Yoga And The Better Balanced Barista

Even with strong shoes supporting you, seven hours of standing and interacting with customers can still be intensive. Between the physical requirements of making drinks and the emotional labor required to dose out a pleasant service experience, some baristas turn to yoga as their stabilizing solution.

Research shows that practicing yoga may improve your posture and mood and even decrease any anxiety and depression. Turns out my own anecdotal research for this article suggested the very same. 

When Tohm Ifergan isn’t working as a coffee educator, he’s touring with his band. After a five-month European tour, he went immediately back to work and found himself feeling “so anxious” when serving customers. The caffeine effects from constant cupping, training, and teaching lectures weren’t helping. “Yoga is a counterbalance,” he says.

After a year of practicing yoga at home, Ifergan observes, “I have felt more energized. It makes me less anxious and gives me peace of mind.” For him, yoga’s mental benefits are a large part of why he practices. He explains, “I just generally feel more upbeat on the days that I practice yoga than I do when I just drink coffee.”

For barista Hannah Craig, she began practicing yoga to alleviate back pain on the recommendation of a physical therapist. The physical benefits took a few months to kick in, but two years into her practice, she notices if she hasn’t stretched yet.

“If I don’t regularly stretch, then my back gets tight and I don’t feel as healthy,” Craig says. In addition to the alleviation of pain in her back, Craig found that yoga mentally relieved a lot of her stress.

“I do think that a lot of people talk about yoga being a centering exercise. For the longest time, I didn’t know what they meant,” she says. During a shift, she jokes that she’ll find herself in a tree pose. Craig finds that breathing techniques come in useful during and after a shift. “It’s really relieving and relaxing to be able to sit down and allow your mind to go blank and just relax,” she adds.

Head roaster and green buyer Winston Harrison agrees. A few deep, measured breaths “can change everything,” including how you hold your shoulders and your overall posture. While his work does not usually involve customer interaction, he’s found that yoga as a regular routine outlet has made him be more patient. “It has helped me, especially with coffee roasting,” says Harrison.

He’s been practicing yoga for 12 years and observes that it keeps a check on his perfectionism and “control over anxiety tendencies.” The “analyzing and micro-analyzing very minute changes” that comes with coffee roasting can make anyone hypercritical. Harrison explains that yoga “has really helped me have a healthy perspective on that and helped me relax a bit.”

For the past seven years, Harrison has been teaching yoga classes. For baristas, he recommends focusing on breathing and balance. When you stand, focus on a balance of weight between your feet. As you pull a shot or stamp cups, see if your repetitive movements favor a side.

A five-minute breathing sequence like the one below can warm up the shoulders, open up the chest, and increase your mobility, says Harrison.

A Five Minute Breathing Sequence:

The first one is an arms forward, shoulders distance apart. Belt or strap—hold between hands, palms facing in. Arms down, inhale and bring arms overhead, exhale going down. 5–10 times, slowly, deliberately, without too much exertion. With intention.

Can be completed sitting cross-legged or in a chair.

In Kansas City, therapeutic yoga teacher Heather Rama teaches a yoga class called “service industry professionals” (SIPS). Housed at studio Hagoyah, SIPS is designed specifically with the needs of service industry professionals in mind.

Rama herself dedicated 25 years to the service industry, working in multiple areas of the restaurant business. Her classes are dynamic and structured to the needs of the class. “We work through resistance in the body and areas in the body who need opening and where we can create the space,” she says.

Regardless of which area of the service industry you’re in, Rama observes that the hamstrings, knees, wrists, and elbows are all areas that need extra attention.

To open up your shoulders and knees, Rama recommends the standing series of yoga poses, especially Warrior II. Before starting in any pose, be sure to warm up.

Prior to signing up at your nearest yoga studio, there are a few things to keep in mind. There are many variations of yoga and each teacher is different in their style. Bikram yoga may work wonders for one person while a slower yin yoga may be more useful for another person. Yoga is not a solve-all cure for any physical and/or mental illnesses.

“If you want to be in the service industry as a career for the rest of your life, you’ve got to take care of yourself,” observes Rama.

Yoga may not be the perfect solution for you, but taking a few deep breaths after an especially exhausting rush may be what you need to recenter your mind.

Jenn Chen (@TheJennChen) is a San Francisco–based coffee marketer, writer, and photographer. Read more Jenn Chen on Sprudge.


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