In September 2019 I went to Ubud, Bali to undertake a graduate 300 hr training in yoga therapeutics. On the first day, we were given the rules: no alcohol, illicit drugs or smoking and no fraternising with any of the other students. ‘Standard’ I thought to myself, especially for yoga teacher training. “Oh and no coffee either for the entire 24 days”. Then my stomach did a little awkward gurgle. Yes, I was a bit hungry (won’t lie)… but within the hollow tummy grumbles was a sense of dread sprinkled with a tinge of excitement for what was to come.
I have wanted to break my caffeine habit for the last 4 or so years, ever since I developed one. Like many, the dependency started when I became a full-time office employee. For me, it was for the Australian Capital Territory Government (it was official and officially boring). Over time I became aware that I was reaching for the good stuff habitually and daily. If I didn’t have it I felt kind of disappointed. It wasn’t insidious, more…a subtle dependency, but it was there. My unofficial disclaimer is that I was not a 3+ cups of coffee a day guy. Though, even when sustaining a mild caffeine addiction of 1 or 2 per day I knew that I was falling back on the cup-of-joe as a coping mechanism. When I needed something to ‘get through’ the workday — coffee; when I wanted something to accompany me chillin on my phone — coffee; when I was procrastinating doing accounts work for my small business — coffee. My experience was not that I necessarily needed the coffee (I’ve never been a “don’t talk to me before coffee” person) but that I wanted the ritual to bring meaning into my day.
Coffee obviously has its place and I’m not here to shit-talk it into the ground. If you want to focus, if you want to take time out for yourself or if you want to catch up with a friend on the weekend coffee is a great thing. Without going into the ‘is coffee really good for you’ topic (there’s enough on the internet already covering that far more scientifically than I can), like any sort of dependence that may develop, for me I found myself constantly questioning why I felt I needed the coffee to get through my day. What wasn’t being fulfilled? Why did I need the coffee to enhance my experience? That self-inquiry became insidious because my inaction (i.e continuing to drink heaps of coffee) caused suffering.
Over time I became aware that I was reaching for the good stuff habitually and daily.
The Detox: How it went Down
The first 24 hours were great. “Yep, I’ve got this.” The second day saw a headache that wouldn’t go away all day, fatigue to the point I was falling asleep in the lesson, and brain fog… “wtf are we even talking about again?” My fellow training students reassured me that after the first 3 or 4 days I should be sweet. And they were right. Come the 4th day I had no more ‘withdrawal symptoms’ (dramatic). By the end of the first week, I was no longer getting afternoon slumps or post-coffee crashes. After 10 days or so, to be honest, I just felt better: physically because I felt my energy was sustained and moderated throughout the day and mentally because “heck yeah I’m breaking my coffee habit at long last”.
Integrating it into my Life
The challenge was when I came back to Australia. Back to work, back to teaching heaps of yoga classes every week, car rego, put the bin out…you know — life. For the first week, I semi-maintained my no coffee streak. In other words, I turned to decaf. After feeling like a bit of a douche asking for my “decaf flat white on soy” I successfully had a coffee catch up with a friend without heaps of caffeine. After about 9 days home I decided to give the real stuff a go. I won’t lie, in my mind at least it definitely tasted better than the decaf, but than I got the jitters and I felt like my focus was being scattered (I thought coffee GAVE you focus?!).
Safe to say after sticking to about 1 or 2 real coffees a week now, and opting for the decaf, herbal teas, juices or god-forbid…water…I’ve got no intention of going back to a cup-a-day habit. It’s a two-fold win for me. Physically I’m enjoying all of the benefits I harped on about above, and mentally I feel like a winner because after 4 years I no longer have a dependency on coffee (or even decaf coffee for that matter)! That shit makes you feel empowered like you’re hitting your goals…and that flows on into the rest of your life.
I’m using my yoga practice to support me where coffee was before. I’m using meditation to focus my mind, and if I feel a bit of a slump coming on after work than I turn to my energising breath practice or do an inversion (headstands aren’t just great for Instagram). Can’t do a headstand? Bring your legs up the wall and just lay there for a few minutes. It’s amazing trust me.
I invite you to evaluate your own experience and potential dependency on coffee. If you’re hitting the coffee shop all the time ask yourself why? Beyond “because it tastes good and I like it” what are the reasons behind your habit. Perhaps then you can evaluate where you sit with yourself. Maybe you’re happy to continue, or perhaps it’s time to give up the good stuff or at least cut it down. It’s not a sacrifice. Heck, if you need to go on a retreat in Bali or Costa Rica to do it than maybe that’s what it takes. It worked for me. Namaste for now, Andrew