Monday, March 18, 2013

A Yogic Look at Your Beverage Choices

The stone hearth around our woodstove was built by a talented Bristol jack of all trades named Gary Barnett. These days, the area immediately in front of the stove is covered with bits of orange rind. Whenever we eat an organic orange, I break the peel into small pieces, and place them on the hearth to dry. Why? Because they are a frequent ingredient in the herbal teas that we serve after class in the yoga studio. After the rind has dried, I add it to the large jar which is stored in the pantry. Each time I open this jar, an intoxicating citrusy fragrance is released.

 In addition to smelling good and tasting amazing in tea, this orange peel is a fantastic source of vitamin C, calcium, and even natural cholesterol lowering compounds! But my favorite thing about saving and drying my orange peels is using the fruit a bit more completely, after it has traveled such a great distance to get to our house. We just can't grow oranges in Vermont, so they come to us from Florida, California, even Spain!

When we pour boiling water over dried plant matter, we are performing a task our ancestors did before us. Not only are the flavors, scents, and plant compounds released into the boiling water, but our intentions to live in a balanced way can also be a part of our tea ritual. We humans need fluids, and we've used our human ingenuity to create so many different beverages to enjoy. But not all libations are created with equal care and respect for our earth's precious resources. Think of the difference between a cup of herbal tea and a 16 oz bottle of soda. One may be sweetened with local honey, if you so desire. The other contains a shocking 65 grams of sugar, if it's Coke; 70 grams if it's Pepsi. Translation: a 16 oz bottle of Pepsi contains almost 17 teaspoons of sugar. Diabetes, anyone?

I feel sad when I see obese people lugging cases of soda home from the supermarket. It is such a natural human desire to enjoy sweetness  on our tongues. Our primitive, foraging ancestors were surely at an advantage if they harvested loads of nutrient rich berries, or if they ate wild honey whenever they could find it. We've evolved to desire sweetness. Unfortunately, companies that sell highly processed foods and beverages profit from our desires, and are pouring their creative energies into hooking us on their 17 teaspoons of sugar soda pops.

If they were sitting in their corporate boardrooms TRYING to make a nation obese and diabetic, they could hardly do a better job than they are doing now. Can't you just picture a bunch of suited executives around a long table, saying things like, "Yes! And then we'll advertise our 3.5 grams of sugar per ounce chocolate milk during the most popular kids TV shows- and get them obese before they turn 6! Bwahahaha!" Imaginary evil laughter aside, it is a fact that all of the major processed food companies employ scientists to conduct sophisticated studies to determine the "bliss point" of a food, which is the point where you feel completely satisfied with a taste and wouldn't want it to be any sweeter or saltier.

As a yoga teacher, I'd like to propose that we all discover multiple "bliss points" for ourselves, and practice finding them every day. A deep, relaxed breath can be quite a blissful experience, as can a hug from a close friend. While many yoga postures contain elements of difficulty, there is also a blissful sensation that arises, if only upon finishing the pose, and getting the body into a different position! Offering tea to someone you care about is blissful for both the giver and the receiver. When we have many ways to find satisfaction, comfort, and joy within ourselves every day, we are less vulnerable to addictive substances, be they alcohol, tobacco, or sugary drinks.

I can't remember when I started making herbal teas for family and friends, but it's been a long time. I love how simple and low tech it is to make herbal tea. Step one: boil water. Step two: place herbs into mason jar. Step three: pour boiling water over herbs. Step four: cover and allow to steep for twenty minutes or so. Step five: strain into your favorite mug and enjoy!

You can customize your herbal blends in infinite ways. Making tea for your pregnant friend? Add plenty of nettle and red raspberry leaf. Need vitamin C? Try rose hips and hibiscus, and even add some frozen blueberries. Want to calm down after a stressful day? Have a cup of soothing chamomile. Unsettled stomach? Chamomile plus peppermint. Like it sweet? Add some honey.