I used to say that I could not live without coffee, cheese, or alcohol.  “My mother is Belgian, these things are part of my heritage and I won’t give them up,” I said to anyone who suggested I try cutting them out of my diet. I gave up gluten in 2011 and that already felt like a huge sacrifice. Four years later, after doing an anti-inflammation elimination diet, I also gave up caffeine, alcohol and most dairy.  It turns out I CAN live without them, and quite well actually, you might even say better. I could write a book about the havoc all three can cause in your body but today I just want to share how much quitting caffeine helped me in my healing journey. 

I like to attend a few yoga workshops a year to get inspiration for my teaching and to deepen my own practice. The single best thing I ever got out of a yoga workshop actually wasn’t directly related to yoga though, it was Tommy Rosen’s advice to quit caffeine.  It was almost an aside, something he said offhandedly between telling his own story and taking us through poses. Something about the way he said “you should quit caffeine, it will change your life,” really stuck with me. His thing is yoga for recovery. That man was addicted to just about everything (caffeine likely the LEAST destructive) and yoga was the most powerful tool he found to get clean.

It took me a few years after the workshop to quit myself because my initial reaction was, “that’s nice but that’s not going to happen for me.” When I finally got too sick to work, it seemed like a good time to try. After all, without work, I didn’t have the pressure to “be on” all the time. Even then, I tapered down slowly and in the last month I was drinking just about a thimble’s worth of coffee one time in the morning. I’m not a cold-turkey kind of girl.

Once I got completely caffeine free I saw how right Tommy was. It really changed my life and marked a huge turning point in my healing journey. I saw that I had been hardcore using.  Coffee was my favorite drug for covering up my physical and emotional symptoms. I would regularly start to cry on my way to work, a natural reaction to chronic fatigue and overwhelm, and then my coffee would kick in and I felt human again. I was known to drink 48 oz of coffee to get through the day. I realized in retrospect that the biggest problem with that was how effectively it disconnected me from my body. By covering up most of the signals my body was giving me, like when to rest, what to eat and not eat, I was making all the underlying problems way worse. All the meditation and yoga in the world wouldn’t help me connect with my body as long as I was drinking that much coffee.

Like I said, it took me awhile, and the absence of caffeine necessitated some other lifestyle changes. I now have to take sleep more seriously, for example, and rest instead of powering through fatigue. And when I say “have to” I mean that I now choose to listen to my body over covering up the signals it is so kindly giving me. And the coolest thing is that overtime I have been rewarded for making that choice. Now I have more energy and mental clarity, things I previously thought I couldn’t have without coffee. If there is something I want to stay up late for, I can do it without any assistance.

Every once in awhile I think I’ll be okay having a little green tea but I find it’s never worth it. The consequences outweigh the short term happy feeling. I have better strategies for dealing energy dips. Sometimes naps are called for, and I took a lot of them for a long time, but now that I’m feeling better, I usually opt for a walk, vigorously shaking my arms for a minute, or taking viparita kirani at the wall. I was once told that taking viparita kirani for 20 minutes is as restful as two hours of sleep. It’s untraditional, but I often meditate in that position to combine two wellness practices in one. Other things that have been great about quitting coffee: I have way fewer headaches, almost no pain, and I save a ton of money!

If that is not enough to convince you, this little piece by Forbes writer Travis Bradbury succinctly outlines how caffeine can disrupt sleep and your emotional intelligence. 

All that said, caffeine is an important tool for some folks, like migraine sufferers. Cutting it out completely may not be the best solution for everyone.