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


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