We have been working for quite some time on introducing body awareness into the university environment given the demonstrated benefits it has on students’ learning processes, on improving professor-student relationships, and its positive impact on certain physiological parameters affecting health. We would therefore love to talk to you about the approaches we encourage such as dance/movement therapy, body-mind centering, katsugen undo, and authentic movement, disciplines and tools that we work with but that are relatively unknown to the general public. Their health benefits are certainly as positive, if not more so, than those involved in practicing mindfulness, which is so in fashion today, but they have not been scientifically proven yet. The problem is that these tools cannot be discussed without moving the body. It is the limitation they have. So, we’d like to invite you to one of our classes so you can discover them for yourselves; and in the meantime, we’ll talk to you about another approach with which you can begin to improve your focus and body awareness.
We’ve all heard about the Japanese tea ceremony, or chanoyu as it is called in Japanese, but few western people have been able to enjoy a truly authentic one. If you’ve ever attended one it was likely crude imitation, akin to eating Asturian fabada prepared by an Asian person in a London restaurant. This is because it is something truly demanding and complex, even if a wise man once said it is just about “leaves and hot water.” It is demanding because the chadō or the Way of Tea, a spiritual search for oneself, requires years of study. Foreigners can find it hard to understand the depth of a ceremony that can last four hours, during which, for the most part, you are seated on top of your heels on a tatami made of rice straw, in a great deal of pain after the first three minutes, without speaking or being asked anything, drinking tea that tastes like seaweed or Swiss chard in a best case scenario, swallowing the dust accompanying the Swiss chard and, sometimes, sharing a single chawan (ceramic tea bowl where matcha tea is served) with all of the attendees.
A priori with that description, this doesn’t seem like something we should recommend to western people entrenched in an obsession to find the way to improve their health. That’s true; we shouldn’t recommend it as is. But we can harness what the people before us have learned. With respect, with curiosity, without undermining the essence, with the understanding and tenderness that we feel towards children who are learning to walk or ride a bike. But this time we focus that energy on ourselves. How can we achieve this?
Slowly. By searching for the moment and place to be alone. Only then, carefully unroll the small bamboo tea mat or the pretty, colorful table cloth that your mother or friend gave you. Without burning yourself, place your hand on the vessel where you’re heating the water. Close your eyes and concentrate on the feelings you feel when the water starts to shake. Forget everything else; it’s just you and your body. Heat the mug and the teapot, if you’re going to use one, by rinsing them in hot water. Carefully place your chosen tea in whatever form you choose (powder, leaves) at the bottom. The one you know you need or simply wish to try. Pour the water in carefully, feel time pass, and… Enjoy it! Enjoy it with all your senses: the bright color, its heat through the chawan, its aroma, different from the taste you’ll experience later, the roughness on your tongue, the aromas that remain in your throat for some time, the smell of the chawan after being emptied… All of this together is what Asian cultures refer to as cha qi. Simply, the awareness you bring to what you just did, caring for yourself, will improve your health. Something as simple as looking for the place and time to dedicate to yourself and becoming aware of what you do fulfills a huge responsibility to your health.
What do you think? Did that sound a bit ethereal, mystical? Sorry, but sometimes the theine goes straight to our amygdala. We’ll tell you about it in our next post, but there will be more chemistry involved and it will be directed at your left brain.