This is a story about coffee and how I finally listened to my body's intuition around food. I love coffee - I love everything about it. The smell of the beans, the sound of the beans grinding and the frothing of the milk, the taste, the ritual of it, the smoothness, sitting in a cafe surrounded be my fellow coffee lovers, I could go on and on. I started my addiction love affair young; at 16 I was working at a small neighborhood cafe and bagel shop. The only free things we could have during shifts were tap water or good old, American drip coffee. So, being 16 and "broke", I drank the coffee, sometimes the water. At first, I wasn't sure about it, but quickly I became a convert.
I loved it so much I started asking my mom to brew me some with her and Dad's first thing in the morning before school. I'm still surprised she let this happen. At the cafe I was probably drinking between 3-4 cups during my 5 hour shift (these were true cups of coffee, no sugar and only a splash of milk). That amount of caffeine, coupled with the fast pace we were encouraged to use, I would get home and do everything in hyper-speed. Make my lunch, do my homework, go swimming, do my chores, all was done at a top pace, a speed I didn't even know I had in me. It was cool, I was like superwoman, so productive and motivated. But then, inevitably, I would crash mid-afternoon and take a ridiculously long nap, waking up feeling drained.
Coffee followed me into University where I also worked as a barista. It kept me up all night to study, or drink. It fueled my mornings, it was the satisfying end to my meals. I left University and moved to New York where coffee kept me moving at the frantic pace of the city and its crushing crowds of over-achievers with whom I was competing for resources and space.
At some point between various media marketing jobs, I took a week off and went to the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. The one place coffee couldn't follow me. This wasn't by design mind you, I didn't realize until I arrived, that the place was caffeine free. I was contained on Paradise Island where the only Starbucks was located a 30 minute walk down the beach at the infamous, but horrifying, Atlantis Resort. I stayed away. I was there to get my zen on.
This wasn't easy however, I got headaches, I dreamed about and longed for my coffee. I was up at 5:30am for the 6am daily meditation and chanting. That is an hour I'd pretty much never seen before, let alone one I was happy to be encountering without coffee to help me through. But I persisted. At one stage during my first day, after showing my cabin mate my hidden stock of snacks, she said to me "just try to go along with the schedule and lifestyle they set here, it might be an interesting experiment". So I took her advice, she seemed to know what she was doing.
I was irritable, itchy, cranky, the first 3 days I hated on a lot. Then, I started to wonder, is this like drug withdrawal? I'd seen people go through similar experiences when I worked in an in-patient clinic for adolescent girls dealing with drug addiction...
If 10+ years of caffeine was doing this to me, I had to stop and think. It's often the things we get so attached to and can't let go of that are worth examining. Why was I so emotional about my inability to have coffee? I wasn't crying over the lack of eggs.
Eventually, it cleared, I started to feel pretty good and the 6am meditations became quite enjoyable. I left the ashram on my 7th day, determined to take my new found caffeine free, calmer, peaceful, zenned out, into meditation self back to New York City. The determination wavered rather quickly I have to say, but at least I knew there was an alternative.
It wasn't until I moved to Sydney, while training to become a yoga therapist, that one of the teachers said to me, why don't you pay close attention to how your body feels after, before and during drinking coffee; to all the sensations, all the feelings in the body. So I did... I felt palpitations in my heart, I felt my breathing become quicker, I felt my shoulders tense up, I felt my eyes bulging, I felt my eyebrows creasing together. These, I realized, were the symptoms of stress I often experienced. I even had the racing thoughts. It finally dawned on me that coffee, my long time confidant and best friend, was making me feel exactly the way I was trying to avoid feeling. I would do anything to not be anxious, I hated the feeling of stress. That was that - the end of a long romance. A few minor relapses later, I've been coffee free for months.
It took a good look at how the thing I thought I loved actually made me feel - all the physical sensations - to finally realize it was actually doing me a great disservice. If my intention in life is to be calm, relaxed and happy, coffee didn't fit into that picture at all. As a result, the habit and the cravings dropped away. A little bit of willpower involved, but once it became clear to me coffee was making me feel something I knew was detrimental to my health and happiness, it was easier than it had ever been before.
What do you really want to feel in life? What is your heart's truest desire and are your choices fueling that or taking you away from it? Your choices of what you eat, drink, the activities you do, the people you hang around and otherwise.
Here comes the plug - My good friend and Eating Psychology Coach, Tammy Shemesh and I will be discussing topics like this and more during our workshop. I Am Present - Yoga and Healthy Eating on 15 August, Saturday 12:30pm - 3:30pm at Barefoot Yoga. Reserve Your Spot here.
We've both done a lot of self discovery on what in life is serving us and what isn't. It takes a lot of mindful awareness of the body and its sensations and a commitment to living life with purpose. We'll guide you through your own journey of self-discovery to figure out which food choices serve you and which ones don't. And don't worry, no one is going to force you to give up coffee. Coffee might actually be good for you, but it's up to you and your body to find out! See you on the mat. xx