[Image taken from here]
"Black as the devil, Hot as hell,
Pure as an angel, Sweet as love."
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord
Happy Moon Day! Since this is the new moon, you are probably not practicing. Quite possibly, you might be sitting somewhere, enjoying a nice cup of coffee. This is, in fact, what I am doing right now: As I write this, I am sipping my regular morning double espresso :-)
It seems, then, that for many of us, coffee is just as much a part of our daily lives as our practice. In fact, one can even argue that coffee is actually more a part of our daily life than the practice: We don't practice on moon days, but we still drink coffee! For those of us that drink coffee, that is... If you are one of the lucky few who are not in any way dependent on this substance, well, you have my greatest respect: If I were wearing a hat right now, I'd take it off to you :-)
In case you are wondering, this is NOT me taking off my hat to you.
[Image taken from here]
It appears that there are different opinions as to the merits of coffee, even within the Ashtanga community. Many of us know Sharath's famous saying: "No Coffee, No Prana!" I also read something somewhere where somebody claims that Guruji once called coffee the Elixir of Immortality, or something to this effect.
However, many Ashtanga teachers have expressed reservations about the place of coffee in relation to the practice. Matthew Sweeney writes:
"Some individuals also like to drink coffee first thing in the morning, both to aid the bowel movement and to wake up from feeling tired. That is, coffee is used to do both these things rather than actually addressing the issue. First of all, the question of why you are tired should be addressed. Secondly, if you are, either go to sleep earlier or practice later. If you drink coffee to help practice, then it can be said that what goes to practice is not you, it is the coffee. My point here is not to condemn coffee. It is a part of life and may be relatively supportive. I use it here as an example of the illusions you have that may need to be addressed." (Sweeney, page 21)
Gregor Maehle takes an even stronger position on the effects of coffee on practice, claiming that caffeine consumption actually has a direct effect on the physical practice itself:
"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." (Maehle, footnote no. 16 on page 125)
Whenever I read Maehle's words here, I can't help but wonder just how he supports this claim. I mean, a variety of physical and psychological factors can contribute to pelvic imbalance: How does he succeed in isolating caffeine consumption as a decisive contributing factor, among all these different possible contributors? I'm not saying he's wrong: I'm just wondering out loud.
In any case, why is there such a divergence in opinion about the merits of coffee? In my now-famous (ahem!) post, "Coffee and Siddhis: A Fantastic Tale", I propose the fantastic hypothesis that perhaps the coffee that the Jois's brew and drink is imbued with some special yogic power, or siddhi, and thus possesses some special properties that ordinary coffee (the kind that Maehle is referring to) lacks: In other words, the coffee that Sharath brews and drinks gets the prana flowing and focuses it, while the coffee that the rest of us drink totally messes up the prana and throws the pelvis all out of whack! (Disclaimer: This is only a fantastic hypothesis. I am not making any scientific claims here. Definitely do not start throwing rotten eggs (or spilling stale coffee) at me.)
Another possible reason for this divergence might lie in one obvious geographical fact: Both Sweeney and Maehle are from Australia! Perhaps there is something about the atmospheric conditions down under which affects the composition of prana in coffee when it is brewed in that part of the world, so that (perhaps) coffee that is brewed in Australia has certain prana-scattering effects that are not found in coffee in the rest of the world! (Disclaimer: Again, I mean this as a purely fantastic hypothesis. If you are from Australia, please do not take offense. Uh oh, am I going to start losing Australian readers? Well, if you are an Australian Patriot (or whatever the Aussie term for this is, excuse my ignorance), please feel free to challenge this claim :-))
Yet another possibility is that coffee affects different body-types/dosha-types differently. Perhaps, depending on your body-type/dosha-type, coffee can either really get your prana on in the morning, or really mess up your prana flow. I think this sounds somewhat plausible, although I have no scientific/ayurvedic evidence to back it up.
So it seems that the jury is still out (and will probably be out for a very long time to come) on the effects of coffee on our overall health and well-being in general, and on our practice in particular. So if you are a coffee-drinker, please continue to enjoy your daily cup/s of coffee. If you are not a coffee-drinker, well, continue to not drink coffee (duh?).
Come to think of it, this may be a good place to conduct a poll (I seem to be in a poll mood lately; polls are fun, aren't they? :-)). You will see a coffee poll in the top right-hand corner of this blog. Please take a moment to cast your vote.
Last but not least, I think this is also a good place to indulge in some pretentious poetry writing. In this spirit, I present you my latest coffee poem (written pretentiously in old English, to boot):
Ode to that Exotic Black Beverage from Distant Shores
Hail Ol' Coffee!
What Thick Black Brew
Hath from Distaff Shores
To Yonder Coffee-table Traveled?
Some like Thee Black,
Others have Thee with Cream
And possibly some Sugar.
Some Hail Thee as the Elixir of Everlasting Life,
Others Revile Thee as a Prana-scattering Scourge.
Art Thou Boon or Bane to Ashtangis with their Stupid O'Clock Morning Routines?
If Thou Art Boon,
Wherefore Art Thou not Universally Loved and Revered?
If Thou Art Bane,
Wherefore do so many swear by Thy Thick Luxurious Body and Richly Textured Skin?