Matcha: One Amazing Tea

October 20, 2016

I bet you think I’ve forgotten about my Confessions of a Sugar Addict thread, but I promise I have not! I simply am working my way through a ton of research, theory, and practical personal application to find what methods work well (for myself, but hopefully also for you). Stick with me because I’m coming back to this thread next week.

 

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you one amazing little thing that I’m doing to help cut my sugar cravings: I drink matcha tea 1-2 times each day.

 

I know, your head just exploded.

 

It’s true, though. When I get up in the morning, I have a small cup of match tea that I whisk up and drink. It is the perfect way to start my morning without the jittery side effects that coffee can bring or the ups and downs of sugar consumption via sweet cereal, candy, a latte, etc.

 

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I am privileged to know a tea master, who is training to become a level two tea master (I cannot recall exactly the terminology, but this is a rare honor) and has been going to Japan to learn the art of the tea ceremony. This is an amazing feat because very few Westerners actually get to do this. The last time I talked to her, I think she said there were only a handful of tea masters in the States!

 

So why matcha? Well…….

 

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Almost every Westerner who has matcha for the first time doesn’t like it very well, including Yours Truly. There are two reasons for this. First, matcha has a naturally strong flavor due to the way it’s made. It’s actually a rather long, labor-intensive process that requires shading of the tea plants so that they produce as much of their green chlorophyll as possible; the drying process of the tea leaf but not the rolling; the removal of stems and twigs; and of course turning it into powder.

 

Second, most matcha available on the market is rather low grade. You will know it’s low grade because there’s a bitterness to it. High-grade and Ceremonial-grade matchas are much sweeter and subtler in flavor than many matchas found on the market, which means their medicinal properties also stay intact better. While this does not necessarily mean those products are bad, if you plan on drinking matcha plain on the regular you want to spend the money on good quality stuff.

 

There’s been a big trend on using matcha in food and drink lately, something I saw a lot while I lived in Japan. (The Japanese love the stuff. They even have this incredible matcha-flavored ice cream. I know…..sweets again!) If you’re not sure you want to drink matcha plain, no problem. You can add it to many things, such as these:

 

 

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The great thing is that high-quality matcha is becoming more readily available and more recognized for its benefits. If you are looking to try some, there are two excellent brands that I recommend you try. Please note: I am a tea lover and do not get compensated for sharing my opinions and favorite brands.

 

  • Steeped Tea: they have two grades of matcha, their “regular” and their Ceremonial. Both are excellent. Steeped Tea has such excellent tea, I pretty much buy from them whereas I used to be a fairly loyal Teavana customer.
  • Yesterday’s Cafe: the first place I tried the best grade of matcha. The proprietor is well-versed in tea knowledge (she’s the tea master I referred to above) and makes the best matcha lemonade ever! Plus, she’s got a ton more tea goodies too!

 

In closing, I personally drink matcha because of the sustained energy boost it gives me throughout the day: I drink a cup early in the morning on an empty stomach and wait 30 minutes before I drink anything else so I have time to process the matcha well and receive its benefits. Usually I only have to drink one cup for a pick-me-up, and I’ve never had an issue going to bed even if I do have one in the afternoon. I also enjoy matcha because it helps curb my sugar cravings, which is why I’m sharing this with you in the first place! All of the other benefits are perks! So enjoy that next cuppa!

Cardiovascular exercise is important for everybody. It keeps the heart healthy and reduces the risks of cardiovascular disease associated with today’s sedentary lifestyle, yet with so many options available the rates of obesity are still growing. There are a lot of reasons for this ranging from demographics to cost, but I think a lot of the reason people don’t try a new program is because they are intimidated.

 

Exercise can be intimidating. No one wants to look bad doing it. No one wants to jiggle. The way we look in the mirror plays a huge role in how we feel, and exercise clothes are form-fitting (for safety reasons), further hindering those who feel uncomfortable in tight attire. Some people even find sweating a detracting factor.

 

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The biggest determent is time, which is why walking is such a fantastic option for those looking to increase their cardio output. There are so many ways to add walking into your routine, including:

 

  • Walk the dog
  • Park near the back of a parking lot
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Get up to stretch your legs once an hour by strolling through the office
  • Gardening
  • Hiking on the weekend at your favorite park
  • Marching in place
  • Visiting the neighbors
  • Strolling around the house while on a phone call

 

Unlike running, walking does not place a lot of impact on your joints and lower back, and the more you do it. Walking helps loosen up stiff joints while strengthening muscles and promoting weight loss. A.2015 study published in Circulation cited that physical activity was related to lower levels of cardiovascular disease, and that those who walked at faster paces and logged greater distances tended to have the lowest CVD risks. The best thing about walking is that the more you do it, the more you can do it and the easier it becomes.

 

What if you cannot start walking because of weight, joint pain, paralysis, or some other health-related issue? Try swimming instead! Pool time greatly reduces the stress put on the body while adding resistance to any movement you do. My own grandfather has used the pool for years to do exercises after his hips began bothering him, and swimming is well-known for alleviating the effects that gravity exerts on pregnant women.

 

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The typical obstacles that most people face when starting to walk or swim are proper attire and measuring their rate of exertion. It is important to wear proper footwear when you’re walking to support your joints and a clerk at an athletic shoe store can really help you determine a good shoe to wear that falls within your budget. As for swimming, you want to make sure you’re wearing a comfortable swim suit or close-fitting attire that won’t ride up while you’re in the water. Yes, these are upfront expenses but let’s face it: compared to a life full of medical bills, this is cheap!

 

As for the rate of exertion, if you can carry on a conversation but feel somewhat breathless, that’s a great thing to achieve. You don’t have to be struggling for air to get a great workout in but you also want to make sure you’re not making it too easy on yourself. Working out takes, well, work 😉 You ought to feel it without overdoing it.

 

The most important thing is to just get moving! Don’t worry too much about form or what you can do for how long you can do it. Moving breeds fitness and fitness brings weight loss.

There are a few things regarding exercise that I truly believe are accessible to everyone. I’ll talk about cardiovascular exercise another time but for now I want to talk about working the deep muscles of the trunk–in this case, I’m focusing on the transverse abdominis. This thick band of muscle is the deepest of the four abdominal muscles, provides thoracic and pelvic stability, and compresses the ribs and viscera.

 

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Source: Wikipedia (link above)

 

Pilates focuses a lot on the TA due to the immense strength and stabilization force it creates. To give a good example of its power, and why we as instructors call it the powerhouse, the TA is one of the main muscles recruited to help a woman deliver a baby (the pelvic floor muscles being the others). When I was dancing, a college professor told me that by controlling this muscle, you can really control every movement in your body, making you strong and and your movements efficiently powerful. This is something that Joseph Pilates discovered over a lifetime of studying movement, which fed his understanding of the body, body mechanics, and effective movement. His method, called Contrology, looks at the body as it is now and emphasizes the connection of mind and body through concentration during movement that results in the healing of the body, the improvement of the mind, and the elevation of the spirit.

 

In layman’s speak, that means that anyone can do Pilates. Pilates himself was a sickly child who could not get out of bed and therefore needed exercises developed by his doctors just to be able to do so. Because of this, he made it a lifelong goal to study movement and became an avid athlete, studying a wide variety of disciplines including swimming, running, gymnastics, yoga, dance, and many more, all from which he drew a knowledge base that became the foundation for his Method.

 

There are two exercises that I like to start everyone off with because I feel that they are accessible to all levels of fitness: the Pilates bridge and the 100. These two exercises connects a person with their core. For those who are brand new to exercising or Pilates, and may not be aware of the neutral position so often discussed in Pilates, here is an excellent demonstration of how to find it:

 

 

I consider the Pilates Bridge to be a foundation exercise from which everything is built. It lengthens and moves the spine, stimulating the creation of synovial fluid which helps keep all joints limber, accesses the deep muscles of the core and pelvic floor, and strengthens the muscles of the abs, pelvis, glutes, and thighs. A modification for those who are just beginning is to start with the lower back only, and over time gradually increase this movement to include the middle and upper back till you reach the full position.

 

 

The other exercise that I consider to be important is called the One Hundred. This is the exercise that begins every Pilates workout. It oxygenates the blood, stimulates circulation, and activates the deep core. Try the beginner version shown in this video until you’re ready to move to the next step.

 

 

Two other modifications for those who are not ready to extend the legs in the regular (non-advanced) exercise: when ready to lift the shoulders, 1) keep the feet on the ground or 2) keep the knees bent until you’re ready to extend the legs (first up to the sky and then out to that 45-degree angle). Make sure as you work you maintain that neutral spinal position and have patience with the exercise. Developing strength over time is safe, effective, and reduces the risk of injury. When in doubt, always start small and slow!

 

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