Drinking coffee seems at odds with yoga practice, as per the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre (HIYC) method, as it is very clearly a stimulant that affects our energy levels, metabolism, moods and digestion – all things we work to stabilise through our practice. To explore the question of whether we can drink coffee and practice yoga it is worth considering the effects of coffee as described in Ayurveda. Drinking coffee increases Vata and also Pitta in our bodies. If you are of a Vata constitution you may find coffee immensely stimulating to the mind, it may give you a boost, a sensation of being full of energy but flighty, unable to concentrate, hyperactive, you may suffer heart palpitations, rapid eye movement or a pulsing sense in the hands and body. If you are of a Pitta constitution you may become hot, sweaty, hungry, impatient, go to the toilet more frequently and even smell like coffee after drinking. If you are vata-pitta you will experience a veritable rollercoaster of any or all of these effects. If you are of a Kapha constitution you will experience fewer negative effects and are less likely to suffer from drinking a cup of coffee as your natural grounded nature will balance the caffeine, in fact it can help to galvanise your energy levels and encourage bowel movement. However it would still not be recommended for before yoga practice because of the over stimulating effects of the caffeine on the nervous system. Yoga and Ayurveda are about balance, between the Ha and Tha energies, in our bodies and in our lives. We do not wish to exacerbate existing imbalances but rather to even them out to find equilibrium. As we have seen, dependent on your constitution drinking coffee disrupts the balance, thus it should not be taken mindlessly with consideration for its potential effects.
We should clarify that there are no rules to follow to qualify for practising yoga, at least not here at the HIYC. The teacher will not make any restrictions on your diet or lifestyle habits during the five-day course other than to ask that you come to us on an empty stomach. What you eat and drink after class is up to you even coffee. We don’t even ask you to quit cigarettes during the 5-Day Yoga Course at our Yoga Centre. Yoga is about the present moment, your present moment and so we start with our bodies, as they are, physically and with their desires, habits and addictions and we do not judge, fight or force these to change.
However, as we improve in our yoga practice over the five days we become more in tune with our bodies on a subtler level and as such we will be more aware of the effects of everything we consume. Thus, as we progress on our yoga path we are likely to change our actions without conscious decision and so our routine changes naturally and without effort. The changes will vary from person to person, you may find you sleep better for a shorter amount of time, you may be more or less hungry, you may become calmer or more energised, and you may lose or gain weight. In short, regular yoga practice brings our bodies and our routines into balance and the changes we observe will depend on our previous habits and what our bodies needed. Therefore if you were previously in the habit of drinking coffee to help you get up in the mornings or for a quick fix for energy you will find this is no longer necessary.
Yoga practice also makes us more mindful of everything we do and how we act, therefore, if you were in the habit of drinking mindless cup after mindless cup of coffee, without observing any effects you will find you no longer do this.
The HIYC method teaches us to be independent self-practitioners both in and outside the yoga hall. As such we become masters of ourselves, we learn how to regulate our bodies, moods and energy levels and how to practise in accordance with to balance everything that affects us.
Whilst its effects may be at odds with aspects of yoga practice this does not mean coffee is outright negative. Coffee is a powerful plant and substance and as such deserves to be used with respect, in minimal quantity with awareness for its potency. In short can you have a cup of coffee? Yes, but stop thinking about it and start feeling it. A cup of coffee may be enjoyed – better black and without sugar – and used for its benefits of anti-oxidants, focused mind and, if necessary, to help loosen our bowels. Be aware of the effects of the caffeine not from the mind’s perspective that labels it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but with awareness of how your body responds to the stimulus. The chances are that as you improve in your bodily awareness drinking coffee will be a choice rather than a necessity to your routine, an intentional and managed experience and not something to quaff down in a rush without consideration of the effects, nor something to be relied upon to keep you going – and especially not before class or self-practice! Remember however that coffee is extremely stimulant to you nervous system and over-use of coffee literally burns down your “wires”. Regular use of Coffee affects you very strongly on the mental level on the long term basis.
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre