Coffee Wars in Yoga
Last week a yogi drank coffee and reached enlightenment. In the same week a yogi drank coffee and lost all his built-up kundalini. Loose pseudo-science spews propaganda about coffee on yoga blogs and in yoga books.
Yoga poses are a sport and coffee is a great athletic supplement. However, the science of when to drink coffee for yoga, the proper amount to drink, and the best types of coffee are never discussed in the fitness or yoga communities. Instead, cult-like insults are thrown out by both sides. Yoga is not just physical, but also a workout of the spiritual and mental body. In such a complex art, the rules of coffee are different. A holistic approach is required to dose with coffee at the right time.
The four guidelines for when to drink coffee for yoga are:
- Drink coffee an hour after waking
- Drink coffee an hour before practice
- Drink coffee and hour after practice
- Drink your last cup of coffee before 2pm
By following these guidelines explained below, your energy, yoga practice, and life will find greater stability.
Some modern-day yogis replicate the extreme aesthetic philosophy of yoga. It is a return to a philosophy where attachment equates suffering.
An authority on Ashtanga Yoga, Gregor Maehle, says this about coffee in his book on pranayama:
“Coffee is a moblizer and expeller of prana that does not go well with yoga. Apart from that, coffee makes your mind very rajastic. Coffee is therefore one of the most detrimental substances for the yogi.”
Mahele then compares coffee as a step lower, but in the same family as crack, speed, and meth. The irony is that Gregor Mahele’s teacher was Pattahbi Jois who coined the term
“No Coffee, No Prana.”
Guruji would make sure his grandson Sharath Jois would drink every morning before his practice.
In Paul Mitchell’s article on coffee he states
“We can understand how, for many people, coffee would be supportive of such a practice. But ultimately coffee does not serve us at all on the path of yoga, it is only used to undo certain tamasic elements in our system – such as the inability to wake up in the morning – why do we have that problem? It would be better to undo the cause of that than to use a drug to counter other negative behaviors such as going to bed too late, consuming tamasic foods or indulging in tamasic activities such as watching tv late into the evening. “
A counter argument I have heard is yes, coffee is rajastic, (unstabilizing) but so are kids, a career, and living in a city. Should we give all those up because they are not “supportive of such a practice?”
Attachment and Addiction Testing
All mystics, yogis, and spiritual seekers need to go through reduction phases to attain higher consciousness. Isolation from our attachments and addictions has a profound effect for all artists, yogis, and deep thinkers. At some point though, we need to return to a normal life.
For at least a brief period (not all at once) all yogis need to give attachment to coffee, alcohol, meat, sugar, bread, etc. That protocol is not just limited to physical substances, but also certain patterns of thoughts.
During each attachment (addiction) removal creates benchmarks to test how we feel before and after the experiment. Examples for benchmarks to use for asana, pranayama, and meditation are energy levels, mood, and performance.
With blood work, genetic testing, and honest analysis of how you feel, you’ll figure out what your body tolerates.
When to Drink Coffee for Yoga Practice
The passion in coffee debates that yogis have are akin to my friends debating about Donald Trump.
A popular yoga blogger online says that she can’t drink a coffee on any day she is teaching or practicing yoga. Her mind becomes too unstable, and her students and own body have a higher injury rate. There is an anecdote in an article about another teacher drinking coffee and her looking down on that individual.
On the other hand, my two yoga teachers have never not come to my 7am class without a coffee in their hand. Should I be scared? Is my health and practice going to be compromised by their instability?
Gregor Maehle makes the case in his book that
“Coffee is a stimulant that mobilizes and expels prana that otherwise is used to stabilize the pelvis. This is not a moralistic statement but is based on observation. Over the years, most of my students who had a tendency to have a twisted or imbalanced pelvis were those who insisted on continuing their coffee habit. Decaffeinated coffee or tea does not appear to have the same destabilizing effect.” (Footnote no. 16 on page 125)
Wow! Maehle is a leader in yoga philosophy, and that is a HUGE statement. The problem with that statement is that it lacks scientific credibility, and is not true based on my observation.
I personally know a professional power lifter who drinks FIFTEEN cups of coffee a day, and his pelvis is stable. Plus many other MMA and jiu-jitsu fighters who swear by coffee and have a stable pelvis.
My refutation to Maehle is that those practitioners were too unfocused and rajastic. Their daily practice was too driven, and the subtle intricacies of the pelvis were disregarded. Is coffee the only thing that dispels prana and makes us rajastic though?
Coffee an Hour After Waking
There is a cultural norm in over-worked cultures to drink coffee immediately after waking up. My girlfriend considers it a romantic gesture when I wake her up with a cup of coffee. Heck, I’d enjoy that too, but no one is waking up before 4 am (my daily wake time) to make me coffee.
However, a cup of coffee in bed has been shown to be ineffective. Quoting a Huffington post article
“Sleep expert Els van der Helm explained that early morning grogginess, called “sleep inertia,” makes caffeine ineffective for the first 30 minutes after you wake up anyway. No point in wasting all that joe while your body is still in a sleep state”
My favorite solution to drinking coffee first thing is to warm up a 12 oz glass of water and drink that down. Then warm up another 12 oz glass of water and add the juice of a whole lemon or lime to it. The warm water and citrus trend has blown up in the last few years, and my dad described his conversion to it “life changing.”
Another VERY important reason relates to the Ayurvedic segments of each day. From 2am-6am, it is the Vatta time of day. Vatta represents the wind, movement, creativity, and instability. Those with a Vatta constitution are advised to avoid coffee because of their natural disposition to be rajastic.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, dosing with a drink that makes you more unstable in the most unstable time of the day is ill advised. The morning should be for Sadhana, (spiritual/religious practices) creativity, your most important tasks, and family time.
A dose of coffee too quick can affect your clarity of what’s really important. Also, from 6-10 am the Ayurvedic segment is Kappha. Which is the resting, slow, and tamasic (lazy) constitution.
Sounds like a great time to drink coffee, right?
Our next segment in when to drink coffee for yoga revolves around our yoga practice.
Why to Drink Coffee Before Practice
If your practice is cardio heavy, such as Ashtanga, Bikram, or power yoga, then coffee will provide many benefits. Studies have shown that strength and endurance are increased with just a cup of coffee. My nostrils and breathing are more open on days I drink coffee before my practice.
Tim Miller actually recommends coffee before pranayama on his blog!
In yoga we are told not to drink water during class or before class. It affects our digestion, and we cannot suck in our stomach and activate the bandhas as well. The yoga perspective also agrees with the scientific perspective.
As a runner, I always take a caffeine shot an hour before my race. Science shows it isn’t just about feeling uplifted, but about having the caffeine in your bloodstream.
My old powerlifting coach advised me to have an espresso one hour before I estimated I’d it my max effort set that day.
In yoga sequences, the sun salutations, standing series, handstand/arm balance work, and cardio-based routines happen at the start of practice. In the middle and end there is more stretching and passive work.
For yin yoga, restorative yoga, feminine yoga, and days you’re sore, you should not drink any caffeine! Those practices are to shut off our minds. I recommend at least one un-caffeinated tamasic (lazy) yoga class a week. Nothing helps my creativity, mindset, and passion for yoga more.
Why to Drink Coffee After Yoga
Some hate the feeling of a caffeinated workout. The jitters, over-heating, and too much sweating are the main complaints I hear. Coffee after yoga may give you more benefits than drinking it before.
When you get up from savasana, and hop in your car, your mind will turn to food sooner or later. A post-workout meal of some protein is essential to help the body repair and re-calibrate for the day. Most of us eat food within an hour after practice.
After a meal our insulin spike causes a crash. Coffee not only helps digestion, but can also mitigate how hard we crash.
My morning routine as of late is 4am wake time, write for two hours, do yoga, eat, caffeinate with coffee or tea, then get back to writing.
A refreshed and open body from yoga, a nice meal in your stomach, and caffeine in your brain is a great way to have a good day!
Never Drink Coffee After 2pm
You should never have caffeine after 2pm. I will be the ashtanga/yoga police here and say it! The 2pm rule has nothing to do with yoga though; it has to do with our circadian rhythm.
The Ayurvedic segement from 2-6pm is Vatta again. Studies have shown that coordination, strength, and reaction time are highest between 2-6 pm. The picture below has nothing to do with caffeine. That is our natural cycle, so why mess that up with caffeine?
The buzz of a city is at its highest from 2-6pm; almost everyone is awake and out doing something. It is not wise to be unstable at this time when so many random events could occur.
Another HUGE issue is how caffeine affects sleep. One of the best ways to become too vatta (rajastic) is to miss out on sleep. The ultimate grounding ritual is taking a nap or sleeping. Studies have shown that caffeine after 2pm can ruin a good nights rest.
Also, in the yoga tradition we wake up early. I know most of the yoga world does not, but hardcore yogis find that 2-5am time period the best for yoga. The city has no buzz, it is the vatta time, and our body feels fresh.
If you drink coffee after 2pm try not to for a week, or take a 30 day challenge to not have any after two. If that will present problems, sip on some green or black tea to curb your need for caffeine. A 30 day cleanse from caffeine is great for energy levels, mood, and general well being. I’d recommend everyone do one at least once a year.
A Final Word on When to Drink Coffee for Yoga
After you learn when to drink coffee for yoga, you’ll start to see its immense benefits. However, by also changing bad habits that break that rule, you may realize how much of a dependency of coffee you have.
Caffeine is not the devil it is made out to be by some yogis. Their attacks are a cry that they have their own attachments they are still insecure about. We should open dialog up with these yogis and ask what they really want.
Yogis who strive for perfection don’t sound like fun people to be around. It also doesn’t seem like a very healthy friendship or relationship.
However, if their own addictions and attachments create their hate about coffee, we should talk it out with them over a cup of joe.