November 16, 2012

5 Things Barista Training Taught Me about Yoga.

1. What you start with is important.

Everything comes from where it begins. No matter how well a cup of coffee is prepared, it won’t taste good unless it’s brewed from quality beans. Regardless of whether a barista has had years of experience and can do fancy latte art with his or her eyes closed, the potency and deliciousness of every single cup of coffee they serve depends, for the most part, on the beans.

In practice, I liken this to the fundamental reason why we do what we do. When you step on the mat, are you present? Are you connected? Are you breathing? Are you bringing an honest intent to your practice? Beginning with a sense of quality in everything we do ensures that the end result is the best that it can be.

2. What you do with what you have is important.

If a shot of espresso is under extracted, then it tastes sour, and if a shot of espresso is over extracted, it tastes bitter. A really good shot actually requires the perfect balance of bright and bitter flavors, which come together in a mellow, delicious way.

The funny thing is, both good and bad qualities exist in coffee beans—even the best beans can be ruined by poor extraction, and lower-quality beans can be improved with skilled preparation. So, despite the quality of the beans (remember, beans are important!), proper extraction still matters. Even if you have good beans, you have to honor them by extracting what’s good, and leaving the bitterness behind.

Despite how strong, flexible or zen you may or may not be, it’s always important to cultivate a balance between ease and effort, strength and softness, and holding on and letting go. It’s not just about what you have; it’s about what you do with what you have that matters. You may have a beautiful yoga practice, but choose instead to lament the fact that you haven’t yet mastered handstand away from the wall. Conversely, you may have a limited range of physical motion, but marvel at the space you can create in your body with every single breath. In practice and in life, make the choice to savor what is good, and let go of anything that prevents you from reaching for your highest potential.

3. What you know is important.

Some people do yoga teacher training to simply learn more about yoga, and this deepens their practice, both physically and mentally. Similarly, learning more about why beans matter and the keys to good extraction heightened my understanding of coffee. Knowing the skill it takes to create a perfectly balanced shot of espresso allows me to derive a greater sense of appreciation for every single cup of coffee I enjoy.

There is also such a rich history and philosophy behind the practice of yoga. The splendid tales of the Bhagavad Gita and the philosophical tenets of the yamas and niyamas enriches my yoga practice—both on and off the mat—in a way that no amount of asana could offer. The deeper my understanding of anatomical principles and mechanisms, the faster and more effectively my physical practice progresses. The more that is revealed about myself on the mat (sometimes I push too hard, I tend to be a perfectionist, it’s hard to ask for help…), the more I can work to change these things. The more you know, the more you grow.

4. Mastering the basics is important.

One thing I quickly learned is that latte art is really hard, and requires a considerable amount of skill and practice. However, no matter how ugly my coffee looked, the taste of the coffee remained unchanged. Instead, if I had chosen to expend all my energy on trying to make hearts and ferns rather than focusing on simply making good coffee, I might have something nice to look at, but a terrible drink. The purpose would be lost.

Regardless of whether or not your heels can touch the ground in downward dog or you’ve perfected your headstand, the physicality of the practice is only the art adorning the surface of your cup: temporary aesthetic appeal. When the cup is emptied, the end result is the same. So, the way that your practice looks should be secondary to the way your practice feels. Instead of immediately rushing to try to master the poses that look the fanciest, beginning with the basics is always the best place to start.

5. Practice is important.

I admit, my first few attempts at pulling a shot, steaming milk and creating latte art were pretty pathetic. My hands were a bit shaky and unaccustomed to the scorching heat of the equipment, and what was meant to look like a beautiful, delicate heart looked more like a smeared blob. It didn’t matter. I was so enamored by the whole experience. I got to stand behind the counter and try my hand at making lattes, and I could have stood there making coffee all night (the fact that I had like, three cups of coffee in the span of two hours probably had something to do with this too).

Looking back at the experience, I don’t remember what my lattes looked like so much as I remember how much I enjoyed making them.

My first few attempts at a sun salutation and a forearm stand were probably kind of lame too. My arms have collapsed from under me in chaturanga and I’ve fallen out of bakasana more times than I can count. But I don’t remember the struggle; instead, I smile fondly at the journey of learning, and growing, and through my practice, finding myself.

Pattabhi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.”

The key is not to be perfect, but to be present for the practice, to love the imperfections, to appreciate everything that the practice of patience and the practice of presence have to reveal, blobs and all.


Ed: Brianna B.


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