Thursday, December 28, 2006

Health and the Tea Mind

I don’t often discuss the health benefits that come with drinking tea – mostly because although I started drinking tea to be healthier, it was also because I just like tea and I like my caffeine (hence my attraction to black tea), and it made a good alternative to the soda I lived on in high school and college. And while I am well aware of the benefits of drinking tea, I feel that the whole tea “experience” should be more of a main focus, simply because for most people, things that are “healthy” quickly lose their appeal, and focusing on the health benefits can make drinking tea feel more like an obligation than a pleasure. It’s just how many of us humans are “wired” – I think the average person has a tendency to rebel against what’s good for us if we focus on that aspect.

Or maybe it’s just me.

So here’s the story of how I fell in love with Tea. It all started with my paternal grandmother, who was absent for all but a few months of my childhood. She lived far away in a state called Texas, supposedly remaining there due to the cancer that was in remission. When she was 50 years old, she found a lump on the side of her neck. It turned out to be non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – cancer in the lymph nodes on her neck. I’m not sure what treatments they used, but it was never truly cured, but warmer weather seemed to keep it in remission. So she remained in Texas, a ghostly member of the family who called on birthdays and sent checks, but was rarely seen by anyone. She moved up here a few years ago to live with my parents, and then eventually moved into the nursing home she had been a director at years ago. She died this past fall of an infection that couldn’t be healed.

My dad had always told me that when he turned 30, his metabolism slowed down, which caused a great amount of weight gain that he has trouble with even now. His mother was obese, and it may have contributed to the cancer. My maternal grandmother is also overweight, and she’s had colon cancer. I grew up working in a fitness center, so health has always been important to me, and when I graduated from college and settled into a slower-paced life in my mid-20’s, I decided that I would give up my beloved daily sodas in hopes of beating my metabolism.

I still wanted caffeine though – and thus marked my entrance into the world of black tea. I found that I enjoyed it very much, hot tea in the mornings and throughout a cold, snowy day, and iced tea in the summer. I was proud to be taking better care of myself, and working out regularly to maintain my weight while enjoying the benefits of tea. Even black tea is loaded with healthy nutrients that can affect weight, dental health, and possibly ward off cancer, from everything I’ve read.

Just around his 50th birthday, my dad discovered a lump on his own neck. He went in right away to have it checked out, and the diagnosis was as expected: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He had to go through radiation treatments to kill it, which ruined not only his teeth (bad teeth run in the family as well), but his health, stamina, and took a toll on his immune system. Luckily he made a full recovery, and has been cancer-free for a few years now. All the same, it’s scary knowing that a particular cancer runs in the family, presents the same way, and could be imbedded in my genes this very minute, just waiting for the right time to strike. I’ve inherited many of the other “family traits”, so it’s not a stretch to think that I might be next in line for this cancer.

This made me all the more interested in how tea can potentially help guard against cancers. Being childfree (which means I don’t want children, ever), puts me at a higher risk for certain female cancers as well, which naturally worries me, since ovarian cancer is the “silent killer”. The more I read about the potential of tea to fight cancers in the body, the more I found justification for the pleasure I took in drinking tea, and the more tea I drank. Now tea is my “default” drink, along with a glass of wine here and there (also good for health).

I drink at least two 12oz. cups of black tea per day (which works out to 4 “health-sized” servings – the recommendation of those “in the know” for tea, from what I’ve read). On the weekend, I tend to drink more, and I try to drink either water or tea at night after work. Puerh tea has long been touted in China for it’s amazing medicinal qualities, and I’ve recently discovered puerh tea and occasionally enjoy a session of that as well. For me, puerh is all about the taste and ritual of brewing, but it’s nice to know that it’s healthy as well. I like white tea, and have recently discovered herbal rooibos tisanes that are supposedly healthy as well (I drink them because I like them, and the health benefits are “extra”).

And finally, there is the effect of the Tea Mind. Even at work, when it’s busy and I’m not often pleased with being there, a good cup of tea has the power to calm, sooth, and make life more bearable, regardless of any other health benefits. At home, whether I’m whipping up a quick pot in my electric tea maker or brewing a nice cup in a pretty pot to enjoy, tea is always a welcome companion in my day, as it settles my mind and either warms or cools me, depending on the season.

The simple fact is, for me, Tea Mind is all about enjoying the experience, relaxing the mind, and letting go of the stress, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I will be very happy if someday it turns out that my tea-drinking habit helps keep me healthy physically, but I would drink it even if it never lived up to those claims. It helps keep me mentally healthy, and that is probably as big a part of staying physically healthy as anything else in this world.

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