yes, coach!

At one of the most challenging points of my life, a period when I felt that the foundations I had built a significant part of my reality upon came tumbling down from beneath my feet, I had the pleasure and good fortune of meeting someone who would inadvertently aid me to reclaim my balance. Enter Konstantina Kanaroglou, who has introduced the prestigious Coaches Training Institute’s (CTI, which is accredited by the International Coaching Federation) and their Co-Active Coaching (their own brand) method to Greece. This, after Kanaroglou went to a coaching workshop abroad and returned feeling so transformed and thrilled by the holistic and strategic approaches she had learned that she wanted not only to train as a coach herself but also to bring the entire coaching system to Greece.

Today, Kanaroglou runs Leadership Coaching, which offers coaching solutions through the Co-Active method to individuals (for personal development), companies (for corporate retreats and workshops), families (for business and family dynamics) and educational institutions (with seminars aimed at the educational staff, parents as well as kids).

Infused by her enthusiasm about Co-Active Coaching – something I liked the sound of especially because of its holistic base – and curious to take an avenue of positive and pragmatic problem-solving that I had not explored before, so I chose to try sessions with a certified coach in Athens. To be very honest, because coaching has boomed so much in Greece over the last decade, my opinion of it was not at its highest. As with everything else, when something that was unknown to a place is suddenly everywhere, and many of those involved vow to bring “life-changing effects” after having received minimal or iffy training and have near to no experience as instructors or organizers, I can’t help but question the validity and effectiveness of what’s on offer. This can be said for any other business as well, from yoga and watches to souvlaki.

Yet I was well prepared to give this particular  – new, reliable and internationally-validated  – form of coaching, which requires years of intensive study and practice on the part of the coach before any certification is handed out), a go. Karnaoglou kindly introduced me to certified coach Susanne Sideras, with whom I arranged to meet online once a week for just over one and a half months.

From our very first meeting, a more social chat to establish whether we had the right chemistry, I felt confident that I could trust, communicate with and learn from her. Sideras is a German who has lived in Switzerland, Australia, the US, Greece and Dubai over the past 20 years, returning to Greece since 2015. “Living and loving in different countries on various continents with all the new beginnings and challenges involved definitely had a huge impact on how I am today,” she says. …”Mind you I grew up in a Bavarian village- a very beautiful one but still a village. I always loved travelling, meeting people from different cultures, backgrounds, mindsets and I always loved (and still do) stories- life stories.”

As a coach, it’s essential not only to be culturally open and flexible, being able to communicate with people of all varieties, but also to have an experiential and clear understanding of some of life’s greatest challenges. “If there is one constant in my life it actually is change… Change and new beginnings. They excite me, bring a lot of joy once I’ve left my comfort zone- which can sometimes take a while.”

The result of our coaching sessions? Sideras managed through her sessions, to help me in a non-psychoanalytical way but rather, more like a wise, objective friend, to see through the emotional tornado of my situation at that time and develop a more structural, functional and assertive outlook. As the Co-Active Coaching method encourages, I was guided by her to build certain skills in how I processed my own emotions and ideas. For example, I was repetitively guided (until I finally started doing it automatically!) to say “I” when talking about something instead of “you” or “we” or “one” – essentially, owning my feelings. “One does not get frustrated when one feels let down…I get frustrated!” and so on. This is something I continue to practise today, many months after our coaching. Taking responsibility for how I feel, think and act is crucial and should not be pluralized!

Another important aspect of this coaching method is how the coach consistently reminds the coachee to connect with what’s going on physiologically and emotionally while they express ideas and feelings. The coach asks questions such as “where do you feel that right now, that sadness you mentioned?” or “what colour is the feeling you had for your friend, and how does it feel?”. Giving ideas, words, thoughts and feelings a texture, colour, location, feeling and even more serves to give them a more pronounced identity, and thus they are easier to examine, see, face, before you can decide what you want to do with them, how much they actually do or do not serve you and whether they are even real.

I ask Sideras what drew her to coaching: “One of the main things that drew me to coaching was that throughout my life I was always interested in people and their development. I felt there was so much to learn about myself by helping others. Since in my twenties I was drawn to yoga and spiritual development, so I’d had some tasters of how wonderfully blissful certain situations are once you are in touch with your true core and essence. I assume I wanted more of those for myself and others and knew that it always starts by going within and exploring your unique beliefs – especially about our self. Our thoughts create our reality and this I find so powerful. I believe we are all here for a reason and the world needs our specific gifts. I understand coaching as a wonderful opportunity to tap into your unique light and let it shine.”

We didn’t always have a specific topic to address. Most often than not we returned to the larger issues I was facing, but some days I literally felt I had nothing to say – until I was guided by Susanne in a seemingly “random” conversation brought out experiences or feelings that was affecting me but that I had unknowingly brushed under the carpet.

For example one day I told Susanne how upset I was after an interaction with a man who was giving out bracelets on the street. He offered me one and I said no thanks, but then persisted he was giving it to me as a gift, as a token of love and peace. I’d experienced this ‘trick’ before from gipsies practically forcing roses into my hand, but chose to idealistically believe him nonetheless. As he tied the bracelet around my wrist me he asked for money, and I cringed. I gave him the bracelet back, feeling not angry but heartbroken by humanity (I was having a bad day, OK?!) and told him what he was doing was horrible, and that he was acting like a liar and a thief. He started to swear and scream at me as I walked off, feeling devastated by the scene and what had caused it.

I talked to Susanne about the event a couple of days later, almost ashamed to have experienced it, and she warmly reminded me that I had done nothing but stand up for my value system and that sometimes that can yield unpleasant results, but that it’s important to have those values. “Whatever action I take or not is based on my values and belief system and has an impact on me and everybody around me,” she affirms.

“The co-active approach appealed to me since what is most in fundamental in co-active coaching is the relationship the coachee and coach are building and living in the time they “work” together,” she adds. “Co-active coaches believe everybody is naturally creative, resourceful and whole and that implies people are capable of finding their own answers, of choosing, of taking action, or showing up as they wish, or taking responsibility, of learning, or being and doing. As a coach, I am here to keep the agenda of and for the client, to be the accountability partner. It is proven that accountability helps to bring actions to fruition. I’m here to remind the coachee of their inner light and wisdom and help them re-discover it, even and especially in times when even the most resilient person only sees the high mountain in front of him/ her and feels challenged.

Adjustments to the rapport between a coach and coachee are always welcomed and necessary for a fruitful, trustworthy and honest relationship. This is an investment in time and energy for both, the coachee and the coach and it works best if both give their all. Sideras says “I personally do have a, like some clients say,: “no-nonsense but very caring approach”. I am trained to evoke transformation, ask to go deeper and deeper and will not forget the clients’ agenda at any given moment. Confidentiality is honoured at all times unless I sense any danger for the clients or other people’s life. I which case I am obliged to inform someone according to the ethical standards of the ICF (International Coach Federation), where I am a member and “monitored” for ongoing training for professional and personal development. Coaching focuses on the here and now and where the person wants to go. Of course, we are “products” of our past and have our packages and stories we carry with us, but in the coaching session, we are not delving deep into the past or not at all really. In coaching, we concentrate on what the impact of past experiences have on you in the here and now and what you want to do to move forward.”

Susanne coaches people in person, but works mainly online via Zoom or Skype with people in Greece and globally, in English or German. She’s had and has clients based in Greece, Portugal, the UK, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Canada and the US. I ask her whether in her experience, coaching can offer long-term solutions, and if so, in what ways. She decides to quote Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operations Officer at Facebook: “We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change”, and adds, “A change of mindset and the transformation that is happening in clients who start on their journey to a life with purpose and fulfilment is, of course, a long-term process, and is not reversible. It happens by creating awareness of one’s own power and leadership qualities, by exploring and reconnecting with your value system, which guides your every decision, your inner wisdom, your true essence. By reconnecting you with YOU.”

Got curious?

Connect with Susanne Sideras for a complimentary clarification session on susanne@siderascoaching.com

+30 6945 136029. Check out her Instagram account @siderascaoching.com or find her on Facebook under Susanne Sideras Co-active Coaching. Her website is under construction and will be available soon.

the stoic anxiety cure

Democracy, medicine, philosophy, science, technology, athleticism, gastronomy, art… all these are constructs that people today still strongly connect to ancient Greek culture, where many of these concepts and practices were born and developed in highly sophisticated ways. However, we don’t often relate ancient Greek philosophy with modern psychology; and many of us are not aware that Socrates‘ teachings on Stoicism actually form the basis of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), an effective modern tool used widely today to treat psychological issues. It has proven so effective that in the UK, the National Health System offers it for free.

Visiting Athens for the first time from his home in Canada (although he is Scottish by nationality), Donald Robertson, a CBT Therapist and the author of six books, the latest titled ‘How To Think Like A Roman Emperor’, has dedicated the last 15 years of his career combining CBT with Stoicism. He is the founding member of a non-profit organization called Modern Stoicism, run by a team of philosophers, classicists, and cognitive psychotherapists.  Annually, they offer Stoic Week, a free online course every year that this year had over 8,000 participants from around the world. They also run a one-month intensive course called Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT).

“CBT is the dominant evidence-based form of psychotherapy today,” Roberston says. “The pioneers of this approach, Albert Ellis and Aaron T. Beck, were both originally inspired by Stoic philosophy. Most importantly, both approaches are based on the shared premise that our ‘cognitions’ or thoughts or beliefs are caused mainly (if not entirely) by our underlying beliefs.”

“Once we can recognize that feelings involve beliefs then we can start questioning what exactly those beliefs are, evaluating whether they’re true or false, helpful or unhelpful, and confirm or disprove them. So the cognitive model of emotion opens up a whole new toolbox for therapists – but the Stoics knew this over two thousand years ago,” he says.  However, he adds, “CBT is mainly a remedy for existing problems, such as anxiety and depression, and it’s designed to be a short-term approach, while Stoicism is a whole philosophy of life. It’s permanent, and it’s designed to be preventative as well as therapeutic – so it’s much broader in scope.”

Robertson’s successful techniques of combining Stoicism and CBT have generated a huge following globally, currently at around 45,000 individuals from all backgrounds reaping rewards from his teachings. Stoicism has been adopted in the modern age by sportspeople, the military, psychologists and academics as well as ordinary people who find it can offer great improvements in their everyday life.

I ask Robertson what the appeal is. “Ordinary anxiety and depression have become a part of human life and even the more severe forms, the actual psychiatric disorders, are becoming increasingly common. Recent research shows that just over 50% of people in the USA now have a history (“lifetime prevalence”) of mental health problems. We used to call psychiatry “abnormal psychology” but psychological disorders have effectively become today’s normal psychology.”

“Nobody knows exactly why that’s happening; it’s probably due to a number of different factors, though. Many people today feel isolated and lack support from friends and family when it comes to coping with stressful situations. Unless they have access to a psychotherapist, individuals are increasingly forced to help themselves get through tough times. Stoicism offers methods of self-improvement and emotional resilience-building. However, it also provides a philosophy of life, which can give people a much-needed sense of meaning and direction.”

Donald Robertson’s top five guidelines for
using Stoicism to improve our everyday life.

1. The dichotomy of control: choices vs accidents.  The opening sentence of the Stoic Handbook of Epictetus says “Some things are up to us and other things are not.” Learn to clearly define your sphere of control: take more responsibility for the things that you do and learn to be more indifferent toward things that merely happen to you.

2. Cognitive distancing: what you see is what you get.  Perhaps the most famous Stoic quote comes a few lines later in the same book: “It’s not things that upset us but our judgements about things.” We should remember that it’s mainly our own value judgements that shape our emotions rather than the external events that befall us.

3. Objective representation: cut the drama.  Stoics were known for speaking concisely (Laconically) and describing things in a matter-of-fact way, without emotive rhetoric or strong value judgements – Epictetus says just stick to the facts without adding an exclamation like “Oh no!

4. Premeditation of adversity: guard yourself cooly. The Stoics were known for picturing setbacks in advance in order to rehearse coping with them, which people sometimes call “negative visualization” today – although you have to be careful to do this patiently and to view the event with indifference rather than as something genuinely negative. 

  1. The View from Above: see the forest not the tree.  Sometimes also described as a “comprehensive representation”, the Stoics encourage us to view upsetting events within the bigger picture. We’re to picture them from high above like the gods looking down from Mount Olympus, or we can go even further and imagine our current predicament as a tiny speck in relation to the whole of space and time.

     

Donal Robertson’s website:

donaldrobertson.name

Modern Stoicism

modernstoicism.com

A video of a talk Robertson gave recently explaining Stoicism briefly:

https://learn.modernstoicism.com/courses/218092/lectures/3811597

 

Greek Australian Author (Palimsest & This Is Not A Love Story) Kathryn Koromilas tried Stoic Week 2018 and writes about her experience here:

   

I completed the questionnaires for Stoic Week 2018. Life satisfaction score: low. Flourishing score: very low. Stoic attitudes and beliefs: none. Still, I was determined to start living like a Stoic.

Thus, I began. Every morning, before sunrise, I walked outside and, under the stars and sky, contemplated how small and insignificant I was. At midday, I strolled through a cemetery, imagined my imminent death and how I would soon be forgotten. At night, I reflected on my day, reminded myself that I have limited time and let that determine what I would do, say, and think the next day; if it came. Stoic practice can seem a little morbid, but you’d be surprised how all this death contemplation instantly helps clarify what I can control and what I ought to be doing.

At the end of the week, my satisfaction and flourishing scores were higher, and I had adopted some serious Stoic attitudes. But this is no miracle cure. I’d studied the Stoics at university and in my 20s, and then promptly forgot all about them years later when I really needed them.

The thing about Stoic philosophy is that you can’t do it all from an armchair. You’ve got to do some hard work. Apart from reading and thinking, you’ve got to meditate, you’ve got to write things down and memorize maxims to help when you face an unexpected crisis, and you’ve got to go out and dialogue with other human beings. And, then, you’ve got to get up and do it all again, every day, throughout the day. You’ve got to live the philosophy.

Kathryn Koromilas is a writer who leads the Stoic Writing Scene and The Stoic Writer, and Vlogged about participating in Stoic Week 2018.

** For reference, the embedded links above are:

Kathryn Koromilas – https://kathrynkoromilas.com

Stoic Writing Scene — https://www.facebook.com/groups/stoicscene

The Stoic Writer — https://thestoicwriter.com/

Vlog — https://www.youtube.com/KathrynKoromilas?sub_confirmation=1


AS FIRST PUBLISHED IN GREEKCITYTIMES.COM 

 

validation.

For years I’ve been hearing and reading the phrase that “what other people think of you is none of your business.” My reaction to it was always the same. Something like “WTF?! Of course it is!” As an individual with a warrior spirit, I could never fathom how if someone had negative, warped or harmful feelings or beliefs about me it shouldn’t be something that concerns me. Surely, I would have to instantly wack out my light mirror shield and flash -bam it all right back where it came from?

And then one morning I got it. My marriage had ended over eight months earlier, and the night before I had seen a video about a new trend in England of holding “divorce ceremonies”. Like marriage ceremonies, these involved the couple in question inviting family and friends to a gathering during which the pair would announce in public their parting words. Their thanks for all they had experienced as a couple, and their reasons for needing to move on. Tears were shed, knowing, supportive smiles were spread and the couple then wandered off into a forest together, soon parting ways by walking in different directions. I would never wish to hold such a ceremony myself, but I was deeply moved by the intent behind it. Touched, and a little emotional overall, I sent the link to my ex and wrote him a message that was like what I would have said to him if we were to have had such a ceremony. It was a message of pure, heartfelt love and appreciation, clear intent, and considerate thought. I felt liberated and happy by writing it and sending it.

There was no catch, no hook, no hidden insult or secret agenda. The following morning I woke up and saw that he had read it but not replied. My emotional habit in the past, my trigger-reaction, would have been to feel a little miffed that he had not responded. But this morning, I felt at peace. Still in the same mood as I was the night before when I had sent it, I thought to myself that he may have felt he had nothing to say, or that it had taken him by surprise, or that he needed time to process it. Nonetheless, my mind set in. ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have sent it,’ the survival mechanism said. I opened my deck of Archangel Michael oracle cards and picked one. ‘Forgive Yourself.’ it read, ‘You Have Done Nothing Wrong.’

Only one week earlier I had been told the same by an angelic spiritual teacher friend whose teachings have slowly but surely been changing my outlook in life. “Authenticity and vulnerability are your power,” she had told me, “and there is nothing wrong with expressing them freely.” And right then, an affirmation crystallized in my heart – one that was not a thought, or a string of beautiful words like a diamond necklace to sparkle around my expression chakra but a message that felt completely and utterly true: “I do not need validation from anyone or anything, to know and feel that I am loved, lovable, powerful, desirable, abundant, beautiful, healthy and blessed!” And as I repeated it out loud I felt an entire universe of wealth, health, beauty, miracles and love within me. Yes, that’s where it all is! Inside. Not outside! What others think of me is none of my business, because that’s inside them. What’s inside them has nothing to do with me, because it’s theirs, and what’s inside me is my own. Unless I am open and willing to receive from the other then it does not touch me.

This was a breakthrough for me, one that I had never experienced in any form throughout my life until now. Until now, I have sought validation. What others think, feel, see, hear, smell, dream, fear, and how they project that on me, whether randomly, subconsciously, recklessly or calculatingly I have permitted it to affect me, because it was some form of contact, and my nature is to be open and responsive to contact. Even when I have known or sensed or intuitively foreseen that a form of contact could hurt or endanger me, I have been curious, courageous and sometimes desperate enough to discover more, to live it out in earnest. Why? Because it was a way to offer me a sense of existing, of participating, of being active, alive, recognized, acknowledged, taking a role, co-creating, experiencing. But what I didn’t allow myself to see during some incredibly beautiful as well as some stupidly damaging experiences was that I didn’t need so far to feel rewarded, and validated, when all the time the love and validation and honour that I craved has existed only within myself.

Certainly, being human, it doesn’t mean that having had such an a-ha moment changed my entire, complex wiring instantly. Of course, I still seek external validation. Acknowledgement, compassion, love, support, respect and so much more, and I probably always will. Practising the art of validating myself has only just begun, and will require discipline and practise, commitment and vision, flexibility and innovative thinking, like any other commitment. But it’s a start. Especially having felt the bold and beautiful truth of that affirmation within me in all its very real and palpable and eternal dimensions, knowing that what already exists within me is enough, is an incredible place to start. We all know so many of our own merits, yet we choose to forget them all the time, in our haze of thoughts and going through the motions of life. It takes focus to keep coming back to that point, reminding oneself with love and kindness, patience and faith, breathing, believing and repeating forward steps along a new path.

Happy New Beginnings!

 

amazing ways to start the day

In Greece people use the saying “how your day will turn out is shown from the morning”; personally I’m not a fan of this saying because it suggests superstitious thinking and if believed, can essentially determine one’s mood for the entire day if the morning proves particularly unpleasant. I prefer to think that any moment of the day, regardless of what has passed before, is a moment when we can hopefully start afresh and change its course for the better. However, the positive habits and rituals that we dedicate ourselves to in the morning can indeed help boost our state of mind, mood, physical resilience and flexibility and overall outlook so that the day ahead flows in a more upbeat, dynamic and enjoyable way. The tips I will write here come from years of research – books, websites, interviews and of course tried and tested techniques to which I’ve added my own touches and wanted to share with you. As the mom of a preschooler I’m well aware that there is often little time to spend doing some of these morning rituals, but if you can slip in even a few minutes of some of them or one on different days, or do some after you’ve dropped your kid/s off to school, a little later in the morning, that will still make a positive difference.

So as Maria said in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start from the very beginning!” at the exact point that you wake up (either because your child has decided to tap you on the shoulder and offer you a handful of slime that he has “cooked” for your breakfast or because your alarm clock just rang so you can get your ass to work or because, oh you lucky blessed one, you have had a full night’s sleep and have woken up naturally).

Give Thanks

Whether you can lie in bed for half an hour meditating on gratitude or just speedily run through a quick list in your mind of the top things you are grateful for – even that your little one thoughtfully “cooked you some slime for breakfast”, that you are still here, that it’s a new start to your life, that you have a bed to sleep in and clothes to wear, hot water to shower in or food to eat, gratitude is the highest vibration to connect with at any time, and especially at the start of your day. “Acknowledging the good you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance,” according to Eckhart Tolle. Even if you wake up feeling particularly miserable and disgruntled with life, go deep to findat least one thing that you are thankful for – maybe simply that you are breathing!

Stretch

Whether you do a full yoga session or just a few Winnie The Pooh stretches up and down, or stretch your body out in bed into a star shape and upon sitting up at the edge of your bed let yourself do some backward twists to flex your spine, a little stretching goes a long way to reawakening your body and gently releasing any stiffness from your sleep. After saying good morning to our dog, who in turn taps her tail enthusiastically onto the wooden floor in response, my son and I greet her in a quick downward dog and she gets up to do her own natural stretch to mirror us. This makes stretching fun and easy.

 

Body Brushing


Body brushing, also known as dry brushing, is a fantastic way to exfoliate your skin and open your pores (that’s why it’s best pre-shower) while also activating your lymphatic drainage system and kickstarting your circulation. For vanity’s sake, it has been shown to firm skin and reduces cellulite, while on a more medicinal level it helps release small aches and pains by causing your energy to flow more freely. Starting at the soles of your feet, brush in firm strokes upward along the inside and then all other sides of your legs, then your bottom, then in a circular direction on your belly area, up your back, up your arms and up from above the breasts in the chest area. 

Tongue scraping
While you sleep, a layer of toxins rises and forms on the surface of your tongue. That can indeed make one cringe at the thought of a morning snog (though it may be well worth it and offer other benefits!). Instead of swallowing them all back into your organism again, the ideal thing to do is to use a tongue scraper or even the back, non-cutting side of a knife or a spoon to gently but firmly scrape the sludge off and rinse it away, several times, before even brushing your teeth (because brushing your teeth before doing this will again involve spreading all the stuff from your tongue all over your mouth). I know it’s icky, and several people I’ve recommended this Ayurvedic practise to have told me they tried it once and felt so disgusted they couldn’t do it again. But. Isn’t it better to remove it? I find it far ickier to swallow it all back down! And I can guarantee that it helps – on mornings after a night out when I’ve had a few glasses of wine, for example, as soon as I do the tongue scraping I feel my mind clear (not completely of course, if I’m particularly foggy-headed, but significantly!).

Enjoy your shower

For me, a complete hydrophile, hydroholic and water baby, showering is a wonderful ritual both morning and night. It cleanses us of stale energy, refreshes our mind and, whether you are using soap or not, offers the chance to massage our body. It’s also a great time to repeat your favourite affirmation for the day, or just sing! Make sure to splash a lot of cold water on your face as well, as this activates the vegus nerve, which lifts your mood, clears your mind and strengthens your immune system.

Colon-cleansing drinks
For 10 days at a time every two or three months, I follow one of these rituals, which help cleanse the intestine, which is the basis of our overall health, by reducing the bad bacteria and detoxifying.

  1. Psyllium husk water: In a tall glass of water add a heaped teaspoon of psyllium husk and stir very very well. Drink it all down at once, and then follow that by drinking yet another glass of plain water. The psyllium swells (like linseed or chia) and becomes gelatinous inside the intestines, absorbing toxins, fats, mucus and harmful bacteria which are then released in your stools. This is a good ritual to do for restoring gut health, especially if you are trying to lose weight, as it also creates a sense of fullness. Only do this in the morning, on an empty stomach, and wait around 15 minutes to half an hour before eating.
  2. Apple cider vinegar water: Add 1 tbsp of organic, unpasteurised (fermented) apple cider vinegar to a glass of tepid water and sip slowly. I just take it around with me and take sips as I’m getting ready. This too detoxifies the intestine, balances your pH, decreases blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol and boosts gut health.

Another common morning drink is warm water with a big squeeze of lemon, and some like to add a teaspoon of organic honey, both of which are packed of nutrients (like vitamin C and antioxidants) and help balance and kickstart the gut.

Power smoothie
There are endless recipes to find online for great breakfast smoothies – from green juices to elaborate fruit and vegetable concoctions, but I’m writing my favourite tried and tested rituals here so these two are the best I’ve tried:

1. For a foggy head and tiredness: a shot of juiced ginger with a big squeeze of lemon and a pinch of cayenne. Fortunately, I don’t need this very often, but it’s definitely a zingy way to start the day.

2. Super-tonic milkshake:
I like my chocolate drinks (chocolate-everything!), but this is the adult, supersonic tonic version, with a few alternate renditions. In a blender add almond, hazelnut or other milk of choice, a heaped tablespoon of raw cacao (high in antioxidants), a heaped tablespoon of adaptogenic powder such as ashwagandha (this is an especially great for women, widely used in Ayurveda as the top health tonic, as it helps reduce stress, balance hormones, offer energy and strengthen immunity – at night it’s great in a warm milk with turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom and honey) or maca powder (energy booster and even a sexual tonic) or astragalus powder (widely used in China as an immune-system booster), a teaspoon of cinammon (blood cleansing, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, boosts digestive health), a pinch of cayenne pepper (if you like heat) for heart health, a tablespoon of crushed linseeds (packed with Omega 3s) and a shot of espresso (wakey wakey!). Blend all the ingredients with a couple of ice cubes and hey presto! Another version is to exclude the cinnamon and cayenne and instead add a few tablespoons of nut butter – peanut, tahini, hazelnut, whatever you like, for extra protein and other nutty benefits. Yet another option is to add half an avocado and a banana as well, both packed with heart-healthy fats, collagen, B6 and other mood-enhancing vitamins and minerals like potassium and magnesium). Mixed frozen red berries are also high in antioxidants and vitamin C and mix well with chocolate.

Prepare your medicinal tea

While pottering around the kitchen preparing breakfast and tidying up, I always make time to boil a full kettle and prepare a large jug of herbal tea that I will refrigerate and sip in an ice-packed glass throughout the day (if you’re living in a cold country you can simply skip the ice and sip at room temperature, or add a bit of boiling water to your cp to heat it up before drinking if you want it hot). The key ingredient is the amazing herb that Greeks have used since ancient times because of its high iron content and mightly antioxidant content, Mountain Tea, called Tsai tou Vounou, which recent global studies have proven is also an amazing preventative herbal medicine for Alzheimer’s and dementia. I usually add fresh or dried mint and lemon verbena in summer or chamomile, linden and a stick of cinnamon in winter.

Another jug you can prepare to refrigerate is with vitamin water – just water (ideally filtered) that has chunks of any well-cleaned, ideally bio fruit and herbs chopped into it. The vitamins and minerals from the fruit and herbs will infuse into the water so when you drink a glass of it you’ll get a healthy, refreshing boost.

Walk your walk

I live in a hilly urban landscape and walk my son to school and honestly, that half hour daily up and down walk makes the world of difference to my day. If I were to start the day by just sitting at my computer I know I would feel completely different (as I mentioned in my introduction, everything I write here is tried and tested!). If you are a parent and your kids take the bus to school, try and find a way to add a half hour walk to your morning – if you are commuting to work get off a few stops earlier, if you work from home push yourself to go around the block a few times or let yourself explore different parts of your neighbourhood. If you have plenty of free time, hop on a bus or metro and get out in a place you’ve never visited and just walk around to discover something new.

Meditate or daydream while you do morning chores

I have around 20 plants on my balcony and as I water them with the hose I stop at each one, really trying to observe its individual beauty with my eyes, and speak my favourite affirmation, which I repeat to each plant as I water it (hopefully the plants don’t get together at night and bitch about me! ;)). This way I’m sharing my wishes and affirming to myself at the same time, by offering the plants their sustenance. I also like to talk with myself (it’s apparently more of a sign of genius than madness, haha) or visualize about my dreams, goals and projects while I’m doing mundane things like washing the dishes, chopping vegetables or sweeping. This is all meditational practice – who said you have to sit in the lotus position and chant Om to meditate? Meditating doesn’t need to have a direct spiritual purpose either – you could be letting yourself zen out while feeling the sudsy lather on your hands under the warm running water while you wash the dishes, and in that moment of sensual awareness your state of tranquility may be the perfect time for a great creative or even hardcore practical solution to pop up.

Try Donna Eden’s Daily Energy Routine
This is an excellent energy medicine sequence that kickstars your organism and clears your mind, while balancing the left and right parts of the brain. Even if you feel too rushed to do it all at once (although it only takes around 6-7 minutes), do parts of it at different parts of the morning. I sometimes do some of the thumps while walking along the street (Ok, first I look around to see there’s no one walking right behind me!). When I was presenting live on the radio I used to do the chest thump and the cross march a few minutes before going on the air. The studio technician started off by pretending not to notice, then asked me one day what the heck I was doing. When I told him he started doing it too!:
Watch Here!

 

 

 

a song from the uterus

Singer and holistic therapist Clara Davaar
Davaar teaching one of her women’s seminars, which she organizes around the world

Clara Davaar appeared into my life one day out of the blue on Facebook messenger – she had found my website and got in touch to tell me she was planning to come to Athens to teach a workshop called The Voice of the Uterus that she’s been running around the world. A few weeks before I’d had a session with Soul-Sounding healer David Kennet during which he worked miracles on releasing and clearing a great deal of stagnant, negative and blocked energy from my first and second chakras, areas that if in balance permit a sense of survival, belonging, security, sexual power, creativity and intuition. Areas that I knew deep down were blocked but had not had the courage to face or enough knowledge to deal with (we are always better at healing others than our selves) – perhaps because I didn’t know where to start, or because there is such a critical, conservative sense of shame and guilt associated with them, owing to staid and religiously conservative cultural beliefs related to the reproductive area when it comes to women. So when Davaar sent me a message asking whether I knew of any spaces to suggest for her seminar, I saw it as a clear sign that this was Step II on my path to reconnecting with, and reawakening my sense of self as a healthy, balanced, powerful, sexual and creative woman who honours her femininity in all its strength and vulnerability. I immediately thought of Meredith Pavlides, a holistic therapist, teacher and superwoman-organizer of the holistic healing community in Athens, who runs a new space called ATMAsphere in Syntagma, and the rest is history.

As the weeks passed and the date of the workshop neared, I wondered more and more, “what IS the voice of my uterus?!” and realized that not only was I completely incapable of grasping the mere concept of my uterus as having any voice at all, except when it has sometimes ‘cursed’ at me in those pre-menstrual moments that have had me reaching for painkillers. I also realized that although I have a very strong sense of my heart, my brain, my intestines and sometimes my kidneys and their voices, when I tried to conjure even an image or feeling of my uterus beyond the textbook picture all I could hear was silence and all I could see was pitch darkness. Why should this be? After all, it was that very uterus that had so capably and gracefully been the first home of a spark that developed through nine months into a fully developed baby boy. During my pregnancy, I viewed my uterus as a super-flexible miracle machine made of Technicolor fibres with uber hi-tech wiring that included things like an automatic dimmer-switch for the perfect lighting, food delivery service, plush cushioning, fun and floaty water and temperature control that offered my growing boy all that he needed. I would light candles, take baths and, hands on uterus, sing to him with all my being. Then I would gently rub vitamin E oil over my belly, feeling the spa-style attention soak through my uterus and into my baby’s heart.

And now it was a silent, pitch-dark space?


On the day of the seminar, as it often happens, I didn’t feel like going. I felt too vulnerable and a bit embarrassed by the idea of sitting in a room with a bunch of other women talking about our uterus and sexual organs. I dreaded the idea of partner-work or being asked to dance or writhe around the room as so many teachers of such workshops demand, which brings out all my teenage self-consciousness and makes me want to run as if from a raging fire. I took out my deck of Angel Cards and asked “should I go to the workshop today?” and the card I picked was Body Care. Ok, that was a clear enough answer! As I entered the light and air-filled space I was surprised to see a circle of completely diverse women. There was one rock-style woman with tattoos and jet black hair, a shy-looking woman with aquiline eyes, a hippie skirt and short white hair, a heavy-set woman with dark hair and a more conservative look, another woman with a sweet face who looked 16; there was no “type” and that in itself made me immediately feel like I fitted in. Clara, with her dark, wavy hair, huge smile and bright eyes exuded a confidence in her Argentinian temperament as she addressed us with humour and gentleness. She asked us in a very matter-of-fact way to go round the circle and talk about our self with regards to our sexuality, our connection to the history of our uterus and of our relation to vocal expression or singing. As if hypnotised, because after all none of us really knew each other at all, and this was seriously personal stuff we were about to share, we each spoke our truth. We heard each other’s stories feeling the speaker’s pain, remorse, rage, melancholy, fear, but also pride, bliss, hope and power. Just in doing that, we immediately realised that first impressions can be so delusive – there is so much more depth, complexity, magnificence, aching vulnerability and immense strength in the people you stand next to every day. Most important of all was the sinking realisation that despite how different our lives and perceptions and habits are, we are all reflections of each other.

Full Stop!

Then we put our chairs aside and sprang into action. We started moving, shaking, massaging, swirling and swaying all parts of our bodies sectio by section, at first gently and meditatively, breathing in and out silently, and soon enough with a build-up of more and more motion and vocal expression upon exhaling. The sense of apprehension I’d had before going had disappeared – I felt completely safe and at ease, empowered and happy to be part of the game. “Movement creates excitement, and excitement creates lubrication, and lubrication creates life!” Clara kept calling out in between her hilarious “aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhs” and “wooo-hooooooos!” My body felt activated and alive, and when we reached the point of placing my hands on my uterus I could feel its ‘pulse’ – yes! We’ve made contact! And then I tapped it gently as Clara suggested as if saying “hello” and feeling it right there and flooding it in my mind with light, breaking away that lonely, sad darkness I had left it in for so long.


This reconnecting experience in itself was enough of a reward for having attended, but there was another incredible gift to follow. Standing in a circle and holding hands, our eyes closed and our bodies swaying gently from side to side, we were asked to sing whatever came to us, simply to share the feelings that were coming from our reawakened bodies. The older woman next to me began to sing in the most heavenly, rich voice, and I was joyfully startled. Another woman sang, without words, a sad and deeply moving tune that emerged from her. Then another sang what she wanted to say – how happy she felt to be there and how grateful she felt, off-key yet so full of love. The woman I’d considered as conservative-looking surprised us all the most with her amazing, deep blues-jazz voice that would have made Aretha Franklin blush. I had a moment when I thought of singing Piensa En Mi, Luz Cazal’s incredible song, to express that at least in spirit I was there for them, but as it was a thought I went with my spontaneous feeling instead and sang a happy and playful jazz song I’d written years ago based on W.H. Auden’s ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’, because after all, that’s what my uterus – rather than my brain – wanted to sing.

Teacher, therapist and participant Meredith Pavlides relates her own experience of the workshop:
“I truly enjoyed the event of ‘The Voice of the Uterus’ with Clara Davaar. The group of women were so strong and beautiful and we shared a lovely dynamic. Clara is a fantastic guide and can truly hold the sacred space needed to dive deep within – the environment was held so gracefully. She’s very experienced and the class was amazing. Everyone’s face was glowing afterwards. This work is so important for women and I’m so glad I had this wonderful experience, and to share the sacred connection with all the women there. Clara will be back for more courses in Athens and I strongly recommend it for other women! I will definitely be there in love and gratitude!”

 

“The first thing the male establishment wants to control is uterus and birth. You might call it womb envy. But even worse is the fact that we are still using the male model of sexual response for women.”
— Betty Dodson

allowing yourself to be a victim

As an empath with a very high level of self-consciousness and a near hyper-awareness of the world around me – with all its energies – I spent a great deal of my childhood feeling sad for myself. There were always reasons, many of which I fervently reported on in pages upon pages of my giant, collage-covered, hard-back diaries that I stated at an early age. Although my home life was postcard-perfect, and I was blessed with loving parents who offered me the best of everything, especially nourishing love, it was as if I was carrying another world inside me. I would journal that so-and-so doesn’t want to be my friend, the boy I am in love with doesn’t like me, I wasn’t given the role I wished for in the school play because the girl who got it is prettier than me, I’m terrible at maths and my teacher thinks I’m an idiot… and so the list of my demises went on, replete with melancholy to depressive analysis regarding my terrible luck, and how lacking I was in so many areas. Mind you, at the same time my sadness was an energizing force for my creativity – I retreated into a world like all the depressive, alcoholic writers I’d read about – Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker – and spent my days writing poetry, plays, stories and later even jazz songs.

At university, I began to blossom – meeting more like-minded friends, despite our pretty enormous in some cases differences in culture and upbringing, I felt more empowered and upbeat. I experienced my first love, fortunately, a man with a gentle soul who showered me with kindness and affection, and through our sexual relations, I grew more into my womanly self. But the sense of victimhood continued to lurk in my depths.

When I started working as a journalist in the city during my early ’20s my self-confidence went up one more notch; I was quickly and quite easily given good positions with a rewarding pay and felt esteemed by both my employers and my colleagues. I had money and no real responsibilities and enjoyed carefree years during which beyond my work which I loved my main concern was hitting the town and discovering myself anew. Perhaps because I felt so carefree, yet still aware that despite a happy-go-lucky lifestyle there was a lot of unresolved stuff inside me, it was around then that I started to be drawn in earnest to searching deeper within myself. I started reading books on psychology, self-help, spirituality, esotericism and the healing arts and started practising yoga. And then I fell in love again, entering an intense relationship that I knew from day one would be nothing like the rosy-tinted-focus first love I’d experienced a few years before. For several years my sense of victimhood started rearing its ugly head – although often not without reason  – yet, I did not actually believe that my ongoing insecurities and feelings of self-pity or that things were not going as I wanted was my way of playing the victim. That was something others did, like a friend of mine who was always, but always complaining about something going wrong – there was literally drama after drama occurring in his life and he was never happy, and I became so fed up with his repertoire that I started to avoid him, as I realised he was perversely enjoying the dramas and I, as his friend had to pay for it by hearing every tragic (and depressing) detail every time we met.

As I started delving deeper into the healing arts, what I kept getting from teachers, healers, therapists and writers in various renditions was the message put so perfectly by Eleanor Roosevelt when she said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” That you are only a victim if you see yourself that way. It made perfect sense, and as it gradually crystallized in my mind I felt freer and stronger. Shakti Gawain was writing about Creative Visualization – how we can visualize what we want, and then “The Secret” came out bringing to the west the mystical truths (and a barrage of other books, healing systems, films and businesses) about the Law of Attraction. That too made perfect sense – I realised that I had been a natural manifester as a child and teenager – making a lot of my technicolour daydreams come true without trying at all, and now I comprehended that this was actually a formula. I saw that had been attracting situations and feelings because that was what I had been dwelling on, visualising, literally creating and drawing the energy of into my life. Just as the shamans ascertain that we dream our world into being, I was both dreaming (there were a lot of great things going on too!) and nightmaring my world into being.

My perspective on myself and life overall started to shift dramatically. I started to see how almost everything – from the thorny interaction I had with the rude taxi driver or the bright mood I woke up with or the job I got offered or the accident I had were all my creation, and thus my responsibility. That everything I was experiencing came from within, from my subconscious programming, from the fears, traumas, dreams and desires that resided deep inside, and basically from how pure the intent was when I was subconsciously setting it and catalyzing it into actuality. So I began to actively work on resolving the conflicts within – the ones between carefree spontaneity and dull calculation, fear and love, pleasure and pain, self-confidence and shame. It was – and still is – an endless process, but every little step is movement in the right direction.

But. I took the concept of rejecting victimhood a little too far. When I heard of other’s misfortunes, of course I felt empathy for them, and hope for them to reclaim their health and happiness again, but a stern little voice inside me, in the disguise of wise, said exactly what I was constantly saying to myself. It interpreted the incident that had put them in a state of victimhood as something that they had not yet worked out, and thus it was manifesting in that painful, or unpleasant or somehow debilitating form. Broke a leg? Maybe you actually needed a break from your workaholic life or overdemanding family, or maybe you’re feeling you can’t move forward in life. Cancer? There must be so much unresolved sadness or anger that has been eating away from you and that you have not been letting yourself heal, release and clear. Earache? There must be something you’ve heard or don’t want to hear that has caused you pain. There was always that thought in me – just like I was over-interpreting everything since childhood in my over-conscious and analytical state I was now doing that with regards to health and life when it came to anything I did or that happened to me that was surprising or noteworthy in either a positive or negative way. This was the message I – and dare I say we – are now being bombarded with by the New Age movement and our commercial society at large, from self-help gurus to advertisers, in a world that is increasingly pushing us to live as isolated individuals. “You can do it for yourself. It’s all up to you. If you buy our product you will look/ smell/feel powerful while doing it yourself, you strong, self-sufficient MF!”

The essential message out there is that suffering does not make you a victim, nor does it make you a perpetrator toward yourself, but it does all come down to your personal responsibility and power. Being a victim is equated with being weak and completely unable to help yourself. It also means that you have to ask others for help, which you need to survive, which is a weakness.

There is some valuable truth in these concepts, but fanaticism will fail anyone. Yet it wasn’t until recently when I experienced not one but a handful of life’s greatest stresses that I developed a fresh outlook. A wonderful spiritual teacher to whom I was relating my overwhelming problems at the time said I had been very “stoical”, and that this was a strength but that it wasn’t necessarily good for me. The word stoical brought to my mind my father and other strong men I have known, and I felt the word was transfused with a male energy, serving as a paradigm for survival that had infiltrated my being: stoicism = strength. This was the first step toward me having a huge realization regarding victimhood.

The second and final one came when I was having a Coactive© Coaching session during which the coach asked me how things were going in my life. In an as non-complaining or pathetic voice as I could muster, I listed all the challenges that I was facing at the time. There was a silence as she regarded me with surprise and compassion. I felt uncomfortable because after naming all the things I’d been facing I had started to feel quite deeply sorry for myself. “I don’t want to sound like a victim,” I finally said in the spirit of honesty, “but it’s been bloody hard!” She looked at me and gently smiled. “Well, what’s wrong with being a victim?” she asked. “And what does it mean to you to be a victim?” Momentarily I was stunned. I thought hard but could only come up with my well-structured schpiel, the carefully constructed belief system I had been so staunchly living by for so many years. “Well, being a victim means that I’m not taking responsibility for yourself!” I said, “it means I am not in control of myself or my life! That I’m a bit pathetic. Or that I’m blaming other people or circumstances for my own incapability to cope…” There, that was a thorough enough definition, I thought, of the atrocity known as ‘being a victim’. “And what does ‘not coping’ mean?” she asked. What an obvious question, yet so very difficult to answer for some funny reason. “Well,” I began, “as I said, spiralling out of control of my own life, feeling a mess, and basically feeling sorry for myself!” And then she said something that was one of the biggest lessons I have ever learned so far, the lesson to which I have dedicated this article: “But those are things that you are actually experiencing right now. Painful, difficult things. Life-changing things. And you are suffering a lot…Anyone would, it’s normal! There is nothing wrong with being a victim, or letting yourself feel sorry for yourself.”

As she said that, something inside my heart opened, like the door in a dark house swinging open and letting in the sea breeze and blazing sunshine. As Rumi wrote, “wound is the place through which the light enters”. By acknowledging my wounds and letting myself feel heartfelt self-compassion, I could finally allow it to heal. Yes, I suddenly thought, I can permit myself to feel my bottomless sadness; to feel sorry for myself. I have been through, and I am going through a lot of turbulence and pain. It hurts. It simply is. I am a victim of my circumstances, why they were created is a different story that can be explored through time.

We always talk about our inner child, and how important it is to care for it. Would I say to my son that he was acting like a victim because he simply grazed his knee and ended up having a big cry over it? Of course not, he needs to cry – it’s one of his ways of expressing and releasing emotions. It’s all about balance – neither is it helpful to overindulge in the concept that by taking responsibility for our self we cannot define our self as a victim, nor in the idea that victimhood is an OK state to be in on a general level. But to allow myself to say, ‘Poor me, I’m feeling so much confusion, instability, uncertainty – fuck! This is so hard and I don’t deserve this!’ is OK. And that’s when after years of not crying, I began to cry me a river. Tears would come over me unexpectedly; I wept while washing the dishes, walking on the street, talking on the phone, sitting at my computer. I kept remembering my first shamanic teacher who told me that crying is cathartic, natural and healthy, but as soon as one starts to think of things while crying, one must stop right there, because then it becomes a dramatic intellectual play in the mind, not the release of real emotion from the soul. All the sadness pouring out was making me a wreck. It had been so much easier when I wasn’t a victim!

But time heals the heart, as do long chats with the loving friends and family who like angels have been beside me every day just an email or phone call away, often reaching out to me, checking up on me. When you accept that you are a victim, you can reach out for help. I realized that it’s OK to accept help from others. Gradually the tears started to get less, and my sleep started to be deeper, and one day I found myself actually able to smile – not grimace – at myself in the mirror. Of course I – like you – am never going to stop being vulnerable in some way or other. Self-compassion, true self-compassion without the need to interpret, analyse, justify or explain the pain we are going through is so crucial. That’s the only way you can give yourself a real hug and say ‘I love you so much, you can be exactly as you are with me, and when you are ready, I will do my all to help you heal. And you will! When you are ready. First, let yourself be broken, and cry.’

hearing myself through silence

Following a bit of a lull in my posting, I’m back to write about the Silent Retreat I recently attended. 

Welcome to Noosfera! Our keys and welcome notes


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.

Give me a window unto nature so I may witness myself

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. 

Yoga teacher Tina Myntz Zymaraki

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.

My favourite spot at Noosfera

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.

Colouring INwards

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.

As Bjork once said, “It’s Oh So Quiet!” Shhhhh

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.

The author settling into Warrior II with a view

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.

 

TINA’s UPCOMING SILENT RETREAT (21 & 22 April)

Mountain Refuge Silent Yoga
A little before summer seduces us to her shores, join Tina for two days combining a few of her favourite things: yoga, cooking, silence and nature. Experience the joy and stillness which emerge effortlessly when we spend time on the mountain and its stunning vistas… (click for more info)

gateway to consciousness

There are a multitude of ways to seek – and find – consciousness. From its very beginning, humankind has sought to enhance and explore consciousness, which can be described as a state in which one achieves a heightened awareness of the world within and around oneself. When businessman and radio professional Robert Monroe began his experimentation with consciousness in earnest during the 1950s, experiencing out-of-body experiences and heightened, multifaceted states of waking consciousness, he began sharing them via books with the wider public, and trying out various forms of audio technology for those purposes.  He eventually developed the Hemi-Sync© audio technology that is used worldwide today, while also setting up The Monroe Institute. Hemi-Sync© has been tested on tens of thousands of people and been shown to offer a multitude of health benefits, chiefly because it synchronises the left and right brain hemispheres and creating new neuronal pathways, basically re-wiring the brain. From much improved concentration and memory retention to emotional and psychological healing (from anxiety, depression, phobias, trauma), heightened intuition, improvement of overall physical health or of specific ailments, alleviating ADD and PTSD, and even helping people to realign with their true life purpose by connecting with their inner truth, its well-researched effects have been nothing but positive. On a more metaphysical level, Hemi-Sync© has also proven as a powerful tool for having Out of Body Experiences (OBE) and delving into other realms beyond the physical.


Greece is the only country in Europe where there is a centre with rooms using advanced audio technology modeled on that of the Monroe Institute (TMI) for the purpose of Hemi-Sync© workshops. Noosfera Wellness & Retreat Centre, located near Xylokastro in the Peloponnese, is run by a psychologist Maria Xifara and a former journalist, Ioulia Pitsouli. It hosts a broad variety of alternative wellness-related retreats throughout the year, and annually hosts The Gateway Voyage, a six-day intensive experience of TMI’s Hemi-Sync© binaural beat meditations (see my Skype interview with Linda Leblanc, who facilitates the course at the bottom, of the page).


I am planning to visit Noosfera Centre in just a few weeks for a Silence Retreat that includes yoga, walks in nature and art, so I will be reporting on my first-hand experience of the place – watch this space!

 

INTERVIEW WITH IOULIA PITSOULI, co-owner
of Noosfera Wellness & Retreat Center

 

Ioulia Pitsouli
Maria Xifara

Alexia Amvrazi: Can you please tell me about yourself, and what has brought you to the healing and wellness field?
Ioulia Pitsouli: I met Maria Xifara as we were on the same path, one that both of us walked along on for decades. We both had a bright inner flame burning in us both as we sought answers on life’s purpose and consciousness expansion. We traveled around many countries, attending workshops by various spiritual teachers. We ended up – Maria as a psychologist and me as a journalist (and later author) – developing an integrative approach that encapsulates the spiritual psychology of A Course in Miracles with Greek philosophy and mythology. In this integration we found a powerful healing tool that we have shared in spiritual psychology groups and workshops over the last 20 years.

AA: How did you create Noosfera? How would you describe it?
IP: Noosfera Center reflects our personal need for a seminar space that, unlike impersonal hotels or makeshift, uncomfortable ascetic cells, stands out because of our personal touch. It has the “air” of a boutique hotel but actually is a purposely built complex of wooden cottages especially created for self-awareness, yoga and recreational events focused on spiritual development. The idea is to offer body, mind, spirit wellness-centred weekends, or weeklong anti-stress and self-expansion retreats.

Exterior at Noosfera Wellness Center & Retreat

We believe that the person who seeks peace, joy and truth about himself will also be inspired by the beauty of the mountains and the sea in the horizon that surround our land, and by the rugged charm of the area itself. We wish for our visitors, in parallel to the expansion of their consciousness, to feel pampered and draw joy from details such as the lavender under the sleeping pillows, the freshly fragrant rooms or the “structured” fine water and the organic vegetables coming from our own garden.

AA: Noosfera is the only place in Europe that is decked out with the appropriate audio equipment for the Gateway Voyage and other audio-healing-related workshops. What did it involve to set that up?
IP: We were inspired by The Monroe Institute in the USA. Being facilitators of  The Μonroe Institute in Greece we decided to include in the construction of Noosfera’s buildings the proper technological set-up. With the help of highly skilled sound technicians we managed to wire all the rooms with special audio equipment. Thus we can offer our guests the privilege of listening through headphones for meditation or lucid dreaming exercises while they are comfortably lying in the privacy of their room.

Noosfera has developed a community vibe, with visitors returning regularly and some even setting up homes nearby

AA: Linda Leblanc mentioned that at Noosfera there is a “spiritual community”. Could you please elaborate on this?
IP: We strongly believe that we are much more than our physical bodies so we gladly support workshops, given by us or others, facilitating people to have personal experiences of their spiritual self and their inner splendour. Forgiveness, is also among our core interests. During the 5 years that Noosfera Center has existed, like- minded people have been drawn here and, wanting to share and participate in our vision, are building cottages near Noosfera Center, gradually creating a spiritual community of sorts.

AA: Do you live there & run courses and workshops year round? What kind of events take place there?
IP: The first half of the week we are in Athens running psychology groups, and from Thursday to Sunday we are at Noosfera running our own workshops or supporting groups who come for their programs as Noosfera Center is also open to groups that would like to host their activities. Yoga workshops, Silent retreats, Tai Chi and Holotropic Breathing workshops, A Course in Miracles and The Monroe Institute’s programs are among the activities taking place every week, year round. Alternative summer vacations and Christmas / New Year holistic retreats are also among the highly enjoyed programs offering warmth, self realization and new friendships to the participants. Noosfera thus offers meaningful “escapes” from the city and limited ideas of self and life!

 

Interview with Gateway Voyage Facilitator Linda Leblanc

stepping into the shaman’s path

And so the journey continues. I keep being drawn to the people and practices that can remind me what I already know, in my heart, but cannot yet fully grasp in my mind – not that it should really matter! That I am already one with everything. That I have all the answers I’m seeking. That everything is an illusion and truth at once. That to learn, and change, requires discipline. That once I can relinquish the idea that such discipline is uncomfortable, difficult and yes, even painful, (because it requires me to let go of patterns, behaviours and ideas that I’ve been ‘indoctrinated’ into by belief systems founded on creating molds), the practice of being, truly, will be easy. Because when I am in true connection with my soul, I will not be trying so hard. In fact I won’t be trying at all. I will just be…

Roel Fredrix

Dutch shaman and teacher Roel Fredrix has been visiting Athens on and off over the last year, running workshops on shamanic healing and the Medicine Wheel, via a course called the Inca Mastery of Life Training. I attended Fredrix’ workshop on Munay (heart energy) at Inner Flow Centre Athens and discovered lifetime techniques for empowering and healing the self and others. One exercise was centred on creating an energy drawn from the earth and from the heavens and concentrated within the heart, and then adding to that a profound sense of joy. It was amazing as I practiced sending this energy to a partner I worked on, as she talked about some of her most painful memories. As soon as she would get stuck in a sense of trauma and sadness I would send my joyful, loving heart energy to her and she would feel soothed and would move on. “The most serious thing of all, the Q’ero shamans say, is humour,” Fredrix told us, adding that when your heart is filled with laughter and joy it is at its strongest and most protected from outside energies.

Two days after the workshop I had the pleasure to interview Fredrix to delve deeper into who he is and his teachings.

Alexia Amvrazi: Who are you?
Roel Fredrix: Who am I? That’s a good question. Actually that’s what the whole journey is about. Who are we? Who am I? I can give you an answer on many levels. My name is Roel Fredrix. When I give an answer on the level of the mind I will tell you the stories of my past and my profession and what I have been doing in life, and that I am the father of three kids, and that I come from this part of Holland. That’s one identification on the level of the mind. But on my journey I discovered that I’m not that. Those are only roles that I play and identifications with stories in my mind. I’ve had quite some mystical experiences, and when you transcend the ego you find out that you are the process of life itself, and that what you call you is everything. It’s you, it’s us, it’s everything that is expressed as the divine. I’ve experienced myself as many things; I’ve had a lot of shape-shifting experiences. I’ve experienced myself as a volcano for example, or a star. When you have these kinds of experiences you realise that you can shape-shift into anything, and the experience comes from just a shift in awareness. So, it’ hard to say who I am (laughs). In the normal world I am just a man.

A shamanic mesa, which is like a medicine pouch or transportable altar.

AA: You say “just a shift in awareness” but for many people that is very challenging to achieve.
RF: Yes. It’s not “just” a shift in awareness… It can be a shift in one second that happens spontaneously, or it can be a shift that you need to work for intensively. But the only thing is that you have to remove something to reach it: your belief system, your mind, your programmes or ‘software’.

AA: What drew you to shamanism?
RF: In the beginning I wasn’t drawn to it at all. I was educated as a physical therapist in Holland and had my own practice. I was always interested in alternative medicine, since I was 16-17 years old I was studying about the paranormal, astrology, numerology, I had a dream diary as a child… but then I got into the medical training, and they program you with western, medical, scientific thinking, so that went away for a little while. Until I was around my 30s. First I had my sports career and I worked in the sports world and teaching about sports injuries and that kind of stuff. But there was a sudden change in my life – I was in the Dutch National Team of Ultimate Frisbee and I was playing in the world championships in Sweden and in the first game I broke a bone in my foot. This was after I’d been training very hard for a year to get in the team and make it there, and then it snapped. I had put everything in my life aside for that training!

AA: Did you feel you had subconsciously caused that accident for yourself?
RF: Yes, I think so, nothing is coincidental. I needed to stand still in life, and reflect on the path that I was going towards. So from that moment I decided I’m not going to do that again! 

As a physiotherapist I was using some alternative therapies in my practice -kinesiology using muscle testing. A rheumatologist was sending a lot of patients to me whom I couldn’t test because they had inflamed joints, so I was seeking a way to see into them via their subconscious through the layers of pain and trauma without muscle testing. I read and followed the practices related in Brandon Bays’ ‘The Journey’ but that required working on people who could use visualisation, and some people can’t.

So when I read about Soul Retrieval on the Four Winds Society website I thought “oh wow! In this way the shaman is going into the subconscious instead of the person himself.” I listened to Alberto Villoldo’s Soul Retrieval CD and then I checked if he was giving courses and he was giving courses in Holland! I immediately went to the course, and it felt very strangely familiar. It was like I’d been doing this for years. I started using it in my work, and from my first sessions I had great revelations and insights. For the people I was treating it was about getting traumatic experiences out of their system. But the message I kept receiving was “that’s not important my son – it’s much more important to show you this, or that, and to make great connections with guides.” It gave me really crazy experiences.

AA: So would you say that our said-trauma or pain is more like a prop, covering up other things that are there that need addressing?
RF: Yes definitely. It’s one of the ways that the ego holds us from experiencing our soul. And the more trauma you have experienced in your life, the louder the voices in your mind are. The sub-personalities, the archetypical voices in your mind, like the controller or the protector, or the fear or the perfectionist, all these impulses that give thought in the mind, are very loud if you have a lot of trauma.

AA: So they shut out even more the strength and peace that you have inside?
RF: Yes, and that’s what I like about the shamanic path. First, it’s growing roots. It’s first taking care of the wounded ego, so the ego voices get less. It turns down the ego, softens it, and so it gets much more quiet inside. To make space to hear the whispering of the soul. And as soon as you start to hear that, you know ‘ah, my life is not only about what’s going on in my head, my life is a journey of the soul.”

Fredrix with a participant during the Munay teachings workshop

AA: So it’s also a way of looking at pain or trauma in a positive way, would you say, because it’s your gateway directly to going into a higher state of being if you can resolve it…
RF: Yes, and almost all people come to the spiritual path because they are seeking something. They are seeking healing, love, happiness… So people always come to the path because they don’t have it – they don’t feel happy, lovable, or they don’t feel free in their lives. So they start looking for something.

AA: So since you started on your path as a shaman, how come you found yourself in Greece?
RF: That’s a nice story – I was on a website as a graduate of the Four Winds Society; there was a teaching company here in Greece,  and they were searching for someone to teach Munay-ki, which I was doing in Holland. They happened to pick my name from the website, where there were many other people listed, and asked me to teach here. The coincidence was that I was at that time looking for new ways to express myself. I wanted to go deeper and not only teach small workshops but offer a deeper education. Meanwhile, my secretary, who is also on this path and receives private sessions from me, one day during our session said she had a dream she needed to tell me about – she told me she had dreamed of my father, who has passed away, and that he said ‘I am helping you to work abroad’!

What is the most important aspect of your teachings? 
Once you step into your soul’s path and recognise that you are not an ego you can create a re-identification, realising that you are not your stories. You realise that you are on a journey to express divinity in its highest form, so you grow into mastery, that’s why my course is called Mastery of Life Training. To master your energy, your wounds, your mind, your emotions, to master your love, your wisdom and your power. And as you move to the last step, it offers you opportunities to awaken to who  you really are, and to set your own vision of how you want to bring that awakening into the world. What is your highest vision of expressing yourself? What do you want to give to the world? Because in the beginning the wounded ego only wants to take. At the end you identify with everything and you want to give, because you know that in the giving you are giving to yourself.

INFO:
In JUNE 2018, Roel Fredrix will be teaching the South Direction of the Medicine Wheel in two long, intensive weekends (1-3 June & 8-10 June) as part of his Mastery of Life Training in Athens. For more information contact Roel Fredrix at: roelfredrix@gmail.com

a chat with athens’ top (vegan) chefs

‘Dirty’ Vegan chef Nikos Gaitanos

Nikos Gaitanos is a chef specializing in vegetarian/vegan cuisine. He has worked as a consultant at vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Greece as well as in the UK. Currently he is Head Chef  of “Healthy Bites” and “Vegan Nation” restaurants in Athens and “The Saints Stores” in Thessaloniki. He is the author of the cook book “Dirty Vegan”.

What is your food philosophy & practice?
Keep it simple; I love creating recipes with just a few but very high quality ingredients.

Were you ever a meat eater? How did your personal interest in vegan food begin? 
I was a meat eater long time ago – I actually haven’t eaten meat for 29 years! At first I was vegetarian, then a pescatarian and recently I started following a plant based diet. I first heard the word ‘vegan’ eight years ago. At first I couldn’t understand why they didn’t eat any animal products but gradually I began to make the connection, and after my sister became vegan somehow she manage to convince me to change my diet too.

How / when did you take vegan cuisine to a professional level?
I stopped cooking meat 13 years ago, because I started to feel it’s unethical to do so, especially when I wasn’t eating it myself. Since then I’ve worked only in vegetarian and vegan restaurants.

Can people easily get all their nutrients from a vegan diet?
The earth provides us with unlimited fruits and vegetables that have all the nutrients we need, so I believe we just have to eat a little bit of everything!

Is a vegan diet difficult to follow? What are its top advantages?
Initially it can be difficult because to say that you want to change your diet is just the first step. After that you have to deal with a society that is so widely based on the suffering of animals, and with the theories and comments of your family and friends. Last but not least you have to research and decide what you are going to eat from now on. Nowadays it’s much easier than it was a few years ago because the internet provides us with all the information, recipes and ideas you need to make the transition. More and more people are turning vegan every day and that makes it even easier. When you change your diet, you change your life, and you become a member of an ethical society; vegans are helping each other in every way.

What is your best advice for someone considering going vegan?
My advice to those who want to go vegan is to open your eyes to really see the injustice that’s being done to animals, and then block your ears to all those who try to tell you not to do it. What we learn from our fathers is not always right… We are the masters of our life and if we see and feel that something is wrong we must be the ones to change it, or at least we have to try to.

What is your goal as a vegan chef in Athens?
I want to provide excellent food choices for vegans so they will never feel that something is missing from their diet. At the same time I want to encourage the meat-eaters to discover that vegan food is packed with flavours, and that the choice is endless.

Athenians are showing increased interest in vegan food. Why do you think that is?
There are numerous reasons for this. Some are just curious about this relatively new (to Greece) trend, and some are simply fed up of meat and prefer to eat something healthy. Some are curious about making the transition, and want to find out what it would involve, try foods and learn more. The fact is that Greeks overall, not just Athenians are changing – actually people all around the world are changing in this sense as veganism is becoming a larger reality every day and nothing can stop it from happening!

Do you teach people how to cook vegan?
Over the last few years I have been teaching at cooking schools and running workshops on vegan cooking. So far I’ve taught at (Dipnosophistirion School of Gastronomy)in Athens, been a cooking workshop consultant in Thessaloniki, and worked at the Culinary Studies Centre in Herakleion, Crete.

What are your favourite vegan foods, what do they taste like and why do you love them?
My favourite foods haven’t change throughout the years – I love pizza, pasta, souvlaki and burgers! I’m a junk-food lover and the name of my first cookbook says it all: “Dirty Vegan”.

 

 

“What we learn from our fathers is not always right… We are the masters of our life and if we see and feel that something is wrong we must be the ones to change it, or at least we have to try to.”

 

Partners George Cassimatis & Esco Essence

Both Esco and George are yoga teachers and have been cooking and experimenting with plant-based food for more than 20 years. Esco is from Finland and has been working as a freelance chef at yoga retreats, private homes and corporate events. He teaches workshops and is a visionary raw food artist & vegan chef. George founded Triopetra Yoga Retreat in 2004 in the south of Crete and opened Soul Kitchen, Organic plant based restaurant in Rethymno, Crete in 2010. He gave up the city life for a good 12 years to study yoga and nutrition and now aims to share his passion for food and healthy living in Athens. Their vision is to create a working space where they can offer highly nutritious plant-based food and create awareness through workshops and education. With their business, The Plant Kingdom, they plan to deliver food to your homes and offices mainly by pre-order. They will create their own line of healthy food products which you can purchase at selected shops around Athens and of course serve our daily menu at our home base in Paleo Faliro.

 

Vegan chefs Esco Essence and George Cassimatis

What is your food philosophy?
Our food philosophy is based on the principles of healthy wholesome plant based foods. Foods that are nutritious and contain all the necessary elements that our body requires daily. Also the taste and appearance plays an important role on our plates. Our ethical choice is not to cause harm to other being and to work with local producers that share this vision in their work. Our everyday work is actually a creative process to find the balance and better ways to do things, to become inventive and curious and share our passion for a good life which starts with what we eat and goes on to what we think and what we do with our time on this planet.

Were you ever a meat eater? How did your personal interest in vegan food begin?
We both grew up eating traditional meat and fish dishes and slowly through questioning these cultural values and experiencing other ways of cooking from vegetarian to vegan to raw, juicing and fasting we found that our body and mind responds much better without the animal products and ethically this is a big disaster and problem we need to address and face in our time. We do not need to kill or exploit animals at the rate we are currently consuming. If you look into it, watch Eathlings for instance – you will probably agree that it is madness and definitely not a sign of an evolved civilisation, rather it is the opposite.

How / when did you take vegan cuisine to a professional level?
George: I started Triopetra Yoga Retreat in 2004 in the south of Crete and there had the time and great opportunity to experience the great food our chef Chris Clark was preparing daily for 6 years and since have enjoyed cooking with many vegan and raw food chefs from around the world when I started Soul Kitchen Organic Vegetarian Cafe in the old town of Rethymno in 2010. This has given me a good experience and now together with Esco we know what we are doing and doing it very well. Athens we feel is ready now for more and more vegan and healthy lifestyle.
Esco: With years of practice and with many & various experiences & travels. Practice is most important, and with much practice you become professional.

Can people easily get all their nutrients from a vegan diet?
Food is so important so yes when you pay attention and have time to prepare you can be super healthy on a vegan diet. For our climate here in Greece we recommend most of the time to eat 80% raw and 20% cooked food and you need to eat a lot, so much bigger quantities of salad and fruit everyday is perfect.

Is a vegan diet difficult to follow? What are its top advantages?
Nothing is difficult when you know what you are doing and know how to prepare. Advantages are good you get a good sense of well being, good health, vitality and longevity. We truly recommend for meat eaters to try and experience for themselves how they feel after 1-6 months cutting all animal products from their diet.

What is your best advice for someone considering going to a vegan diet?
Listen to your own body and everyday to taste and try something new, so you will find your own balance and taste and happiness. The transition period can last from 1 month to 3 years, to adjust to the plant based eating. We have already a solution as we offer daily meals 100% plant based and Plant Kingdom delivers Monday to Friday to peoples offices or homes so we do all the work for them to experience this food and in all cases our customers are very happy, energized and satisfied with our choices and food. Dinners with non vegans, well now there are plenty of vegan choices in most restaurants and more and more vegan cafes & restaurants popping up that are doing great work here in Athens & Thesaloniki.

What is your goal as a vegan chefs in Athens?
We want to spread the knowledge & experience we have through our food and also with hands on seminars and workshops we are planning to do this year. We plan to create a vegan/raw food cooking school here in Athens so that all this philosophy can become accessible to everyone interested to learn. Even teaching mothers how to cook healthier & tastier food for their young ones at home, switching away from dairy products & sugar to plant based creative, tasty and nutritious alternatives.

Athenians are showing increased interest in vegan food. Why do you think that is?
The younger generation seems more alert, sensitive & conscious of the ethical issues we are facing with our food. Many also understand and feel the health benefits of a plant based diet so it seems natural that even in Athens it is starting to grow and more people are asking for vegan food in their daily lives. So naturally again more and more businesses will transition to serve those customers.

Do you teach people how to cook vegan? If so, what kind of classes do you offer?
We are planning a series of workshops starting this February to teach people how to cook vegan and healthy meals and show them how easy it can be when you learn the basics so you can start very soon to try on your own and experiment with new ideas and ways to satisfy yourself and loved ones. We will teach one three hour classes once a week in a new workshop space in Dafni, Vouliagmenis Ave 223. This will be a series of three months training and then we will do the advanced workshop too and start a new series for beginners. More info on our website and Faceboook page coming up soon.

What are your favourite foods, what do they taste like and why do you love them?

George: I love eating big kale salads everyday with carrots and avocado, lemon, olive oil & black Himalayan salt. I love the textures, the freshness and taste of prana – life force the plants give us.

Esco: I like to eat everyday something different , so I combine whats in season with all the five sense of taste to create tasty flavors and to fully enjoy.

“We want to live with real peace inside and to actively participate in the necessary exciting changes our modern age is undertaking. We are experienced enough to give you good nourishment, good energy and inspiration for a good daily start.”