Ayurveda is a system of medicine that explains how we can live in balance with our constitution- nature – in order to create the conditions where disease will not easily get a foothold.
Regularly taking something into your system that unbalances you, particularly if it effects the mind, which caffeine does, is not helpful in the long run and will result in you living out of balance with your nature, if you drink it in an addictive way.
Some people tolerate caffeine better than others, but most will find that without the caffeine, they feel unbelievably exhausted (vata types), flat and lethargic (kapha types), or angry and exhausted (pitta types) – all signs that their body has developed an addiction to it.
Vata types are the least likely to tolerate caffeine, becoming nervy, over-sensitive, hyper and ever more exhausted with every caffeine crash.
Caffeine can cause havoc with your nervous system, your sleep cycle, and serotonin levels – all of which can negatively impact your digestion. It is a rajasic food (action, movement, disruption), that can eventually lead to tamas (heaviness, dullness, decay).
Many of us are addicted to caffeine, using it to give us a lift or a buzz and to keep us going when we are tired. Over time we may find we need to increase our intake to get the same hit, and this creates a cycle of dependency – the brain stops being able to naturally create feel good chemicals (e.g., serotonin/dopamine) and comes to rely on caffeine.
If you decide to give up caffeine, Ayurveda can support you to return to a balanced state, whereby your body creates its own feel-good chemicals.
Since we live in a rajasic culture (fast paced, ambitious, always pushing for more), many of us are living out of balance with our nature (constitution) and we may have forgotten how good our natural state can be.
Initially caffeine can help get kapha types going by shaking up their metabolism, but with prolonged use can have the opposite effect, causing lethargy and depression. Kapha constitutions are better off taking up a rajasic form of exercise like aerobics.
For pitta and vata types, caffeine affects the kidneys and adrenals; pitta types become irritable and driven (in an unhealthy way) and tend to develop ulcers and hypertension. Vata types become completely exhausted, their bodies become stressed and their nervous system switches to fight/flight causing them to feel wired, nervous and anxious. Since vata types become easily addicted they are likely to reach for another coffee, leading to ever deeper levels of exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, and excess vata which, if it spreads out into the tissues, can cause joint pain – that is where my caffeine relationship took me, why did I keep on drinking it?
Sometimes because I was tired and under work pressure that prevented me from being able to rest up. When I reached for a coffee, the caffeine cut out the chemical reaction in the brain that let me know I was tired.
The brain has a feedback loop to let us know when we need to rest, which involves the production of a chemical called adenosine. Throughout the day adenosine is produced and attaches to adenosine receptors in the brain – the central nervous system monitors this process; at a certain point it lets us know that we need to stop and sleep. When we drink caffeine this feedback loop is broken – caffeine is a similar structure to adenosine and fits into the brain’s adenosine receptors, which prevents adenosine from locking into them, blocking the feedback loop. At the same time, a surge of dopamine, glutamate, serotonin and adrenaline is produced, giving a euphoric experience and pulling us back for more of the substance that gave us that high. Over time we can find ourselves needing to drink more caffeine to get the same ‘feel good’ effect.
At other times, I drank coffee for social enjoyment because I liked to connect with people over a coffee. It was a habit, a neural pattern, along with going to my favourite café for a morning coffee while I did some work. These neural pathways had been cultivated over time and they communicated to me that cafes, coffee and connection all come together to mean that life is good – even if it is not!
So, this article isn’t saying give up caffeine, unless you have an addictive relationship with it, or can identify with some of the negatives I have mentioned. In which case there will be a physical addiction to move through, and a psychological one. ‘Caffeine Blues’ by Stephen Cherniske is a good book if you want to read more about the science underpinning caffeine, as well as a variety of approaches to quitting, while hypnotherapy can help with the psychological habit, particularly Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, which creates new neural pathways to support habit change.