caffeine and meditation

thumbnail
Wes Harris, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 12:52 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 12:52 AM

caffeine and meditation

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

It seems like the best time for me to do my formal meditation practice is around 6pm after a full day of work. Getting some caffeine in my system has been the only way to avoid heavy drowsiness. I don't like the idea of depending on a stimulant to facilitate meditation, but its also frustrating to fall a sleep whenever I try and sit. I'd appreciate any feedback concerning caffeine and meditation.
thumbnail
Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:23 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:23 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: JamesAlexander

I've also been battling sleepiness in my practice, but I have not used caffeine. I have faced it in to different ways.

1. The yogic/masculine-kinda way. Smacking my face, taking an ice cold shower right before sitting down, really focusing on the posture (sitting straight) and basically just using a lot of effort. I find that if I just keep at it the drowsiness goes away after 10 - 15 minutes.

2. The tantric/feminine way. Feeling into and observing the sleepiness. What is this sensation? It's quite mysterious actually. I mean, who is falling asleep? Can you sense the moment just before you "loose consciousness"?

I've been told that sleepyness can also be a kind of guard against unpleasent stuff that's about to arise when in meditation. So maybe you should just try to face the sleep with more interest/openess? Maybe you're just sleep deprived? You could try having a power nap right before sitting. That has helped me a lot.
Trent S H, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:59 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:59 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Caffeine is empty, my friend. Go nuts. Here's a really good trick: down an espresso or something similar in caffeine level, then take a 20 minute nap. Chances are, you'll meditate with new found glory.

Trent
thumbnail
tarin greco, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 2:19 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 2:19 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
you dont mention what kind of practice you have. what kind of meditation do you do? if what you're doing is insight practice then the sensations of being wired on caffeine or the sensations of being drowsy as hell are all sensations and can be seen all the same, that is, they can be seen to be impermanent, to not satisfy, and can be seen to arise spontaneously and pass completely without remainder.

its also pretty common for monks in thailand to have a bit of coffee in the evening. and a lot of zen guys have been powered by tea over the centuries, as my teacher reminded me when i was thinking of going off my adderall while on retreat. so full steam ahead whatever you choose and don't worry about it.
thumbnail
Wes Harris, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 3:12 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 3:12 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
The espresso/nap combo sounds interesting. I am going to give it a "shot". (Get it?) As far as practice goes, I sit for about an hour. I mostly follow my breath. I have two main objectives: to improve my concentration (towards tranquil abiding) and to develop insight (towards realizing emptiness). I focus on generating virtuous minds, then focus on my breath to settle my mind. Sometimes I stick to cultivating single pointed concentration on the breath. Sometimes I switch to contemplation until I get a "feeling" for a particular object of contemplation then use that to focus on single pointedly. I like the idea of examining the experience of mental sinking or mental excitement to developing insight. I am slowing familiarizing myself with noting bodily and mental sensations as a primary method. The nap before sitting has worked sporadically. I’ve also had some luck with exercising before meditating, and with splashing cold water on my face. Caffeine is the only consistent method I’ve tried though. I think the main issue is that I am the sleep champion of the world. Nobody can touch my skills.
Great feedback!
thumbnail
Jackson Wilshire, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 3:13 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 3:13 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
This is a great question, wharris88:

Like some others at the DhO, I've had ADHD since I was a kid. I only started taking medication for it 3 months ago. Prior to that, coffee was my best friend, especially when it came to meditation. I found that I wasn't able get concentrated very quickly unless I drank a cup of coffee while doing some walking meditation across my living room floor. Each time I made it back to the kitchen counter, I would mindfully take a drink of the coffee, and then resume my walking until the coffee was gone. Starting my daily practice this way made it possible to sit for longer periods, and without as many distractions.

Also, I should note that any progress I've made in meditation has stayed intact even when I go off of my medication or stop drinking coffee. When my base level of cortical stimulation is low (i.e. my usual, non-caffeinated/non-medicated state), I'm more irritable, and I don't get anything done. But, I still cycle, and any changes regarding my relationship to conditioned phenomena endure.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: Caffeine can actually help you out. If you make progress while using coffee (or psychostimulants), you don't need to worry about it going away if you stop your usage.

Jackson
Ed clay vannoy, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 3:16 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 3:16 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
I see God on coffee.

Really, drink some coffee and sit. Or walk and meditate. Or sleep and meditate.


The power nap suggestion is cool. Here is how I do it. I slouch down, chin on my chest. I go as deep as I can into sleep/theta/meditation. I don't lose consciousness, but really tune into the hypnogogic (SP?) state. If I am sleepy this is really easy to do. After a minute or two I jump up, literally, bounce a few times, stretch, rub my face and get on with things. If you are sitting alone you could do this anytime you find yourself getting dull.

Ed
thumbnail
Vincent Horn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 3:59 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 3:59 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 211 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I guess I'll throw another hat into the ring, having never really used stimulants to help balance out effort as the rest of you have. And that is that while I don't think it's a bad idea to use coffee, tea, or cocaine (ok, maybe not cocaine ;) to help with balancing out energy, and like you all mention it has been done for many, many hundreds of years I would suggest that a psychostimulant may end up masking what could be an imbalance between investigation and concentration.

Having trouble with sleepiness every sitting could be because concentration is over-developed and investigation needs to be powered a bit more (that or you truly are the sleep-master!). One thing to try when following the breath, is to try and become even more precise with every single sensation that makes up the breath, almost like you're studying it with a microscope. When exactly does it start, what does the middle feel like, when does it end and what are all the sensations that make each of these parts of the breath up? This will power the investigation quality of the mind, and if investigation and concentration are imbalanced, will balance things out and then you might not have as much trouble with sleepiness. The noting method is also fantastic for powering the investigation. Then of course, you may swing in the opposite direction (tight, anxious, restless, etc.). Then you can bring in relaxation, a sense of sinking into the breath, etc.

Caffeine may be a good way to go to balance the equation, but I'm also all for working with this balance of effort through one's own natural means. I guess you can call me old-fashioned or a meditation fuddy-duddy, but there it is. :-D
thumbnail
Kenneth Folk, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 4:42 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 4:42 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 439 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
Coffee is wonderful. Life is hard. There is no need to wear a hair shirt.*

One man's opinion. ;-)

*A cilice (hair shirt) was originally a garment or undergarment made of coarse cloth or animal hair used in some religious traditions to induce some degree of discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement. In more modern religious circles, the word has come to simply mean any device worn for the same purposes. -Wikipedia
Hokai Sobol, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 4:49 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 4:49 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 4 Join Date: 4/30/09 Recent Posts
I guess I'll throw yet another few hats into the ring... I would first look into your exercise regime, diet etc. Then, I'd consider the place you use for practice. Then, it also be a matter of posture, not only at gross but also at subtle level. Individuals are wired in different ways, and you may need to work with someone who knows channels, winds and drops/points to help you clarify and balance the flow of awareness. Intense mantra recitation prior to meditation can work wonders, and raising the level of energy through skillful means is far superior to any chemical compound (and I say this without puritanical prejudice). In short, working from awareness alone may be insufficient, so working with breath, mantra, and subtle movements may be necessary. Another avenue to explore is movement (as in walking meditation, prostration practice, mahasati movements etc.)

But I'm just guessing here, since you give little info. And yeah, Vince gave some useful hints.
Andrew P, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 8:02 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 8:02 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/24/09 Recent Posts
I've had precisely similar questions recently. This is the nature of practice amidst daily life.
I find myself to be in a similar situation after a long day at work and chores at home. Sometimes a few moments sitting, dullness/tiredness transforms into an energy. So sometimes I sit down tired and get up energized (just in time to go to bed).

But I find that I am not ALWAYS tired/dull. It is when I feel I am too tired (and I don't know exactly how I judge this) I will get a dose of caffeine (coffee/tea). But othertimes I'll just try sitting.

Overall I tend to agree with utilizing caffeine occasionally as support when life requires greater energetic investment/involvement. Otherwise I try to do without.

btw, The monks at Abhayagiri(CA) serve coffee at the witching hour during their all night sits.

hope people find this helpful.

Andrew
Nathan I S, modified 13 Years ago at 5/18/09 6:08 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/18/09 6:08 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/26/09 Recent Posts
I am always befuddled by these conversations about stimulants.

I find that doing concentration-heavy practice like anapanasati hindrances like sleepiness will intensify initially and eventually clear. In fact, concentration is called "purification" in the commentaries. So it may be that you "need" to battle sleepiness, especially if you expend a lot of energy in daily life. My teacher told me much the same. Likewise, when you are sleepy you need to cultivate energy, not tranquility. I find this applies in concentration as well, but I don't subscribe to the Western Mahasi-inspired "insight vs. concentration" fight.

Vigorous walking, standing, and opening the eyes all help--these also help me if I have an overabundance of energy.

FWIW someone here got second path while taking a prescription amphetamine, so the "coffee" debates always seem a little blase in that light.
Nathan I S, modified 13 Years ago at 5/18/09 6:08 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/18/09 6:08 AM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/26/09 Recent Posts
That is cheating.
thumbnail
Emory Smith, modified 13 Years ago at 5/18/09 2:15 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/18/09 2:15 PM

RE: caffeine and meditation

Posts: 43 Join Date: 5/20/09 Recent Posts
hello wes,

one more hat ...

consider a schedule shift to enable morning meditation. as a fellow sleep-master, i know this is easier said than done. but in my experience, use of stimulants late in the day tends to exacerbate the evening sleepiness problem (they mask my sleepiness, keep me up later, and im even sleepier the next evening). if youre that worn out in the evening, try going to bed early and getting up in time to sit before work. this is admittedly something i probably couldnt have done while working full time, but since i have been on more of a full-time meditation schedule, i have found a surprisingly high correlation between progress and hours logged in the morning (ie - before doing anything else ... well, anything other than drinking a cup of coffee, that is).

that said, i do agree strongly with the majority view of stimulants being potentially beneficial for practice if used in a prudent manner. for me, that means (among other things) not allowing them to interfere with getting sufficient sleep. ok, must finish latte and get back to cushion ...

-emory

Breadcrumb