Tea and Self-Care

One trending phrase in health and wellness is “self care”. I realized that having a meaningful relationship with tea – a tea practice – is a powerful form of self-care and has been for hundreds of years. (More about that in my ‘conclusion’ below.) Two recent experiences illuminated this truth and expanded the traditional definition. Today I’m beginning what may become a series with a focus on Ritual Baths.  

The first of these inspirational experiences was a visit to Emilie’s French Tearoom just after the Midwest Tea Festival in May. The business she and her husband Alex have created knits together what we easily think of as self-care with an elegant tea experience with delicious teas. The spa services include various forms of massage and also an ultraviolet sauna. (Read More)

I asked Emilie, “Do you serve tea in the sauna?” 

“But, of course!” she replied. 

“Do you recommend a particular blend?”

“No, any tea. Your favorite tea.”

It was at this moment that my mind explored a new path for my love of tea. And as easily as that, she set the most important condition for self-care with tea as being to nourish yourself with your own preferences. What helps you relax and take a break from the stresses of the daily world?

For some of us, discovering that is the first challenge. 

Emilie's Tea Room, Kansas City, MO

What Are Ritual Baths

The easiest way to describe ritual baths is that you’re using your bathtub as a teacup for your entire body. And, true tea, Camellia sinensis, has been used as an additive to soaking baths as well as other beauty products for centuries. It’s easy to steep a strong concentrate of tea to add to your tub. The astringency – particularly in green tea – is known to tighten pores and refresh skin. But ritual bathing with tea is much more than just using it as an ingredient like a bath salt.

There is an amazing history to ritual bathing. Cultures around the globe have found deep meaning in the idea of submerging the body in water. But the modern version of this linked to self-care usually involves creating a relaxing environment, adding salts and aromatic herbs, spices, flowers and even fruit to the bath water and then soaking in it with an intention. The intention can be anything from mind-clearing meditation or problem solving to focusing on a specific season of the year, phase of the moon, color, or flower. The two books I found on the subject are very different from each other. But both offer dozens of ideas for you to create your own ritual bath and to pair it with a compatible cup of tea. 

Ritual Baths; Be Your Own Healer 

 by Deborah Hanekamp

One of my favorite baths in this book is the Creativity Bath. Hanekamp recommends a tea pairing Chai Tea With Basil and offers the suggestion;

“I’ve noticed that blocked creative energy is the main source of depression. Your body, mind, and spirit want to express themselves differently, but for some reason you are pressuring and trapping yourself . . .  you don’t need to focus on the big masterpiece you are meant to create so much as the small creative changes in your life. … Even if it is something as small as taking a different route to work.  Any little change you make will free up your creative energy and then inspire you to free up some more.”

Her recommended ingredients include; Epsom salt, sliced oranges, fresh basil, cinnamon sticks coconut milk, vanilla and orange essential oils. She also recommends using some moonstone, citrine and carnelian crystals. And the ritual is described in detail with more than a dozen steps that you can follow or adapt creatively to create your own nourishing environment. These include sipping your tea, meditations, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and various ways to increase awareness of yourself and the, “. . . medicine you’ve created.”

Moon Bath; Bathing Rituals + Recipes, for Relaxation + Vitality

by Dakota Hills + Sierra Brashear

Hills and Brashear take a different approach to their rituals. Considering the seasons and phases of the moon, they keep their recipes fairly simple but offer more suggestions for the ritual part. Refletions and questions for consideration during your bathing ritual.

A favorite example is their section, Spring Waning Moon.

Their recipe includes ginger, baking soda and lemon essential oil. And that suggests a lemon-ginger combo to sip along. They add breathwork to the formula.

Drawing a full breath deep into our low belly, and allowing that area to exoabnd and fill up before we exhale fully, flushes out any stale air and stored energy. … Doing this cleansing breath before and during the bath (and at anythime, really!) clears the physical and emotional cobwebs and creates space to revel in the great mystery of life.

They leave the reader with suggestions for music to play during the bath and journaling exercises after you’ve dried off.

Conclusion: Tea and Self-Care – Everyday

Most of us struggle with the idea that we can take time for ourselves and still make it through the demands of every day. Taking the hour+ for a decent bathing ritual almost feels over-the-top! Even though we know that there is truth in the advice that we hear on the pre-flight prep to, “… take the oxygen first before we try to help others …” giving ourselves permission to really invest in self-care seems self-ish.

One thought that came to me while reading about ritual bathing is that we can visualize a kind of interior bathing with a daily cup of tea. Can we just take five minutes to relax and recharge by thinking of one designated cup of tea as more than just a beverage to quench thirst? Rather, to have it fill a need. To add the breathwork as we appreciate the aroma and close our eyes to imagine walking through the field where these leaves grew. To pair it with gentle music and meaningful lyrics to add a bit of poetry to our day. Can we be important enough to our selves to take the healing break with tea?

Tea and Past Rituals

When I think back in history of women having tea, and even look at the Duchess of Bedford, considering if she devised the ritual of afternoon tea only because she was hungry of if she also needed time for self care. Did she need a break from the rigors of court?

When I think about women in British history and in American history who gathered over tea to fight for the equality and suffrage. I wonder if their shared teatimes were also moments of self-care in the company of other women.

Not limited to women, tea was self-care in spiritual communities where monks needed support for meditation. 

And so I accept this trending term “self-care” for those of us developing our own tea practices; that they are a vital health ritual. Simple and elegant. And very effective!