[C]onstant tamping, grinding, steaming, and cleaning create a perfect cappuccino and a café that feels like home, but these same movements create stress and strain in the body of a barista. If you’re sore and weary, you’ll be less effective. There are plenty of ex-baristas out there who left the job because a wrist just wouldn’t stop hurting.
Yoga can help diffuse current stress on the body and prevent future injury. And you can do a series of stretches right behind the espresso machine. The benefits of yoga go beyond giving your limbs and joints a break. In yoga, pain is your body telling you to reassess, and change your position. When you listen to your body and take a moment to adjust while you are in a pose, you develop skills of awareness. For baristas, this means that as you steam milk, you are able to take a moment and adjust your stance from harmful to helpful.
I’ve developed a simple routine that I do on the job. In each pose, find the space where you feel a stretch, but never cross over into suffering. If you feel pain, slowly release. Hold each pose for three to five breaths.
Downward Facing Dog
Start on your hands and knees, joints stacked. Spread your fingers wide, pressing evenly into all ten fingertips. Tuck your toes and send your hips high. Your body will create a “V” shape.
From that pose, walk your hands to meet your feet. Evenly distribute your weight. Pull your belly button towards your spine to release the lower back. Let your torso hang like a rag doll.
Slowly roll up to standing, one vertebrae at a time. Roll your shoulders down your back, arms at your sides. Pull your belly button in towards your spine and tuck the tailbone, just enough to lengthen through the low back. Standing with proper pelvic alignment helps relieve tension in the lower back, knees and hips, and helps strengthen core muscles. Variation: interlace your fingers together at the base of your spine, reach towards your heels.
Step forward with your right leg, toes facing forward. Plant your left foot flat, so the arch of your left foot is aligned with the heel of your right. Open your hips, chest, and belly to the side of the room. Stack your right knee over your right ankle. Reach your arms out to create a T. Repeat with your left foot forward.
Foot and Wrist Stretch
Begin in a kneeling positon. Tuck your toes and sit on your heels. This stretches the bottoms of the feet and may feel uncomfortable, untuck your toes when you need to. Bring your palms together in front of your heart. Press firmly into the four corners of your palm, and turn the thumbs away from you, pinky fingers towards your chest. Release and relax.
Yoga continues to gain popularity, and it is likely that there is a studio near your café. Some studios will offer discounted group rates, some instructors may travel to your space and create a class for you. Café owners can (and should) encourage their baristas to do yoga, to cultivate body awareness, strength, and flexibility, to be not only healthier, but better, more mindful baristas.
—Rachel Sandstrom is a barista and yoga instructor. Jennifer Siegel (pictured) is a yoga therapist and coach.