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Kicking It, Santa Cruz Style

Hypnosis? Acupuncture? Past-life recognition? Our reporter said he'd try anything to shake the caffeine habit. He wasn't kidding.

By Mike Connor

And so there you are, 4-year-old Michael, and adult Michael is here too," explains Susan Keating, the hypnotherapist who's helping me (in a soft, comforting voice) to kick my coffee habit. I'm nearly asleep in her chair, with my eyes closed, picturing my first memory of coffee. I'm about 4 years old, and my mom and dad are drinking the comforting brew in the living room of my childhood house.

"Adult Michael is here to tell you some information that you didn't know at 4 years old," says Keating. "You want to help him through his life to be the best he can be ... What do you say to him, Mike?"

"I tell him about the sea turtles," I say dreamily, smiling at the image of one swimming up to me in a shallow lagoon, its stubby flippers spread apart like clumsy green wings. Did I mention I get sidetracked easily?

But wait--let me back up. It all started, this coffee-quitting project, with the realization that I was utterly dependent on coffee to (a) wake up in the morning, (b) think, and (c) feel that life is, in fact, worth living. As kinky as this may sound, without a big, strong cup 'o Joe inside me, Rosy-Fingered Dawn and I just don't get along. Left at the mercy of my natural biorhythms, I'm lucky to get my shoes on the right feet before high noon. Coffee helps me to participate in the same sunny time frame that most of the people around me call their waking hours.

But I was tired of caffeinating myself ad nauseam, tired of the cranky moods in between doses and tired of being tired after wringing my adrenal glands dry with stimulants. Most of all, I hated dishing out $3 a pop for the rich espresso drinks I so adore. What to do?

I quit. And I got tension headaches and mood swings, and I whined a lot. I made silly mistakes at work and forgot where I put things at home.

This being Santa Cruz, a town where you can't throw a rock without hitting someone who can tell you all about its healing properties, I sought out some of the many people who might be able help me handle the short period of withdrawal, and my sluggish future without coffee.

'Oil Is to the Body What Love Is to the Soul,' With Sonali Chapron, Ayurvedic Practitioner & CMT

Clarified butter might not be the first thing you think of when you think about kicking a drug habit, but Sonali Chapron says that in the ayurvedic cleansing program called Pancha Karma (Five Actions), increasing doses of ghee are the first steps in the road to recovery: "The ghee is to prepare the body. Ghee reaches the deeper tissues, so what happens with the ghee is it loosens toxins on a deep level, and it helps to lubricate the body and prepare it for these cleansing procedures."

"Procedures" may be too clinical a word for what amounts to a steady diet of kedgeree, some massage, medicinal oils in the nostrils, herbal body scrubs and a treatment called Shirodhara, which Chapron describes as "a continuous flow of warm oil being poured over the third eye. It's a very heavenly treatment."

Sweet, but I could take or leave the purgation, therapeutic vomiting and blood-letting (no longer practiced) that are also a traditional part of the regimen. Somehow, though, Chapron's French accent has a way of making everything sound so appealing.

But then there are the enemas. See, sooner or later, I knew this story would somehow involve an enema. They always do! Granted, by "always" I mean that it happened once before, but if a guy whose plane crashed both times he ever flew said that planes "always" crash, could you blame me? I mean him?

'Let's Make a Deal,' With Stephen Eggleston, Licensed Acupuncturist

"Either someone is drinking coffee to attempt to bring balance into their constitution, like they've been tired for so long and coffee's their answer," says Stephen Eggleston, an acupuncturist trained in whole foods nutrition, acupuncture, acupressure and herbal medicine, "or, maybe they've been drinking so much coffee that they've thrown off their balance."

Or, maybe deadlines just don't care how much sleep you got last night, or how late you'll have to work tonight to meet them, and so you keep drinking coffee until your toenails buzz.

"That's the reality of life for you," says Eggleston. "Then my job as a health-care provider would be, How do I meet you there? You know, if someone is drinking three cups of coffee in a day, then you try to make a deal. You go, how about two cups of coffee and one cup of green tea? The green tea has caffeine, but not as much, and it also has plenty of antioxidants and nutrients in it. So sometimes it's like that. It's like, let's make a deal: what can we do to get you more towards the healthy end of the spectrum and still get you what you need?"

Eggleston recommends a combination of massage, acupuncture and herbal medicine to help alleviate the stress of quitting coffee, pointing out that coffee--or any stimulant for that matter--isn't inherently bad. It affects different people in different ways, so that treatment should be tailored to the individual.

"If someone really just had fatigue, they were always feeling cold and their digestion was bothering them, so a warm cup of joe was just perfect for them, maybe what's better for them is to go and get a treatment to balance their constitution, and then they might be able to get by with tea and the occasional coffee."

'Eliminating Controversy,' With Ishana Bai and Prema Shanti

"Well, shall we both work on him?" Ishana Bai asks her daughter, Prema Shanti, also a certified practitioner of the Yuen method of Chinese energetics. The three of us are sitting in the backyard of their West Side home on a sunny afternoon, and I'm anxious to experience this esoteric practice firsthand.

"Yeah," says Prema, "we might as well just do a good tag-team."

So there I sit, with mother-and-daughter team working on me--or, on my central nervous system and the energy it's producing, to be more precise. I was expecting some sort of bodywork or intensive therapy session, but instead the women just sat and looked at me. Not knowing how to function in this context, I clung to their prior explanations of the practice--that they were focusing on my energetic weaknesses and correcting them with energetic intentions, and that I didn't even have to be present for the work to be effective.

So I stared awkwardly at the table in front of me and imagined what they must be seeing. At this point, coffee seemed of little importance compared to what else they might be finding in my sordid past. But they kept me on task by giving me feedback about my energy, and asking me how I felt after they made corrections.

"Drinking coffee doesn't seem like such a big deal," I say honestly, a bit agitated and a bit elated by all the attention. They laugh together at having achieved their goal, which was to free me from the physical, mental, emotional, psychological, psychic and spiritual influences of coffee. They tell me about past lives, my work on a coffee plantation, how I'm acutely aware of the rich/poor dichotomy of coffee production, and how spirits are clinging to me in hopes that I will resolve the issue.

Like in any good story, I see a bit of myself in their visions, unconcerned about the "reality" of past lives, and more engaged with the intuition of these two women, who share theirs with me freely.

'Giving 4-Year-Old Michael Everything He Needs,' With Susan Keating, Certified Hypnotherapist

"I would be happy to give you a free session," said hypnotherapist Susan Keating, when I told her about the project I was working on. Those were the magic words I wanted to hear, because I've never been hypnotized.

Plus, I know I'm going to need a lot of help, especially after all the good stuff I've been hearing about coffee. A little surfing on the web reveals research connecting coffee to hypertension, insomnia, increased cholesterol levels and osteoporosis. But it's also been linked with reduction of risk for: type II diabetes, colon cancer, Parkinson's disease, gallstones and suicide.

So after a brief chat about my feelings about coffee and my goals in overcoming my dependence, Keating talks me down into a state of deep relaxation. I never go completely "under," but I'm relaxed enough to remember things about why I started drinking coffee in the first place. As a teenager in suburbia, there was so little to do that my friends and I would resort to sitting around at Denny's, drinking bottomless cups of coffee and talking. Keating helped me to remind an inner, younger part of myself that there is plenty of amazing stuff in the world to keep me as stimulated and excited as I need to be, all without coffee.

As I sit here writing this, a cup of Guatemalan coffee by my side, I know in my heart that it's true. Ever seen a sea turtle?


Sonali Chapron: 831.454.9800, Stephen Eggleston: 831.454.9800, Ishana Bai: 831.425.3135, Prema Shanti: 831.359.9881, Susan Keating: 831.462.0213.

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From the July 28-August 4, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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