Pu-ehr Tea and Me

Pu-ehr teaI am trying to make Pu-ehr tea my go-to, drink-all-the-time beverage of choice — but it’s hard.

Pu-ehr tea (and damn it, Word, I really do intend to type Pu-ehr tea, not Pu-her tea) is the sauerkraut of Chinese teas, having been fermented by microorganisms growing on the leaves.

Like sauerkraut, it’s supposed to be really good for you. Generations of Chinese have believed that it regulates body weight, improves digestion (particularly after eating heavy, greasy foods), lowers blood pressure, eliminates toxins and more. Some of these claims have been supported by modern science, although I’m not feeling too fussy about this. (Did I mention that it’s said to promote weight loss?)

Just now I did some reading about Pu-ehr tea, and, oh, my, is there ever a lot to read! Turns out there is nothing simple about Pu-ehr tea. There are many steps involved in its production, and many types of Pu-ehr tea. The best Pu-ehr tea, for which connoisseurs pay big Chinese bucks, commands adjectives like “rich,” “earthy” and “deep”; the worst leans more towards “fishy,” “moldy” or “sour.”

All Pu-ehr tea starts as a type of large-leaf green tea grown in the mountains of Yunnan Province in southern China—and by 2008 decree of the Chinese government, it can’t start as tea grown anywhere else. (Roquefort cheese and Champagne wine have similar deals.)

Traditionally, Pu-ehr teas were dry fermented as they aged for 10-15 years or more. In the 1970s, a process akin to composting in its use of moisture and heat was developed to accelerate the fermentation so that the tea was ready in a year. Both types are available; you can guess which one you pay more for.

Two more pluses for Pu-ehr: It has less caffeine than regular tea. And it’s said you can re-brew a really high-quality Pu-ehr tea up to 20 times.

I have been trying two types of Pu-ehr tea, and I have tried re-brewing both of them, with so-so results, i.e., both types tasted significantly weaker the second time around, although this may have had more to do with my brewing technique than the tea.

One of the types is Rishi Pu-ehr Ginger, which has loose brown leaves with bits of ginger and orange peel for a bit of tang.

The other is Jasmine Pearl Sticky Rice Mini Tuocha Pu-ehr, where the “mini tuocha” means that the tea has been compressed into little bowl-shaped buttons, and the “sticky rice” refers to the tea containing a Chinese herb that tastes like sticky rice. Each button is wrapped in a square of pink paper covered with tiny Chinese characters; unwrapping a button and watching it disintegrate under a stream of hot water is very satisfying.

I find both of the teas to be earthy-tasting and pleasant to drink but also a bit flat, maybe even somehow wan, so I’m planning a trip to a Chinese tea shop to buy some unflavored, possibly higher quality Pu-ehr tea that may be more to my liking.

However, I doubt I will find a Pu-ehr tea with the so-nicely-mellowed-by-milk bite of English Breakfast Tea, or one that has the soul-satisfying substantiality of a cup of strong, hot, fresh-brewed coffee.

And I doubt Pu-ehr tea makes a good caramel macchiato…

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Is It Mine, Or…???

When my Yi Ren Qigong teacher Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun read my post about realizing that one of my mental habits can perpetuate, even escalate, depression, he asked me this:

Was I aware of how much of my self-hatred, anguish and despair came from inside me, and how much came from others who were either depressed themselves or had negative feelings towards me?

Dr. Sun had asked me this before, and I’d always maintained that I’m way too good at depression to need outside help in getting there.

However, in his comments on my post he also said: “In general, no primary spirit has self-hatred conscious and intention.”

This somehow struck home.

I don’t have a very strong concept of primary spirit, of something that is the core of who I am, but it does seem that such a spirit would be about life, about light, not about self-hatred and despair.

And if this is so, then by definition self-hatred, anguish and despair come from outside this primary spirit, whether through one’s genes, family history, past experience or present life.

I don’t know whether it matters if I recognize which of these many factors is the cause.

What strikes me is that there is a subtle but powerful difference between identifying with my depression as a facet of who I am and between viewing it as separate from my inner being. It is easier to let go of something that isn’t part of you.

I received Dr. Sun’s comments on my post as I was leaving for a mini-retreat at Mount Rainier, so I printed them out and read them before dinner that evening at Paradise Inn.

That night I was awakened by a dream in which I was being attacked by something akin to one of the Dementors of Azkaban from the Harry Potter books. I was lying on my back—as indeed I was, in the hotel bed—struggling to pull up a very thick, very heavy blanket of qi to protect myself. Then I felt a sharp pain in my left index finger, on what would be the large intestine meridian. When I awoke, I wondered if I’d been bitten by a bedbug, but there were no bedbugs and no marks on my finger.

I’ll take the blanket-of-qi part of the dream to suggest that I do have defenses against outside attacks on my emotional well-being. However, I have no idea what the finger pain signified, except that the large intestine meridian lies on the index finger, and the large intestine is all about releasing things, physically and energetically, so maybe I was releasing something, wherever it may have originally come from.

I hoped there’d be a sequel to my dream when I got home, but there wasn’t, at least not that I remember. I did have a pain along the same meridian, only on the elbow side of my wrist, right before I went to bed several days later. It was gone when I woke up. I guess it’s a mystery, too.

For now, this is all I know. I like the notion that releasing negative energies like self-hatred, anguish and despair may be easier than I thought because they’re not fundamentally mine. But the journey continues….

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Waking from Evening Overeating…

sad stomachI eat too much too late at night. Sometimes it’s because my teaching schedule has thrown my meal schedule off, but more often it’s because I’m restless and tired and have a refrigerator in my kitchen.

I know I shouldn’t do this; it just makes me fat, and besides, my qigong teacher Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun says the stomach and other “bag” organs need periods of being empty. But I haven’t been able to stop.

However, perhaps there is hope for change, hope in the form of qigong.

In my last post, about an insight I had on the negative thinking that is part of depression, I cited the following passage from Dr. Sun’s manual for Level I Yi Ren Qigong:

“It’s easy for the mind to lie and have illusions, but when the body begins to be aware, it can actually correct the mind’s misconceptions. This is one of the key points of Yi Ren Qigong practice. When a person becomes more energized and as the awareness of the body increases, the body will start revealing that person’s mental habits.”

I think this passage also applies to an experience I had several days ago with a salad I should have forsaken. Continue reading

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Waking from a Depressing Habit

The lifting of clouds from Mount Rainier is like the lifting of the veil of depression.

The lifting of clouds from Mount Rainier is like the lifting of the veil of depression.

I was re-reading the manual for Level I Yi Ren Qigong the other day and found a passage about how practicing qigong can help us change harmful habits and negative patterns of thought:

“It’s easy for the mind to lie and have illusions, but when the body begins to be aware, it can actually correct the mind’s misconceptions. This is one of the key points of Yi Ren Qigong practice. When a person becomes more energized and as the awareness of the body increases, the body will start revealing that person’s mental habits.”

This wasn’t anything new. I’d heard Dr. Sun—Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, the man who developed Yi Ren Qigong—say similar things at many a qigong seminar.

I’d think, “Sounds great—but I don’t see any of my negative patterns disappearing; I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Voila!

Voila!

Now, however, perhaps I do—or at least I may have an inkling as to how it might work.

I’ve danced with depression my entire adult life—probably my kid life, too, only I didn’t have that word back then. After I started practicing qigong, my periods of depression didn’t seem to last as long, but I still went there—and recently I definitely did.

Depression has always felt like something beyond my control. When I’m in it, I’m in it—although thankfully I never get so far “in it” that I can’t function; I just experience a lot of self-hatred, anguish and despair. When I come out of it, I realize that I have come out of an altered state, but I have no idea how I got into that altered state or why I now feel better.

However, about two weeks ago, during a period when I was in and out of despair, I was able to see how one patch of dark thinking had quite likely caused another—had, indeed, caused me to spiral further downward. I could also see how I might have made things different. Continue reading

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Daoism Online: The Scholar Sage

This morning I finally began reading the posts I’ve been receiving from The Scholar Sage: Online Daoist Magazine, which is put out by Damo Mitchell, the British teacher/writer who has figured in my blog quite a few times, and by others in his orbit in the UK.

I was either too busy or too tired when the first post arrived, so I marked it with a red flag and thought “later.” When the second one came, I didn’t want to read it until I’d read its predecessor, and while at that point I might have had time/energy to read one, I couldn’t manage two. And so it went, as one became two and two became ten over the course of six weeks.

But this morning, when I finally tackled the lot, I was pleased that I did, and I wanted to spread the word.

Several of the posts are video clips, including one 6-minute post on do-it-yourself foot massage which focuses on key acupuncture points, featuring Shiatsu therapist Donna Pinker (http://www.scholarsage.com/foot-massage-acupressure-points/). I’ll be revisiting it tonight; foot massage seems like a nice right-before-hitting-the-pillow practice, and Donna has a wonderfully calming voice.

Among the written posts, my favorites were: Continue reading

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Y’all Come: Qigong Classes This Fall

for blog face and handsMother Nature may yet throw us a curve ball, but it definitely feels like fall is coming. My body thinks so; my garden thinks so; my newspaper is full of ads for back-to-school supplies. And so it’s time to write about the qigong classes I’ll be teaching in Redmond, WA this fall.

I’ll be teaching two types of qigong—Taiji Qigong at the Redmond Senior Center and Yi Ren Qigong, Level I, in the classroom at the Vitamin Life store on Redmond Way. I’ll also be giving a free presentation at Vitamin Life at noon on Saturday, Sept. 13, during which I’ll talk about qigong in general and Taiji Qigong and Yi Ren Qigong in particular.

Some details on all of the above:

Free public presentation on qigong at Vitamin Life in Redmond, noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13:

I’ll explain what qigong is and why I think it’s worth doing. And we’ll do some Yi Ren Qigong, since qigong should be experienced, not just talked about. Vitamin Life is at 15830 Redmond Way—and there’s no need to pre-register for this presentation; just come.

Taiji Qigong (aka Shibashi Taiji Qigong) at Redmond Senior Center, ongoing classes, 6 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. Wednesdays:

Taiji Qigong is a relaxing, flowful system of qigong based on Yang-style taiji. It consists of 18 movements which I bookend with an energetic warm-up and close-down and accompany with music. Continue reading

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Qi Dimension, Take 2

A stone wall Thomas Merton might have seen burning

A stone wall Thomas Merton might have seen burning

A couple of weeks ago, Janine Larsen, who is the executive of the Pacific Northwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association and also a member of my UU church, spoke at a Sunday morning service about her Buddhist spiritual practice.

She called her talk “Cultivating Irrational Mind,” although I wish she’d called it “Cultivating Non-Rational Mind” because, for me, the word “irrational” brings forth images of people shouting and being nasty and totally unwilling to consider anyone else’s point of view during an argument or at a political gathering. But, then, it was her talk….

And it was a wonderful talk, full of things I particularly needed to hear that morning when I was deeply into my late-life crisis. I asked her to send me a copy so I could have some of her words to hang on to.

When I printed it out and read it, I put a giant star in the margin where she quoted UU lay leader David Rynick as saying, “Spiritual practice is what we do repeatedly with the intention of moving closer to that which is most true and alive for us.”

Yes…. Yes. And I should probably add that I definitely view qigong as a spiritual practice.

Farther on Janine said that Buddhist meditation has helped her grow a more spacious mind, that she occasionally experiences internal quiet when she is being still, and that she can more readily let things go and trust who she really is instead of worrying about who she thinks she is or should be.

Which I think/hope is the direction qigong is taking me. Indeed, perhaps what I have termed my late-life crisis is merely the result of the ways qigong is changing me. Change, of course, is not always comfortable.

Janine spoke of Zen Buddhist koans, the seemingly nonsensical stories that Zen teachers use to get their students to shift from logical analysis to intuitive, non-rational understanding. She presented several examples of stories that would once have driven me nuts, including the poem “In Silence” by Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk, mystic and amazingly prolific writer. Continue reading

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