You’re not in a hurry. There is nowhere else you need to be. You’re giving yourself the space to be. To breathe. To move, when and if that feels right. Once you’re settled, your mind at rest, you open your eyes, reach for your mug, and take a sip of tea, feel it move across your tongue and slide down your throat. You take a breath and release it. You set your mug down and begin to move – slowly circling your hands and fingers; rolling your head from side to side; reaching your arms up overhead stretching toward the sky. You let your body lead you – move in whatever way feels good. There is no right or wrong—just what feels good to you in this moment. Listen to your body. Let it show you what it needs to move into this day gracefully—fully grounded and at peace.
You can choose to start your day like this regularly. Maybe every day, but at least a few times a week. You can carve out this time. Yes, it takes discipline to not stay up too late the night before. It means you may only be able to watch one episode of your favourite series instead of two or three. You may need to ask your partner to help you with childcare for however long you give yourself, or put your kids to bed a little later so there is some chance they sleep a little longer in the morning. Some days won’t go as planned. Some days you will feel more like a run or want a leisurely breakfast in bed. Some days family and work commitments will intervene. Moderation and balance look different to each of us—I don’t practice every day. But once you find a new rhythm you will start to look forward to getting up earlier in the morning because you know that doing so will give you that precious time to be on your mat with your cup of tea and your breath and (at least some of the time!) no interruptions.
Before Covid I did yoga every now and then—when I had the time or was visiting a friend who did yoga. On weekends. It always felt good, but I didn’t do it often enough to see any long-term impacts on my life. Then, like many of us, I found myself locked in my house in the middle of snowy season during a global pandemic, unable to swim in the local pool or run on the indoor track because everything had shut down. I took a few online yoga classes to give myself something to do. It was good, but I found that the teacher’s instructions interrupted my flow, and that often I wanted to move in totally different ways than I was being instructed to. So I started doing my own thing. I would sit on my mat and listen to my body. Sometimes I felt like circling my hands. Sometimes like bending from side to side. Sometimes like arching my back. Sometimes like curling up in a ball. And sometimes I just wanted to breathe and sip my tea. I learned to do what felt right on that day at that moment, and as I moved, my body told me what it wanted to do next. I started following other yogis (@susanbishopyoga, @beahappyamy, @supermomtraci ) on Instagram whose practices I found inspiring for ideas of new ways to move that I might not have otherwise considered. As I got stronger, I drew from the practices of others—trying out new balances or poses. I tipped over. I fell. I got frustrated. I often felt clumsy or simply not strong or flexible enough. But I kept going. I started getting stronger. The sharp pain that I feel most days in my left hip due to scoliosis improved. I got more flexible. Slowly, slowly I noticed myself gaining confidence and a greater degree of grace. Even though I will never be a morning person, I noticed that I was excited to get out of bed earlier in the morning because I had my one hour of yoga and tea-sipping to look forward to. It became part of my daily ritual, and it was fun!
On days when I stay up too late and am unable to get up for my morning tea and yoga time, I notice a huge difference in how I move through my day. Starting the day with tea and yoga calms my nervous system and helps me to breathe more deeply. I feel more grounded and better able to cope with whatever the day brings. I notice greater ease in my interactions with others and overall feel calmer and happier. My daily ritual has also brought play back into my life. I integrate silliness into my practice, and I’ve learned to laugh at how seriously I sometimes take myself when I don’t quite have a pose right or am just not strong enough to do something and collapse into an ungraceful heap or lose my balance. I’ve become better at failing and picking myself back up—better at enjoying the learning process and the opportunity to integrate play into my day.
Tea has been a passion of mine for many years now. I drank herbal tea for years before crossing paths with Lady Baker’s Tea, and then developed a great love for black and green teas. My favourite morning tea is Keemun. I find its earthy aroma to be grounding and calming. I make mine fairly strong and I like to add a big dollop of honey and some creamy oat milk. I often stop during my practice to make another cup. Sometimes I’ve had three cups by the time I finish my morning yoga. My other favourite morning yoga tea is Milky Oolong. It has a light pale-yellow liqueur with a delicately sweet creaminess even without adding anything to it, and inhaling the aroma while I practice yoga makes me feel deeply peaceful.
I’ve been traveling around the world for the last five months doing research for a book I’m writing and catching up with friends I haven’t seen in years. Different languages. Different cultures. Constantly changing accommodations and adapting to new places and situations. The one thing that has remained constant is my daily tea and yoga ritual. I brought one bag of each of my two favourite Lady Baker’s yoga practice teas and my yoga mat with me on my trip. Over the last five months I have sipped my tea and done my yoga on bougainvillea draped decks, under dusty olive trees, on rooftops with views down to the sea and on verandas with panoramic views of lakes and mountain peaks, in bedrooms and kitchens and living rooms. I’m currently in Rome. I booked myself an Airbnb with a rooftop garden so that every morning I can practice yoga and sip my tea in a peaceful spot surrounded by flowers, birds, and a view out over the rooftops and domes. When I finally step off the island of my yoga mat, empty mug in hand, I feel rooted and calm—ready to go join the masses of cellphone yielding tourists, youth on scooters and bikes, and passionately gesticulating men and women yelling in Roman dialect as they navigate the tangle of cobbled city streets.
Despite all of the challenges and losses of the pandemic, now that the period of social isolation is over, I’m able to look back and say that for me Covid has had its gifts. One was realizing that slowing down – even if only for 15 minutes every day – and doing things that calm and centre like yoga and sipping tea – has an overwhelmingly positive impact on my relationship with myself and others, and on my work and ability to focus. I am trying to carry this particular daily ritual forward with me into our “new normal.”
What about you? Do you have a daily ritual/practice? Is tea integral to it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below this post if you do! (and if you don’t, it’s never too late to adopt one!)
How lovely to hear about your daily tea ritual and moving through your yoga practice as you travel. It sounds like time spent fully mindfully, open and present with your life. I have expanded my yoga practice and try to start my day with a formal meditation too. On these late summer days Lady Baker’s Blueberry tea is my favorite.