On Giving Up

Last week's Primary Friday has been surprisingly popular.  Apparently, many of you are curious about the process of quitting coffee.  Maybe it's because your bodies have been hinting at you -- like mine did -- that the caffeine content and high acidity of coffee are doing more harm than good.  I won't tell you whether you should or should not drink coffee -- I think it's probably fine for most -- but I will share my own experience.

The truth is that coffee is just one of the things I've given up lately.  In the past month, I have given up wheat, alcohol, Sriracha, and my netflix account.  I've also cut my hair and every time I look in the mirror I am delightfully tempted to cut more.  I've always been afraid to cut it short and felt intuitively that one day I would have to part with my long locks one way or another as a grand gesture of non-attachment.  That day might be approaching.  (Is it strange that I'm afraid to change my hair but nonchalant about tattoos?)  Point being, I've been letting go of lots of things and I really can't be sure that lack of coffee is entirely responsible for the effects I will henceforth expound.  But I suspect it is.

I quit drinking coffee last Tuesday.  The first day was hard.  I walked around in a haze.  Taught a Mysore class.  Yawned a lot.  Ate a lot of sugar.  No practice.

The second day was less hard.  I felt as though everything moved more slowly, not only my own thoughts and actions, but everything and everyone around me.  There seemed to be more space everywhere.  I had a slight headache, but noticed that my skin was looking absolutely rosy and I definitely felt less hungry, though still craved sugar, which I partook of heartily in the form of chocolate covered raisins.  No practice.  Broken sleep.

On the morning of the third day, I felt really good in spite of the poor quality of sleep the night before.  Headache gone.  No practice.  I took an oil bath and had a good breakfast.  Meditated.  Watched a few installments of Cosmos with Carl Sagan (side note:  space is incredibly fucking cool).  In the afternoon, a few hours post oil bath, I noticed that my hips and legs were achy.  That night, I tossed and turned for hours with restlessness and pain.

On the dawning of the fourth day, I observed that certain bodily excretions were an entirely different color (and they have since remained that way).  I did my first caffeine-free Ashtanga practice.  Though my energy levels were good, the pain in my hips -- at the psoas, hamstring attachments, and deep in the groin --  was absolutely excruciating.  Forward bending was brutal.  It was Friday.  Primary was brutal.  I breathed through it.  Felt better after practice, but still achy.  Taught two classes.  Noticed that my teaching was more grounded without the hard stuff in my system, my jaw and eyes softer.  And I was sweating less, a lot less.  Again, I tossed and turned for much of the night.

Saturday, the fifth day, I did Primary through Purvottanasana and the full finishing sequence because I couldn't bear the thought of another day without practice, especially if it meant a delay in addressing that pain, which was no better and perhaps worse on this day.  Again, I felt good after practice, though still sore in the hips and very tender deep in the joints.  Took the dog for a long walk in the evening, which seemed to help.  Sleep that night was short and interrupted, but less so because of pain.

I both feared and anticipated the return to Intermediate on Sunday, the sixth day, but in light of my bizarre pain condition, I decided at least a bit of Primary would be best before jumping in.  I did Primary through Baddha Konasana and Intermediate to Eka Pada.  Good practice.  Took my heels in Kapo even though it had been a full week since I had practiced any of Intermediate.  Eka Pada was painful at first, but, strangely, deeper than ever.  In fact, Eka Pada was the only posture that seemed to make the pain go away, at least for a while.  Sunday night was restless, in keeping with the pattern.  I found myself waking at odd intervals and flipping over, thinking to myself, "other side," seeking balance even in sleep.

Monday:  day seven with no coffee.  Taught an early class.  Took a long nap, lack of sleep finally caught up with me.  Did Primary to Baddha Konasana and Intermediate to Pincha.  Allowed myself some black tea in the afternoon to help me perk up for my evening class.  Mistake.  Feeling twitchy and wide awake now, nearly eight hours later as the clock rounds midnight.  (This will publish on Tuesday's date, but it's still Monday night to me).  

The long practices seem to help with the hip pain, which I believe to be a result of the surrounding musculature releasing habitual tension due to the elimination of caffeine -- with the exception of this afternoon's misguided venture, which, by the way, is only strengthening my resolve as I sit here and note the obvious effects of the caffeine:  twitchiness, racing mind, unconscious clenching made conscious by the change.  By finishing sequence this morning, the pain in my hips had faded to little more than a residual tug in the shoulderstanding postures, but I might stick with this long practice for a while.  It's been a nice change.  God knows I love my Primary.

So after one week with no coffee, I can say that I dig this whole caffeine-free thing.  In spite of the counterintuitive side effect of interrupted sleep, I genuinely feel better, physically and emotionally.  I'm thinking better, relating better.  Practice is different.  Better.  The fire is smaller, more manageable.  I can sit close without getting burned.  

***I have resumed eating wheat.  Gave it up for a month, but dared have a burger on a wheat bun over the weekend.  It was fine.  I felt fine.  No different, worse or better.  I thought maybe I'd function better off wheat, but I think my diet is too fatty without it.  Need the fiber.

***Damn Good Yoga is on Facebook.  Get you some.  https://www.facebook.com/DamnGoodYoga


  1. Hi Megan,
    This is Stef from Frankfurt/Germany. I've been reading for a while by now (I really enjoy it and like the way you write) and I've always been astounded to learn that you drink coffee before your practice. For one of the first things I learned about Yoga was that coffee annihilates the effects of the asanas.

    Now with your amazing physical changes after you chucked coffee I wonder what long term effect it will have on your practice and on your mind. I bet it will be great.

    In my Yoga teacher training (I am in my first year) it is compulsory to leave out coffee as of the beginning of the second year (as well as meat, eggs, alcohol, drugs and tobacco).
    I am a vegan and have never been a coffe drinker. My last alcohol was on New Year's, together with my last fag, as I used to be a party smoker. Doing without either is not a problem. What I find hard is no onions and no garlic, which I've both been omitting for quite a while as well. It has a good effect on my meditation, but I still find it a pity, for I loved both garlic and onions.
    Mushrooms I quit, too and I also try to avoid wheat, which does not always work. ;)

    Kind regards and cheers

  2. Hi Stef,

    I wouldn't go so far as to say that coffee "annihilates" the effects of the asanas. Clearly, I've experienced a host of benefits from these years of caffeinated practice. Then of course, there's Sharath's meme: "no coffee, no prana." Ashtangis do it differently, I guess.

    I too have quit eating garlic, and drastically reduced my onion intake. Green onions seem to be cooler, less aggravating than other types. Why no mushrooms? They've got good protein and vitamin D.

    As for practice, already I can see the difference in my state of mind, and I have a feeling that my hips are about to crack wide open without the coffee to keep me tense.

    Thanks for the comment. Cheers!

    1. Hey Megan,

      To be honest I have no idea why no mushrooms. But in our book it is one of the advices on nutrition. Like the other foods and beverages mentioned, mushrooms seem to somehow hamper the Kundalini from awakening.

      Yes, it was always obvious that you definitely did benefit from your practice despite the coffee, physically anyways, but also mentally. All your posts, the way you convey yourself, your thoughts, the conclusions you draw attest to this. I guess coffee is also specifically to be avoided if one wants the Kundalini to rise.

      Interesting with your hips.

      Looking forward to the posts to come.

  3. Hi Megan,

    I'm not sure that primary to Baddha Konasana is only "a bit of primary." But I do like approaching 2nd series that way.
    Thanks for the continued coffee report! I'm down to 8-10 ounces a day from a high point of, oh, probably 3 times that amount. Having trouble making myself go the final step, although I could probably avoid the migraine by having a transitional day of a 1/2 a cup. But everyday I look at that coffee cup and think, not today. Today I'll just have one cup.

    1. Hi Deborah,

      Haha. True, true. Perhaps that is more than "a bit," but it's the hip opening that I'm after. Supta K, Garbha P, and Baddha Konasana all target the tight areas right now.

      I reduced my coffee intake little by little over the past few years -- from 2 pots a day to 2 cups a day -- but it's kind of surprising how much difference there is between just a little caffeine and none at all. The withdrawal headache I experienced was slight. Nothing to be afraid of.

  4. Hi Megan!
    I recently gave up coffee, too. I didn't really plan on doing it, but one day when I got to work (I work in a coffee shop) I had no desire to have any. I could tell my body was done with it. I think it's been around 5 days since my last cup of coffee and I feel fantastic. I also quit cigarettes recently and I must say that without those two stimulants I feel much more energized and present, not to mention empowered!

    It was interesting to see that you've been experiencing hip pain. I have too, and sleeping at night is most difficult with the aches in my joints. I think my pain peaked over the weekend. I'm happy to see I'm not the only one experiencing this as my body adjusts to the changes. I have also cut down my sugar intake by quite a bit!

    Your blog is always such an inspiration to me. You are one cool lady!

    1. Hi Clarissa,

      Congrats on quitting coffee and cigarettes!! Thank you for sharing. Very interesting that you experienced some of the same withdrawal symptoms. The ache my hips finally gave way to openness in practice today, a full week after cutting coffee entirely.

  5. Hey Megan, thanks for a great post.

    I've been giving things up recently too, but when I talk to my non-yoga friends about them they think I'm crazy. Last year I sold as much of the crap in my house I didn't need or use on ebay to lead a more minimal existence.

    I cut my long blonde hair to the scalp to prove to myself I didn't hide behind it. I've given up wheat, eggs, cheese to try and balance blood sugar and tried to cut my caffeine down to one cup a day in the morning.

    I gave up alcohol and Facebook for lent this year. I had a few drinks at the weekend though, after 6 weeks off I felt sick for 3 days. I'm gonna stay off it. Tea doesn't bother me but I can tell when I need it! It's hard giving up wheat/carbs and I can now really feel when I've had something which messes with the blood sugar; I get this enormous hit and then plummet straight after, not good. (I don't have any blood sugar problems it's just better for the body to try and keep your levels balanced).

    Anyway, just wanted to say good on you, I hear ya sister! Doing stuff to try and better yourself is not easy! Cheers.

    1. Hi Micqui,

      I hear you. I'm sure my friends and family think I'm crazy, too. They're just nice enough to smile and nod.

      Thank you for sharing your story. Very inspiring. I like to clear out my place at least once a year and sell everything I don't need on Craigslist. What I can't sell, I donate. As for the hair, I'm still working up the courage.

      How is it that eggs and dairy adversely affect blood sugar levels? Aren't they primarily protein and fat?

    2. Hi Megan,

      I want to see a picture of your shorter hair! Actually, I should just come and see you. I have been thinking of attending an Ashtanga class. Do you teach any that are for beginners?

      Why give up garlic and onions? They add such wonderful flavors to food!
      i don't think I will ever give up coffee, although I am sure there would be some benefit to it. I quit drinking alcohol 5 years ago and only wish I had done it 25 years ago. I love reading your blog and hearing of your evolution.
      Keep on writing!


    3. Hey Dottie,

      I did cut 4-5 inches off, but it was so long before that one can barely tell the difference. I am battling with conflicting urges to go shorter. I am not teaching any beginner level Ashtanga classes regularly just yet, but I do sub a Fundamentals of Ashtanga class from time to time at Yoga Yoga North.

      Garlic and onions are both pitta-aggravating foods, as are tomatos and peanut butter -- so there are four of my faves right there. :(

      It's tough being balanced (... or trying to be, anyway...).

  6. I stopped drinking coffee at the beginning of the year somewhat unintentionally. I was changing a number of habits in my life and giving up coffee seemed like a great thing to do. I started drinking green tea each morning instead. I never decided firmly that I was not going to drink coffee at all, just that I would no longer be a slave to it. All was good until the past 2 weeks. I am finding the coffee craving coming back in full force. I have had 1 or 2 cups per WEEK since early January. Now I find myself thinking about coffee each morning and each afternoon. I hope this is just a phase and that I can get through it without picking up the habit again. I probably need to go cold turkey. One day a time, right?

    1. Hi Brendan,

      My original plan was, like yours, to simply eliminate the addiction in hopes of enjoying a cuppa jo now and then, but now I'm thinking it might be best to leave it behind entirely. Listen to your intuition.

      One day at a time. One breath at a time.

  7. I recently gave up coffee as well.

    I was a 4 espresso a day, 2 large coffee drinker. It really is my fav thing to drink.
    Now that I am getting deeper into my practice, a good friend recommended that I give up coffee so that my muscles wouldn't dehydrate in-between practices. My Yoga teacher from Boston told me I should cut it down to a once a month treat.

    I too had some pretty "strange" experiences in the first week, strange aches, excretions (TMI--I'm sorry). loss of flexibility one day, and now that it is out of my system more or less, my practice and body are doing fine, even if I still crave the ritual of coffee something fierce.

    Thank you for writing such an awesome blog!

  8. I also got the same instructions from my yoga teacher, she also suggested to me to give up coffee so that it wouldn’t conflict with my yoga classes. I followed her advice and it totally worked for me, after 3 months of attending yoga, I felt the change and lose weight.