The Three Ms: Matcha, Meditation, and Medication

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It may seem ridiculous to some, but I think of a daily matcha habit as a cross between meditation and medication (with some epicurean fun thrown in to keep things interesting).

We’ve covered the meditation part of matcha in these pages here and here, but to recap: great matcha has large quantities of an amino acid called l-theanine. The higher the quality of matcha, the more l-theanine it has. Lots of people take a synthesized version of l-theanine to help them acquire a type of “flow” (as Mihaly Csikszentmihaly — pronounced MEE-hai CHEEK-sent-mə-HAI-ee — famously calls it), or a stream of “calm energy.”

“Flow,” he writes, “is a a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand.”  In a state of flow, you are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

This amino acid acts to temper the stimulatory effects of caffeine — which matcha has in small amounts (about 25mg per 1g serving, or roughly one-quarter that of a cup of brewed coffee) — on our nervous systems, in effect creating a “time release” function; a bowl of matcha typically delivers a steady stream of energy for about four hours, with none of the jitteriness coffee creates for so many people.

L-theanine creates a sense of relaxation in approximately 30-40 minutes after ingestion via at least two different mechanisms. It first directly stimulates the production of alpha brain waves, creating a state of deep relaxation and mental alertness similar to what is achieved through meditation.Very experienced practitioners of meditation tend to have have elevated alpha wave states, including the Dalai Lama and his entourage of long-term Tibetan meditators, who were invited to Stanford’s neurology department to study their brains while they mediated. Lots of alpha waves.

L-theanine is also involved in the formation of gamma amino butyric acid (GABA). GABA — an inhibitory neurotransmitter — inhibits the levels of two other excitatory neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin, producing the relaxation effect

It makes sense on some level. Readers of these pages may recall the Japanese zen monks were (and remain to this day) enthusiastic drinkers of matcha and its high levels of l-theanine, though they couldn’t have known that at the time. They knew that drinking matcha helped them to stay awake during meditation for longer periods (no easy task —if you’ve ever tried siting on a cushion for eight or more hours facing a wall, you’ll know what I mean).

Which brings us to the medication part of matcha. Drinking a daily bowl of matcha IS kind of like taking a daily pill prescribed by your doctor, in that you develop a daily habit, a habit you believe (or at least your doctor believes) is good for your health.

Except with matcha, you get to really enjoy it — you get the epicurean experience of tasting and swallowing something divinely delicious, and you can make as much or as little ritual around the experience as you like. It’s an awesome daily habit that brings mindfulness, joy — Michelin-quality epicurean joy– and the blast of phytonutrients that so many dentists and physicians love. (Productivity enthusiasts love the l-theanine fueled stream of focused energy as well).

So when you think of matcha, consider the three Ms. And if anyone has read this far, and wants to try some hyperpremium, blog readers can get a 10 percent discount by typing  THE3MS during checkout. Please ask questions if you have them!

 

Matcha and Stress Reduction

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Stress is probably the most pernicious force of our modern age. It diminishes quality of life, and can lead to all kinds of unpleasantries, including depression, auto-immune diseases, anxiety …. ugh, who wants to list them all. And then there’s chronic stress, which *really* wreaks havoc on the immune system.

And let’s face it: holidays increase stress for just about everyone. It’s as if we have to pile a year’s worth of living, relaxing, and UNstress into a few days, a week at best. We’re expected to make these days off meaningful, but expectations of heightened meaning create …. stress.

What to do? If all the usual things we should be doing anyway–a decent diet full of real, wholesome food, some modest but regular exercise, treating everyone in our orbits with more kindness–sometimes seems like too much, you might consider how a regular cup of matcha can help alleviate stress.

Part of the stress-relieving aspects of matcha are, of course, placebic. We decide to take a few minutes for the mindful exercise of preparing, and sipping, a gorgeous cup or bowl of green tea, and it ipso facto becomes an anti-stress endeavor . The very act of deciding to make it a mindful experience, and then to actually do it, are bound to create feelings of serenity and stillness.

But the data-backed aspects of stress reduction and matcha consumption have to do with one of its major components, an amino acid called L-theanine that has been linked to both psychological and physiological stress reduction in several medical studies, including this one. Apparently it works by attenuating sympathetic nervous activation and blocking certain glutamate receptors in the brain.

Matcha is absolutely teeming with L-theanine. Regular green tea has some too, but matcha has much more due to its unique growing conditions, especially the final shading stage.When the tea plants are deprived of light, they compensate for normal photosynthesis by cranking out chlorophyll and L-theanine. And we consume them in spades when we drink matcha.

This is especially relevant to us here at Breakaway Matcha because, it turns out, the higher the quality of matcha, the more L-theanine it has. Which is a good thing if we could use a little stress reduction in our lives.

So during the next few weeks, if you’re feeling a little stressed by all the forced holiday cheer, try having a cup of matcha and observing how you feel afterward. And the first few cups are on us: get an instant $10 discount on any matcha by ordering online and typing STRESSLESSXMAS during checkout from today through the end of the year.

Happy holidays, folks. And here’s to a brilliant, and stress-free, 2014.