No coffee, no prana?

Recently I’ve given up drinking coffee, and in typical hardore-Rexx-style, I stopped drinking coffee cold turkey. (Yes, much to my surprise, I am still alive.)  Why give up coffee, which has been a major ritual of my daily life?  And why give up in the most extreme fashion, cold-turkey?

For the last 12 years, my morning started with a cup (or two) of strong black coffee on an empty stomach.  No sugar, no milk – just straight coffee.  I enjoyed the ritual of getting up, grinding the coffee, setting the Bialetti moka pot on the stove, and, once the coffee was ready, sitting down and reading a book for 30 minutes before heading off to practice yoga.  It was a comforting, dependable ritual.  The coffee helped me to wake up and power through a session of Ashtanga Yoga.  Coffee was there for me in the afternoon when I needed a little pick-me-up.  Getting coffee with friends after a weekend Mysore session was a source of bonding, relaxing and becoming part of a tribe.  In short, coffee helped to fuel my practice, my social life, and my sense of a stable, reliable self.

And then I decided to give it up.

Why did I decide to give up coffee?  Part of it has to do with working full-time at a cafe, where access to the glorious java is unlimited.  I found myself drinking coffee more frequently than before, due in some measure to the enthusiasm of working in the coffee industry for the first time, due in some measure to the desire to fit in with the group.  I started having an afternoon espresso after lunch, or a latte when the cafe was slow and I didn’t have much to do.  I realized that I had to started to abuse coffee.

Which is why I decided to go cold-turkey on the brew.  I wanted to see how addicted I had become to coffee and to the caffeine it contained.  (I also believed that doing a graduated withdrawal from coffee would be kinder but less long-lasting.  As Henry Rollins once said, “What goes best with a cup of coffee?  Another cup.”  Thanks, Hank.)  The first week was rough: poor concentration, irritable moods, fatigue.  Then there was the psychological withdrawal: wanting to drink coffee but denying myself; seeing other people drink and enjoy coffee; making coffee for other people; trying to negotiate with myself about how one little cup of coffee won’t make a big difference, it’s just one little cup….

But within two weeks, I started to sleep better.  And I was less prone to anxiety and repetitive thoughts which had been plaguing my yoga practice for months.  Granted, wiping away the mental cobwebs in the morning was still tough without the revivifying effects of coffee, but once awake, my energy levels followed a much more sustainable pattern throughout the day.  I also started to feel more calm and collected in my daily interactions with others.  I became more acutely attuned to how I felt each day: rather than powering through Third Series even if I got less than ideal sleep, I would do Primary or Moon Sequence. I started listening to my body more.  I was less irritable and less edgy than when I was drinking coffee.   I was more of my mellow, Zen self than I had been in years.

I know, not mind-blowing stuff I am relating here.  However, coffee has been glorified, especially among Ashtangis, as the next-best source for the nectar of immortality.  Sharath Jois, the current head of the Ashtanga Yoga Institute, is quoted as saying, “No coffee, no prana.”  Doesn’t that inspire you to pick up a cup of joe to jazz up your first Surya A?

So it’s been three weeks now, sober from coffee.  I woke up, had a few glasses of water and sat down to read a novel by Murakami.  The cat I am pet-sitting greeted me with her bird-like chatter.  I then sat and meditated for 30 minutes, for the first time in a year.  I felt concentrated and calm.  And that, to me, is enough reason to not drink coffee but to practice yoga.