Can you drink coffee and still be a yogi?
The other day I was in the kitchen at work. We have a very nice kitchen in my office and it is a great place to exchange witty banter. While making my morning brew one of my colleagues asked aloud whether he should have a cup of coffee now or later. To which I replied, well, you could have one now and later if you wanted.
And here’s the thing. Not only do I enjoy my two cups of coffee each day, I also have the feeling that it is good for me—I truly feel my morning cuppa’ has a positive effect on my health and well-being. But I also feel that feeling that coffee is good for me is something bad. This is because there seems to be an osmotic piece of knowledge in the community that coffee is somehow harmful. And although there are many reports that have come out citing the benefits of this little bean I am still left with the nagging feeling that I am doing something bad, especially as I am a yogi.
At yoga retreats I am typically in the coffee line and not the tea line. Well, to tell the truth, there is usually no line for the coffee as nearly everyone else is drinking tea. People who practice yoga are typically people trying to do something healthy for themselves and the osmotic coffee is bad sentiment permeates strongly (I must point out no-one else is making me feel bad on these retreats). Alas, I don’t even drink de-caf, although I used to (because I thought the caffeine was bad) until I started reading all of these confusing reports about different types of decaffeination processes and how some of these could be bad for you too.
I cannot even protect myself in the cloak of the haute coffee couture set since I mainly drink instant coffee these days (much easier at work and you get used to it) and am subject to downcast looks from ‘real’ coffee drinkers.
To tell you the truth, I used to hate coffee. I only started drinking it once I started working. I needed to drink something with everyone on their tea break and it didn’t feel right nursing a glass of water. I always hated herbal teas (I only discovered peppermint tea much later) and it seemed to me there was a secret wretched ingredient in any of the herbal fusions that were available at that time (after careful studying of the labels I decided it was hibiscus although I cannot verify this and don’t mean to defame the hibiscus leaf industry).
Gradually, though, coffee came to be something that I truly enjoyed and that helped me in some way I can’t prove or explain (a bit like broccoli really). Hence the problem for a yogi: if coffee is labelled bad and you only want to eat things that are good and then you go and drink coffee are you a hypocrite? No-one wants to be a hypocrite.
So, as I was going over in my mind whether or not I was a hypocrite, I stumbled upon this piece of writing from yoga guru B K S Iyengar, considered to be one of the world’s foremost yogis. On page 57 of his book, Light on Yoga, he starts a list of 27 “hints and cautions for the practice of asanas”. I am going to copy point 5, which is about food, below:
Asanas should preferably be done on an empty stomach. If this is difficult, a cup of tea or coffee, cocoa or milk may be taken before doing them. They may be practiced without discomfort one hour after a very light meal. Allow at least four hours to elapse after a heavy meal before starting the practice. Food may be taken half an hour after completing the asanas.
Well, hallelujah. One of the most eminent yogis in the world telling me to drink a cup of coffee before my practice if I wanted. Now, I have not spoken to Iyengar and there may be all sorts of caveats to this statement (maybe he suggests a special type of coffee, maybe he is drinking from a very small Indian cup). For now, I am going to enjoy my cup of coffee without guilt. At the same time, I am not going to go overboard and start drinking coffee all day. Instead I will try to practice mindful coffee drinking—listening to what your body is truly telling you and knowing that moderation in all things is the key.