One of Sharath’s famous comments is, “No coffee. No prana.”
It’s perfectly clear that, as a strong stimulant, coffee is very rajasic. As such, it would seem to be an obvious thing to avoid in one’s yoga practice since it can cause mental disturbance and agitation. So, I wanted to share a few thoughts on coffee.
First, a moment to define rajasic. In yoga philoshopy, all matter, gross and subtle, is composed of combinations of three qualities called gunas. Sattva is the principle of understanding, lucidity and peacefulness. Rajas is the principle of change, movement and dynamism. Lastly, tamas is the principle of inertia, dullness and ignorance. The entire process of yoga practice is to increase our sattvic nature while decreasing and mitigating the effects of rajas and tamas. Rajas and tamas, however, are not intrinsically bad. As examples, we couldn’t get anything done without rajas and we couldn’t sleep without tamas. It’s all a matter of balance and the way in which rajas and tamas can be obstacles to yoga practice and our spiritual evolution.
So back to coffee…
Sharath tells a story that Guruji used to insist that he take a small cup of coffee before practice despite his (Sharath’s) protestations. At the time, Sharath was doing many asanas from multiple advanced series and Guruji knew a little coffee would help Sharath shake out the cobwebs.
As part of my routine every morning, after brushing my teeth and drinking some water, I fire up our Jura coffee maker and make a long espresso. Then, I sit on the couch with my cat and allow myself to wake up. Then, I shower and head to the shala.
It’s not a lot of coffee, but it’s enough to get me out of the house in the middle of February when it’s very dark, -15 degrees celsius and there’s another 10 cm of new snow on the ground.
The most common complaints of students who make it to practice is they feel tired and have trouble getting out of bed. I imagine the one’s who turn off their alarms, roll over and go back to sleep would also agree. Rachelle and I suggest to struggling students to have a little tea or coffee before taking a hot shower and coming to class. The students that listen show up bright eyed and much happier on subsequent mornings.
The most important issue with coffee before yoga is the dosage. The right amount of coffee will give the stimulation to overcome the tamasic qualities of fatigue and lethargy, particularly during the dead of winter. Too much caffeine will make a student feel jittery, unfocused and possible nauseous.
Another thing to note, when Sharath talks about coffee, he is referring to South Indian coffee which is a mix of coffee and chicory. This blend has less caffeine than the coffee that we buy in Canada. In South India, coffee is mixed about 1 part coffee to 3-4 parts hot milk. This is not the cup of jet fuel on offer at Starbucks and other coffee/donut chains in my part of the world. Sharath tells another funny story of being on tour and having some regular, drip coffee at Starbucks and being awake for the next 36 hours!
So don’t worry that a small amount of caffeine is going to hamper your yoga practice or impede your spiritual evolution. A little experimentation and you can find the right amount that will leave you feeling excited about getting out of the house to go to yoga during these dark winter mornings.