Saturday, February 26, 2011

Give Me A (Coffee) Break

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. 
“But coffee’s bad for you,” he said, “I thought you would know that.”
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. 
P.S. If anyone at work is reading this, is it possible that we could switch to Nescafe Gold?
P.P.S. Learning to listen to what your body is truly telling you is much harder than you might think and is part of the process of yoga.  There will be lots of misunderstandings between what you hear and what your body is telling you.  Case in point, sometimes you might think your body is telling you it needs a block of chocolate when, in fact, what you need is a hug or a kind word from someone who loves you. 


  1. My hero! I went to this fabulous naturopath once who uses a vega machine, which mysteriously is able to identify which substances are best for your body and which aren't. And while my superscientific sister can't believe in this machine, because you do not come into actual physical contact with the substances being tested for, I can believe in it because it identified things that I know I am allergic to (through actual allergic reactions) without me telling it (or the naturopath) what they are. And I said to her that I felt terrible because I knew I shouldn't drink coffee and that she was going to tell me to give it up for sure - but that I just LOVE it so much, because it makes me feel so darned GOOD! And she said, not to fear, we shall see, and tested me for coffee. And the vega machine said, your body LOVES coffee! More than anything else that I was tested for, in fact. So the naturopath said, go forth, and drink a few coffees a day if you like, it is very good for you. (Now unfortunately Sam, she said drink only espresso, so I am in the haute couture 'real coffee' club, but who knows, maybe your body LOVES instant coffee ;). She also said chase it down with a nice fresh glass of water. And so I do. Everyday, even after other naturopaths tell me that coffee is not good. Because I know what my body says when it gets coffee, and when it DOESN'T get coffee, and I know which I prefer :)

  2. Yes, I should say I actually prefer 'real coffee' but can't figure out how to make an espresso at work so I have learned to be satisfied with instant since work is where most of my coffee drinking occurs. (Although I have started to bring my own 'up-market' instant since the brand we have is pretty nasty). I think I want to meet this naturopath and, importantly,the machine!