I started sneakily drinking coffee my senior year in high school. I remember that I used to brew coffee when no one was home, then sneak the cup into my bedroom, hide it in the bottom of my closet and then drink it later. This habit was covert. I didn’t drink to feel cool, but rather to cope with doing too much. I was taking a full load of Honors and AP classes, playing sports every season, and bussing tables a few nights a week. I tried to have infinite energy by abusing caffeine. At least on the surface, this worked pretty well in my teens. It looked like I was capable of anything and I certainly enjoyed the praise that comes from being productive.
This caffeine abuse continued during my undergraduate studies and of course escalated when I entered graduate school. I was drinking a couple of cups of coffee every day during my first year of grad school to get through copious amounts of reading. I was using caffeine to motivate myself chemically rather than connecting to a deeper motivation for action.
As I eventually shifted into a healthier lifestyle, I learned a bit more about the negative effects of coffee so I started drinking green tea…but I still depended chemically on my now lower dose of caffeine to function how I thought I needed to in the world. Since I felt that I needed caffeine for motivation and caffeine use builds resistance, I would go through what I like to call “cycles of caffeine addiction.” I would start with green tea then progress to chai to progress to cacao to progress to coffee, then feel sick and quit, then have green tea then progress to chai to progress to cacao to progress to coffee and then feel sick and quit, again and again and again. I tried so hard to be caffeine free.
I know that some people might say that this isn’t really a problem and on some level, perhaps it wasn’t a problem, but these were more than cycles of caffeine addiction. The deeper problem was this: Caffeine use was a symptom of not taking proper care of myself. It was also the cause of some other undesirable symptoms – a rapid heart beat, dark undereye circles, dehydration, general crankiness when I didn’t have my dose. To really free myself from this, I would need to treat the cause caffeine addiction – not lining up to natural rhythms– to no longer fall back into these patterns.
So what has changed? How did I start to line up more with natural rhythms?
First, I realized that I always have a choice. This happened for me in Tadasana. Seeing that I could choose how I stand physically showed me that I also constantly choose how I stand in my life through my habits. Like unconsciously choosing habitual poor posture, unconsciously choosing overstimulation ultimately causes pain. I could finally choose not to rely on a substance to live – I could choose find energy by aligning myself with natural energy cycles and also through deep inspiration.
Second, I lined myself up with natural rhythms by really anchoring myself in the Dinacharya, the Ayurvedic daily routine. These sweet habits of taking care of myself by doing things like eating a bigger lunch, enjoying oil massage, and meditating have truly given me a much deeper and authentic reserve of energy.
Third, in the process of leaving these pernicious habits behind, I have noticed how coffee was a substitute for deeper motivation. I want caffeine when confronted with the feeling that I “have to do something”. Now I can remember that I “choose to” or “get to” do things.
In sum, I finally feel free! I may still judiciously choose to have a tea or cappuccino here and there – but I definitely don’t feel like I have to have it. I also am well aware of the aftereffects and know how to shift back to normal. It is great to be firmly back in the space of choice.