Letter from the Publisher, October 2015

When I met my husband, Matt, I thought that activism was for other people—people with more time and more heart. On one of our first dates, he told me, “I’m working on a film project about overcrowding in the Philadelphia prison system.” I was intimidated and a little embarrassed at not being up on the topic. I think I managed to say something like “Sounds kind of heavy.” I had no idea how much I would learn in the ensuing five years, or who I might become.

That project eventually became Broken on All Sides, a 68-minute documentary film about the intersection of class, race and the prison-industrial complex. Matt shot, directed, edited and distributed it; I spent many hours watching him work and going with him to protests and conferences, ingesting the issue on a deeper level and eventually becoming a collaborator on the final cut. The critically acclaimed film has been screened in more than 50 locations since its release in 2011, including at a conference of civil rights leaders in Selma, Alabama, and a panel with Angela Davis in Berkeley, California.

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Letter from Publisher, September 2015

I have just added Willie Nelson to my list of personal heroes. I’m sure I’m not alone, there. An octogenarian who has recorded more than 200 albums since he started his career in the 1950s, he has long since earned his place as a country music legend, humanitarian, social and environmental activist and American icon. (And that was all before he became the elder statesman for the legalization of marijuana!)

His legacy aside, I was unprepared for the experience of witnessing Mr. Nelson rocking out to 4,000 people in an Atlantic City amphitheater last Sunday night. My mind and heart were blown wide open by the very force of his being: energy, love, creativity and joy just pour out from this man. He is resonant with vitality and, at the same time, grounded by learned wisdom and deep pathos. He is eye-catching and familiar, with his creaky voice and warm smile, that signature bandana and silvery braids. He is not at all what you think of when you hear the words “senior citizen.” As I stamped my feet and raised my glass to the anthemic “I Didn’t Come Here, and I Ain’t Leaving,” I sent my appreciation to him—not just for his musical gifts but for the spiritual teaching he has offered through his own life. What an exquisite example of “agelessness,” and right on time for our September issue on that theme.

I came home inspired to learn about how Mr. Nelson has spent the last eight decades. A guy who has been renowned for his Zen-like disposition and affection for “herbal supplements,” his biography reads like a playbook on longevity. True to the ideas presented in this month’s feature piece, “Ageless Being: Staying Vibrant in Mind, Body and Spirit” by Kathleen Barnes, it’s clear that he has kept his mind in a state of continual expansion, his body supple, and his heart porous.

Yoga, much like the tae kwon do that Mr. Nelson has practiced since he was a young man, is one of the most powerful forms of agelessness. It is both a preventative and a curative for dozens of health-related issues. For me, it’s been a 17-year journey to ease muscle tension, lift depression and decrease anxiety. Two years ago, I took the 200-hour teacher training in the Integral Yoga tradition, founded by Swami Satchidananda. His motto, and the aim of the yoga that he taught until he left his body at 87, was “easeful body, peaceful mind.”

I realize I’m aging, too. I’ve watched yoga culture grow in the U.S. over the past decade. I often mourn that in many studios, the philosophy is downplayed in favor of the sexier, more acrobatic elements of the form. Still, by and large, I am pleased to see so many people practicing, and the impact that is having on our culture. It’s not a coincidence that in an age when you can buy yoga pants at Target, we are seeing increasing acceptance of yoga and other alternative health modalities by the medical establishment. Meredith Montgomery explores the implications in our second feature piece, “Yoga Enters the Medical Mainstream: Research Proves Its Health Benefits.”

In our special “Local Yoga Voices” section, we hear directly from local yogis about what this practice has done for them, their students and the communities where they teach, in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. We’ll hear from Robbin Alston of Áse Yoga, Pooja Erica Andersen of Chalfont Yoga and Patty Ferry of Whole Body Yoga about yoga’s profound ability to transform us from the inside out.

For those who are new to yoga, or haven’t practiced in a while, we’ve also included a local yoga directory with a list of popular studios in the Bucks and Montgomery region. If there’s a studio you know and love that’s not listed, just drop us a line and let us know. We’ll be sure to include it next time.

I end with gratitude for the wisdom of the sages on this tricky business of living and dying. I’ll keep working to find peace with my body and mind even as my vintage increases. So at the end of the day, I can say with a smile, in the words of my guru Willie Nelson, “roll me up and smoke me when I die.”


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Letter from Publisher, June 2015

It feels like a sign that my official first issue as publisher is on Healing Addiction, a subject that has touched me personally, as I expect it will have touched many of our readers in some way. Like many hard facts of life, addiction of any kind may be seen as “someone else’s problem” until it affects someone close to us.

I grew up seeing two men in my family struggle with substance addiction. One found his salvation through Alcoholics Anonymous. But the other didn’t resonate with it and suffered the demands and effects of addiction throughout his life; his continued pain profoundly reverberated in his spirit and that of those that cared about him. The experience opened my heart with compassion for anyone dealing with this complex issue.

Thankfully, additional help is now available. Lisa Marshall explores proven alternatives in our feature article, “Rethinking Recovery: Holistic Approaches to Healing Addictions,” where experts share how breakthroughs are making long-term recovery possible for more people. Effective complementary modalities include yoga, acupuncture, cognitive mindfulness practices and hypnotherapy. The goal is for everyone to be able to live a happy, healthy, addiction-free life.

Locally, we hear from Mike Huggins, founder of the Transformation Yoga Project (TYP), who began teaching yoga in prison during his own incarceration and went on to create a team of teachers offering yoga classes across the Delaware Valley to support recovery from addiction and trauma. Beyond asanas (yoga positions), participants are encouraged to look inward to find peace and equanimity, and to develop spiritual aspects of gratitude, redemption and salvation.

I first met Mike in 2010 at Street Yoga, a pioneering program that originated in Seattle to serve at-risk communities through yoga and meditation practices. It was during that weekend training, Mike recently told me, that he and his friend Colleen Devirgiliis were inspired to start TYP.

Our expanded slate of local wellness professionals underscore the fact that addiction isn’t limited to drugs and alcohol, but manifests in different ways for each of us. I gulped when my acupuncturist suggested that I cut out white starches and sugar from my diet to help reverse skin and digestion issues I was struggling with. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized it was a problem for me.

I’ve made progress—replacing sugar cubes with Stevia and white rice with quinoa. But I’m far from having it beat; when I’m stressed or overscheduled, my car cup holders are quick to fill up with empty soda cans and candy wrappers.

If we’re anything alike, there’s probably at least one thing in your life—maybe it’s your cell phone or your daily mocha latte that shouts, “You can’t do without me!” It feels like just acknowledging what those cravings are for ourselves is a step in the right direction.

Wherever you are on your journey, know that we are together on the path to discovering our healthiest, wholest selves.

Yours in authentic community,

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Letter from Publisher, May 2015

Serving as publisher of Natural Awakenings of Bucks and Montgomery for nearly three years has been an amazing and rewarding experience for which I will always be grateful. Working with you has filled my heart and expanded my mind.

headshotAs with any business venture, a candid evaluation of the current situation points to what’s necessary in order to keep growing. When I reached a point where I saw that in order to take the magazine to greater heights, I also realized that I’d need to accordingly make some big changes in my life.

After assessing what would be best for our community of readers, I decided that it was time to open the door to another passionate and open-minded individual able to lead the charge. I’m pleased to share the good news that with this issue I am passing the torch on to a new publisher, Karen Meshkov, of Wyncote. Please join me in warmly welcoming her.karen meshkov

Many of you have asked about my own future plans. At the moment, I plan to have a fun-filled fantastic summer with my family. Beyond that, I expect to play a different role in the holistic arena because once you’re “awakened”, there’s no turning back.

With your steadfast support, this magazine is now poised to move to the next level of expanded service. Thank you for inviting us into your lives and infusing it with the energy and personality of the Bucks/Montgomery community. Thank you for how well you’ve loved us and for continuing to support Karen as you have me.

To the future—Salut!

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Letter from Publisher, April 2015

“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.”
~ Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I have one area in my yard that gets sufficient sun for a proper garden and it was infested with termites a few years ago. The bugs ended up coming into my house and swarming, which put me off cultivating that particular plot.

So, following the dictates of my Earth-loving heart, each year since, I’ve been experimenting with different techniques and plants, with greater or lesser success. Adhering to Pollan’s perspective, I figure that with each attempt I’ve been nourishing and providing for myself without, in this case, cutting down trees simply to gain more sunlight. The satisfying solution that’s surfaced is a countertop aquaponics tank where microgreens flourish, currently being fertilized by a lone guppy plus a vertical indoor garden with eight pockets of succulents and a grow light.

In this month’s issue, we speak with Ken Hay and Fritz Ege, co-owners of Greenology Organic Living. Their new spring offerings for sustainable living include a way to grow herbs from hanging moss balls. I’ll be stopping in to discover and learn more.

Exploring the concept of employing nature as a tonic, prompted by Christine MacDonald’s feature article, “Nature’s Wisdom,” I visited Paxson Hill Farm, in New Hope. There I met with horticulturist, Bruce Gangawer. Several lambs on the property were just a few days old and my first-ever opportunity to experience the serenity of holding them was breathtaking and surreal. It brought the essence of nature’s vital renewal home to me once again. The rural property’s Whispering Bridge and Hobbit House provide other enticements.

This month, I invite you to explore more local farms, grow your own inspired garden and explore how you and your family can live more sustainably, in harmony with Mother Earth.

Love, grow and live well,

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Letter from Editor, March 2015

In a well-timed twist of fate, while beginning to work on this animal-centric issue of Natural Awakenings, I had an opportunity to adopt a pet myself. Browsing Craigslist pet notices on a whim last month, my boyfriend and I came across Harley, a 2-year-old German shepherd mix in need of a home. A couple of college students had rescued her from previous owners that had left her outside in multiple snowstorms and generally didn’t give her the love she deserves.

We agreed to foster this unknown dog for a week, and a month later she’s become our best buddy. Working from home can be lonely at times, but now Harley keeps me smiling and entertained. I’m thankful for her company, goofy smile and ability to get me out of the house for spirited walks in the sunshine.

As I read Sandra Murphy’s article, “Mission: Animal Rescue,” on page 16, I am also reminded of an earlier rescue mission at age 12, when I brought home a litter of abandoned kittens—a small piece of our neighborhood’s community cat problem. I happily nursed them as my own and found all of them homes—except for Sadie, who is still the apple of my family’s eye. I often wonder what fate may have befallen her had she not come to live with us; for other stray animals’ sakes I hope there are always animal-loving kids and their parents willing to help.

Even now as I write, Harley’s nose is peeking out from beneath the desk chair, snoozing away the afternoon. I’ve learned that she and I have much in common. We both love bacon and peanut butter, blanket forts, learning new things and digging in the dirt.

With spring’s growing season just around the corner, I encourage you to check out the community supported agriculture (CSA) listings on pages 12 and 13. Like many of us, I would love to be able to grow all of my own food at home. From the limited experience I’ve had cultivating peppers, tomatoes and zucchini, I know how rewarding—and challenging—gardening can be. This year, with a new dog that likes to dig, I may need to rely mostly on a CSA program for organically grown produce.

Spring is a favorite season for so many because it signals new beginnings. Seeds sprout with delicious promise, the first flowers bloom, baby animals are born and beautiful weather brings us all out of hibernation. Maybe it’s also the right time to give an animal in need a new beginning with your family—a good deed that will return delightful dividends.

To all the other Harleys hoping for a good home,

Michelle Bense, Managing Editor

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Letter from Publisher, January 2015

Hello 2015! Welcome to the opportunity to turn a page and invite a new year of progress. January, the birth month for both my mate and me, feels symbolic. In my travels this past year, I’ve encountered many themes and observed some common threads related to everybody’s aim to live ever better going forward.

headshotI like to preserve key thoughts that resonate with my goals on slips of paper (or whatever comes to hand) in a jar. Perhaps you journal yours. Authors tend to assemble theirs into articles or books. Most of the statements I keep are positive, others not so much. I bet you can relate. Continue reading

Letter from Publisher, December 2014

Every December I find myself surprised that another calendar year is already coming to a close. Why is that I wonder. I hope that it’s because I’m living so much in the moment that I haven’t noticed the passage of time. I chuckle over Dr. Seuss’s quip: “How did it get so late so soon?”

headshotAs I reflect upon 2014, I rejoice in how family members have grown, kids’ accomplishments and my own progress. Recently, I had the honor of being part of the Bucks & Montgomery County 2014 Class of Forty Under 40 community leaders named by The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer. Grateful for the distinction, I am particularly glad for the opportunity to meet other nominees and winners doing good things in our community. Continue reading

Letter from Publisher, November 2014

“Stress is caused by being here, but wanting to be there.”
~Eckhart Tolle

Too often we find ourselves racing toward some elusive, preconceived end-all or be-all finish line. We believe that if we reach this place that we’ll be happy. Yet what happens when we reach it is that we envision a further step that surely will do the trick. It seems there will always be another “there” we’d rather be.

I know that I frequently get caught up in anxious or stressful feelings because I’m thinking ahead to the magazine’s next issue or a goal for the coming year or trying to figure out what my growing kids need to do and where they need to be to feel happily nurtured. We all know how, when we’re sucked into a spiral of repetitive thoughts and unfinished tasks, it’s impossible to be present in the moment, the precious moment of “now” that is all we really have. A thought-provoking definition of eternity is “now… now… now… now.” Continue reading

Letter from Publisher, October 2014

Following a trip to a local orchard with family and friends, I posted this funky photo on my Facebook page, and it wound up inspiring this month’s letter. I’ll kick it off with a quote by Benjamin Franklin, “The rotten apple spoils his companion,” popularly recast as “One rotten apple spoils the bunch.” Clearly, the disappointed look on my face stems from the sadness of selecting a rotten apple, a great surprise in an age when we expect to easily put our hands on an unlimited supply of perfect fruit at the grocer’s year-round.

I rejoice that I was able to quickly move on to find many perfectly good apples that day, which brought to mind the question: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were just that easy to move away from a rotten situation in life and pick a good one instead? Our diet is a formidable place to start on improving how we feel, as Dr. Andrew Weil explains in Andrea Schensky Williams’ article, “America’s Evolution into Integrative Medicine,” on page 16. Continue reading

Letter from Intern, September 2014

Returning readers will notice that Publisher Audrey Chen has graciously allowed me to guest write this month’s letter before I return to school. Although I began my internship at Natural Awakenings of Bucks and Montgomery counties in May after finishing my first year of college, I have known Audrey for several years from babysitting her children in the playroom at Cornerstone Health and Fitness. Since my major includes components of publishing, I eagerly accepted her offer to serve as her first intern.

Being a part of the team has proved to be an invaluable opportunity to explore and learn about the internal workings of a magazine without the pressures of a full-time job. Audrey has exposed me to every part of the process, from selecting and editing articles to interviewing and writing advertiser spotlights to reviewing final layouts. In just a short time, I’ve acquired and honed several skills that will be of practical use in my career. I’m even considering pursuing future work in the world of publishing. Continue reading

Letter from Publisher, August 2014

Recently, we made our second trip as a family to the annual Taiwanese American Conference, this time in East Stroudsburg. A year ago, when I reported on our first visit there as a family and posted photos on Facebook, it prompted several acquaintances to ask about the event. It made me realize that the Taiwanese are one of the few cultures in the U.S. that holds a conference embracing three generations for its community. Other organizations and conferences gather subsets of our community, such as school-aged children, college kids or young professionals. While these have their place, I see the multigenerational conference as an amazing opportunity to instill family and cultural values and pass them along to succeeding generations.


This year’s conference theme was Growth, perfectly timed for Natural Awakenings’ August Transformative Education and Children’s Health issue. Both venues encourage children to grow in ways that they might not realize as valuable until later in life. Leadership skills were a particular focus on this year’s conference. Independent thinking skills make a huge difference in personal development as illustrated in Sandra Murphy’s “Schools that Rock”, on page 18; here teachers and parents explain some of the alternative ways kids can learn most effectively, because when it comes to education, one size does not fit all. Continue reading