Barista work is physical, but it shouldn’t hurt to do your job. D.C.’s DMV Coffee and Pilates instructor Marcia Polas are teaming up to host a barista calibration event.
BY RJ JOSEPH
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Photos courtesy of Marcia Polas
Back pain, foot pain, and barista wrist are generally considered natural parts of barista life. But what if they didn’t have to be? Occupational Pilates instructor Marcia Polas lives by the concept that it shouldn’t hurt to do your job, and on September 22, she’ll be teaming up with grassroots Washington, D.C., coffee community group DMV Coffee to host a two-hour workshop helping baristas learn to do their job pain-free.
“One of our members, Reggie Elliott, mentioned movement workshops Marcia’s been doing once a month for bartenders,” says Daps Salisbury, a DMV member and barista at D.C.’s new Blue Bottle location. “We always try to push ourselves with new types of programming, and the SCA prelims coming to D.C. seemed like the perfect opportunity to try something new while we have a large number of baristas here from out of town. We thought, what can we do to serve that audience and show them an amazing time in D.C.?”
The event is a workshop and Q&A at which Marcia will share tools with baristas to combat some of the typical physical issues they suffer from: thumb joint and wrist pains from tamping, foot and knee problems from prolonged standing in place, back pain, neck pain, and more. The intention is for the movements she demonstrates to be easy for baristas to introduce into their routine motions on bar to achieve relief from fatigue and pain.
“You shouldn’t need to go to a massage therapist or a chiropractor to work pain-free,” says Marcia. “We should be empowering people to know and take care of their own bodies. It’s about teaching you to take care of yourself so you’re not dependent on anyone else for your own health.” And it shouldn’t take hours a week, she insists—it should only take a few minutes a day.
“We saw a practical problem that isn’t often addressed in coffee training,” says Daps, reflecting on why this event feels so necessary to DMV Coffee. “One of the unfortunate realities of work on bar is the physical and emotional toll it can take on you. I’ve interviewed so many prospective baristas who said they wanted to work in coffee because being a barista looks cool. They’re not prepared for how demanding this work can be.” And, Daps points out: “Few training programs instill good ergonomic habits in us, probably because the majority of us already have chronic pain issues from dysfunctional movement by the time we are in a position to pass knowledge down. You hear ‘don’t do it like that,’ but not ‘do it like this.’”
The event will take place at Cotton & Reed Distillery, a prior host and beneficiary of Polas’ monthly bartender events. The distillery and tasting room are only a couple blocks away from the Dolcezza Factory where the SCA preliminary event will be taking place, so the ease of access for event goers couldn’t be better, says Daps.
The event’s inception was serendipitous for all parties. “Meeting Marcia was amazing and spontaneous,” says Daps. “She travels all the time from NYC to help clients and serve industry communities in multiple cities. She just happened to be in D.C. when we contacted her about teaching a workshop specifically for baristas here. I met her at Union Station and we bonded immediately. She brings such incredible energy and compassion to her work that really rubs off onto you. Within five minutes of sitting with her, she pointed out that my thumb and fingers on my dominant hand were all crooked from years of tamping. She totally blew my mind right from the get-go. I just knew then we had to work together to make this happen.”
Marcia, who started doing Pilates in 1999, lives to spread her message, and she’s thrilled to have met baristas who were excited to work with her. “I always invite baristas to my events for bartenders, because even though the event is specific to the bartending profession, a lot of the patterns are similar for hospitality workers,” Marcia says. “A lot of it is learning how to take care of your own body and start using it in an organized fashion. Reggie Elliot came to an event I was doing in D.C. for bartenders, and we thought, maybe we can do one of these for baristas.”
Daps, Reggie, and Marcia are all excited to bring this groundbreaking workshop to baristas. “It makes me especially proud that we’re able to collaborate with Marcia to bring it to life,” says Daps. Marcia adds, “Every time that I have the opportunity to get in front of a group of people and at least get the conversation started, it’s like Christmas and my birthday rolled into one. I want them to come away with some grasp of the idea that it shouldn’t hurt to do your job, and I swear to God it doesn’t have to. People shouldn’t ever have to leave their passion because of pain.”
Reflecting on the larger impact they’d like this event to have, Daps says, “I hope that coffee professionals love what Marcia teaches them so much that they want to do more workshops with her in their hometowns. I hope companies commission her to teach their entire staffs optimal ways to move on bar. Coffee companies, the BGA, and the SCA offer a slew of educational resources, but few of them relate to maintaining our physical and mental health. So, when many of us get by without insurance or company benefits, staying in the industry long-term may not seem like a realistic option. Despite these challenges, I’ve always refused to believe that coffee can’t provide viable career paths for baristas. For me, organizing workshops like this one is just a part of stepping up to create the changes so many of us want to see.”
The most important thing, according to Marcia, is to spread the message that baristas should have hope. She firmly believes that they can pursue their passion without doing damage to their body, and she wants more than anything to connect workers to the tools they need to work effortlessly. Hopefully, this workshop can lay the foundation for a broader educational movement of prioritizing worker wellness in coffee.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
RJ Joseph roasts coffee and writes a blog called Queer Cup in addition to her other adventures in coffee journalism. Her writing focuses primarily on equity, workers’ rights, and alternatives to the status quo. In her free time she loves cooking, reading, and being in Oakland. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @rj_sproseph..