Luxurious to the touch as well as in quality and appearance, strictly eco-friendly and human-friendly, made by women for women to generate a real sense of individuality, comfort, empowerment, and beauty, is one way to describe the IAmVibes clothing brand, created by Katerina Melemeni.
The Greek designer has lived all around the world over the last 20 years, from New York and Rome to Sri Lanka and Spain, studying at the KLC School of Design in London and eventually specialising in yoga gear.
Describing herself as “an eclectic, artistic and passionate woman,” Melemeni is certainly drawing the world’s attention not only to an ethical and sustainable range of trendy yoga apparel but also to Greece, a country where 20 years ago yoga was little more than a mystery and when most local fashion designers were relatively unacknowledged beyond their borders.
Meanwhile, as a female entrepreneur who overlooks practically all aspects of her business herself – from the actual designs to IAmVibes marketing, social media and more, this dynamic mother of two is also setting an example of the new Greek woman, an example we definitely applaud.
Now based in Athens, Melemeni has created a very successful business. “I only work with beautiful things that a real and spark emotions in me when I see them, wear them or touch them,” Melemeni says. “And I only work with eco-sustainable materials, because we do not have a Planet B. Currently all our fabrics are made in Italy, with eco-friendly yarns and manufactured in the utmost respect for our environment.”
“I want to create an intimate connection with the woman, so my materials are very soft on the skin, but also high performance, so they become excellent for anything we do throughout the day. My clothes may be designed for yoga, but that’s if they’re comfortable during a headstand, they will be comfortable with you when you are on your feet. They can be worn 24/7. In fact, I sleep in my seamless Astra leggings!” she laughs.
It’s not by chance that IAmVibes has achieved a glowing global reputation, and that yoga-lovers as well as women who simply enjoy the modern cuts and deep comfort of her designs are very serious about the garments’ high-tech advantages. From the exceptionally soft and delicate BodyVibes fabric to the EcoVibes range made with suede-like ECONYL (regenerated nylon), which is both 100% eco-conscious and breathable on the skin, to the amazing seamless ASTRA range, which warms you when it’s cool and cools you when it’s hot because it’s made with a fabric with thousands of hollow microfibres that regulate body temperature.
Apart from keeping the environment as a top priority in her designs, Melemeti also considers the impact of labour that goes into making clothes and has made sure her business offers humanitarian standards to the women who work to make them. “During my travels, especially when visiting factories in my previous jobs, I saw how many women were employed in the production facilities; and travelling to some developing countries in Asia I witnessed harsh conditions that made me feel so powerless…”
“I thought that perhaps getting involved in apparel, which is among the industry sectors that employ mostly women, was my way of contributing something valuable to women, by paying them a premium and making certain that their working conditions are ethical. I want to use my business to inspire and implement solutions to empower women around the world. I know I run a small business, but I’d like to think that even a small contribution can help support one woman somewhere in this world, and that can make a difference,” she says.
Her very modern, minimalist designs in shades of grey, black, blue with touches of colours like rust orange or white are neutral enough to combine with other parts of one’s daily wardrobe, and the Logo collection features the upside down Hamsa hand symbol. Very different from her other designs is the new range called Blossoming Lotus, which is a soft pink and is dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness. Melemeni explains the vision behind this range: “We are trying to raise some funds dedicated to Breast Cancer research, so with this range, we’re providing a 10% discount to our customers and then 15% of the profits will be donated to research to foundations.”
Following a bit of a lull in my posting, I’m back to write about the Silent Retreat I recently attended.
So here I was, on a Friday evening, beholding the dazzlingly white full moon, surrounded by the black silhouettes of vast mountains, caressed by an icy alpine breeze, with an orange cat called Paprika curled in my lap, hearing the sound of… howling wolves?! At first I thought it might be a tribe of inebriated youngsters possessed by the lunatic spirit at a nearby village, but later it was confirmed to me that jackals roam free on the mountaintops. I had just finished a gentle, grounding and refreshingly awakening evening yoga class, the first of several to take place during a weekend retreat organised by Athens-based yoga teacher Tina Myntz Zymaraki. Only minutes before I had embarked on my journey into a silence that was to last until Sunday afternoon. We had each selected an Osho card from a pack that was to act as a message to set our awareness on, and before delving into non-talking we went around the circle saying our name and one intent we had during the weekend. Mine was Kindness, but by the end, I got Gratitude instead.
Other participants walked by beaming “good evening!” smiles on their way to the dining hall in the super-elegant Noosfera main house, and feeling a rumble in my tummy I decided to follow suit. Decorated in a neo-traditional English country style that soothes both eye and spirit, the living room/dining room area was imbued by silence, and all I could hear was the sound of the flames dancing in the fireplace and cutlery delicately clanging on plates. A woman in her 50s who was clearly there with her bestie was cracking up so much she ran out of the room with her hands over her mouth to stifle her giggles as her friend cried (silently of course) with laughter into her soup. This would take some getting used to.
As we feasted on creamy pumpkin soup and crunchy croutons followed by a mountain of quinoa, lentil, orange and fresh herb salad and toasted wholewheat pitta bread with hummus, my fellow silence-vowers and I avoided eye contact with each other, as Tina had encouraged us to. The Silent Retreat aims to encourage actually immersing yourself deeper into your being by disengaging from the outside world, she told us, not simply zipping your mouth and throwing away the key. Being a slightly anxious mother I carried my phone with me but not for an instant was I tempted to enter the world of the internet – in fact, the mere idea of social medialising even as a voyeur revolted me.
On the scene as a yoga teacher for around 17 years, Tina is only one of two individuals in Greece who organizes silent retreats, and was inspired by her own experiences at the Ananda Ashram in New York, where she lived for a while: “The idea was very attractive to me, especially as I interact with others a lot,” she said, “so as of 2010 I started introducing small periods of silence in my weekend retreats. Over time, those periods were extended, and I started to organize semi-silent retreats. Students always told me how valuable the experience proved for them, so over the past three years I’ve been indulging them in silence more and more.” (See the end of this article to find out about Tina’s upcoming retreat). Let me set the scene of where I was before telling you how my own journey into silence unfolded.Noosfera Centre, built especially for wellness and holistic retreat workshops of all varieties, is located in the Peloponnesian mountains, near Xylokastro. Arriving in the dark, I couldn’t yet see the magnificent views that delighted me the following morning – mountains carpeted in thick greenery, smoky valleys, patches of traditional villages here and there, a gleaming snowy peak and a relieving (for us sea aficionados) strip of blue in the distance.
Noosfera is a new generation holistic hideaway, lovingly created five years ago by journalist-turned-author (of six books, including the bestseller Mystic Odyssey) and therapist Ioulia Pitsouli and psychologist/psychotherapist Maria Xifara, who live here for half a week throughout the year, as holistic wellness and psychology seminars of all varieties take place. The main house and accommodations are all built in low wooden cottages decorated in a rustic yet modern style, with accessories like fluffy Guy Laroche towels and flocculent duvets. The choice of space for this particular retreat was a very carefully made one on Tina’s part, as she felt it was important for participants to enjoy creature comforts while making sense of silence – many silent retreats around the world are held in far more monastic, daunting circumstances in order to strip away distractions.
I’d longed to try a silent retreat for many years, so I jumped at the chance to do so when this workshop came up. The concept was to spend two days doing our best at staying schtum and combining that with soothing yet not undemanding yogic practice. On the morning of the second day, we participated in a more energetic class aimed at connecting us to our core. As I have been facing some challenging personal issues lately, halfway through the class I retreated into child’s pose when I started feeling it was getting too demanding for me. Something in me was pissed off and simply refused to carry on. As I curled up on my mat I felt a wave of sadness rise up from the depths of my heart, and pour out through my eyes in tears. I was about to do my usual stoical routine, to tell myself to put the ‘self-pity’ aside and get on with the practice, when I remembered that this was not that kind of class, nor was that kind of class that I need in my life. If I had been in a different state of mind I would have cherished the upbeat challenge, but at that moment I couldn’t find it in me to push myself any further when I’ve felt I’ve been squeezed enough in other areas of my existence. So I got up and walked out, feeling fully supported in doing so.
Later in the day, we got to enjoy a different kind of class based on restorative asanas and self-care, an aspect of yoga practice that Tina has dedicated many years to develop. As a former Ashtanga devotee, she has over the years realized the vital significance of listening to her own changing body and treating it with love and respect, rather than forcing it through a sequence that has caused her several injuries along the way, despite how much discipline and caution she applied to following the rules. “For the last 150 years, yoga practices have been centred on young male students, but in the west, the average class is made up of women, many of them in their early to late middle age,” she notes.
“For several years I have focused on studying and practising bio-mechanics and human anatomy, aiming to help my students work from the inside out to enhance strength and suppleness by listening to their own unique needs,” Tina explained. “I take on a more innovative approach that is not strictly bound to classic prototypes but instead can be adapted by students so that they reap all the benefits of yoga without straying from their sense of self. As my favourite teacher, Richard Freeman says, ‘yoga begins with listening” – listening to your own needs. It’s your body, your time, your choice, your yoga. Yogis have always been anarchists and revolutionaries so why should you go to a class and obey what you are told if it feels wrong to you or causes you pain?” she points out. The Self-Care class was my absolute favourite because that was exactly what I needed in combination with the inner and outer quiet. First, we were shown how to use a tennis ball to massage our feet, necks, shoulders and back in the most blissful tension-releasing tennis fun I could ever conceive of. Next, we lay down (but were asked to make every effort to stay awake) for a mesmerising Yoga Nidra session in which Tina guided our awareness across every inch of our body with her softly spoken words. When at some point she said “and now move your awareness to your fifth finger,” I anticipated she would next guide us to our sixth; that’s when I realized how incredibly relaxed I was.
The location and the practice of silence offered us all the golden opportunity to take time for ourselves while feeling warmly united in a rare experience. I relished the chance to stretch and breathe as well as read inspiring books (one day I read half a book lying by the fire – it might be a decade since the last time I did that!), go for nature walks overlooking spanning views of natural landscapes, play with an overenthusiastic spaniel who had an endless supply of cones to be chased, and to write, write, write (my child-like sense for writing was reignited and I wrote throughout my time there. On actual paper. Using a pen.). And then there was the deep sleep that highly oxygenated alpine air bequeaths.
On the first night, I experienced an amusing moment when I realized how useless it was to try communicating at all. After cuddling Paprika the cat I realized my jacket was pretty stinky; she’s adorable but I’d assumed that as she belongs to such a pristine place she’d be sweet-smelling, perhaps with a fragrance like the rooms we stayed in, named lavender, spearmint, pomegranate, or would have a natural Liberty’s fragrance. But no such luck, so I decided to air my jacket on the terrace in the room I was sharing with two girls, who were sitting there at the time. For some reason I bravely ventured to wordlessly re-enact why I was hanging it out to air- first I pretended to be Paprika, with the catwalk, swooshing tail (my arm), pointy ears and alert eyes, then re-enacted myself cuddling her, then smelling my malodorous jacket and looking shocked thus needing to air it. They looked at me and laughed, and I had no idea whether they thought they were rooming with a madwoman or had understood even a tad from my charades. It was at that moment that I resolutely decided that as amusing as it could be (especially for others!) it was probably best to do away with voiceless social banter.
The second and final night, there was another moment of hilarity when the waitress walked ceremoniously across the room holding a tray with a single collonaded glass of rose wine that one of the participants had ordered, with everyone turning to stare, many of us feeling a mixed emotion between empathy (silence brings stuff up, wine might help), confusion (wine is fun when you’re talking) and envy (why didn’t I think of that?), much to the embarrassment of the participant who had ordered it. After dinner many of us selected a mandala design to colour in and sat around the fire on the floor for hours bringing them to life – I hadn’t felt that way since I was seven, at school, hearing only the incessant sound of colouring pencils on paper.
Our silence was broken on Sunday afternoon, with a sharing circle during which we each related our experiences. There were tears. There was laughter. This was followed by a conversation-friendly lunch, after which we all posed for a few photographs together (below) and went our separate ways.
I felt reinvigorated, rested, and subtly yet profoundly changed as a result, like I had learned a secret that had been in me all along. More and more research is being done on the benefits of silence, and a recent Finnish study revealed that it actively enhances brain and emotional health: “The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.”
I was also relieved that the nightmare scenario I had self-deprecatingly envisioned before going there, that my cheeky monkey brain would take over and I’d be constantly trying to shut out my restless mental chatter, didn’t happen even for an instant. In fact, I found myself observing and feeling everything more intensely; I savoured food with greater pleasure (I did notice I was eating more than usual, perhaps to fill the ‘gap’ of not using my mouth to spout out conversational gems), became more aware of my body and movement – from ease and flexibility to tightness and restriction, rested in the enhanced clarity and calm of my head. “Silence offers us a different kind of quality in our thought processes and how we relate to others,” Tina said. “It offers us the opportunity to respond rather than react. So I see it as a natural extension of the yoga practice.” There were uncomfortable moments too, at some point I felt as though I was at an airport with a delayed flight hanging around and waiting. Not wanting my young son to feel I’d fallen off the face of the earth, I spoke to him on the phone for a few brief moments as I sat on the park bench facing the mountains and sea. “I love you, I love you, I love you!” he squeaked. And after I put my phone away I felt literally engulfed by the silence of the mountains in a way I’d never experienced before. I yearned for him, worried for him as if he lived in another world. Then I looked at the sea yearned to fly across the valleys to it like the birds swooping around. I wanted to lie in the grass. I was dreamy and tranquil yet felt vulnerable, detached and alone at once.
I returned to the endless fracas of Athens renewed, feeling as if I’d connected with a new awareness in myself, one that comes from even 24 full hours of silent observation. Being surrounded by others who also don’t talk was divine because I realised that every word you hear around you instantly registers as a thought or emotion in the mind, even if it has nothing to do with you. So I have vowed to stay away from other people’s conversations if I’m craving peace. Like most of the others, I felt I could have stayed a little longer, and was a little rough to have to return to reality. Yet fortunately, silence is free and can be found everywhere, especially within. All you need to do is commit to it, tune in, and hey presto, you’re there.
Benji Adeyemo’s class literally clanged my life! I started yoga with Ashtanga, my first, intense introduction to yoga, with a teacher who was goddamned tough, and not in a good way. That was followed by years of trying this and that. Then one day I was invited to a Bhakti Flow class (created by Rusty Wells) with a teacher called Lucy Hammel. It combined all the elements I had unknowingly yearned for – heart-opening asanas, gentle but dynamic flow, strength-building exercises, and all to the soundtrack of world music, R&B, soul, jazz.
I sought out a Bhakti Flow class near me, and I found one at NYSY Studios. At that time I felt really down and out in my life, almost on the verge of drowning into a puddle of stagnant water that dynamic people with a life could dance thoughtlessly through. I had started to fade. So as I sat stretching on the mat before class, I was this close to just rolling it up and escaping before the lesson even began. But then he walked in. Seeing my new teacher with the yoga-body of a god (hello! inspiring!) and a smile that defied sunlight, my spirit immediately stood to attention. And then followed the class – without any pseudo-spiritual fanfare but with a real sense of being guided to connect with the inner voice during the opening chant and to the body during a flowing class demanding focus, dynamic effort, kind self-acceptance and a sense of humour. I left the building on a magic carpet (or yoga mat?) of renewed hope for life.
I knew from that first class that Benji Adeyemo, who is trained by Rusty Wells, was suigeneris. In that class I discovered that yoga is not about trying to do things perfectly by achieving the optimal stance, not wobbling and looking powerful. It suddenly clicked that it’s about patiently but persistently and passionately entering into the correct position, because that asana, if done right, feels amazing, not difficult or painful. It’s about breathing into your body (feeling breath in your chair-numbed bottom is as hilarious as a concept as it is a sweet reality) and then letting go. Then the roots under your feet connect deep into the ground and the elements hold or lift you up to the heavens like invisible hands, all while you are having a conversation without words – with your essential self.
So after this massive introduction, here is a short interview with Benji Adeyemo, who I was not surprised, soon after mustering the courage to actually talk to him outside of class, is a multi-talented individual actively living a multi-level existence – as a dancer, successful dance music singer and as his drag character, Miss Diamond, who has just successfully released an album with his partner Wiveca Hartmann, with whom he performs in The Starletts act.
INTERVIEW WITH BENJI ADEYEMO
Alexia: How Greek are you?
Benji Adeyemo: Pretty Greek with a heavy dash of London, I’ve been living in Athens for nearly 15 years now so I think I qualify, but you’ll never take London out of the boy!
A: What are you most grateful for?
BA: My late mother and my sobriety. My mother, who died after a battle with cancer, fostered me and my younger sister when we were babies (even though she already had a daughter of her own) and gave us a great childhood in a home full of love. She always encouraged me to reach for my dreams no matter how crazy they seemed, and always had my back. My sobriety as well is priceless.
A: What is Greece to you?
BA: Many things, I was invited to Greece from London with other dancers in 2000 and worked as a dancer for singer Anna Vissi. Greece blew our minds – I knew then I would end up living here. Greece gave me the opportunity to do things I might not have done if I’d still lived in London. I felt free to try different avenues and not to worry about what people think.
A: Your one favourite thing about Greece past, present and future?
BA: Past: The crazy-ass club scene. When we came in 2000 there was a club in Varkiza called Paradisio. The place was rocking and we were there every weekend, and then we discovered Mykonos…nuff said!
Present: The growing yoga scene. As a teacher and student it’s great to see the yoga community grow in Greece. Future: I’m waiting to see 🙂
Haris Lyroni is one of only a handful of certified Iyengar Yoga teachers in Greece. Since 2006, under the guidance of her teacher and mentor Christos Pavlou, she has been running Shakti Yoga Studio in the neighbourhood of Mets.
As described by the creator and guru of this yoga style, B.K.S. Iyengar, who was still doing head stands a few months before growing ill and passing away (December 1918 – August 2014), emphasis is given to precision and alignment in all postures.
Yoga beginners can learn a great deal about the fundamentals of yoga by starting with Iyengar yoga, but it’s the kind of practice that keeps bringing its students to a different experience at each and every level. It’s main priority is to teach yoginis correct and detailed ways of positioning oneself, breathing, and thus moving through the asanas, or poses.
Other elements that differentiate Iyengar’s style of yoga from other practices is the use of props designed by Iyengar, such as wooden gadgets, belts, ropes, bolsters and bricks that help the practitioner to achieve perfection in all the postures – again, a lot of these props are today used by yoga teachers around the world for all styles of practice.
Iyengar was a pioneer in introducing his country’s ancient yoga practice to the West since the 1950s, when in 1952 he became friends with globally renown violinist Yehudi Menuhin, a friendship that in the mid ’50s took Iyengar to the United States to teach and give lectures and demonstrations. When he published his book Light On Yoga in 1966, it became an international bestseller.
Lyroni sees her introduction to yoga as a “great blessing” in her life. She discovered yoga and began to practise it in the 90s, trying out different styles of yoga that were available in Athens, until she found Pavlou’s Iyengar yoga class and realised that it was exactly what suited her. She had been working as a translator for 14 years when she decided to change paths finally quit her job with no Plan B or security net. Two weeks after confidently resolving to start her life anew, she walked by a studio space available for rent in her favourite neighbourhood.
Despite the weighty risk – of doing something completely different in her life, of setting up a business of her own, and especially in a country where yoga was becoming more known but was still not established, she decided to set up Shakti Yoga Studio without a second thought.
Today, despite the financial crisis of the last eight years, her practice has blossomed and evolved, introducing more and more Athenians of all ages and levels, even kids, to the Iyengar style of yoga. She also uses the studio as a base for educational and inspirational talks, events and even Sanskrit classes that teach the public about the culture and history of yoga and Indian philosophy.
As a space, Shakti Yoga Studio is minimalist, serene, well-aired and startlingly clean. Its central location (a 10 minute walk from Acropolis metro station, a 5 minute walk from the nearest tram stop) makes it easy to reach via public transport.