A CLEAN LINEN SHOWS THE STAIN: by Chris Bishop
I should start by describing my relationship with caffeine. To be clear, I am not anti-caffeine, and I am certainly not anti-coffee. But I am concerned when I show a troubling relationship with anything, and my relationship with caffeine is troubled.
I had a career that required working nights, weekends and holidays for nearly two decades. For almost the last ten years of that career, my job required that I be sharp and alert until after midnight several nights a week. After years of drinking six or eight cups of coffee a day, my central nervous system was strained.
I took a round of prescription antibiotics following a surgery in early June that killed off all of the bugs in my gut biome. I had two or three weeks during which nearly anything I ate or drank made me feel nauseated. This provided me with an opportunity to take a much-needed break from coffee and caffeine. I went 26 days caffeine-free. After those 26 days, I started using caffeine again in a much more moderate and sustainable level.
Fast-forwarding a few months, I did my first kitchari cleanse in August. This is an Ayurvedic practice designed to reset digestion, give the body a break and balance the body’s constitution and any imbalances we are experiencing. “Kitchari” is a mild porridge of rice, mung beans and spices that is easy for most bodies to process and digest. The diet for the cleanse program I chose was primarily made up of kitchari.
The program I chose was from the Banyan Botanicals website, and it was endorsed by the Ayurveda teacher from my 300-hour advanced yoga teacher training. It was simple –three days of eliminating alcohol, caffeine, processed foods and refined sugars, lots of water and rest, moderate movement and taking one detoxifying supplement each evening. The benefits touted by this practice include balancing digestion, regulating elimination, restoring healthy sleep cycles and promoting overall health.
In my typical fashion, two days into the cleanse, I decided that I would follow the program for five days. I had a low-grade headache from caffeine withdrawal for the first three days, but my energy levels were good throughout. I also lost a bit of weight, and while that was not at all my goal, that’s always nice for me. After four days on the cleanse, I had lost about seven pounds, and I felt lean and strong. I had what I think of as “the full-body hungries” constantly after the first two days.
But the truth is, I didn’t have any other noticeable effects. Outside of the headache, I felt really good. But I didn’t have any profound mental clarity, and I didn’t notice anything else significant in my body.
I didn’t have any coffee on the day I broke the cleanse. But I drank a single cup the following day. And the day after that I started my day with a cup of coffee, then decided to buy a cup from Starbucks before I taught a noon class. I didn’t end up having time to drink the coffee, and it sat in the cupholder of my car until I remembered it at about 4:00 p.m. One of my grandfathers would have rolled over in his grave if he knew that I paid $3.00 for a cup of coffee that I didn’t drink, so I drank it cold. There is no question that this is a bit late for me to be having coffee, but I was also planning on being up until 11 p.m.
I hardly slept a wink that night. I felt jitterly and irritable. And I probably only slept about four hours the following night. This is not typical for me. But it opened my eyes to the idea that this cleanse had some effects beyond what I could immediately perceive.
Two nights after my caffeine-induced jitters, I managed to get a good night of sleep. Most of the habits that add stress to my body and digestive system have worked their way back into my routine. But I intend to repeat this process, perhaps as often as once a quarter, to give my body a rest and reset.
This experience brought two things to mind for me. First, I remembered a metaphor that I had heard in a Dharma talk related to linen. The teacher said that if we drop a piece of soiled linen in the dirt, the stain from the dirt may not be visible or apparent. This is not a reflection of the mild nature of the stain, but the state of the soiled linen. If we scrub, clean and bleach the linen, the stain from the same dirt will be immediately apparent in the linen. I believe that a cleansing practice like this kitchari cleanse is a way that we can clean our body’s internal linen.
I also thought about the idea that if change just one input in a system, the output changes completely. Consider a mathematical equation. If you change any factor, even by a fraction, the answer is not the same –it’s a different outcome. So if we want to live a healthier, more holistic or more conscious life, we should keep our hearts open to the idea that any change in eating healthfully, exercising vigorously, getting enough sleep, managing our stress effectively and making time and space in our lives for the people and practices that are most important to us –sacred—may yield big results, even if we can’t readily perceive them.
Perhaps for today we don’t need to change everything. Even changing one input can help us to lead fuller, healthier and more meaningful loves.