Getting Started

KimchiIt’s been a while since I quit sugar and gluten.  What I remember and what people are reporting to me is that it takes about 3-4 weeks for the cravings for sugar to subside.  During that period you’re going to have some miserable times so be aware that you might be on a bit of an emotional/energetic roller coaster ride.  The good news is that if you are abstinent from sugar and other sweeteners you should have complete relief from the cravings for sugar.  If you are “tapering off” or “cutting back” with the goal of eventually being sugar free it may actually be harder than going cold turkey.  Either way there are some simple things that you can do to ease you through this transition.  First, a little background as to what you are most likely up against.

Sugar suppresses your immune system.  Sugar also feeds the undesirable microbes in your gut.  When the flora in your gut is out of balance the undesirable microbes take hold and the symbiosis of digestion gets thrown off.  There are at least 3 microbes that burrow into your intestinal wall and contribute to what is known as leaky gut.  Leaky gut in severe forms would present as IBS, Chrones, Diverticulitis, and other digestive ailments.  You can have also have leaky gut in a less severe form that is contributing to a lack of vibrant health.  The toxins that are meant to be eliminated or broken down more completely are entering your bloodstream through the intestinal wall.  Or they are not getting absorbed and continuing down your intestines where they feed the bad microbes in a condition known as mal-absorption.  These toxins would be taken care of by your immune system, but your immune system has been suppressed by the sugar that is contributing to the leaky gut/mal-absorption.  The toxins travel to your liver where they have another chance to get filtered out of your bloodstream before they can do more damage.  Your liver is overwhelmed with having to process stuff that it was not meant to take care of.  Your liver stores the toxins in your tissue and fat cells in an attempt to protect your major organs.  Read GAPS, “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, or “Breaking the Vicious Cycle” by Elaine Gottschall for more details.

I am going to recommend a few things that are going to work on the issue of leaky gut/mal-absorbtion, and your overtaxed liver.  This should help you get through the transition to gluten/sugar freedom.  You don’t want to do a liver cleanse. You want to support your liver in an attempt to get your liver back functioning properly.  There are 2 supplements that can help with that.  I used just regular Milk Thistle capsules, and milk thistle tea.  Another supplement that has been recommended to me is Hepatiben by Liver Medic.  Both are available locally at Debra’s Natural Gourmet in West Concord.  The second product is Vitality Super Green by Body Ecology.  I take this an hour before breakfast 2 scoops with 24oz of warm water.  The Vitality Super green is going to get nutrients and micro organisms to your gut to help you heal and repopulate your gut with the right balance of microbes.  Third I recommend cultured vegetables.  I use the Body Ecology Starter to introduce the beneficial probiotics to the cultured vegetables.  The probiotics eat the vegetable sugar, and the probiotic colony grows.  The vegetables are broken down and more easily digested, the probiotics get down into your gut where it can do the most good.  Fourth, bone broth.  Everyone from Gaps to Sally Fallon are heralding the effects of bone broth.  Easily digested.  Loaded with minerals.  Collagen to heal and soothe your digestive tract.  Other than that just be aware that you’re going to be going through some withdrawls so watch your interactions with the ones you love and the ones who love you and be gentle with yourself.

In the beginning phases of going gluten/sugar free we are just going to assume that you have leaky gut to some extent and if that is not the case, the protocol will contribute to beefing up your digestive tract/immune system.  If you have diarrhea, constipation, or you feel sick go see your Doctor and get it checked out.  I’m not recommending anything I have not or would not take myself or anything that would harm you if taken as directed.

The other part of this is that unless you’re used to making broth, and doing some of the other recommendations it’s a little bit of a learning curve.  For example when I make cultured veggies I do it in 5 gallon plastic food grade buckets.  I make 2-3 cases of quart jars at a time so that I am not constantly having to take on a food project (I can forward the recipe if you are interested).  Another example; for dinner tonight we are having roasted turkey with vegetables.  I bought an organic 22lb. turkey.  This morning I cut off both legs and the back and froze them for later use.  We will roast the breast, and serve it for dinner.  From the leftovers we will make sandwiches for the kid’s school lunches.  With the carcass when we are done we will make bone broth.  The back will get tossed into a bone broth some where along the way.  The legs and thighs will make smoked BBQ turkey legs on the grill.  So you have at least 2 dinners to feed 4.  We will make sandwiches for 2 teenagers possibly for a week, and a gallon or so of bone broth.  Not a bad value when you think about it.  Don’t get stuck on the cost of organic/grass fed when you are thinking about bone broth.  Remember you want to heal your gut.

The last bit of this is something that has unfolded for Maria and I over the last few months, and that is the power of fellowship.  AA is credited for saving millions of lives, and spawning several 12 step programs.  I have always been struck by the simplicity and the happenstance of AA creation.  This is from the history of AA,  “In Akron, Ohio in 1935 a meeting between two men (Bill W and Dr. Bob), both of whom were termed “hopeless” alcoholics, began a program of recovery that has helped millions find sobriety and serenity – the fellowship known as Alcoholics Anonymous”.  If you are seeking lasting change and vibrant health, seek fellowship.  Maria and I have started a support group that meets at the studio monthly if you would like to join us.  Another choice would be Over Eaters Anonymous.  Either way your chances of success are greatly improved with fellowship, and being with other “like minded” people will make the process a lot easier.

I recently read Elaine Gottschall’s book “Breaking the Vicious Cycle” in which she describes in detail the relationship between the mcrovilla in the intestines, and complex carbohydrates and poly saccharides. The work of Elaine Gottschall encompasses curing and alleviating the symptoms and conditions of: Ulcerative Colitis, Chrohn’s Disease, Autism, Celiac Disease, Leaky Gut Syndrome, and Schizophrenia. The symptoms of intestinal problems include: diarrhea, excess gas, loss of weight, excess mucus, cramping, blood loss and severe constipation. This work parallels the work of Donna Gates in “Body Ecology”, as well as the work of Dr. Weston Price and Sally Fallon in “Nourishing Traditions”. The theme of all three books is: Radiant health stems from a healthy, fully functional digestive system.

I put the following information together for our Simple Living support group meeting. I think it’s helpful for people to know a little bit about what’s going on in their gut. Hopefully, in the case of some of our members who have suffered from chronic ailments for years with little relief, the information will be of some comfort. Obviously if you have ulcerative colitis for example, you are going to know it, but what about Leaky Gut Syndrome? I think any of these ailments in their full blown states are painfully obvious to the folks who are suffering. My theory is that many of us are suffering from low grade forms of intestinal problems. Our systems are compromised, but still functioning enough that we can get through our day. Many of us have never known radiant health. The low grade intestinal symptoms are just part of life as we know it. I am hoping that if you choose to live a sugar free gluten free life style you will come to heal your gut, and know what radiant health is.


(From Disabled World website)

The small intestine contains billions of cells, which are packed tightly together to keep bacteria, viruses, and other toxins out of the body’s tissues. The intestines also contain Villi. Villi are finger-like projections on the lining of the intestinal tract with hair-like cell membrane extensions called Microvilli. The Villi are responsible for the absorption of nutrients.

Leaky Gut Syndrome is a condition which causes the intestinal lining to become inflamed. When this happens, the Microvilli become damaged or altered. The damaged Microvilli cannot then produce the necessary enzymes and secretions that are essential for healthy digestion and the absorption of nutrients.

When the intestinal lining becomes damaged; large spaces develop between the cells of the intestinal wall. When this happens; large, undigested food particles, bacteria and toxins begin to leak into the bloodstream (see picture above). The body perceives these undigested food particles as poisonous invaders and alerts the immune system to attack them. This creates inflammatory reactions which can occur throughout the entire body.

As these particles travel through the bloodstream they eventually reach the liver; which is designed to filter toxins from the blood. The liver is the largest gland in the body and plays a very important part in detoxification as well as having many other functions including; bile production, containing bile acids (which aid digestion), filtering out toxins such as drugs, alcohol and environmental toxins, storing glucose as glycogen then breaking it down about 4 hours after a meal to be converted to glucose to regulate blood sugar levels, converting ammonia to urea and removing damaged red blood cells.

Leaky Gut Syndrome completely overworks the liver as it floods it with additional toxins, diminishing the livers’s ability to neutralize chemical substances. When it cannot cope with the level of toxins, the liver expels them back into the bloodstream. The circulatory system then pushes the toxins into the connective tissues and muscles where the body stores them to prevent major organ damage.

Over time, the liver becomes so completely overworked that it is never able to return to deal with the stored toxins, thus the toxins are simply left in the various areas of body tissue where they were originally placed. As the intestinal lining becomes weaker and weaker, more toxins and undigested foods continue to flood the bloodstream, making the situation simply impossible for the already overworked liver to filter. This in turn causes the immune system to release antibodies to fight the leftover foreign substances and in doing so, toxic oxidants and inflammation are produced as the immune system attacks the body tissues containing these toxins. This situation then begins to cause inflammatory reactions, pain, food sensitivities, and several other physical symptoms, thus starting the unfortunate process of general breakdown of the body’s natural defense; the immune system.

Statistics show that an estimated 75-90% of the population have been impacted by food intolerances and sensitivities. Research indicates that Leaky Gut Syndrome affects millions of people worldwide.

(From the Candida web site)

It’s estimated that 85% of Americans have, or have had, a candida yeast infection. While those numbers are staggering, most people haven’t a clue that yeast has grown out of control in their body, triggering a vast array of health problems. Sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption has surged since the 1950’s and these are candida’s favorite foods. These refined carbohydrates also reduce the amount of friendly bacteria you have. This creates an imbalance of too few friendly bacteria and too much candida. Sugar also weakens the immune system, and the immune system can’t do as good a job of keeping candida in check. (So instead of the place your food goes to be digested, your intestines are the place where your food goes to rot, and feed bad fungus.)



Everybody wants to have their cake and eat it too.  Almost every mainstream diet out there has an option for “guilt free” double fudge something or other.  I listed some below that are humorous.   The Weight Watchers Red Velvet Cake; can we just decide that all recipes that start with a box of Duncan Heinz cake mix are just as bad as recipes that include Campbell’s soup?  Or that whenever Dr. Pepper DIET soda is listed as an ingredient it’s probably not going to have much nutritional value?  Never mind that the first ingredient in the Duncan Heinz cake mix is sugar.

Jenny Craig, really?  A major weight loss corporation doesn’t see the link between addiction and obesity?  “Have this little Chocolate Bomb”, only 17 grams of sugar.  I’m calling you out Jenny: your weight loss plan is a scam.

Last but not least, a sort-of gluten free, Non Refined Sugar, chocolate cake.  Let’s just call it what it is o.k.  Please.  If you’re going to eat that, just call it what it is and enjoy it.  But don’t think it’s a “healthy alternative” because it’s made with Quinoa and coconut sugar, never mind the malted barley/corn extract (not a gluten free ingredient).  What those ingredients do in your body are maybe a smidge better than good old white sugar, but you’re kidding yourself if you think that is healthy.  If you are trying to loose weight, or you have digestive/intestinal issues none of these are something that you should be consuming if you want to recover.


Weight Watcher Red Velvet Cake

-1 (18 ounce) box Duncan Heinz Red Velvet Cake Mix
– 8 ounces diet Dr. Pepper soda
– 1 (8 serving sized) package jell-o fat free sugar-free instant cheesecake pudding mix
– 1 (8 ounce) container fat-free cool whip (thawed)
– 2 cups skim milk

Duncan Heinz Red Velvet Cake Mix contains:

Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono- And Diesters Of Fats, Mono- And Diglycerides), Cocoa Powder Processed With Alkali, Colored With (Red 40 With Invert Sugar), Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate). Contains 2% Or Less Of: Wheat Starch, Salt, Polyglycerol Esters Of Fatty Acids, Dextrose, Cellulose Gum, Xanthan Gum.

I don’t even know what to say here?  Calorie counting and portion control have kept folks in a cycle of up and down weight gain and loss for years.  I watched a man who had recently had bariatric surgery eat 2 brownies and skip dinner.  Not a made up story.  He said “500 calories is my evening meal allocation”.  Sugar is as addicting as Cocaine.

Jenny Craig Chocolate Cakes

Jenny cakes“Twice the chocolate. Twice the satisfaction. Each moist mini cake is a blast of decadently delicious chocolate drizzled with a chocolate flavored icing.”

I had to use Jenny’s words here because it is just so ironic. 1 “serving” of one of these mini little chocolate bombs is 51 grams and 17 of them are sugar. The heading on this is: “Healthy & Low Calorie Dessert”.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Gluten-Free Refined Sugar-Free
Chocolate CakeRaspberry Tart
~ 2/3 cup uncooked Quinoa or two cups cooked
~ 1 1/3 cups water for cooking quinoa if uncooked
~ 1/3 cup milk or almond milk
~ 4 eggs
~ 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
~ 3/4 cup butter or coconut oil, melted and cooled
~ 1 cup coconut sugar or date sugar (coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index)
~1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
~ 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
~ 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
~ 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Oh don’t forget the frosting:
~ 1 package of chocolate chips (I use grain sweetened chocolate chips by Sunspire or stevia and erythritol sweetened chocolate chips by Lily’s Chocolate.  40 grams of sugar in that “grain sweetened” bag of chocolate chips

Sun Spire ingredients: malted barley and corn, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla.

Thomas Grace, CEO of Bia Diagnostics, a food testing facility in Burlington, Vermont, says the following concerning the use of barley malt and barley malt extract in gluten-free foods: “In my opinion until there is a reliable method that can detect all hydrolyzed hordeins (the harmful protein in barley) in these malts and extracts and correlate them with minimal reactive thresholds, manufacturers might want to stay away from barley malt and barley malt extract in gluten free labeled products.”

What bothers me the most about the “Gluten Free Non Refined Sugar,” recipe is that I found it on a website that is supposed to be promoting health and wellness.  Not to mention, I’m not sure it’s actually gluten free.  I’m not a scientist, but is there really a difference between malted barley/corn extracts, and high fructose corn syrup? It’s obvious that the Jenny Chocolate Bomb and the Weight Watchers Velvet Cake are junk.  But this “gluten-free” non refined sugar recipe is very deceptive.  Yes, coconut and date sugar are lower on the glycemic index, but they are still sugar.  The yeast and fungus in your intestines still love to dine on sugar even the “good for you” sugar.  The Sunspire chocolate chips have 2grams of sugar per 15gram serving (1tbsp).  And according to the food testing facility listed above, they may not actually be gluten-free.  It’s better than Jenny and Weight Watchers in a way.  But, in a way, it’s worse because to the unsuspecting it is being passed off as a healthy alternative.

If you want to live a sugar-free, gluten-free life style, you are going to have to make some changes.  Trying to substitute a non-refined sugar for sugar is not going to work.  That includes honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, agave, and for sure barley/corn malt syrup.  Sugar feeds the yeast and fungus in your intestines that are making you have low energy and keeping you from dropping un wanted weight.  Sugar substitutes, even zero calorie substitutes, will prevent you from getting relief from the cravings for sweets. The benefits and rewards of quitting sugar completely far outweigh the momentary enjoyment of something sweet.  Once you get away from sugar completely the cravings stop.

Here is a recipe for a holiday dessert that everyone can enjoy.  I tried to make a gluten free Apple crumble with out sugar or sweeteners.  The crumble was nasty.  I used Buck wheat flour and it tasted like baked dirt, with salt, and some cinnamon.   I gave up on the crumble part and substituted chopped nuts.  It’s tasty, easy to make and about as basic as your going to get.  One caveat here, fruit has sugar in it.  I make an exception for local apples in season.  I have served this at dinner parties, and my guests have the option of home made whip cream flavored with vanilla, or vanilla ice cream.  Every one can enjoy the same dessert, and there are no weird feelings about it.

  • 8 average sized apples peeled, cored, and sliced into chunks.
  • 1 cup cranberries pulsed in a food processor coarsely ground not puréed.
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans coarsely ground.
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom to taste.
  • 1tsp lemon juice

In a large bowl mix ingredients (except nuts) well.  Spread into casserole dish that has been coated with butter to keep the apples from sticking.  Sprinkle chopped nuts over the apples.  Cook at 350 degrees until apples are soft and liquid at the bottom is boiling.  Serve alone or with whip cream flavored with vanilla.  Bon appétit!


I went to Barnes and Noble the other evening to watch a performance that my son Sam was putting on as part of his Drama Club. We went to the nutrition section and the self help section to see what we could find about diets and nutrition. There is Paleo, Atkins, No Fat, All Fat, 600 calories a day, unlimited calories a day, apparently no shortage of paths to choose if you want to loose weight. You can just “juice” all of your food, eat no animal products, eat only animal products, it’s endless. I remember when the AMA recommended that we eat margarine because butter was bad for us. Now Butter and olive oil are good for us (Mediterranean diet). First there was Jack LaLane, then there was Jazzercise, (and yes Prancercise) now we have Zumba and Cross Fit. You would think with all of this knowledge and so many exercise choices we would all be the body size, and shape that was optimum for us. Meaning the weight and fitness level where we feel good (physically), and good about ourselves (body image), what ever that is for you.

Maria and I decided that what we are doing, living a gluten free sugar free life, made as much sense if not more than most of the other “diets” out there. The Simple Living Life Style promotes health on based on 3 basic concepts. First, sugar in all forms is sugar. Sugar is a highly addictive substance and should be treated accordingly. Sugar substitutes can kick off the addiction for sugar, and therefore should also be avoided. If you want to be released from the craving for sugar we recommend that you get off of sugar and be careful of substitutes. Second, foods made of wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods. Yes, that’s true for even whole grains, and should be avoided. Third, our digestive systems are negatively impacted by the over growth of yeast and fungus that can be out of balance as a result of eating too much sugar. We recommend that people take steps to bring their bodies back into proper balance through nutrition. Simple Living, avoid sugar and gluten products. No calorie counting, or bizarre food requirements that can make a diet impossible to follow. For those who are experiencing chronic symptoms easily digested foods such as bone broths. If your constitution is strong then a normal diet (what ever that is for you) with out sugar or gluten. The benefits include: weight loss, increased energy, and sharper focus. Simple Living: a sugar and gluten free LIFE STYLE that promotes proper body size and weight (by your definition), and vibrant energy.


The average adult in this country consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, and the average child consumes 32 teaspoons a day. Roughly 500 calories a day are the result of added sugar. 33% of the sugar in the average diet is contributed to soft drinks alone. Duh Chad, everyone knows we are getting larger and lazier. I hope that by now most people who look at a can of Coke know it’s full of sugar. What is deceptive are the products that contain sugar that you would not ordinarily think of as being something to be avoided if you are trying to eliminate sugar from your diet. For example I often hear people say: “I replace sugar with dried fruit.” You see a lot of “healthy recipes” with dried figs for example, much healthier right? Did you know that a dried fig is 62.3% sugar, or that a dried date is 64.2% sugar? Raisins are 65% sugar. The good news here is that you can now eat a Nestles 100 grand bar relatively guilt free because it is only 63.4% sugar. Maple sugar, what could it hurt its from Maple trees, I like Maple trees, 85.2% sugar. Agave has 60 calories per tablespoon where as refined sugar only has 40 calories per tablespoon. Basically Agave is the high fructose corn syrup of the “natural food” industry. Brown rice syrup might as well be high fructose corn syrup. Sugar and its substitutes are added to an amazing array of products.

It has been said that sugar is as addictive as Cocaine. Don’t believe it? Quit sugar. And by that I mean Quit Sugar in the following categories: Fruit, dried fruit, maple syrup, agave, honey, rapidura sugar, palm sugar etc. I hate to say it there is .62 grams of sugar in a 5 oz glass of red wine. In addition when you mix alcohol with the food you are eating it makes it very difficult for your body to digest your food properly. So if you’re going sugar free. Go sugar free, and maybe alcohol free for a little while to see if you feel better. I challenge you to read the labels of the foods that you eat to see how much sugar you are consuming with out even knowing it. I took a friend around the health food store that I work in and showed her one label after another where sugar is added in foods that we would never suspect. A granola bar might just as well be a snickers bar. We have a nut and dried fruit “energy bar” that is 17 grams of sugar in a 40gram bar. This is in an industry that is supposedly providing healthy alternatives.


Gluten, what can I say about gluten? Do you feel energized after a meal, or do you feel like taking a nap? Are you irritable, or do you feel “foggy” after eating a meal that contains gluten? Do you experience headaches after meals? Do you have joint pain or numbness or a tingling sensation in your limbs? Do you experience bloating, gas, or chronic diarrhea? Do you have an auto immune disorder such as a skin condition that seems to have no relief with conventional medicine?


The government recommends a diet that includes grains, and breads. Isn’t the multi grain bread that I eat good for me? Here is part of the problem (from the wheat belly web site): products made from modern wheat contain forms of gliadin proteins, glutenins, wheat germ ag-glutinin, and other proteins never before encountered by humans. According to Dr. William Davis,foods made of wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods. Yes, that’s true for even whole grains. More than table sugar, More than a Snickers bar. Organic, multigrain, sprouted–it makes no difference.” We are right back to sugar, and its addictive qualities.

Yeast and Fungus

Then there are the bugs. (from the candida web site)”It’s estimated that 85% of Americans have, or have had, a candida yeast infection. While those numbers are staggering, most people haven’t a clue that yeast has grown out of control in their body, triggering a vast array of health problems. Sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption has surged since the 1950’s and these are candida’s favorite foods. These refined carbohydrates also reduce the amount of friendly bacteria you have. This creates an imbalance of too few friendly bacteria and too much candida. Sugar also weakens the immune system, and the immune system can’t do as good a job of keeping candida in check.” So instead of the place your food goes to be digested, your intestines are the place where your food goes to rot, and feed bad fungus. In some cases your intestine can be perforated by the bad yeast/fungus and people are suffering from leaky gut syndrome, IBS, or Chrones disease. Some people are really sick, from the foods that they eat.

Lest you think I am sitting here in a white robe reading from a stone tablet I assure you that I am not. I am an active person. I ate pretty well given the average diet. Yet I was over weight, and couldn’t get below 165lb. When I got to 165lb I was miserable, I still felt like crap. And of course I bounced back to my previous weight after I had a little success because “a little ice cream now and again won’t hurt you”. I finally applied what I had learned from recovery from drug and alcohol addiction to food. I am powerless. Sugar is going to kick my butt every time. Unfortunately, unlike alcohol, we need food to live. Maria and I came upon Simple Living through years of trying to figure out how to be more vibrant. We knew that sugar and sweeteners were an addiction, but we were not willing to put them down until 6 months ago. I lost 20lb in 3 months effortlessly, and I am currently down to 155lb. which is unbelievable to me given that all other attempts never got this kind of result. I had gone up to 185lb. at one point the pictures of me at that time are painful to look at.

Inspired by our transformation, Maria and I have started a support group that is open to the public. We meet at our Yoga studio in West Concord there is a suggested donation of $5.00. Simple Living is a Life Style. Changing your life style is going to take some effort. Simple Living is a holistic approach to maintaining your proper weight and feeling vibrant. Because living without sugar and gluten is out of the “main stream”, it is helpful to have support from like minded people. We invite any one who is interested in living sugar and gluten free. Any one who Is living sugar and gluten free. We invite those who are struggling with living gluten and sugar free. Please come join us.

Why I Love Debra’s

Why I love Debra’s Natural Gourmet

I have been shopping at Debra’s Natural Gourmet since 1997 when I moved to the area and I have to admit, I am a groupie. I am sometimes in the store two or three times a day and although this may seem excessive, I know for a fact that there are others like me out there. I see them in the store. We love Debra and her store and we have our reasons. Here are mine:

1. There is real food here and there are really excellent products everywhere. I actually feel the same mesmerizing sensation walking around Debra’s store that I used to feel walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. The store is beautiful, well organized and I love that I can read the labels and actually recognize all of the ingredients.

2. Aside from the realness of the food, there are also real choices at Debra’s. Have you ever checked out the chocolate section?  I believe that this has to do with who Debra is. She cultivates an adventurous and leading-edge environment and fills her store with things I have not been able to find or even seen anywhere else. And there is always something new to check out in the store…as well as tried and true staples and favorites.

3. Debra is not afraid to give local producers a chance to showcase their offerings; from local produce to local kombucha. This is the first place I was able to find local kombucha and the store now boasts a Katalyst Kombucha (produced in Western MA) bar.

4. Debra offers flexible seasonal work to farmers; currently three on staff that work during the non-growing season and go back to their fields in the spring. One of these farmers, Ray of Applefield Farm in Stow, supplies much of the produce at the store during the Spring, Summer and Fall. Chad Skinner of Alchemy Farm and Elena Coleman from Brigham Farm also work seasonally at the store.

5. Debra’s has discerning criteria for what she will have in her store and I have seen products disappear from the shelves when it comes to light that they are actually not up to store standards. Two years ago, the Burts Bees lip glosses disappeared and I found out that some of them had ingredients that were felt to possibly be carcinogenic. Even though they were popular, the store was not going to carry them. When the research came out a few years back about how toxic some of the ingredients in sunscreens were, Debra’s looked for the best sunscreen products that had been vetted by the Environmental Working Group, and that is all they carry. I know several people who only get their sunscreen at the store. In these days of GMO run rampant, Debra does her best to sell corn products that are either organic or verified non-GMO. She has been instrumental in helping to educate the community about GMO food.

6. Debra and her son, Adam , who you can generally find in the supplements section, are ahead of the curve on the latest research as well as ages old wisdom. Although they will cater to the latest, such as the Paleo protocol, the store serves vegan, vegetarians and omnivores alike. As the consciousness changes, Debra’s innovates and caters to the new needs of the community. One great example of this is the gluten free baked goods that the kitchen staff has developed. Even the vanilla used in the kitchen is gluten free.

7. The kitchen at Debra’s, is, again, a blend of tried and true, and innovation. They are still serving the two signature soups that Debra introduced in 1989, the split pea soup and red lentil ginger soup. In keeping up with the times, when people became interested in raw cuisine 5 years ago, Debra’s created the raw kale salad, which has become one of the most popular offerings. I found quinoa dishes here before most people had even heard about this amazing grain.

8. Since I have known Debra, she has been very active in the local business community and many of the events we collaborate on began at the store. Remember Pajama Day? Not just Debra’s anymore, the whole street participated in the day this year! The store’s annual birthday party has morphed into Discover West Concord Day. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the shop local movement and I learn so much about how to bring community together form her. This relates to both her relationship with local business and with her suppliers and her clients.

9. Have you seen the signs around the store that feature the staff favorites? Debra loves to carry staff favorites. She considers this to be a democratic exercise. I love that. [From Debra: Maria, I haven’t seen these signs up for awhile – we keep meaning to do this, but time gets away from us!]

Here are two lists of current favorite offerings at the store, one from me and one from Debra herself. Discover your own favorites as well as your reasons to fall in love with this store…

My Favorites:

Lilly’s Chocolate sweetened with stevia sweetened. My favorite is the coconut. I also love the Liberty Chocolate sweetened with honey made locally in Carlisle.

Steady Lane Grass Fed Beef from Ashfield, MA. Great beef! We know Janet Clark of Steady Lane farm and have visited her and the cows several times. She used to do yoga at our studio before she moved out west. I love knowing the farmers. Check her out at www.steadylanefarm.com
DeLand Millet Zucchini Bread is my current favorite bread made with Millet flour and veggies.

Coconut Ghee Bar. When I walk into the store while these are being baked, I want to curl up in the kitchen and stay there forever.

Debra’s Favorites:

Smoked Olive Oil smoked over pine cones.  Find it on the olive oil shelf.

Coconut Sugar which has a low glycemic count and delicious caramel overtones. Used in the kitchen, and you can find it in the sweeteners aisle.

Purple potatoes in the produce section.

Leap Organic Line of organic body care products in the beauty section.  Founder and creator, Luke, works out of Bradford Street! Check them out at www.leaporganics.com

Matto Macha Sparkling Tea in the front drink section from local producers in Boston. Check them out at www.drinkmotto.com

Debra-headshot1In case you have not been there, Debra’s is at:

Debra’s Natural Gourmet
98 Commonwealth Avenue
West Concord, MA 01742

Winter Madness and the Gift



Some of you may not know this about me, but I was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. I lived there until I was 8 years old and saw snow for the first time in the winter of 1973 when we moved to Queens, NY.  I was fascinated by snow and on a good day I still am. I love the way it falls, the way it transforms a landscape, the way it changes the way I relate to space and to the earth. I also kinda hate it, it cramps my style… one of the reasons I made a beeline for California after college.  As fate would have it, the love of my life is a local, Concord-Carlisle man, so I came back East.

When I moved to New England, my Yankee husband, Chad promised to get me Sorrells, telling me that with the right boots I could get through any New England winter.  That was only the beginning. I also need the right gloves, scarf, parka and snow pants if I am really going to make it through the ordeal, and I challenge any of you to tell me it is not an ordeal. What I also need in this potentially isolating season is my people, my community, all of you.

Being a business owner in West Concord has added a whole other layer to my winters. I have finally achieved a balance where I can be on high alert and relaxed about what may come weather-wise. Take this past weekend for instance. When did it snow, Saturday night? We began the conversation about what we might do about classes on Friday. On Saturday morning, I saw Debra Stark at her store who told me she was looking forward to yoga on Sunday morning. I gave her a shrug, not knowing at that point whether we would be open or not… but hoping so much that I could say yes! By the middle of the night, I got a text from John Calabria telling me that he thought we should cancel morning yoga and looking at his driveway and the heavy snow.  I agreed and also cancelled 11am Nia class. I held my afternoon Year End Retreat on Sunday, with fewer people than expected due to the weather, but thrilled to be able to open nonetheless. As much thought goes into making these decisions as I imagine school districts go through to call snow days. On the one hand, we want to hold classes, we want to stay open for our students. On the other hand, we want to be safe and have you all be safe, not on the road if the conditions are dangerous.  I do not like to close the studio and cancel classes, especially when I miss the chance to dance.  fireHowever, as I sit here again on Tuesday afternoon, watching the snow fall  from the warmth of my woodstove heated living room… I know that surrendering to the winter is the only thing that I can do sometimes.

The most beautiful thing that has come from dealing with winters in New England is the relationships we have cultivated with our teachers, our students, other local businesses and our landlords.  You could not make up the kinds of team building situations we find ourselves in. This morning Sheila B.  could not get in for her class because there was an ice dam on the door (see picture) so I called our  landlord who sent his son down to break the ice and let her and her students in. Today, the gutters above the door are being diverted to keep this from happening again. Although the situation was extreme, lots of snow, extreme cold, high sun that melts the ice on the roof, we are worked together to get the space open. What has been priceless is the way everyone involved has done this without blame, aggression or disregard for what we each need to do our best. I love this, I am touched by this.

Every building has it’s quirks and I am sure some of you remember coming to the 50 Beharrell studio in the middle of the winter to no heat! Countless calls to Nick Boynton and Acton Refrigeration because of those old boilers.  I am amazed that they worked at all.  Together with our willing  students we had some cool classes, both yoga and Nia, thrilling to the sound of the banging pipes letting us know the heat was back.  Anyone remember the mega icicles that used to hang from the front entrance before Nick put in the eave heaters? Or the way the ceiling panels would wave when the heat came on or on a windy day when we opened the door? Quirky, sometimes, annoying, and yet the building had life. It had us, living our lives in it, coming into presence together. The quirks became part of the teaching.

I really do love having a studio. I love having a big open space for people to meet themselves in silence, in movement, in music, in dance.  I am so glad we were able to stay in West Concord. I really care about each and every one of you who walks in the door and I am so grateful that you show up! By you I mean our regular students  who come all the time, our not as regular students who come when they can, our gifted teachers, the Nia dancers and yoga students who find us when they come in from out of town.  We could not have made the move without community help, those of you who contributed to the move and those of you who continue to support the space with your presence. I am so grateful for great neighbors such as Hilary Taylor and Helen Hollaran, Debra Stark at the Natural Gourmet where I spend way too much time. I am so grateful for great landlords, Nick Boynton from 50 Beharrell, who is also going to be a neighbor moving into 135 Commonwealth and the Bellantonis who have taken a leap with us and continue to help us in adjusting and readjusting to our new digs.

By way of readjusting, as the snow piles up, now is the time to explore parking at the train station where there is great 3 hour parking or back by the old studio until construction starts. Come a little earlier so that you can find your spot and make your way to the studio. On the way, take advantage of our amazing neighbors. Check Merlin’s Silver Star and Hilary’s gorgeous silver-work. Drop into the Concord Flower Shop and literally, smell the flowers. Meet Helen’s mom, who is there every Monday, working behind the desk.  Take advantage of the close knit community that we inhabit as we spill out of class and into each others’ lives. Even in the winter, may the studio and the village be a place where you can come and step out of winter’s isolation to refresh and refill your cup.



There are some Yoga teachers that are so in love with the practice of Yoga that they can’t help but transfer that love to their students. Sheila Bienemann is one such teacher. Below are some of Shiela’s philosophy. She is Kriplau trained and has been teaching Yoga at YNFL for the past 7 years. If you want a class that will take you deep and leave you feeling ready for anything, come be with Sheila on Tuesdays and Fridays for Sunrise Yoga or Wednesdays for Mid-week Relaxation. Got to our website for times: www.yogaandniaforlife.com

These are some of the things that I have learnt from my yoga practice and what I focus on in my teaching. I invite my students to experience: 

Always safe space, where you invite your heart to open 

Awareness of the body (I have had students tell me that before yoga they had no body awareness) 

Awareness of the breath 

Awareness of the constant streaming of thoughts and emotions in the mind, and learning how to let go and just witness

Awareness of inner wisdom and intuition 

Awareness of life force, energy, prana, qi 

Coming into stillness of the body, calmness of the breathand of being one with spirit

We take time to move, to create a safe place to experiment with being different from others by listening to the body when it suggests that you either rest or deepen your experience. It is often hard for people to learn to do less, they are always checking out what others are doing and following them!! 





Amazing Breath

Guest Blogger, Lisa Jones will be coming to Yoga & Nia For Life on Wednesday, September 19th from 12:00-2:30pm to do an Intro to Breathwork Session. Working with her has transformed my life, literally. I can’t believe that something so simple can be so powerful. My breath has become my most powerful ally in being fully alive! Hope you can join us. Please pre-register at ynFl@msn.com. You can learn more about Lisa at
I often say how we breathe is how we live. Most people in our society have over time developed dysfunctional breathing patterns in response to stressful situations.  For many, disconnecting from stressful situations feels comfortable and even normal;  it’s the way they’ve reacted for a long time. When this is how a person deals with handling their emotions, these feelings are repressed (held in), which takes a lot of wasted energy, creating chronic tension, stressing our bodies and immune system, robbing us of our vital life force.
A typical dysfunctional pattern is shallow upper chest breathing.  Shallow breathing becomes a habit for dealing with life.  The energy that gets blocked and held within becomes our tensions and dis-ease.  Claiming back our birthright of respiration, to the way most babies and animals breathe, full and easy, can be a freeing and healing experience and a new found way to be living our lives. The benefits of a full and open breath are many from increased sense of well being, more focus, personal empowerment, a greater sense of well being, and truly feeling safe and secure.  This comment from a breath client, “this is the most relaxed and safe I’ve ever felt” shows the potential of breathwork, connected breathing.
I have found that knowing how I breathe gives great insight into me.  The more I spend time being present with my breath the more I am aware of what is really happening in my mental and emotional life.  From my journey with therapeutic breathwork I now know my mind and emotions trigger different breathing patterns.   One example is when I notice I am controlling my breath, which is for my forcing my inhale, especially in the solar plexus area, my control issues are showing up.
When I am not breathing fully and openly in my upper chest, it is usually a conditioned response triggered by past pain and emotions.  My core issue of being confused and unsafe in love manifests itself in tight and restricted breathing in my heart area.  I have finally left behind once and for all those painful, traumatic, energy draining experiences of the past.
My experience is that most of us have childhood core issues that result in emotional states that keep us stuck until we become aware of them and hopefully find ways, such as therapeutic breathwork, to resolve them.  The gift is that we become more aware and live more consciously than ever before. We begin knowing and allowing a life that truly nourishes and supports oneself.
As a breathwork facilitator, I have been privileged to clients’ sharing their journeys, awareness’ and gifts from connected breathing.   Also, I have been truly blessed to have taken so many more journeys into other realms through breathwork sessions.  A common theme people share is the connection with helpers from other realms.   I haven’t been alone in this experience with most people I have worked with sensing some variation of this.  As I was breathing a few years ago I felt myself surrounded by women of all ages and cultures.  I was in a circle holding hands and having a sense of unconditional love.  The image was so powerful and I was actually feeling like I was living that experience.
I was introduced to therapeutic breathwork in 1996 when I got to experience sessions coached by a dear friend who was in the process of getting certified as a breath facilitator.  In my second session I had a profound kundalini experience of feeling my whole energetic system from my root chakra through the crown of my head being charged with this powerful energy that felt like a burst of bright light and left me feeling euphoric.  That experience was enough for me to want to pursue breathwork. By the end of 1997 I was completing my training and teaching groups and privately coaching clients, offering what I know is a big part of my life’s work.
Since a large percentage of our population is restricting their breathing I have the ability to offer a service to these people. I have successfully facilitated clients connecting deeply to understanding their emotions and moving into a more peaceful and joy filled life by a modality that at a cellular and energetic level can make it possible to let go old habits that aren’t serving them and heal childhood or other wounds.
I believe all people can heal themselves with support and guidance.  Many therapies exist that can assist healing. To be a midwife, through the breath, in the process of clients’ growth and raising of their consciousness is an honor.  I offer my ability to lovingly help a person’s  journey, supporting them with the powerful tool.  This tool of connected breathing has brought for me and countless others expanded awareness, clarity and freedom to truly be our amazing selves.
You can learn more about Lisa at http://nianhandyoga.com/

Healing Through Listening

As I sit and write this essay, I am 3-1/2 weeks into a 4 week interruption of my “regularly scheduled” life.  I am recovering from surgery, (reconstruction after skin cancer removal, and all I will say is this: Wear Your Sunblock!), and according to doctor’s orders, unable to perform “any activity that will raise [my] heart rate.”  As both a devoted student and teacher of Nia, this mandated pause in my practice has been a big bummer, to say the least.

I felt pretty lousy for the first week post-surgery, and at that time hadn’t realized the full impact of not having “my Nia” as a part of my everyday life.  However, by the end of that first week, I found myself sitting First Class on the Pity Pot Express, and the scenery wasn’t pleasant.


Bored and looking for distraction, I put my iPod on shuffle.   What emanated from the speakers, (and its subsequent affect on my body and soul), I can only describe as magical.

The gentle, soothing piano notes of Aya’s Song #1, (aptly named in this case), “Healing Senses” washed over my weary shoulders, and I felt them (finally) drop.  I sensed the length in my cervical spine.  I took a slow, deep breath, as if discovering oxygen for the first time.  I sensed my stomach expand and contract as I played with the sensation of breathing in time with the music.  I noticed my hands automatically making small circles in front of my body, mimicking the routine’s choreography.  I felt alive.

As a relatively new teacher, one of my fears has been, “How will I remember all of the choreography?”  I’ve secretly envied my peers who could simply hear the music and immediately connect it to the movement, with seemingly no thinking involved.  I am still awed when taking a class with a seasoned Nia teacher, (and I’m blessed to live in an area where there several), who can pull a vintage “Debbie or Carlos” out of a hat and begin teaching on the spot.  Will I ever have that?

As the first song ended, I felt a little flutter in my heart as I anticipated that old school scratching of the needle on the record (and then plucking of the first banjo chords) of Song #2, “Mulatica Mia.”  In my mind I was dancing, 12:00/6:00, and then Bow Stance, swishing my hips in time with the music.  And then it occured to me:  My Body Knows This Music and Movement!  It’s in there!  How cool is that?!


As I continued listening, I felt that indescribable “buzz” that for the past four years has kept me coming back for more.  I am doing this all while sitting down and obeying my doctor’s orders of no aerobic activity.  Amazing!  Needless to say, I feel like I have a new appreciation for Music Appreciation.  I’ve listened to these songs countless times, and yet it feels like I am really hearing the music, as if for the first time.   Each song feels like a little bouquet of fresh flowers arriving at my doorstep, each conjuring up its own colorful feelings, sensations and memories.  I smile as I recall Carlos welcoming the chickens.  I sense the tears I cried when I heard the concluding song, “Universalmalebreathchoir” for the first time, (as I lay on the floor during my White Belt).  And as I continue dancing in my mind, I can see and sense others dancing around me – my teachers, students and fellow Nia devotees.  My feet can sense the soft floor at Yoga & Nia for Life, (my “home” studio), even though I am not there physically.  I feel connected to my sacred community, which I have sorely missed while at home healing my body.


I have since continued this “Art of Listening” practice with other Nia routines, any time I am in need of a pick-me-up, or start to feel sorry for myself that I can’t “do” Nia right now.  The Music, I’ve learned, is the key that unlocks the door, and helps me to feel connected.  Without fail, active listening works for me every time.  Sometimes I simply practice RAW, stalking sounds and silences; while at other times I do the “dancing in my mind” activity, either taking or teaching the routine as a class.  Either way, the result is bliss.

This week marks a milestone in my recovery; the stitches will come out, and if all goes according to plan, my regularly scheduled life can resume.  I am both eager and excited to get back to the studio, and to dance with my Nia peeps.  My practice feels invigorated, and I feel a deeper sense of connection to Nia.  I appreciate being given the gift of this amazing, multi-faceted practice, which as I’ve learned first-hand, goes so far beyond just a physical fitness regime.

Why we are here.

First of all we are here because I love to dance. When I walk into a room, what I see is the open spaces. Not the furniture. My world is created and exists on an open floor. And that is the main reason why Yoga & Nia For Life, in this incarnation, exists. Second, the studio exists for the students. For all of you who come and practice with us and devote your time and energy to moving your bodies, to breath and awareness. If it was not for the combination of those two, I would probably be doing something more lucrative. Not that owning Yoga & Nia For Life does not have untold rewards, but honestly, it is above all a labor of love.

On this turn of the year, I want to thank all of you who support us by coming to classes, sending friends, frequenting our practitioners and participating in this lovely community that truly is a slice of heaven in New England for me.

Please feel free to share your toughts on this blog.  I am planning to interview all our teachers and practitioners here in 2010 so you all can get to know us all better. Thank you for reading and see you on the studio floor.

In joy,

Maria Skinner