If you are like most individuals, giving up your daily coffee habit is not an easy task to accomplish. Of course there is the physical addiction and dependency that the caffeine creates, the mentally addictive aspect and simply the ritual around drinking that warm cup each morning to start your day. Even the aroma of coffee may spark your nostalgic desire for this all too popular beverage. With all of these factors, along with the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can last 7-14 days on average, it is no wonder why giving up coffee is such a hard goal to tackle (and unfortunately often failed).
Although socially accepted, caffeine is indeed an addictive drug that has been shown to alter your brain’s chemistry overtime. It increases the levels of dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitter), inhibits the absorption of adenosine (the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter) and triggers the secretion of adrenaline (the fight or flight stress hormone). For all of these reasons, many individuals are drawn toward their morning coffee to get going in the morning, eventually relying on it for their daily focus and energy. After taking in this beverage routinely overtime, these changes create a physical and mental dependency, leaving you extremely tired, foggy-headed and in a foul mood if you do not give in to this daily habit. Individuals that have a stronger addiction may also face more severe symptoms such as headaches, body aches, nausea and other flu-like symptoms.
According to Ayurveda, caffeine (and coffee) is tri-doshically disruptive, meaning it will cause imbalances in all three body types (Vata, Pitta and Kapha). Of course some individuals are naturally more susceptible than others, meaning they are more sensitive to its negative effects and will notice a stronger reaction. This is due to genetics, how our bodies metabolize the caffeine, our current state of imbalance and once again our natural body type (often Vata types are the most sensitive).
Although recent studies are aiming to glamorize this harmful and addictive substance by focusing on the positive health benefits of caffeine, all in all, I think it is fair to say that the negative side effects grossly out way any good. Not to mention many of the “positive” effects are short-term, only to lead to long-term imbalance. Here are some lists of the negative effects caffeine creates according to each dosha type:
Negative Effects of Caffeine on Vata Dosha
- Increases anxiety, fear and nervousness
- May cause jitteriness, shakiness, dizziness and muscle tremors
- Sets off the fight or flight mode
- Causes restless sleep and insomnia
- Decreases digestion
- May cause gas and bloating
- Causes long-term vasoconstriction in the body (poor circulation)
- Causes vasoconstriction to the brain (one study shows by 27%), reducing long-term cognition, memory and focus
- May cause accelerated heart rate, irregular heartbeat and/or heart palpitations
- Causes excessive calcium to be flushed out of the system (via the urine), potentially leading to brittle bones and osteoporosis
- Negatively effects the absorption of zinc, magnesium, iron and other minerals
- Overuse may promote dehydration and dryness in the body
- Taxes the adrenals
Negative Effects of Caffeine on Pitta Dosha
- Increases blood pressure for up to 2-3 hours after consumption
- Increases irritability, frustration, anger and short temper
- Taxes the liver
- Increases heat in the body
- Increases inflammation in the body
- Causes gout flare-ups
- Irritates the GI tract and worsens conditions such as IBS, Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis
- May create excessive heat in the bladder and can worsen UTI symptoms
- Overuse may lead to headaches or migraines
- Interferes with neurotransmitters that govern mood and stress
- Causes loose stools or diarrhea (mrdu koshta) by increasing peristalsis and leading to malabsorption of vital nutrients
- May cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in some individuals
- Causes hyperacidity, heartburn and gastric ulcers
- Overuse may cause sour stomach, nausea and vomiting
Negative Effects of Caffeine on Kapha Dosha
- Taxes the kidneys and bladder
- Overuse may lead to fibrocystic changes in the breast tissue
- Increases appetite
- Decreases digestion
- Releases the stress hormone cortisol, a leading cause of midsection weight gain
- Impairs glucose metabolism and is not recommended for anyone with Type 2 diabetes
- Causes polyuria (increased urination)
General Negative Effects of Caffeine
- Causes hormonal imbalance
- Increases PMS symptoms
- May cause urinary incontinence or worsen a preexisting condition
- May reduce fertility in females by as much as 27%
- Worsens menopausal symptoms
- Increases the release of the stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine
- Overuse may lead to adrenal burnout
- Coffee contains high levels of Acrylamide, a known carcinogenic; the darker the roast, the higher the Acrylamide levels
- Addictive, creates physical dependency
- May cause mania in Bipolar Disorder
- May negatively interact with medications such as antibiotics, thyroid medication, psyche meds and depression drugs
Now that we can see clearly the “why” on giving up coffee, we must figure out the “how”. The first step of course is realizing your dependency, as well as the harmful effects the coffee is creating on you as an individual (this will look different for each of us). Once you admit this beverage is not serving you anymore, you begin to establish the willpower and drive you will need to get through the weaning and withdrawal process. Without this, you may not get very far.
Ayurveda revolves around the “slow but steady” concept when it comes to healing. This is no different when looking to give up this addictive substance. In fact, coming off of caffeine too quickly and suddenly can lead to intense withdrawal symptoms that are indeed harmful to the body. Therefore it is best to have a specific game plan, utilizing a steady weaning method along with some other healing practices that will help balance out the disruption from this withdrawal process. Of course it will still be a huge challenge for most individuals, but with the proper intentions and tools, this challenge can be overcome!
12 Ayurvedic Tips on How to Give up Coffee
1. Slowly reduce the amount that you drink each week.
Coming off of coffee cold turkey may work for the select few. However, more often than not, it is best to administer a steady weaning process when saying good-bye to your morning brew. This is to reduce both the mental and physical symptoms related with the withdrawal process. By reducing your daily intake slowly, you allow the body and mind to stay in a bit more balance, by creating some internal homeostasis while taking in the reduced amounts of caffeine.
This process will inevitably look different for each one of us, as our habits are all different. One person may be looking to give up his one cup a day addiction, while another is looking to cut out his eight cup habit. Therefore, I suggest to see what looks right for you and set up a weekly game plan for yourself as needed.
As an example, let us say I have a 3 cup a day habit. I may start by reducing this habit by 1/2 cup each week. Therefore, once every Monday comes around, I will reduce the amount by 1/2 cup until I give it up altogether. Whatever you decide, write out your intentions so they are loud and clear. Place these intentions on your phone, on your fridge, in your car or on your mirror for consistent reminders. Without this, you are more likely to lose focus and eventually regress from any progress.
2. While weaning, add cardamom to the coffee to help reduce the negative effects of the caffeine.
One of Ayurveda’s little secrets is to add a bit of cardamom to your brew to help reduce the negative effects that caffeine is known for. This is not a great long-term cure, rather a nice buffer as you eventually say good bye for good. To apply this recommendation, add in a 1/4 tsp of cardamom powder per cup of coffee you are brewing. This can be mixed directly with the grounds before the brewing takes place. If you do not have cardamom powder available cinnamon is a nice replacement!
3. Find a naturally stimulating (meaning caffeine-free) alternative to replace this ritual as you wean.
Most people’s morning coffee is more than just a stimulant to gain energy, it is also a ritual for their day. In order to keep this ritual in place while reducing (and eventually coming off of) the caffeine, it is often a good idea to replace it with something that you can turn into a new (and healthier) ritual.
As an Ayurvedic practitioner, I often recommend finding a stimulating warm herbal tea that you also enjoy (even if it is not quite as much as your coffee). This doesn’t have to be a coffee alternative such as Teachino, rather it can be anything that resonates with you and your taste buds.
One of my favorites is the caffeine-free Chai, made with milk and honey. This soothing, yet stimulating blend is quite tasty, making it a great choice for those looking for something more flavorful and less “earthy”. Adding in a little extra ginger will help boost the naturally stimulating effect, as ginger is known to increase focus, clarity and mental balance.
Some other great options that will be equally as beneficial for the body and mind are:
- OM Shanti Tea: Awakens the mind, heals the nervous system, balances the emotions, promotes clarity and focus
- Brahmi-Tulsi Tea: Awakens the mind, heals the nervous system, promotes clarity and focus, promotes adrenal health
- AWAKEN Tea: Increases energy and circulation, removes fatigue and mental fog, increases clarity and focus, promotes adrenal health
- Ginger Tea with Honey and Lemon: Increases energy and circulation, reduces headaches, promotes mental focus and clarity, flushes toxins from the system
4. Take it slow during this process; use your time and energy for internal healing.
Giving up coffee (and caffeine) can be a physically and mentally exhausting process for many people, especially those with a long-term dependency. Therefore it will be essential to honor the fatigue and fogginess that arises at this time by taking things a little slower, resting more and taking more time for internal investigation and nourishing self-care practices.
Use this important time to focus on yourself more and let go of any unnecessary activities. If you are experiencing emotional upheavals (such as anger, irritation or depression), this may be a good time to avoid too much social interaction and instead really sit with this mental discomfort and process through it as it comes.
Once the caffeine is flushed from the body, the chemistry of the brain and hormones will slowly begin to regulate, leaving you to feel like your old self again (and hopefully better than ever!). Generally speaking this can take an average of 7-14 days, but of course this time will vary for each individual.
5. Try to find natural energy with daily exercise.
If you are going through the trouble of giving up your coffee habit, this is a great opportunity to look at other areas of your lifestyle to establish a new found state of natural energy and vitality. One great addition will be to get at least 30 minutes of intentional movement (aka exercise) in each day. This can be a nice walk, some non-impact cardio, a bike ride, Yoga, swimming, hiking, or anything that resonates with you.
6. Eat a healthy, well balanced diet at proper times.
Another area to look into at this time will be the diet. A healthy diet can be a great way to gain more energy, reduce fatigue and balance the mind and emotions. Although you want to avoid making too many changes all at once (giving up coffee can be hard enough), you can slowly and intentionally begin to add in some healthy changes along the way. Here are just a couple ideas to start with (you can pick and choose):
- Eat 3 meals daily at proper times, do not skip meals!
- Make lunch your largest meal of the day, dinner your lightest
- Eliminate all processed foods, additives and preservatives
- Reduce daily sugar intake
- Eliminate all refined sugar and replace with healthier alternatives like honey and maple syrup
- Eliminate refined grains, replace with whole grain options
- Limit meat consumption to 3 times a week or less
- Avoid all food after 7pm
These recommendations are all given specifically because they all share the potential to increase the digestion (which increases energy levels), balance the blood sugar levels, and remove toxins from the system. Our diet governs so much of our mental and physical balance, so this can be quite essential to help get through this time of withdrawal.
7. Perform some gentle Yoga to heal the body and mind.
When giving up your coffee, you may experience a wide range of symptoms such as emotional disruption, headaches, body aches, fatigue, lack of focus and constipation, among others. Yoga, especially when performing a gentle restorative practice, can help ease all of these symptoms making this process a bit more bearable and less invasive. I would suggest to find a class in your area and attend at least once a week. Once you learn the various poses, you can even incorporate some calming postures at home to help you through any spikes of disruption. Here are some of my favorite restorative postures:
- Supta Badhakonasana
- Legs up the wall
- Upavishtakonasana (with support)
- Paschimottanasana (with support)
- Jana Sirsasana (with support)
- Supta Pada Gustasana
8. Perform Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) each day for mental balance and nervous system health.
Coming off of coffee and caffeine can cause quite a disruption to the nervous system. Although removing this stimulant will eventually help to heal this sensitive system, it can sometimes get worse before it gets better.
One of the most powerful tools we possess for healing the nervous system and balancing the mind is our breath. This particular breathing technique is one of the greatest for this purpose, as it focuses directly on creating balance in the subtle channels of the body. The increased amount of oxygen is great for increasing energy and awakening the mind, while the deep breathing into the belly is a great way to reduce stress and calm the nerves.
During your process of weaning off of the coffee, I would suggest to do a minimum of 9 rounds, 3 times a day (first thing in the morning, mid-day and before bed). If this is too much, just focus on the 9 rounds first thing in the morning (or anytime that works for your schedule). Just aim to be consistent, as these subtle tools always work best with regular use!
9. Take Majja Ghrita daily to help with the mental withdrawal symptoms.
Taking the appropriate herbal medications when coming off of any addiction can be essential to success. This medicated ghee is specific for treating addiction, as well as healing the nervous system and balancing the emotions.
During the initial process of weaning, it may be needed to take this in larger dosages and then slowly tapering off as appropriate. To begin, I suggest taking 1 tsp of the Majja Ghrita, 2-3 times a day melted in hot water. After you have fully come off of the coffee and no longer are experiencing the withdrawal symptoms, then you can reduce this amount to 1 tsp first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (still melted in hot water). Take this amount indefinitely or as long as needed.
10. Perform an oil massage before bed 2-3 nights a week.
One of the direct paths to healing the nervous system is through the skin. Therefore performing an oil massage (abhyanga), a couple nights a week will be extremely beneficial for healing the nervous system, reducing stress and balancing the mind at this time. Performing it at night is also useful for promoting sound sleep, which can be disrupted during the initial stages of giving up the caffeine. For the most noticeable benefits, it is further recommended to use a medicated oil such as Vata Massage Oil or Brahmi Oil which are both specific for nervous system issues.
11. Apply Brahmi Oil to the forehead (using the Pichu method) to treat headaches and other mental withdrawal symptoms that come up.
Pichu is the at-home version of the Ayurvedic treatment known as Shirodara. Basically this “oily cloth” treatment is given to help heal the mind, process through our emotions and reduce stress, making it a perfect complement to your healing journey during this time of withdrawal. It also helps to ease headaches, and can be used acutely for this symptom.
Directions: To begin, soak an old rag or piece of flannel in a slightly warmed medicated oil such as Brahmi Oil, Bhringaraj Oil, Revitalizing Hair Oil or Vata Massage Oil. Once the piece of cloth is entirely soaked, come to the bed and place an old towel where your head will rest. Lay down and then apply the oily cloth to the forehead, making sure no oil will not drip into your eyes. Leave this on for a minimum of 15-20 minutes or as long as needed. If you have a hot water bottle, this can be placed on the rag if it starts to cool. Do this 2-3 times a week during the initial weaning process. If you are experiencing headaches, this can be used as needed for relief.
12. Take a custom blended herbal formula.
A custom blended formula may be needed in cases of extreme caffeine dependency. Ideally the herbal blend will focus on treating the addiction, providing natural energy, balancing the emotions, flushing toxins from the body and healing the nervous system, all of which will be essential for the success of eliminating the coffee for good. Here are some beneficial herbs that cover these general areas:
**This is of course a general list, as each individual will vary on which herbs will work best for them.
Each of us will have different levels of dependency and therefore different levels of difficulty when coming off of coffee (or caffeine). Although there is a common list of caffeine withdrawal symptoms, once again we are all unique and will experience these a bit differently than others. No matter what comes up for you, it is important to hold your intention, create awareness for what arises and honor these sensations by using self-compassion and nourishing practices.
Making big changes in your life is a time of internal shifting, some of which may get worse before it gets better. Therefore take this time to slow down and focus on YOU. Utilize the self-care practices mentioned and try to create balance through diet, lifestyle and herbs during this disruptive time. Stay strong and always know that if you slip and fall it is never to late to get back up again!