Drink coffee, practice yoga, be superhuman

A few posts ago we highlighted the latest set of research about coffee’s potential benefits. Then, in the comments, we added that a new study out of Illinois had suggested that 20 minutes of asana practice seem to produce brain benefits.

That study — link here, if you missed it — got a ton of coverage over the past few days. As just an example, here’s the New York Daily News (but the New York Times and dozens more media outlets grabbed onto it in one form or another):

“It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout,” Gothe said. [Our note: Goethe is the study’s lead.]

“The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath,” she said. “Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.”

It struck me over the weekend, maybe over a cup of coffee after Sunday’s asana practice, that these studies combined seem to argue for just what we do in the Confluence household: drink coffee, practice yoga. If the studies are to be believed, we will be healthier, live longer, have better mental focus, be calmer, have lower blood pressure: sort of be superhuman, if you will.

A solid, if superficial, reason to get up Monday morning, have a cup of coffee and then practice.

Posted by Steve

Published by


Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

4 thoughts on “Drink coffee, practice yoga, be superhuman”

  1. Here is the other side of the quote “no coffee no prana” here’s the link for the full article on myths and ashatanga yoga http://yogamindmedicine.blogspot.ca/2013/01/more-ashtanga-myths-coffee-prana-and.html

    “So Guruji did have some attachments and one of these was coffee, Sharath also loves coffee (and so do I). But if we look at what is designated as yogic food, coffee is definitely not considered to be sattvic – rather, we have to say coffee is rajasic in nature. It is completely antagonistic to meditation and the limbs of yoga and stimulates extroverted rather than introspective activity.

    The word rajasic is often used pejoratively to describe someone who is unstable, passionate and unsavory in some way, but the word rajas simply means movement or action. To understand the meaning of yoga, some familiarity with the Gunas is required. The three Gunas are principally the qualities of mind, whereas the three doshas are the qualities of the body. Rajas, tamas and sattva – these are the qualities of mind – rajas means activity or disturbance, tamas means inertia or ignorance and sattva means tranquility and intelligence.

    In yoga practice we are trying to cultivate the quality of sattva to the maximum extent – that means to bring the mind into a tranquil, clear and undifferentiated state – the state described by Patanjali as chitta vritti nirodhah, or samadhi.

    Yoga practice as taught by Pattabhi Jois involves a lot of activity, a lot of rajas, so it has to be said, not using the word rajas in the commonly misused way, that what we call Ashtanga Yoga is a rajasic practice. Rajas is used to counteract tamas – inertia, heaviness, morbidity – and lead us towards sattva. However if we overdo the rajasic aspect, we are left with an unstable, nervous or edgy mind. Too often we enter practice with the same approach as we take to all our other worldly activities – an intense or stressed person will practice yoga intensely – the end result may not be tranquility, which is the goal but a kind of edginess.

    We can understand how, for many people, coffee would be supportive of such a practice. But ultimately coffee does not serve us at all on the path of yoga, it is only used to undo certain tamasic elements in our system – such as the inability to wake up in the morning – why do we have that problem? It would be better to undo the cause of that than to use a drug to counter other negative behaviors such as going to bed too late, consuming tamasic foods or indulging in tamasic activities such as watching tv late into the evening.

    No coffee no Prana?

    This was one of Gurui’s humorous quips. It is a joke and not meaningful, but unfortunately has been taken up as one of his catch phrases.

    There is a common misconception about Prana. Prana is not energy as we usually think about it. We do not absorb Prana from food or respiration as is commonly stated. In fact Prana is not even equated with inhalation, but rather governs exhalation. Physical energy absorbed from food is not Prana. Prana subsists on a different plane. Prana is the vehicle through which Purusa (spirit) animates the mental and bodily functions – it is the life force.

    Prana enters the physical body at conception and leaves at death. It does not increase or decrease with respiration, eating or physical activity. It’s actions in the body are facilitated by the qualities of the foods we eat or the actions we take but its quantity is not changed by or equivalent to the amount of food we eat or the air we breathe. Prana is subdivided according to its functions in the body and mind. The undifferentiated Prana can be equated to sattva – it’s inclination is to move up or remain in the head region, whereas, when we are inclined towards extroverted activity it moves down, as does tamas – as it moves down it is called apana. Apana governs inhalation (which is a downward movement in the body) as well as elimination of waste products through urination, excretion and menstruation. For most yoga practitioners, coffee is used for the impact it has on going to the bathroom before practice. Hence rather that stimulating Prana, coffee changes Prana into apana.

    As modern human beings our lives are governed by rajas and tamas – by stress and ignorance (about our true nature). While tamas can be equated with ignorance, rajas has the capacity to move in two directions: it can move us towards deeper tamas or it can move us towards sattva. A rajasic person needs to be active in order to relax, a tamasic person needs to be active in order to wake up. In general, those attracted to Pattabhi Jois’ yoga are rajasic in nature – we need to be active in order to get it out of our system. As Guruji said, anyone can practice his system of yoga, except lazy people – those governed by an excess of tamas.” ~ Guy Donahue

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s