|Image from Wikimedia Commons|
One of my friends' grandmothers simply couldn't say "tai chi." She had developed a fondness for East Indian spiced tea, more commonly known in the West as "chai tea." So every time she tried to talk about tai chi practice, she always said "chai tea."
It's a bit of a funny name - "chai" simply translates as "tea", so technically you're saying "tea tea" when you say "chai tea." Masala chai - tea with a spice blend, usually prepared with warm milk - is a more correct way of calling this drink, as far as I understand it.
I'm thinking of chai tea because we're in the coldest nadir of winter here in Ontario. It's bitter outside, and that means that you want to add more warming spices to your diet. You can buy chai tea bags and enjoy a warming spicy drink with a black tea or green tea kick. Even better, you can purchase chai masala - the spices that go into the tea - as a separate blend, independent of the tea. I'm sure fancier versions are available in Indian specialty stores, but my local grocery chain carries a perfectly decent blend. Look for a package that says "chai masala" on the label, or "chai spice blend" next to the garlic powder and dried basil and oregano and chili peppers.
The main components of chai spice are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and black pepper. Some blends include fennel. Almost all of these spices warm your body from the inside out. This is especially important for this time of year, when it's easy to get deeply chilled on the inside. Cold insides can leave you open to infection and generalized misery.
When your internal energies are colder, it's also much harder to practice your tai chi. Everything inside becomes stale and stagnant, and you will find it harder to maintain the flow of your movements. You can become stiffer than usual and find it difficult to stretch out your muscles because everything contracts inside. Eating warming foods can help.
You can use a chai masala blend to flavour tea, but I tend to use it all over the place: in baking, in any warm drink, to enhance herbal teas as well as black teas, and (my personal favourite) on hot cereal grains, like brown rice or steel cut oats for breakfast. I don't hold back at all: I'll put a good tablespoon of spice into a bowl of oats. Add a few almonds or cashews, and you've got a breakfast that will enhance your energy and stick to your ribs.