Cut the Coffee Addiction

I live in New York City and I am almost positive that 75% of the New York diet consists of some form of coffee.  Because the tempo of life here is so quick, I found myself always looking for a way to keep up or go faster.  Late nights into early mornings, days that consist of running up and down the island of Manhattan for meetings, classes, or auditions turned me into a coffee connoisseur.

Coffee was a social and business staple.  Need to have a meeting?  Let's do it over an almond milk cappuccino.  Boyfriend just broke up with you?  Meet me at Toby's lets get a large coldbrew and talk about how men are the worst.  It's only noon on a Wednesday and you've got nine and a half more hours to go before you find your way home? Newsbar to the rescue. 

I even created a instagram account with Steph McKean to document the new coffee places that we discovered.

After months of feeling like I was on the verge of collapse from the intensity of my schedule, I took a step back an assessed why lifestyle.  There was a time not so long ago where I was teaching more, lived farther away, was running a studio, and still felt great about my life and choices.  

So what changed?

I had gone from having one, maybe two, cups of coffee a day to an average of four.  Even writing that makes me cringe.  I realized that schedule I had built for myself was predicated on a stimulant to keep me going.  Caffeine is a powerful drug.  Like anything in life, too much of a good things quickly turns bad.  When I realized that my sudden uptick in coffee intake might be behind my intense fatigue, I decided to do an experiment on myself: one month. No coffee. Limited tea.  I'm an all or nothing person, so while I don't recommend that every singe person quit cold turkey, that's the way I did things.  

Here are the biggest things I lessons I learned about my relationship with coffee:

Caffeine Withdrawal is a Real Thing.  The headaches, the additional fatigue, it most definitely sucked for the first few days.  It challenged me to find non-substance ways to energize and focus myself.  And thus began my daily practice with my yoga wheel.  Heart openers are incredibly stimulating to the nervous system.  Similar to the way caffeine effects the physical body, in a backbend, you'll notice a slight acceleration of heart beat and a sharper focus on the present moment. One of my mentors once told me that she sets herself up in supported fish before she teaches if she ever feels lethargic.  Same same, but different.  Because I crave deeper heart openers, I used my yoga wheel daily before setting out on my day. I used it to help me find a number of different supported backbends including supported fish, assisted kind pigeon, and forearm wheel.

Caffeine is a HABIT.  Habits form for many different reasons.  In some way, they offer us comfort and stability.  My relationship with caffeine was a habit.  I turned to it for a cure-all.  Tired? Coffee.  Upset? Coffee.  Stressed? Coffee. Bored? Coffee. One of the biggest pillars of my life comes from the Alexander Technique.  It asks us to PAUSE, to DISCERN, and to choose something beyond the habitual.  Acting only on the habit takes away our freedom.  I was using as a substitute for other actions that would otherwise benefit me, like feeling my feelings, sleeping more than five hours a nights, meditation, and saying no to events that would put me over the edge.  I decided that I wanted to live a life where I wasn't relying on a stimulant to power me through my days.  That ultimately meant I had to make some choices about how I was spending my time.  

Caffeine can make you more tired in the long run.  When we consume caffeine, it stimulates a response in our bodies to release adrenaline.  This response is fight-or-flight mode.  Think of it as a response similar to one if a tiger was chasing you.  You immediately feel that burst of energy and run trying to save yourself, even if you were exhausted moments before.  Your focus becomes super clear: I'm trying to not die.  This is great when there is an actual tiger trying to eat you.  When this stimulation comes without a true source and is stimulated through a chemical reaction in the body via a substance repeatedly throughout the day, the effects of this fight-or-flight mode are less than stellar on your overall quality of life.  I was ending my days so worn out because of the constant stimulation. I was doing too much.  I was always on high-alert. I was not giving myself enough time to unwind back to rest-and-digest.  

The BIG takeaways: Your body knows exactly what it needs and when.  Pushing through an overly crowded schedule for a patch of time is something that we all encounter in this modern world.  However, if your regular schedule is constantly overwhelming you, it is not sustainable.  Take some time to really investigate your priorities.  What is important?  What is necessary?  Is this really the best use of my time?  Instead of ignoring the signals your finely-tuned mechanism is giving you, LISTEN. Rest when you need to rest.  Meditate to recalibrate. Utilize supported yoga posture to help focus and energize your mind and body.  If all else fails, try subbing out two cups of coffee for a green tea or a matcha (my favorite is Matchabar in Chelsea).  My month-long experiment is not a permanent lifestyle change but it has informed my choices going forward.  I'll have a cup of coffee now and then because I genuinely enjoy the taste, but I no longer rely on it to make it through my days.  

What are your go-to's when you feel the brain fog and sleepiness coming on a bit too early?