Coffee & Yoga: A Good Blend?

Coffee is the most popular beverage consumed by adults in the United States, and the second-most popular beverage in the world, second only to tea.  The average adult in the U.S. consumes nearly two cups of coffee per day, and a significant proportion of the population drink considerably more -- I am one of them.  I love my morning coffee, and my afternoon coffee, and sometimes, if the work is far from done, my evening coffee.  I love the taste, I love the smell, and I love the extra juice it gives me.  But I'm finding it harder and harder to enjoy coffee with the carefree attitude I once held as I have come to recognize the caffeine addiction my love of coffee has left me with.  And I cannot help but wonder how all this java is affecting both my practice and overall health.

The litany of health benefits and risks associated with coffee consumption range from the prevention of Alzheimer's disease, Type 2 diabetes, and heart failure to the inhibition of nutrient absorption, interference with body-fat reduction, and leeching of calcium from the bones.  Several studies suggest coffee enhances brain function, reduces pain during and after intense physical exertion, and greatly improves athletic endurance.  Others indicate that the caffeine in coffee exaggerates chemical stress reactions in the body and disrupts the functioning of the endocrine system.  The antioxidants in coffee may reduce one's chances of developing some types of cancer, but 19 of the chemical compounds found in coffee are known carcinogens to rodents. With all of these possible effects to consider, what's a yogini to conclude?

Well, it seems that, for most of us, the potential health benefits outweigh the minimal risks.  As with most things in life, I believe moderation is the answer.  If one enjoys coffee in the morning or finds that a cup in the afternoon can help them make it through the day, then by all means, partake.  The coffee loving yogis among us are likely already aware that the great contemporary gurus BKS Iyengar and the late Pattabhi Jois have both endorsed coffee as personal fans of the fully leaded version.  Iyengar in Light on Yoga suggests that, while the asanas should be practiced on an empty stomach, "a cup of tea or coffee, cocoa or milk may be taken before" if one is uncomfortably hungry or tired.  I remember reading this as a green yogini first thumbing through my crisp new copy and feeling enormous relief that I was not obligated by the practice to give up my favorite productivity beverage. 

However, in the pattern of my personal coffee consumption, the line between moderation and excess was crossed long ago.  I drink less than I used to, but still more than I need.  My dependency is well established.  I am not myself without it, so I believe it may be time to curtail the coffee drinking once again.  But I'm not quite ready to call it quits.  Based on the evidence, I'm not sure that I should.

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  1. I need my cup of coffee every morning to start off the day right. I heard we are not supposed to drink coffee before we practice (something about the caffeine causing imbalances and dehydration) so I don't drink when I am going for a class in the morning..but I definitely need my cuppa after the practice...:)

  2. hello! oh i hear you on this one. there is an article where Pattabhi Jois says coffee is the elixir of life.... coffee is a stimulant and should be respected as such. i had a coffee dependence, and so being the masochist that i am decided to stop a while, the first three days were awful, headache, lethargy, like a long hang over...the only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that one cup of coffee,tea, chocolate, would set me right, so i persevered...then after...i felt less tired the NEED seemed to have gone, and i felt much much calmer... am back on the coffee again, i just love the taste, but stopping is definitely a good experiment to try.

  3. oh i love my two cups of morning coffee...i've only not drank coffee when i was pregnant which was the hardest thing for the first few days. i enjoy all parts of my day alittle better...and my yoga practice goes alittle smoother.

  4. Yoga and Wellness - Interesting. I've always heard the opposite: coffee before practice is sanctioned, but coffee afterward is a no-no because it will work against the balancing, grounding effects of the practice. As I said, I tend to take my coffee both before and after, so whatever works.

    Esther - Hi there! In the Souljerky post I linked to, Iyengar calls it the soma rasa, "the intoxicating nectar of immortality." I quite agree with both Jois and Iyengar's interpretations. ;)

    I've shied away from quitting coffee cold turkey for exactly the reasons you describe: headaches, lethargy, and irritability. I'm prone to headaches anyway, so I'd rather not willingly bring them upon myself if I don't have to.

    Not Emily - I've always wondered if women cut coffee during pregnancy. Was that recommended to you, or a personal choice? And yes, coffee brightens up my day, as well. :)

  5. Not a comment on coffee but I follow your blog and I find it hard to read the tanish color against the dark background. I would have e-mailed you but I didn't see an e-mail address. Just some feedback. Not a deal breaker.


  6. Thanks for the feedback, Shanna. Noted. I'll see what i can do about the readability.

  7. I have alway kind of viewed coffee as super rajastic but I have also been a coffee addict for the majority of my life, at some point I was drinking an entire pot of coffee a day. I have been considering completely kicking it out of my diet but I have ended up with only drinking it a few times a week but when I do drink it I find my practice to be a lot more rushed then normal and it makes my pranayama practice more difficult.

  8. My teacher says caffeine is fine, even good, a few times a week, but is sapping and a bad habit to have daily. I still very much enjoy my 1-2 (OK, pretty much always 2) cups first thing in the morning.

    RE: headaches, I went from 2 cups a day to zero caffeine for a few months earlier this year - I had mild headaches for a couple of days, but really it wasn't a big deal at all. I found I missed the morning ritual (and flavor!) so I took it up again....

  9. Excellent post, thank you. Coffee is my one real vice; I can give up sugar, chocolate or anything else for periods of time, but I've not gone a day without my morning cup of coffee for 13 years. I usually only have one cup, in the morning, and combined with morning asana practice, coffee is the impetus for me to jump out of bed on these cold dark mornings.
    Still, I don't like being a slave to a habit, or addiction, but I know I am...when I travel I even pack my own coffee and coffee press to make sure I never have to go without my morning hit.

  10. I thought I would chime in here, since the comments thus far have been pro-coffee.

    I gave up coffee almost three years ago and I have no regrets. In the process, I discovered that coffee had been aggravating a mystery skin condition and causing digestive upset.

    Without it, my body feels healtheir and more open in my daily yoga practice. My moods are more stable. I sleep better and when I wake up on the morning, I'm *awake*, no outside stimulus required!

    I do miss the taste of coffee and the ritual aspect. I replaced my morning cup of joe with decafeinnated green chai tea. I"m glad I quit coffee - you couldn't pay me to drink the stuff now.

    P.S. I agree with Shanna about the layout. It's very hard on the eyes. In addition, only an excerpt of your posts are offered in RSS readers, so one is forced to read the entire post on your site. This is tough for those of us who read through mobile devices.

  11. Chris - Pranayama practice is where I notice the effects of my morning coffee the most. My eyes tend to flutter and my hip flexors tremble a bit when I first sit after too much coffee.

    Adam - It's nice to hear not everyone suffers terribly from cutting caffeine. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad...

    Brigid - 13 years is quite a streak. ;) I can't remember the last time I went a whole day without a cup o' joe, but I'm sure it hasn't been that long.

    Kai - Thanks for weighing in. Stories like yours, where coffee affected you in ways you didn't realize until you gave it up, are what make me wonder how, exactly, the coffee affects me day-to-day.

  12. I love this post! I can so relate. I love my coffee yet it exacerbates the inflammation in my body. I usually do decaf, but lately I am hooked on Via - once a day. I agree with the moderation thing. I do that with my wine also. :)

  13. Anytime a yogi/yogini endorses coffee I chime in.
    I am a physical therapist, now working doing research in a dept. of exercise science. My personal/professional view is that coffee in moderation -1-2 or maybe an infrequent 3, cups of coffee a day poses no health risks. I couldn't comment on the specific rodent studies not knowing which ones you are referring to, but one thing to keep in mind with rodent studies is the amount of the ingredient the rodent in being given relative to what that "dose" would be in you. It might be that a chemical was harmful to the rodents, but you'd have to drink 16 pots to get the same "dose".
    As you see from the posts, the effect of coffee varies greatly from person to person, to one must pay attention to their own body. But if someone is a already an established coffee drinker, and does not feel that it affects their practice, I would see no need to urge them to quit. If they make the personal choice to, fine. But I think for those of us (i'm a 1-2 cup a day, don't feel impeded by our coffee drinking, yoga and coffee can happily co-exist!

  14. Can a cup of coffee with milk and sugar be taken just before yoga or walking on TM or breathing exercise? I feel mentally comfortable to have coffee first in the morning and start my day. I cannot leave coffee. Please guide me with some other suggestion. Same in the evening also. The moment I return home, I must have coffee. Then only I think of anything.