The phrase “yia mas” is perhaps most widely known for its use in dining settings when friends or family say “cheers” and wish each other health.
Hearing the words alone might evoke images of wine glasses clinking over a table filled with various food dishes and a room full of animated chatter.
Virginia native Kristina Headrick is expanding on that same idea of sharing health and wellness with others —albeit with a slightly different twist — and has created an international movement from those very two words.
Headrick’s brand Yia Mas creates workshops, conscious objects and merchandise aiming to showcase the “earthier” side of Greece. She began with in-person events which, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have evolved into digital events attracting wellness enthusiasts from East Coast to West Coast and beyond.
“Yia Mas came to be because quite frankly, I was looking for something like it,” Headrick tells The Pappas Post. “There were two voids I wanted to fill.”
Promoting Greek-inspired wellness from a new perspective
Headrick’s first focus was to address Greek-inspired wellness from a broader, non-culinary angle with a particular focus on herbs and folk remedies.
“There are so many amazing food bloggers who touch on what we do,” she says. “The mastiha conversation has had its moment, the Mediterranean diet is now popular on a mass level, but how about the fact that mountain tea has been shown to be as potent at preventing oxidative stress as green tea?”
Another key component of her wellness teachings is sharing ancient Greek wisdom.
Headrick says she experienced a revelation of sorts after completing meditation and yoga teacher trainings which helped her connect the dots between ancient Greek and popular Eastern philosophies.
“I was shocked at how much I found what I learned there to align with what I’d read from Heraclitus, the neo-Platonists and so on,” she says. “I wanted to take this knowledge and make it digestible.”
Headrick decided to share her message through events which attracted fellow wellness enthusiasts and total beginners alike.
The first such gathering featured Headrick’s friend and herbalist Maria Christodoulou at the flagship COCO-MAT store in SoHo, New York City, which has since become a frequent host of Yia Mas events.
“I didn’t intend to create a ‘brand,’ but [the first event] was so well received that I kept planning them,” Headrick says. “I’ve always followed my gut on the topics I’m most excited to research and present and I feed off of our growing community.”
Yia Mas hosted sold-out events in Washington D.C. and Richmond, Virginia, before pandemic lockdowns in March 2020 and has since offered virtual events with co-hosts from as far as Australia.
But even the more “experienced” participants are not necessarily well-versed in Greek-inspired remedies.
“I couldn’t believe how many people I knew in my wellness bubble who could tell you about all sorts of herbs and adaptogens, but hadn’t heard of ‘tsai tou vounou’ (mountain tea),” Headrick says.
Connecting diaspora Greeks in a different setting
Headrick says she was “aching” to connect with other Greeks outside young professional happy hours or church settings — so she created a new array of workshops and events which she has hosted in various American cities and Greece.
Yia Mas’s core workshops include “Greek Herbs for Wellness,” “Greek Dance for Human Connection and Exercise,” “Greek Dance and the Art of Kefi,” “Thrive with Goddess Archetypes” and “Know Thyself: A Modern Approach to Ancient Greek Philosophy.”
The brand also offers events such as “Greek Dance for Wellness,” “Greek Herbs for Wellness” and “XALARA: A Dive Into the Persephone Myth.”
Each workshop fuses elements of Greek culture and philosophy with modern methodologies and occasionally includes guest teachers and experts.
Appealing to a broader audience
Headrick says her events are not exclusively targeted to Greeks or “philhellenes” (lovers of Greek culture) and she presents all cultural information in a digestible, user-friendly format. She says she especially welcomes non-Greeks to attend Yia Mas events to be exposed to “alternative perspectives” about Greece’s culture and land.
“At our events, people really connect because we break the ice by first having an experience together,” she says. “I cannot tell you how many people message us saying ‘We’re so happy this exists. It’s not like anything else.’ That’s probably the thing I hear most often that keeps me going and humbles me.”
Offering “conscious objects” and merchandise
Yia Mas has an online store which includes conscious objects such as candles and journals made in collaboration with Greek brands and designers.
“The candles were something I wanted to do from the very beginning,” Headrick says. “I love scent as a tool for helping us become more mindful and present, as well as its power to help us travel in our imaginations.”
Yia Mas merchandise includes items like t-shirts, hats, mugs and tote bags, among others, all of which feature Greek-inspired designs with earthy colors such as green, white and brown.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love the blue and white, but there’s so much more,” Headrick says. “When I think of Greece I often think of my ancestral village, Lidoriki, nestled in the mountains just past Delphi and Parnassus. It always calls to mind these earthy tones, terra cottas and olive greens. We wanted to share that alternative perspective.”
Upcoming Yia Mas events
The Yia Mas virtual Greek Dance Club returns on January 13 and will continue on a monthly basis for the year. Events will feature special guest teachers and experts. Registration is available here.
Yia Mas is hosting free meditations live on Instagram on Wednesdays at 12:30pm EST throughout January.
Starting in spring Yia Mas will begin donating a portion of its profits to an environmental organization in Greece (details remain to be announced). The brand has donated in the past to environmental organizations which clean trash and plastics on Greece’s islands.
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