Whether you’re in Athens for a day or forever, it’s great to know there’s a place such as Cocoon Urban Spa where you can receive top-quality therapies for face and body, either as a one-off treat or as a course of treatments that bring results.
As someone who has been passionately interested in holistic wellness for decades, I was among the very first to visit Cocoon Urban Spa when it opened 20 years ago. In my post-lockdown slump, I headed over there to try some renewing and reviving therapies that could facilitate the process of returning to the land of the living.
My Own Experience: Tried & Tested!
I tried the CBD Oil Massage and the vitamin C Facial, in that order. I arrived stressed out from work, life, and a year+ of lockdown inertia and was ready to surrender to the hands of the spa’s skilled therapists. I was not disappointed. The CBD Oil Massage is a head-to-toe therapy using an ingredient that has become widely lauded for its effects in reducing anxiety and muscular pain. The therapist used strong yet caring strokes to ease away my blocks and gracefully accepted my invitation to converse about the therapy itself and various other personal questions regarding my body’s health. I was impressed not only by the fantastically relaxing experience but also by her depth of knowledge and charm.
Next, was the Vitamin C Facial, which involves a face cleansing (with Murad products, not hands or a machine) and a reviving massage that help a strong dose of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is considered to leave the skin glowing because it stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, accelerating healing and removing fine lines to reveal skin freshness, brightness, plumpness, and shine. Again, the aesthetician kindly explained the entire process to me and offered me extra tips for my skin type and beauty routine.
I certainly left Cocoon Urban Spa feeling as dreamy and relaxed as I’d hoped, with skin that glowed for days and has improved in texture ever since.
NOTE: Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my swimsuit along, so I missed out on the chance to enjoy the sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi, but there’s always the next time!
While at the Spa, I stopped for a chat with Maria Poulada, the co-owner of Cocoon who together with her sister has led it to develop and evolve into a truly fantastic place of holistic wellness for Athenians and visitors alike.
Getting to Know Cocoon Urban Spa: Q & A with Maria Poulada
How has the wellness scene in Greece changed since you first opened 20 years ago? It has broadened and multiplied, which is great. However, more and more schools and Yoga Teacher Training programs are churning out “therapists” and unfortunately, during my recruiting efforts, I’ve seen that the quality has dropped significantly, and inexperienced teachers and masseuses are being absorbed by the market and lowering the standard.
Where do your therapists train? Most of our therapists are very skilled and have studied Natural Health Science. It’s one of the oldest and most respected schools in Attica. I usually ask the teachers from that school to recommend grads for me and it’s worked out great.
Who are your customers? Cocoon Urban Spa has a wide range of customers, from people who come for a profound life-change (to decrease chronic stress or pain, improve sleep, etc.) and visit us on a regular basis and then there are people who come once a year to treat themselves on their birthdays or to give a gift. I think we are the only place in the city that offers a truly holistic wellness approach, passive and dynamic therapy, encompassing treatments, yoga, acupuncture, and homeopathy.
What would you recommend as The Ultimate treatment for post-lockdown stress? It’s a bit subjective. Some would say it’s the Shirodhara or any classic massage. For me, personally, it’s Yoga. The Hatsumomo is a terrific overall detox treatment and if you couple it with a deep cleansing facial or a Renewing Facial, you’ll look and feel brand new! The CBD oil massage is deeply relaxing and works well for anxiety-related stress.
What kind of products do you use for treatments? We’ve remained very old-school, sticking to our philosophy of hands-on therapy and natural products. It’s vital to use the highest-quality products for massages and facials. We’ve been using Decleor and Jurlique for ages because they’re natural, organic, and biodynamic. Also, the quality is terrific. You relax just by smelling them and the results are fantastic.
As published in In+sights Greece (www.insightsgreece.com)
Picture ruggedly stunning Amorgos, the easternmost island of the Cyclades group, known for its cobalt waters, wild nature and blinding-white architecture, its “special energy” and the memorable movie set of Luc Besson’s ‘The Big Blue’. Then add to that a sprawling, elegant, family-run hotel standing on the hillside of sparkling Aegiali Gulf, with a spa called Lalon Idor and a restaurant called Ambrosia and terraces facing the sea. And finally sprinkle that with some of the world’s best, most experienced and scintillating yoga teachers, musicians, holistic practitioners, organisers and participants coming from near and far in pilgrimage-mode and you have the annual Elysia Yoga Convention. Entering its third year as of March 28th and until April 4th, this remains the only event of its kind in Greece.
“Elysia is an event created from the soul,” says Mat Turner, who dreamed up the idea of Elysia several years ago while working at Aegialis Hotel & Spa as a Concierge, after leaving his professional career and life in the UK behind. Turner’s passion and devotion to yoga is undoubtedly immovable, as he says it literally saved his life after he suffered from depression for over 25 years before discovering how yoga could transform him. With so many yoga teachers heading to Aegialis Hotel & Spa, it was only a matter of time until he began to practice yoga himself and discover its innumerable health benefits.
The hotel’s co-owner, Irene Iannakopoulos, returned to Amorgos with her husband after a decade in the US, at a time when Aegialis had no electricity, healthcare facilities, shops or telephone connection; a time when reaching Amorgos took 36 hours by boat. Nonetheless, both natives of the island, they dedicated themselves to build their holistically-oriented hotel there.
Today Aegialis Hotel & Spa is known as one of Greece’s most splendid and relaxing wellness destinations and has received the Green Leaders Badge on TripAdvisor for its eco-friendly approach and organic-only policy. The award-winning “Ambrosia Gallery” restaurant serves a plentiful breakfast buffet, specialising in flavoursome traditional Greek and island cuisine, which is rich in local herbs and spices. They also offer a great choice of vegetarian and vegan options and cater to specific dietary preferences.
Another added bonus is the hotel’s impressive Lalon Idor Spa facilities, with a hammam, sauna, Jacuzzi and beautiful indoor salt-water pool (with a flow stream and water cannon), picturesquely surrounded by traditional Cycladic, tiled arches. The spa, which makes the hotel even more visitable throughout the year, has gained a top reputation for its team of skilled and qualified beauty and massage therapists and lavish treatment menu.
“We’ve been hosting yoga retreats since 2011; yoga and wellness are part of our ethos at Aegialis Hotel & Spa philosophy and we’re always coming up with fresh ideas emphasise on this,” says Iannakopoulos. “We have six beautiful yoga shalas and an outdoor rooftop available, all which come with yoga props and magnificent sea views. Yogis from all over the world love to come here for their retreats because it’s the perfect destination for wellness, tranquillity and luxury at once.”
In just a few years, the Elysia Yoga Convention has made Aegialis a key destination for yoga fans because of its very special teachers, programming and ambience at once. “Elysia is not about making money,” Turner says, “it’s not an event that squeezes hundreds of people into a sports hall. Elysia is about creating a community and a beautiful family rapport that exists before, during and after the event.”
When I ask Turner how Elysia has ‘evolved’ since it started off two years ago, he says: “This year’s schedule is fantastic,” he adds, “with fewer classes and more free time for explorations and rest, but still so much choice. Classes won’t overlap so participants won’t have to decide between one and another experience.
All the teachers flying to Greece from around the world to teach at Elysia are very skilled, charismatic and special. As of today we will start featuring just a handful of the great range of teachers who will be presenting there to offer a deeper look into their own practice and their reasons for coming to Greece. We start with Garth Hewitt, who is returning to Amorgos at the end of March to present his Shiva Power classes.
Presenting: Garth Hewitt
Your name:Garth Hewitt
Your life’s motto?Breathe into every moment.
In a nutshell, please describe who you are & what you will be offering @ Elysia 2019? Why Elysia? I came to Amorgos and to Aegialis Hotel and Spa to lead a yoga retreat in 2015. Mat and Irene invited me to present at the first Elysia Yoga Convention 2 yrs ago. It was such a special experience. I wasn’t able to attend last year due to an illness in my family but I’m so excited to be coming back this year. I’ll be presenting one of my signature Shiva Power® classes. This is a vinyasa based flow class that emphasizes concentration and going into the fire. All of my classes focus on the bigger picture of yoga — quieting the mind and experiencing the true nature of the Self. There will be something for everyone in this practice. Some intense long holds, playful arm balances and inversions, deep backbends and forward folds and some meditation after a long relaxing shavasana.
Is it your first year? No. This will be my second year and my 3rd time visiting the Aegialis Hotel & Spa.
How would you describe the Elysia Concept? I think this experience is more like a retreat than a convention. I love how intimate and personal it is because there isn’t 1000 people attending. It feels like a big retreat, led by teachers from all over the world, who each have brought a few of their students with them. The first convention was an amazing experience! I absolutely loved it!
What makes it a notable event globally? I think this convention is very special because it is so small and intimate and it brings together such an interesting mix of teachers from all over the world. Amorgos is also a very special island. I feel like I have journeyed back in time when I come to the island. It doesn’t feel at all like it has changed in the last 50-100 yrs. It doesn’t feel overly crowded or feel like a tourist destination. I think the island is very peaceful.
What personally inspires you most about being present there? Connecting with the people and just being on the island are very inspiring. I teach all over the world right now and I love how universal the practice of yoga is no matter where you are or who you are. It’s always wonderful to see the practices working. That’s powerful. Yoga is for everyone.
What are your greatest aspirations for the Elysia Yoga Convention this year & overall? I think this will be another great year. I hope there are a lot of new students who come and can experience this amazing convention and take back a little piece of the island with them when they return home. I’m looking forward to practicing with the other presenters. Seeing what everyone is sharing and how their practices have grown and shifted in the last 2 yrs. I love the community and I’m looking forward to connecting with everyone again. My aspirations are simply to continue what I’m doing now. Sharing the teachings of my teachers with as many people as possible and with anyone who is looking for growth, transformation, and getting deeper in touch with their Self.
I think yoga has the power to change the world and touch so many people. Everyone is affected who comes into contact with the one person in their circle who practices yoga — who is better able to concentrate, who is more kind and compassionate, and who is more present and open. Let’s spread yoga as far and as wide as we can.
Tell us something we didn’t know! 😉 My roots are in Canada. I’m a Canadian and American citizen. I’m based in LA these days but I grew up in Canada and a lot of my family is still in the Toronto area. My first yoga class was in Toronto about 17 yrs ago. I thought it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done in my life and I found it fascinating. I was pretty much hooked from the first ever class.
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.”
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.
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
Following a bit of a lull in my posting, I’m back to write about the Silent Retreat I recently attended.
So here I was, on a Friday evening, beholding the dazzlingly white full moon, surrounded by the black silhouettes of vast mountains, caressed by an icy alpine breeze, with an orange cat called Paprika curled in my lap, hearing the sound of… howling wolves?! At first I thought it might be a tribe of inebriated youngsters possessed by the lunatic spirit at a nearby village, but later it was confirmed to me that jackals roam free on the mountaintops. I had just finished a gentle, grounding and refreshingly awakening evening yoga class, the first of several to take place during a weekend retreat organised by Athens-based yoga teacher Tina Myntz Zymaraki. Only minutes before I had embarked on my journey into a silence that was to last until Sunday afternoon. We had each selected an Osho card from a pack that was to act as a message to set our awareness on, and before delving into non-talking we went around the circle saying our name and one intent we had during the weekend. Mine was Kindness, but by the end, I got Gratitude instead.
Other participants walked by beaming “good evening!” smiles on their way to the dining hall in the super-elegant Noosfera main house, and feeling a rumble in my tummy I decided to follow suit. Decorated in a neo-traditional English country style that soothes both eye and spirit, the living room/dining room area was imbued by silence, and all I could hear was the sound of the flames dancing in the fireplace and cutlery delicately clanging on plates. A woman in her 50s who was clearly there with her bestie was cracking up so much she ran out of the room with her hands over her mouth to stifle her giggles as her friend cried (silently of course) with laughter into her soup. This would take some getting used to.
As we feasted on creamy pumpkin soup and crunchy croutons followed by a mountain of quinoa, lentil, orange and fresh herb salad and toasted wholewheat pitta bread with hummus, my fellow silence-vowers and I avoided eye contact with each other, as Tina had encouraged us to. The Silent Retreat aims to encourage actually immersing yourself deeper into your being by disengaging from the outside world, she told us, not simply zipping your mouth and throwing away the key. Being a slightly anxious mother I carried my phone with me but not for an instant was I tempted to enter the world of the internet – in fact, the mere idea of social medialising even as a voyeur revolted me.
On the scene as a yoga teacher for around 17 years, Tina is only one of two individuals in Greece who organizes silent retreats, and was inspired by her own experiences at the Ananda Ashram in New York, where she lived for a while: “The idea was very attractive to me, especially as I interact with others a lot,” she said, “so as of 2010 I started introducing small periods of silence in my weekend retreats. Over time, those periods were extended, and I started to organize semi-silent retreats. Students always told me how valuable the experience proved for them, so over the past three years I’ve been indulging them in silence more and more.” (See the end of this article to find out about Tina’s upcoming retreat). Let me set the scene of where I was before telling you how my own journey into silence unfolded.Noosfera Centre, built especially for wellness and holistic retreat workshops of all varieties, is located in the Peloponnesian mountains, near Xylokastro. Arriving in the dark, I couldn’t yet see the magnificent views that delighted me the following morning – mountains carpeted in thick greenery, smoky valleys, patches of traditional villages here and there, a gleaming snowy peak and a relieving (for us sea aficionados) strip of blue in the distance.
Noosfera is a new generation holistic hideaway, lovingly created five years ago by journalist-turned-author (of six books, including the bestseller Mystic Odyssey) and therapist Ioulia Pitsouli and psychologist/psychotherapist Maria Xifara, who live here for half a week throughout the year, as holistic wellness and psychology seminars of all varieties take place. The main house and accommodations are all built in low wooden cottages decorated in a rustic yet modern style, with accessories like fluffy Guy Laroche towels and flocculent duvets. The choice of space for this particular retreat was a very carefully made one on Tina’s part, as she felt it was important for participants to enjoy creature comforts while making sense of silence – many silent retreats around the world are held in far more monastic, daunting circumstances in order to strip away distractions.
I’d longed to try a silent retreat for many years, so I jumped at the chance to do so when this workshop came up. The concept was to spend two days doing our best at staying schtum and combining that with soothing yet not undemanding yogic practice. On the morning of the second day, we participated in a more energetic class aimed at connecting us to our core. As I have been facing some challenging personal issues lately, halfway through the class I retreated into child’s pose when I started feeling it was getting too demanding for me. Something in me was pissed off and simply refused to carry on. As I curled up on my mat I felt a wave of sadness rise up from the depths of my heart, and pour out through my eyes in tears. I was about to do my usual stoical routine, to tell myself to put the ‘self-pity’ aside and get on with the practice, when I remembered that this was not that kind of class, nor was that kind of class that I need in my life. If I had been in a different state of mind I would have cherished the upbeat challenge, but at that moment I couldn’t find it in me to push myself any further when I’ve felt I’ve been squeezed enough in other areas of my existence. So I got up and walked out, feeling fully supported in doing so.
Later in the day, we got to enjoy a different kind of class based on restorative asanas and self-care, an aspect of yoga practice that Tina has dedicated many years to develop. As a former Ashtanga devotee, she has over the years realized the vital significance of listening to her own changing body and treating it with love and respect, rather than forcing it through a sequence that has caused her several injuries along the way, despite how much discipline and caution she applied to following the rules. “For the last 150 years, yoga practices have been centred on young male students, but in the west, the average class is made up of women, many of them in their early to late middle age,” she notes.
“For several years I have focused on studying and practising bio-mechanics and human anatomy, aiming to help my students work from the inside out to enhance strength and suppleness by listening to their own unique needs,” Tina explained. “I take on a more innovative approach that is not strictly bound to classic prototypes but instead can be adapted by students so that they reap all the benefits of yoga without straying from their sense of self. As my favourite teacher, Richard Freeman says, ‘yoga begins with listening” – listening to your own needs. It’s your body, your time, your choice, your yoga. Yogis have always been anarchists and revolutionaries so why should you go to a class and obey what you are told if it feels wrong to you or causes you pain?” she points out. The Self-Care class was my absolute favourite because that was exactly what I needed in combination with the inner and outer quiet. First, we were shown how to use a tennis ball to massage our feet, necks, shoulders and back in the most blissful tension-releasing tennis fun I could ever conceive of. Next, we lay down (but were asked to make every effort to stay awake) for a mesmerising Yoga Nidra session in which Tina guided our awareness across every inch of our body with her softly spoken words. When at some point she said “and now move your awareness to your fifth finger,” I anticipated she would next guide us to our sixth; that’s when I realized how incredibly relaxed I was.
The location and the practice of silence offered us all the golden opportunity to take time for ourselves while feeling warmly united in a rare experience. I relished the chance to stretch and breathe as well as read inspiring books (one day I read half a book lying by the fire – it might be a decade since the last time I did that!), go for nature walks overlooking spanning views of natural landscapes, play with an overenthusiastic spaniel who had an endless supply of cones to be chased, and to write, write, write (my child-like sense for writing was reignited and I wrote throughout my time there. On actual paper. Using a pen.). And then there was the deep sleep that highly oxygenated alpine air bequeaths.
On the first night, I experienced an amusing moment when I realized how useless it was to try communicating at all. After cuddling Paprika the cat I realized my jacket was pretty stinky; she’s adorable but I’d assumed that as she belongs to such a pristine place she’d be sweet-smelling, perhaps with a fragrance like the rooms we stayed in, named lavender, spearmint, pomegranate, or would have a natural Liberty’s fragrance. But no such luck, so I decided to air my jacket on the terrace in the room I was sharing with two girls, who were sitting there at the time. For some reason I bravely ventured to wordlessly re-enact why I was hanging it out to air- first I pretended to be Paprika, with the catwalk, swooshing tail (my arm), pointy ears and alert eyes, then re-enacted myself cuddling her, then smelling my malodorous jacket and looking shocked thus needing to air it. They looked at me and laughed, and I had no idea whether they thought they were rooming with a madwoman or had understood even a tad from my charades. It was at that moment that I resolutely decided that as amusing as it could be (especially for others!) it was probably best to do away with voiceless social banter.
The second and final night, there was another moment of hilarity when the waitress walked ceremoniously across the room holding a tray with a single collonaded glass of rose wine that one of the participants had ordered, with everyone turning to stare, many of us feeling a mixed emotion between empathy (silence brings stuff up, wine might help), confusion (wine is fun when you’re talking) and envy (why didn’t I think of that?), much to the embarrassment of the participant who had ordered it. After dinner many of us selected a mandala design to colour in and sat around the fire on the floor for hours bringing them to life – I hadn’t felt that way since I was seven, at school, hearing only the incessant sound of colouring pencils on paper.
Our silence was broken on Sunday afternoon, with a sharing circle during which we each related our experiences. There were tears. There was laughter. This was followed by a conversation-friendly lunch, after which we all posed for a few photographs together (below) and went our separate ways.
I felt reinvigorated, rested, and subtly yet profoundly changed as a result, like I had learned a secret that had been in me all along. More and more research is being done on the benefits of silence, and a recent Finnish study revealed that it actively enhances brain and emotional health: “The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.”
I was also relieved that the nightmare scenario I had self-deprecatingly envisioned before going there, that my cheeky monkey brain would take over and I’d be constantly trying to shut out my restless mental chatter, didn’t happen even for an instant. In fact, I found myself observing and feeling everything more intensely; I savoured food with greater pleasure (I did notice I was eating more than usual, perhaps to fill the ‘gap’ of not using my mouth to spout out conversational gems), became more aware of my body and movement – from ease and flexibility to tightness and restriction, rested in the enhanced clarity and calm of my head. “Silence offers us a different kind of quality in our thought processes and how we relate to others,” Tina said. “It offers us the opportunity to respond rather than react. So I see it as a natural extension of the yoga practice.” There were uncomfortable moments too, at some point I felt as though I was at an airport with a delayed flight hanging around and waiting. Not wanting my young son to feel I’d fallen off the face of the earth, I spoke to him on the phone for a few brief moments as I sat on the park bench facing the mountains and sea. “I love you, I love you, I love you!” he squeaked. And after I put my phone away I felt literally engulfed by the silence of the mountains in a way I’d never experienced before. I yearned for him, worried for him as if he lived in another world. Then I looked at the sea yearned to fly across the valleys to it like the birds swooping around. I wanted to lie in the grass. I was dreamy and tranquil yet felt vulnerable, detached and alone at once.
I returned to the endless fracas of Athens renewed, feeling as if I’d connected with a new awareness in myself, one that comes from even 24 full hours of silent observation. Being surrounded by others who also don’t talk was divine because I realised that every word you hear around you instantly registers as a thought or emotion in the mind, even if it has nothing to do with you. So I have vowed to stay away from other people’s conversations if I’m craving peace. Like most of the others, I felt I could have stayed a little longer, and was a little rough to have to return to reality. Yet fortunately, silence is free and can be found everywhere, especially within. All you need to do is commit to it, tune in, and hey presto, you’re there.
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 itstop 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.
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 professionallevel? 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.”
I first heard about Rene Mey through a friend who was diagnosed with a herniated disk which caused acute sciatica. She was in agony for a month before she had her first session with a Rene Mey volunteer. Cortisone pills helped only temporarily, the prescribed swimming only made the pain worse, but from the moment she felt her friend’s healing hands, she was filled with immense love and every day brought improvement. After three weeks of daily sessions, she felt completely renewed and six months later has not had a twinge of back pain or sciatica since, even though the MRI showed chronic long standing damage.
I started to research Rene Mey, a French humanitarian who was offering respite to the wider public and teaching energy healing techniques throughout south and north America, and in recent years eastern and southern Europe, and about whom evena moviehas been made. A Jesus-like figure, Mey’s message is one of spreading compassion and love throughout the world, by teaching his techniques, which he is said to have received instruction on from light-beings.
The techniques are described as Emotional Medicine, based on Mey’s ideology that our emotions rule 85% of our overall wellbeing. There is extensive scientific research proving that emotional injury registers in our physical body exactly in the same way as a physical pain; if we can clear emotional / mental blocks and create flow, our physical health inevitably improves. When you have a loving intent to help another and you focus on both the physical and emotional pain of another, using techniques that include hands-on energy healing and tapping in places that are blocked, the health-giving effect is powerful and reaps high results. There are indeed countless testimonials from people who have been treated by Rene Mey volunteers for periods of time as short as a few months and like my friend, have experienced complete recovery.
His master instructors teach volunteers around the world, who then are encouraged to go on to offer this healing to anyone in need, free of charge. He has also created health clinics for the poor, and his volunteers supply food, education and assistance to those in need.
Intrigued and excited by this news I attended a workshop when master instructor Anilu Fiz came to Greece several months ago. Based in Mexico, she was in Bulgaria offering trainings and two Greek volunteers organised a three day stop-over here to introduce the Cellular Regeneration, the first of the three techniques, to the Greek public. Around 30 of us present were taught the technique, which we practiced on each other, and which can be done in the standing, sitting or lying down position, and were encouraged to offer it to anyone who needed it.
The real objective, as Anilu Fiz says in the video below, is to go out and offer it to the homeless, refugees, the elderly, the sick – ideally not to keep your abilities only to the confines of your immediate surroundings, because real compassion comes from actually having contact with those we don’t know and understanding them better, caring for them, offering them the kind of help no one usually wants to give. Personally I haven’t done that yet, but I intend to every day, and I know I will start to do so very soon. It takes time to digest such a new way of looking at what we can offer to others on a wide scale.
The video below was conducted on Skype at the end of December 2017. The sound quality is not ideal, as our connection was bad and our calls were interrupted 10 times! So I did my best with what I had, because Fiz is very busy and time has lately not been a luxury for me either, with the sole intent of getting Rene Mey’s message across. Please help by sharing too if his mission resounds in you.
Rene Mey will possibly be visiting Athens, Greece at the end of January 2018 and Anilu Fiz will be back for trainings in February of this year.
Last stop on the ferry line heading into the sunset from Volos off towards the Northern Sporades islands lays Alonissos, an unspoilt, pine-cloaked island. This unique destination chiefly draws visitors who come to swim in its clean emerald waters, dine on langoustines, walk on its many forest paths and visit the rare Mediterranean Monk seal, at the National Marine Parkas it’s one of the few remaining habitats of this endangered species.
Alonissos attracts a regular gathering of multicultural visitors for a completely different reason too: as we drove around the Milia area five kilometres from the port town of Patitiri, we were intrigued by the stream of atypical tourists walking along the sides of the road with great purpose in the midday sun. There were women clad in a saris, east Asian ladies holding paper sun umbrellas, northern Europeans dressed quite formally rather that the usual T-shirt and shorts. Soon the mystery was solved when we discovered that these small groups were in fact all doctors who come the island to attend courses at the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy. Yes, it turned out that apart from seals, delectable dinners and lush nature, Alonissos is also home to the only institution in the world that’s dedicated exclusively to the teaching of Homeopathic Medicine.
The Academy is directed by the multi-awarded and highly recognised Professor George Vithoulkas, and opened its doors in the early 1990s. We had heard about the internationally acclaimed Greek homeopath and the Alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award) he was honoured with in 1996 ‘for upgrading Classical Homeopathy to the standard of a science’, and being fans of complementary medicines we rushed to visit the Academy and ask for an appointment with the professor himself.
Mind you, it wasn’t easy, as the professor is extremely busy year round. Apart from his courses and seminars, which take place at the Academy as well as online, he also writes books and records lectures that go to universities far and wide in the world. In the past the professor would travel to the universities where he taught, but he now prefers to remain more settled on his beloved island of Alonissos, where lives year-round, apart from attending important international conferences where he is regularly invited to talk.
The illustrious homeopath is a real legend on the island, where everyone speaks of him with awe and respect, and his reputation transmits to medical communities and not only, worldwide. He was a major protagonist in the resurgence of classical homeopathy after WWII, and continues to strive for the better understanding, use and acceptance of homeopathy in our modern age.
After applying for an interview with the professor by fax, we decided to visit the large stone Academy building and peruse its lovely tranquil grounds and the reference library, where one can buy some of Vithoulka’s most famous books such as ‘The Science of Homeopathy’, ‘Materia Medica Viva’, ‘Classic Homeopathy for Anxiety and Jealousy’, ‘A new Model For Health and Disease’ and ‘Homeopathy – Medicine for the New Millenium’ in Greek and in English. It was there that we had the great luck to bump into the Professor himself and introduce ourselves in person. He was friendly and accommodating, and agreed to an interview, which is something he rarely does because of his lack of free time. He offered us plenty of additional background material for our research, showing his no-nonsense efficiency and professionalism, and kindly invited us to visit him at his organic farm villa a couple of days later.
When we arrived at the picturesque location, set away from the road on a hillside covered by pine forests, we were most fascinated to see a red electric car parked in the driveway, and Professor Vithoulkas told us how he had been offered this vehicle as a gift by a German doctor at an international conference. This is only one example of the devotion shown to him by his students and colleagues; the entire, very elegant lecture theatre at the Academy was a gift from a Greek heart surgeon. The car, just like his very home, which is surrounded by olive, plum and apricot trees loaded with plump fruits, sheep grazing the nearby fields, turkeys making a commotion and the deep blue sea sparkling in the background, truly represents his life philosophy of living with awareness and esteem towards the environment, the society, as well as oneself. Nibbling on a plate of freshly-picked apricots, we comfortably began our conversation.
IMVTY: What brought you Alonissos?
GV: I came here in the late sixties to seek out a man whom I had been told was very wise. I found him and we talked; he asked me what I did, and I thought to myself oh here I go again, I will have to explain what homeopathy is to a shepherd, but as soon as I told him he looked at me and gave me an excellent definition, in fact I think it was the precise definition that is in the Encyclopedia Britannica. It turned out that this shepard was extremely knowledgeable, he probably had a photographic memory, but he was not particularly wise. On the bright side I really liked Alonissos, so I eventually bought this land and have gradually made it my home.
Do you live here all year round?
GV: Yes for a long time now, I used to travel a great deal all round the world you know, teaching and lecturing and currently I am a professor at the Kiev Medical Academy, Medical Faculty of the Basque University in Spain, and the University of Medicine in Moscow, but I do not travel much any more so I do my courses by video mostly. But this has been my base for years, and we therefore built the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy here on Alonissos.
You teach only qualified medical doctors and dentists at your school. Why is that?
GV: Yes. My aim is to provide these official health specialists and practitioners with a very powerful tool with which to combat or prevent disease and to help their patients get well……. and homeopathy is very difficult to learn, even more so than medicine. With the growth of homeopathy as a successful method, people are no longer suspicious about it; however there are many charlatan practitioners and teachers who are appearing to fill a need since there are too few properly qualified homeopaths… It is my strong belief that homeopathy’s eventual downfall could occur mainly due to a number of “creative distortions” that are injected into the main body of knowledge by the “imagination” and “projections” of some “modern teachers’ of homeopathy.
Since many of our students are receptive to such myths and stories concocted by flights of wild imagination, many so-called teachers have risen to fill this gap. Believe it or not, there is a Berlin Wall remedy! And some teach that if you look like an animal you need an animal-based remedy; others go so far as to think that if you write the potency and name of the remedy on the bottle, it instills the given attributes (he chuckles in disbelief). After many years of work we have finally managed to create a Postgraduate Degree for medical students to learn homeopathy in the University of the Aegean, based in Syros.
But do you believe that only qualified doctors should be able to learn and practice homeopathy?
GV: No not at all, although this is my policy. I believe that after proper 4-5 year training in a good homeopathy school, any qualified individual may practice.
In your opinion, what lies behind the British Medical Association’s claim in England in 2010 that homeopathy should be cut from the National Health Service, since it is an unproven science? GV: As I mentioned earlier there are unfortunately some practitioners who are not properly qualified and also some who make claims that are just not based on reality, for instance – that homeopathy can be used as a form of vaccine for epidemic – which is simply not true as every individual needs a different homeopathic remedy specific to their case. So these claims bring the entire practice into dispute.
That’s one of the reasons; the other is that homeopathy is becoming the medicine of the new millennium, so doctors and especially pharmaceutical companies (with multimillion dollar profits) are feeling very threatened (homeopathy is non-chemical and inexpensive), so this is why they attack homeopathy. It is not coincidental to note, however, that countless medical doctors who were asked to examine the principles and effectiveness of homeopathy, on seeing the results and learning more, have become staunch supporters of this method.
What is your main advice for healthy living?
GV: Basically it revolves around one word – cleanliness. Your conscience is the most important thing to keep clean, but so are the body and mind. Health in the physical body is freedom from pain. But if you don’t have pain is that health? No, you need something else in order to say somebody is healthy – and that is having well being as a general state. But many mentally ill individuals can have strong bodies – a lot of energy, so therefore the definition has to also address the psyche (the emotional part).
Thus, “healthy people” are those who are not overtaken by any passion – the concept of pathos is based on that idea which overtakes and makes a slave the soul (our emotional part). If you are living in the serene state, with freedom from passion, in a state of calm, that is a dynamic state. I feel that I enjoy that state but I do not become a slave to anything.
And this leads to the soul – the soul has to be free from selfishness, from ego. Once you achieve this there is an inner click and you enter the world of ideas. The ideas of a selfless man help humanity, while the ideas of a selfish man destroy others. Even in disease there can be harmony. I believe this is the ideal to work towards.
A healthy individual is one who is creative, with a double purpose, firstly to help himself, but at the same time being creative and giving to the society, and this the society is equally benefited by what has been created.
Meeting Professor Vithoulkas was indeed a pleasure, for we felt that we discovered the man behind the big name – an individual who has dedicated a 45 year career in which he has personally treated over 170 thousand patients, many of them prominent personalities from the fields of culture and politics throughout the world, such as Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, whose side he stood by for many years as his personal homeopath, and former Greek premier Andreas Papandreou).
Above all, as he confirmed to us himself in our discussion, his life has been about a challenging and important mission, to reverse thinking processes that prefer the use of pharmaceuticals over treating the individual holistically, to educate not only the elite but also the masses about the power of nature – and of man himself – to heal, as a process that involves the mind, body and spirit, and to offer, as he put it, “powerful tools” to those who have the position, expertise, clarity of intention and intelligence to use them effectively. Such is a mission that requires serious responsibility and commitment, but also reveals a larger, more valiant hope for humankind.
I went to my Soul Sounding appointment with David Kennet not quite knowing what to expect, except that I would be receiving some form of sound healing, which I love. The power of sound resonates deeply in all of us, for some more consciously than others, and having tried various forms of sound therapy in the past I was excited to experience Soul Sounding.
The first part of my session with Kennet, a clean-cut, elegant man with a calm voice and polite, gentle manner, was centred on discussing my beliefs about myself and life. “What do you want from this session?” he asked me, adding, “It’s very important to set your intention before the session, as with everything.”
I too am a believer in the power of intention – we set our intent carelessly most of the time, achieving what our subconscious directs us toward without even realizing it. There are so many books and other media out there about the power of our intent in manifesting our reality – call it the Law of Attraction, Abraham Hicks, The Secret or whatever you like, essentially it is something we already do by focusing or thoughts in a certain direction, our heartruling the way with its emotions with a force that transmutes the cellular structure of everything within and around us. “My life is so crap!” people complain, often not realizing that they are dedicating almost all their energy to making it that way by visualizing the worst, using technicolour, dynamic and completely realistic imagery that makes them feel what they fear most is actually happening, and which then registers on a physical and conscious level as an actual experience! And even when they stop to imagine what they want, in a hopeful moment, they often crush it with an infernal crashing thunderbolt with the little words “as if!!”
The art and discipline is to connect with our heart and mind and see what emotions and thoughts are there, understand what is true to our being and honour it through love, before altering it to its best potential and directing it with a loving, powerful force toward what it is we truly do want to create. “Holistic healing is very much about us each remembering that we are our own best healers, that the body is designed to heal itself, and again, we just need some tools,” Kennet says.
Based upon the things I revealed about what I do and do not feel, want and believe, Kennet created some affirmations for me to repeat and then using applied kinesiology and muscle-testing, showed me what my subconscious really does believe and what it doesn’t. It was a fascinating process, as I saw how, for example when I affirmed “I am happy to have money” my subconscious gave the green light, but when I affirmed “I am happy to be wealthy” there was a resistance.
It was an a-ha! moment, because despite years of affirmations in that direction, my deep-seated subconscious belief that money is good because it helps you survive, but wealth is a corrupting force, because after all, look at the line-up of the 1%, has very likely stopped me earning to my fullest potential.
“We can actually unconsciously have an intolerance, a resistance, almost like an allergy, to things we want,” Kennet tells me, “even though we are consciously telling ourselves “I love myself, I love myself, I love myself,” if the unconscious is running a programme that says ‘you are unworthy or don’t deserve love’ it’s very hard to experience the actuality of “I love myself”. So what do we do about it? I ask. Kennet shows me some tools for working on myself using Brain Gym techniques, but the main work will be done on the Soul Sounding table.
On the healing table, Kennet uses a variety of instruments including crystal singing bowls, Native American flutes, tuning forks and a giant drum, which he says, laughingly “penetrates and goes , deep – even if there’s a resistance to healing, there’s no hiding!” His main instrument, he tells me, is his voice, which he uses intuitively, however he feels guided to. Kennet grew up with music, as his father Michael Small was a celebrated film score composer for Hollywood (“hearing him compose for movies,from early at sunrise, or blasting classical music in the house, was definitely influential”, Kennet says), and in fact it cured him of the chronic, life-threatening asthma he was diagnosed with since early childhood.
“My mom had to rush me to hospital when I had asthma attacks so they could save my life, giving me an adrenaline shot which would open up my bronchial tunes and make my heart pound very intensely. So Western medicine saved my life. Ultimately what happened was that I met an amazingly evolved man called Dr. Kenneth Mills, who was a metaphysician, musician and composer, and who revealed the gift of song to me, which was already mine but I didn’t know it was there. The more and more I sang, the greater and more ease I had in breathing.
“The reason for that I think was threefold: the physical component that came through singing was that I was taking deeper breaths; on a very fundamental level when we sing, we open our diaphragm, so I was exercising the muscles in my lungs. On an emotional level, I believe that singing allows us to expand. It opens up or emotions, takes away shyness and allows us to express ourselves. And on the spiritual level through singing we are also connecting to the source, because sound is what we are, so when we make a sound we are aligning ourself to creation. Mills had a singing group called The Star-scape Singers that I was very honoured to have been included in his ensemble.”
When the singing ensemble disbanded in 2004, Kennet set off to learn under other great teachers such as the sound healers Tom Kenyon and Johnathan Goldman, learning about how sound is effective in self-empowerment and healing. He also studied at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, and the Integrative Natural Technologies School in Canada to study allergies (over the years he has helped a multitude of people of all ages recover from allergies), and trained as a licensed massage therapist. “Above all I’m excited about bridging the world of mysticism with science. Bottom line is that I get a very high percentage of results, and this to me is the validation of the power of sound,” he says.
As I lie listening to the sound of the crystal bowls he is playing, I feel the sound waves vibrate through my chest and back, and my thoughts fall away. I start feeling peaceful. “Sound is a carrier wave that is capable of penetrating our skin and our cells, our bones, it can go right into our bone marrow. So sound is a very effective way of penetrating our ‘walls’,” Kennet says.
When he starts to sing, I am momentarily stunned by the impact, bold colour, sophisticated texture and infiltrating power of his voice, and find it almost impossible to connect this voice, which literally feels like a biblical force, like a flood of light emerging through the clouds, with the low-key individual I was just chatting with over a cup of tea. His singing transports me to a place where I look around and see angels and, as I scan the circle of those around me, I see my grandparents, looking at me with loving smiles. I remember now that whatever is happening in this life, wherever we are, at the same time we are somewhere else, surrounded by the light that we are, that all that we love never leaves us, because it is part of us, and I start to cry with joy and relief. In our session I feel my energy shift and clear on the physical, mental and emotional levels, I see more images, cry a few more tears, breathe deeply, even sleep for a few minutes. I feel like I have been in a whirlwind of sound and light, reconnected with heavenly love and the earth’s dark, rich, grounding energy at once. Thank you David, for reminding me I am home.
David Kennet offered a sound-gift to the readers of I’m Very Well Thank You, performing an intuitive song:
Early last month I attended a workshop presented by Dr. Dwaine Hartman at a beautiful space in central Athens – Inner Flow. I felt refreshed by the aesthetic of the space, which was nothing like the usual New Agey centres one comes across too often – with golden buddhas and spirals at every turn, the air thick with the smell of Nag Champa incense and cat-hair on a dated armchair (ok that was just creative freedom on my part, but you get the picture). Inner Flow is urban, post-industrial with an upbeat vibe and glossy details – a polished ultra-modern kitchen, two bathrooms with luxurious products (including fragrant hand cream, always deserving of serious appreciation), and a fluffy light grey carpet that incites in one the desire to roll around. Beyond the elegant surroundings, the space feels highly professional and deeply comforting at once, and it’s not by chance, because the person who owns and runs it, Effie Adamidou, has those exact qualities herself. She is fully centred on her professional objectives as a Systemic Psychotherapist who works one-on-one with clients as well as organizing a variety of workshops featuring her own teachings and those of excellent therapists from abroad. Yet at the same time she is so warm and effusive that having a cup of tea (organic of course) and chocolate (one of the soul-soothing treats visitors regularly bring for fellow sufferers/evolvers) with her in the kitchen makes you feel right at home.
Inner Flow has already welcomed some great events and there are many more in the works. Here, Adamidou talks about how she started out and how she slowly transformed Inner Flow into what it is today, as well as what her plans are for the coming year.
“My practice began in the Psychiatric Hospital of Attica, in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre “ 18 Ano” doing Creative Arts therapy – Empowerment & Counseling group work . I was about to go to New York (where she grew up and lived until the age of 12), and continue my studies there, but everything here just started rolling so I stayed & went with the Flow!! I was studying & did trainings in systemic – family psychotherapy, drama therapy, dance therapy, music therapy & also body psychotherapy – Wilhelm Reich Institute -Vegeotherapy & Character Analysis here in Greece. I was also a specialist in Drug Prevention going to schools in Piraeus and the local community & working with children adolescents , teachers, parents , as well as in the Drug rehabilitation program “ Atrapos” for adolescents . For many years I have worked as a psychotherapist at a private center “ Paidi & Oikogeneia” – for children & parents & with distinguished psychotherapists doing group work & workshops in their private offices. At the same time , I had my private practice on the side. I love working in groups where we all are together and can expand , learning and supporting each other. I never had the dream of being in an office behind a desk or something, I love being on the floor, moving around, using various props, doing experiential workshops!
“From a very young age, from 1997, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by very beautiful and very experienced therapists and healers and people specialised in holistic techniques and yoga. From early childhood I was also very open to Energy – recognising that there is more than what we see and read in books. Both my parents were very open to a holistic way of seeing life and my godfather, who was very into esotericism, played a big role in helping me develop my way of seeing things. In my youth I studied theatre too – the Stanislavsky Method with Helen Scotes and always had teachers who made a very big difference and influenced me very positively from college. I was never really drawn to classical approaches, despite having studied many of them, what interested me most and made my heart beat loudly, was working with innovative ways of personal development & going beyond conventions!
“Since 2006, I stopped working so actively in the various programs & centers & decided I wanted to create my own space. I never stopped the collaborations I’d had with therapists, running experiential therapy workshops, but I knew it was time to create something more solid of my own. Soon I created Inner Flow Athens City Centre For Psychological Support& Creative Expression and Spiritual Awakening – I know, it’s a long title, but that’s what we do here! People think there are a lot of people running it but it’s only me (laughs). My upbringing in New York has given me a precious gift that I’m open to people of all kinds and from different paradigms. In 2009 I created Inner Flow in Holargos in the northern part of Attica, continuing one to one sessions ,group therapy & workshops – “ Inner Child” , “ Women& Femininity”, “ & many others combining techniques & methods of Energy healing – Reiki- Roizon- Bioenergy- The Healing Codes, Soul- Body Fusion , meditation & of course creative arts therapy , body psychotherapy & Systemic Constellation Work.
“Systemic Psychotherapy is not to be confused with Bert Hellinger’s Systemic Constellation work . It is field of Psychotherapy as Psychoanalysis, Rogerian, Gestalt, Existential etc… We focus first on the person- the client – connecting their mind, body, spirit, and then all the ripple circles around that individual – the immediate family, friends, colleagues and neighbours etc and going all the way to the universe. We work on the stories, family patterns, trans -generational schemes , the perceptions & imprints on all levels. It’s important to be in the here and now, so in systemic therapy we always connect to the past by bringing it to the present in a meaningful transformational way.
“In 2012 it all expanded – more people were interested in holistic work and Inner Flow became more of a scene. In 2016 I came to the heart of Athens, thanks to my beloved parents , where I’ve created Inner Flow Athens City Centre. I’ve always been very connected to the energy of Athens from a little girl so this was the ideal location, and this way people can reach Inner Flow much easier.
“ Many years now I collaborate & also organize seminars , workshops & trainings with teachers & therapists from abroad. Among them are Barrie Musgrave- Systemic Energy Constellation Work, Elizabeth Ann Morris – Spiritual Teacher & Healer, former principal of Diana Cooper Foundation Yorgos Nasios – Certified trainer of “Walking in Your Shoes “, which combines Systemic Constellation work & the Arts. Kaypacha – Tom Lescher- Astrologer, Spiritual practitioner, Roel Fredrix- Shamanism, Energy Medicine & Healing in the Inca Tradition, David Kennet- Sound Healer , Vibrational Resonance & Brain Gym practitioner, Margo Awanata- Facilitator , trainer in Woman’s Empowerment circles & Retreats, and Co – Founder & Trainer of “ Wild Sisters”
“In Greece Inner Flow is connected & collaborates with “brother-spaces ” & teachers , promoting a holistic approach to personal development & spiritual awakening – Some of these are : “ Guru Ram Das Ashram- Kundalini Yoga” with Amar Dev Marina Ktisti , “Be Fluid” – Zhineng Qigong- Chryssi Berou , “The Senteris Method “ with Master Panagiotis Senteris, Philosophical Association “Peaceful Warrior”, Leda Shantala’s “Shantom – House of Culture, the Angels Nest – Energy Healing, Ioanna Athanasiou, Center for Systemic Psychotherapy & Counseling with Smaro Markou Tsangaraki
& Wilhelm Reich Institute of Greece’s “Vegeotherapy & Character Analysis” .
“Inner Flow is a place where people can come to be at peace and expand. The space is not only me – it has developed a life of its own, and when people come here they see it, sense it, know it. It’s also a lot to do with the people & collaborators who come here , that’s why I am particular about who I bring over, and what they do when they’re here – We are a Community each an important part of the sacred circle. This place is a portal and those who come here have heard a calling. I feel very responsible for this space, that it should offer people what they need to walk their path in love, truth and integrity, opening them up to their divinity. This is how we can make a change in this world, supporting Gaia our beloved planet, being connected to the mysteries & gifts of the universe! All in the Light…!”