Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Site/New Blog

I'm happy to be introducing my new website,, and to be complementing it with this new blog.  I'm focusing on beneficial teas and herbal blends, as well as on simple and proven strategies drawn from positive psychology and mind/body medicine that can enhance life.  I believe that drinking tea is a choice, especially in the USA where coffee and soft drinks have ruled the beverage industry for decades, and when you make the choice to enjoy tea, you may be subtly changing yourself in ways that will help you experience greater rewards from these strategies.  What I'm saying is that I believe drinking tea can help you live a better life, and I want to help you maximize your capacity to do that.

That's it in a nutshell, but here's a much longer explanation if you are interested in learning about how I came to this.

To start, here's my fancy psychology pedigree in brief: I'm a Licensed Psychologist by training, with specialization in cognitive-behavioral psychology, and training and experience in mind/body medicine, health psychology, stress management, weight control and positive psychology. As part of my training, I was fortunate enough to intern under Albert Ellis, one of the most influential and provocative psychologists of the 20th century. Over the course of almost 20 years in the field, I have continued my education, and some of my more notable trainings included a course with Herb Benson, a pioneer in the use of transcendental meditation in mind/body medicine, and participating in the Vanguard Training program in Authentic Happiness Coaching led by Martin Seligman, former APA president, and "father" of positive psychology.

In the early 2000s, when life coaching was a brand new field, I became involved and immersed myself in it; focusing on vision, values, goals, and personal and professional growth. After training at the Institute of Life Coach Training, I developed an approach to well-being based on positive psychology called The Positive Plan, and spent several years building a coaching/psychotherapy practice.  One day, I had a client return for a follow-up coaching session (follow-up sessions served as boosters, helping people stay on course or refreshing their goals, motivation or action plans) and during the session she mentioned that she liked to come in for these refresher sessions because I always helped her remember to follow her passion.  I was glad to have been helpful, but after she left I found myself with an unsettling feeling that I was not following my own passion. I recalled my adolescent dream of owning a store, offering hospitality and service and being part of a neighborhood community.  The dream began knawing at me, and over time I began feeling out of integrity counseling people to fearlessly pursue their passions, while I was busy ignoring my own.  The idea of a store started to take hold, but what kind of store?

To backtrack a bit, when I was in my early 20s I would often visit my mother, and we would spend hours sitting around the kitchen table drinking tea and gossiping.  Aside from all the wonderful benefits of tea, I must confess that tea works really well as a complement to gossip.  I really do continually try to be a better person, but I admit that sitting at the kitchen table and talking trash over a cup of tea was fun. So, with apologies to anyone I may have disrespected during these catty conversations, I have fond memories associated with tea drinking. During the tea and gossip years, we drank tea from teabags, occasionally getting fancy by putting a little jam at the bottom of the cup (later when I became a big tea know-it-all I found out that was a Russian tradition but I didn't know that at the time), but it was generally plain black tea and sometimes a flavored tea like earl grey or an herbal like a fruit zinger. I had no idea about the whole world of tea until my mother bought me a cookbook she found on a bargain rack. It was about cooking with tea.  The recipes called for all kinds of exotic sounding teas like Lapsang Souchong, Dragonwell, and Genmaicha.  I wanted to try one of the recipes one day, and that is what started me on my exploration of tea that has been completely life-altering.  Looking back, it's interesting how a little action my mother took had such a major impact on my life.  I will have to remember to thank her.

My interest in tea became totally absorbing; my home filled with books about tea, tea pots, tea infusers, and of course, tea.  Tins, bags, boxes, small envelopes, tea was everywhere!  And, as I mention on my website, one afternoon after a particularly challenging day working with coaching and therapy clients, I sat down to brew myself a cup of tea, and it hit me like the metaphoric ton of bricks.  I want to open a teashop! And once I had the idea, there was nothing I could do about it. I was making a nice living, had a good paying job and a nice psychology practice on the side, and as a side-effect of coaching my clients to follow their dreams, I inadvertantly coached myself into a new career.  Oops.

When I started telling people, their reactions varied around a theme: Michelle went nuts. But I didn't care, and despite the appearance of having gone nuts, I was pretty sensible about the transition from shrink to barista. I spent the next year saving up enough money to support me during my business start up years.  I came up with a company name, The Good Leaf Gourmet Tea Company, found a few good tea suppliers, continued learning about tea, took a certification course at the Specialty Tea Institute (one can get certified in just about anything!), and started with a kiosk at a weekend market in North Albany.

From day one, I loved, loved, loved being the "tea lady" and very shortly thereafter, I gave up my psychology practice, quit my day job, and opened a full time bricks and mortar teashop on Lark Street in Albany. Here are some pictures from the shop.  Running that teashop was among the most gratifying experiences of my life!  During the two years I was there, I learned more and more about tea, learned to bake, learned to blend tea, learned how to build a webstore, designed labels, got to know an amazing and eclectic bunch of customers, some who have remained friends, and satisfied myself that I lived my dream.  No regrets!

Something I noticed while I stood behind the counter was that customers often came to me for advice - it was like I was a bartender, but with more favorable hours, and instead of everyone being drunk, they were getting healthy.  I felt like I was practicing psychology by giving it out in little bite sized chunks.  And my customers were benefiting.  I wondered if, as people got into tea, infused it into their lifestyles as I liked to say, they were making themselves more conducive to other positive changes without even being aware of doing so.  I thought about it a lot, and I definitely believe that to be true.  Choosing to be a tea drinker can help you have a better life, effortlessly.

A couple of conversations drove the point home for me.  One day I was on the phone with an old friend from graduate school who was running a busy psychotherapy practice.  He asked if I could supply him with some tea for his waiting room.  I thought about how drinking tea before a therapy session would be like getting a head start on the therapy; great value-added without any work on either the client or the therapists part.  The client would be getting into a state of health and well-being that could help them experience greater benefit from the therapy session.  Later on, I mentioned this to another friend of mine who responded, "Therapy Begins with Tea!".  And, just like a few years back, when I realized that I wanted to go into the tea business, hearing the phrase "therapy begins with tea" brought me full circle.  And that is what brought me to the new website, and to the idea of offering functional teas along with practical and proven self-help strategies that can help you experience a better life, effortlessly.  Enhancing health and well-being doesn't have to be a struggle; it can, and should, be easy - as enjoyable as savoring a cup of tea.

The new website, is launching today, and just like you and I, it's a work in progress.  In addition to a core of about 30 tea blends and complementary self-help resources, I will offer seasonal specials, starting with Love White Tea for Valentine's Day.  The tea pages and online teashop are up and running, and the psychology resources are still being compiled, and will continue to evolve.

In my next several posts, I'll introduce the teas and the other resources that you can enjoy on the site.