This post is inspired by Claudia's recent post about the effects of coffee-drinking on yoga practice. Does drinking coffee help the practice? Or is it something that, like any other stimulant, gets in the way of achieving a balanced state of equanimity, and should therefore be avoided?
It appears that yogis can generally be divided into three schools of thought when it comes to the place of coffee in the yogic life:
(1) The "No Coffee, No Prana" school of thought
This is something that Sharath is supposed to have said. There is some dispute about the accuracy of this quote (somebody has suggested that it should be "No Coffee, Prana".)
But we'll just assume that "No Coffee, No Prana" is the correct quote. Skippetty has also attested to the correctness of this quote. As the phrase suggests, people who belong to this school of thought believe that coffee is needed to "jump-start" the yogic engine and get the prana flowing in the morning. Skippetty also said that Mark Whitwell said that Krishnamarcharya used to drink 5 cups of coffee a day. So apparently Krishnamacharya also belongs to this school of thought.
I have good reason to believe that B.K.S. Iyengar also belongs to this school of thought. I once read somewhere (I can't remember exactly where) about this interesting episode from his younger days. He said that when he was a young man, he used to get up at 4 in the morning, have some coffee with his wife, and then commence his pranayama practice. Sometimes the pranayama practice was so taxing that he got exhausted and went back to sleep! Apparently, sometimes even coffee is not enough to get prana flowing!
So as you can see, the "No Coffee, No Prana" school of thought has many illustrious adherents.
(2) The "Yoga is My Coffee" school of thought
As of right now, I know only one person who belongs to this school: Me. Even though I drink coffee daily, I do not need coffee to get me started on my yoga practice. This is how my morning goes. I get up, drink some warm water, and do my Buddhist prayers. And then I do my Ashtanga practice. And I only drink my coffee (usually a double espresso) after my practice. Why do I do this? Well, for me, my yoga practice is sufficient to wake me up: So, yoga does for me what coffee does to others. I mean, if something like kapotasana can't wake me up, what can?
You may ask: Why do you still drink coffee then? Well, I like the taste and the "kick" that double espresso gives me, even if I don't need it to wake me up first thing in the morning. Part of it may also stem from a certain attitude of rebellion. I come from a family that is pretty strict about not taking any stimulants. When I was growing up, my mother disapproved of coffee, because she thought that, being a stimulant, it can't be good for the body. So maybe my coffee-drinking is an act of rebellion, in a way.
(3) The "Coffee is Rajasic/Not Sattvic, Don't Drink It" school of thought
Adherents of this school believe that coffee gets in the way of the yoga practice because, being a stimulant, it creates imbalances in the nervous system that leads to imbalances in the physical body. Coffee is also a diuretic. Which means that it drains the body of precious fluids that are needed for lubricating the joints and for circulation.
Which school of thought do you belong to? Maybe there are also other schools of thought that I have not taken into account of here. If so, please share.
Frankly, I have some reservations about the "No Coffee, No Prana" school of thought. If adherents of this school actually believe that coffee is absolutely necessary to "jump-start" the yoga practice in the morning, this just can't be right. I mean, think about this: If I have my history right, coffee was only introduced to India when the British arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries (somebody please correct me if I'm wrong about this). But yoga has been around for far longer than that. So, if coffee is absolutely necessary to jump-start the yoga practice in the morning, then the yogis who were practicing in all those centuries before the British arrived were totally fucked! But we know this can't be true. If it is, we wouldn't have yoga today: Yoga would have died out long ago because those pre-British occupation coffee-deprived yogis weren't able to get their prana on.
Or maybe it is true: Maybe yoga only gained widespread popularity in the last century because with the advent of coffee, yogis like Krishnamachrya and B.K.S. Iyengar found the extra "juice" that gave their practices and teachings the "edge" that had been lacking in the practices of pre-coffee-era yogis... If this is true, then we owe whatever yogic knowledge we have today at least as much to a chemical substance (caffeine) as to the teachings and practices of the teachers of the Krishnamacharya lineage. Damn! Doesn't that make us all... addicts?
Maybe I need to start drinking coffee before my practice, after all. I could be doing at least fourth series by now...