‘Yia Mas’ is an event series and brand dedicated to Hellenism, health, and the community. Beginning as an event in New York City, it has expanded to other states in America and this September the first Yia Mas retreat will be held in Koufonisi, Greece.
It’s a ‘salon meets happy hour’, where Kristina Headrick, movement teacher, writer and founder of Yia Mas explains that the idea of the event is for people to “walk away with renewed perspectives and also get the chance to meet others and do some quality networking. They are equal parts- experiential, informative, and social!”
Growing up “very Greek American in Virginia” Kristina noted, she attended Greek school and was apart of the Greek dance troupe at her church, the Hellenic Youth Dancers of Hampton Roads. They loved to dance and took it very seriously, competing along the East Coast and dancing at local cultural festivals, as well as their Greek Festival.
After moving to New York, she recalls feeling so excited by all the Greek events happening, but also felt somehow isolated from it and it took her a few years to really find the cultural things she wanted, including a dance group that really had that ‘kefi’ and that bond. That’s one of the reasons why Yia Mas was established.
“Yia Mas was born when I realised that I had so many Greek American friends and in general super health/wellness conscious friends who knew nothing about ‘tsai tou vounou’ (mountain tea). I thought it was mad that people weren’t talking more about these potent herbs, especially when wellness is mega trending. People talk about ‘ashwagandha’ (a popular ayurvedic herb), why not Greek mountain tea? Of course, many many greeks in the states know it and drink it, and there are some brands that sell it, but still, compared with other types of teas and herbs, it’s relatively unknown. I regularly incorporate it into my wellness routine and it makes me feel amazing,” the young entrepreneur said.
Kristina also knew from her own research and interest in all things holistic, that Greece has incredible herbs and the best, most potent oregano. “Who hasn’t smuggled some oregano back in their suitcase over the years? My mum used to pull these mystery bags of ‘tsai tou vounou’ and chamomile out, picked from the mountains of our xorio (village). She told me stories about how her yiayia (grandmother) would disappear into the mountains to gather herbs, and I love this ancestral connection. I thought, why not share about the magic of these herbs and educate people – but in a way that is inviting and inclusive? Whether they know of the herbs or not, we can do a deeper dive and also talk about who to incorporate them into your wellness routine. The whole affair is interactive.”
The first Yia Mas was held at Coco-mat, a Greek mattress store in New York City, which focused on Greek herbs for wellness, and how to discover Greece’s holistic side. Kristina always opens Yia Mas with a short meditation and she noted that people love to meditate on the beds! Coco-mat she further added has been an amazing sponsor and so supportive to Yia Mas as it’s grown and they continue to collaborate as the brand ethos is incredibly aligned.
An important part of Yia Mas as a whole is the fusion of history, art history and ancient philosophies with modern science. “I study ancient knowledge, then bridge the gap of how science (should you need such proof) shows that our ancestors were onto something with their practices. For example, one of the pillars of Hippocrates’ teachings was eating well for health. Now we know just how important that is with the science to back it. Our ancestors danced to come together as a community, celebrating rites of passage and seasonal shifts. Now we know not only how important it is to move our bodies, but we also have studies that show depression rates are on the rise. One factor behind this is loneliness. When you Greek dance, you can’t help but come together for a communal experience! You hold hands, you make eye contact, you change your neurology. Dance, in general, is so therapeutic… We need this eye contact and human tactile connection now more than ever. Add music, which has therapeutic effects galore, and it’s a recipe for bliss! We can have the same ecstatic experiences as our ancestors. In many paniyiria (festivals) in Greece, this is alive and well, as well as at cultural festivals around the world.”
After the most recent ‘Yia Mas, Greek dance and the art of Kefi’ held on May 21, Kristina mentioned that it was her favourite one yet. Greek and non-Greek attendees were greeted with spritzes from Otto’s Athens Vermouth, mastiha and mezzes. “I spoke quite a bit about the nuances of the styles of dance, how that relates to music and region, and how we can use an awareness of that to then drop deeper into our bodies as we dance. How cool is it to think of island music, how it’s lighter and airier, and feel that embodied? Then you drop into something from Thraki or Florina, and its heavy. You feel the percussion, you feel the geography. Dance is a form of connection and storytelling that is older than all of us – it binds us in our collective unconscious. I hope to have captured that. Based off how intently people listened and how quickly people picked up dances such as the Zonaradikos, Tik Diplon, and Pentozali, I think I did something right! The KEFI, which was one of the concepts I introduced and emphasised, was definitely there. We are already planning another class! I want to continue bringing in the history of the dance and music, while emphasising that Greek dance is very much alive, well, thriving, and evolving today – not just in folk presentation, but as a living, breathing thing,” Kristina proudly stated.
‘Namaste kala’ is a tagline of Yia Mas that came after Kristina’s mum started doing yoya and saying those two words. “I love the accidental cultural connection between something we say as Greeks and this ancient Sanskrit word that you’ve probably heard in yoga or if you’ve traveled in India. Of course, yoga culture has very much gone mainstream, so I’m giving it a greek spin.”
The brand is also slowly developing and releasing creative, playful products. ‘Namaste kala’ t-shirts and a ‘Yia Mas’ mandili/bandana are now available for purchase. Kristina is more excited about the reusable cups for coffee (BPA free, hot and cold friendly cups) that Yia Mas is releasing, which are available for preorder. “I’m on a mission to also pay homage to the land that inspired all of this. Therefore, I am starting an initiative to get people taking reusable cups to Greece (and everywhere, but that’s our focus). I saw the horrors of trash on the Greek islands myself. From riot police called to Corfu to regulate overflow to Mykonos’ ongoing crisis, I can’t really drink a freddo on the beach anymore and toss the plastic cup in good faith. ‘Yia Mas’ was born out of my love for the healing properties of the Greek land, and so I want to offer something that is a step, albeit a very small one, towards protecting that land. We realise what a tough movement this will be, but we’re up for the task.”
The next ‘Yia Mas DC- Greek Herbs for Wellness‘ event will be held on June 8 at a Greek American owned sandal brand, Laiik. Kristina’s cohost for this event is Maria Christodoulou, a Greek American clinical herbalist currently based in Brooklyn, NY. Attendees can expect to learn how to integrate Greek herbs and food to live healthier and feel more energised. The event will kick off with an interactive discussion and finish with what Greeks do best- mingle and munch on delicious Greek snacks, and sip on Mastixa and Greek wine. Whether you’re simply interested in herbs or happen to be Greek and want to dive deeper into the rich history of our land, this is for you.