Ways of Seeing: A yogic look at your beverage choices

The stone hearth around our woodstove was built by a talented 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; each time I open it 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 drying my orange peels is knowing I’ve used the fruit a bit more completely after it has traveled such a great distance to get to our house. They come to us from Florida, California and 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 have used our 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-ounce 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-ounce 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 super-sugary 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 sugary chocolate drink 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. Offering tea to someone you care about is blissful for both the giver and the receiver. When we have 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 20 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, hibiscus and orange peel 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.
Joanna Colwell is the director of Otter Creek Yoga in Middlebury’s Marble Works District. She lives in East Middlebury with her husband, daughter, father-in-law, and two cats. Joanna wants to thank her family for putting up with all the dried orange peel around the woodstove. Feedback for this and other columns warmly welcomed: [email protected].

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