Despina is the founder of Ayurvedic Yoga Massage UK and our main teacher of the AYM technique. This is a little more about her and her journey to starting the school.
Life before Ayurvedic Yoga Massage
My main objectives in life have been to learn and to do something that is of use. I studied ecology and environmental management, and eventually got involved with research and teaching on sustainability at University level. I attended a two-year training on teaching adults, and I had 6 years of experience of teaching in higher education before training in Ayurvedic Yoga Massage.
I first came across yoga through a vinyasa flow class in 2006. Since the first time I practised I felt happier, full of energy, more centred – and able to make much better decisions as a result. Needless to say, I went back. In 2009 I came across Joey Miles’s Ashtanga yoga classes in Leeds, where he encouraged me and taught me to practice in the traditional Mysore style. Since then I have had a daily yoga practice, which has been helping to keep my mind sane, and my body in one piece. I love the peace and tranquility (sometimes), and the centeredness (always) that my practice brings to my life, and I try to share it through my massage sessions and trainings.
Between 2011-2015 I went to Mysore, India for 2-3 months per year to study at the Sri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute with my teachers Sharath Jois and Saraswathi Rangaswami. In 2014 I was deeply honoured when Saraswathiji allowed me to assist her in her shala for one month.
Since my last trip, practising with my teachers in the UK has felt like it serves me better at this stage of my life, even though I often come back to my ashtanga practice. I also love intuitive movement, and the Scaravelli approach to yoga, but I have been discovering amazing teachers in many different traditions. I love self practice but I also love going to busy yoga classes, and enjoying the surprises that different teachers bring, and the energy of different groups of practitioners.
Introduction to Ayurvedic Yoga Massage
I discovered Ayurvedic Yoga Massage (AYM) in early 2011, through a Level 1-2 training taught by James Winstanley, Simon Griggs and Angela Sykes in the UK. I loved it immediately, and quickly realised that everyone else also loves it as soon as they try it. My favourite client feedback is “I feel more like myself”.
AYM certainly helps on a physical level, and I have seen it help many people with injuries, long-term pains and stiffness (knee pains, frozen shoulders), as well as with stress and mental health conditions; the list goes on as to the amazing results that this method can have. It feels very rewarding to help someone increase their range of movement or feel pain free, or experience reduced pain, or just feel more wonderful than they were feeling before their massage. Since coming across it, I have felt that AYM needs to be much more widely known and available, and that feeling has grown stronger over the years as I see more evidence of the power of the method not only from my clients, but now also from the feedback I get from my students’ clients.
Ultimately, receiving AYM is definitely the best style of bodywork for me. It’s extremely effective in relaxing my body and mind, helping me work through injuries, long-term issues with my body (I have had back pain since I was 16, which I manage with yoga and receiving Ayurvedic Yoga Massage treatments), stressful or agitating times in life.. Nothing works better for me. So this is what I want to share with the world.
I continued to practise and to try and find as much information and trainings as I could on Ayurvedic Yoga Massage, and found Ananta Girard’s courses in India. I studied with him in 2014 and 2015, and started assisting him with his trainings for 2 months a year over 2 years, in 2015 and 2016.
Developing further as a therapist
Since I started practising, I have tried to keep up with research that is immediately relevant to massage, such as research on pain, on how massage works, how it influences our bodies. How it influences people with different conditions, how it influences our hormonal systems, and through that everything from our mood to our immune systems. I am fascinated by the interactions of the body and mind (if seen as separate), and by the importance of the therapist-client relationship: creating a safe environment, developing honest and truthful relationships, about the weight of our words, the empowerment of clients to feel and understand their bodies better, and to ask for and get what they need from their treatments, the ethics of client-therapist relationships.
Teaching and learning
Since I started practising Ayurvedic Yoga Massage my friends and clients have been asking me to share the method, and in early 2016 I received Ananta’s blessing to teach. Since then, I have been really excited to see the wonderful, supportive AYM UK community grow, to see the light in students’ eyes when they fall in love with the method like I did, and to know that so many more people will have the opportunity to experience it as a result. I love developing the courses, and I started by building on my experience in learning and teaching in higher education (overall 14 years’ learning, 6 years’ teaching at university level), and my training in teaching adult courses. I have been inspired by some amazing teachers in academia and in yoga, and I try to deliver well organised courses, to be a supportive, involved teacher that students will be inspired by, and feel confident to come to with their questions and thoughts, to share their successes and their struggles.
I never teach therapist trainings with more than 6-8 students at a time, so I can fully engage with the students who I am working with, and be personally invested in their success. Feedback is constant throughout the course, and I stay in touch and discuss students’ questions and experiences after the course. I also try to help students with marketing skills, and by creating resources (such as this website) to help everyone come in contact with the people who are looking for them! Beginner therapists need guidance and support, but they also need people to massage to gain experience, develop a client base, and save some funds to devote to further training in whatever inspires them! I am committed to keeping a fun, light and respectful learning environment, and to adhering to the General Council for Massage Therapists’ standards of teaching, which I find reasonable and well thought through. Beyond that, I try to help students to develop their own critical thinking, by encouraging them to think about the processes through which AYM can help clients; and how AYM can help different clients through different situations.
I enjoy creating new resources and adding modules to the AYM course that I wish had been available when I was learning, and that I can see will benefit the development of my students. I seek a lot of feedback for improving the content and quality of our trainings, so we can support our students every step of the way, in the best way possible.
In January 2020 I was encouraged by Simon Griggs to travel to Pune, India to meet Kusum and to study with her student, AYM teacher and head of the Kusum Modak Institute, Laura Branco. This was a dream come true for me, as I never knew that Kusum still teaches until then (in the trainings of some of her students only), and I even got to see her treating real life clients! This was eye opening and awe inspiring. Kusum is like a magician with the body, she touches people and she knows. It’s like her eyes and her touch are the equivalent of modern day X-ray and MRI machines. Her touch is gentle and precise. I saw her treat clients with a lot of pain, really complicated injuries, and use AYM to heal them in a fraction of the time that I would have thought necessary for any method of healing to help, not just AYM.
I feel inspired and humbled to have met Kusum and seen her practise, by her intellect, her experience, her humility and her kind and generous nature. I will continue to be in touch with her regularly, and to visit her annually. Unfortunately our 2021 plans were cancelled because of Covid, but I am planning to visit again from January 2022, presuming that travel is allowed again then.
I am always happy to talk to existing and prospective students. Please make sure you have checked the FAQs first to save us both some time. If your question is personal, or is not covered in the FAQs section, please contact me via the contact form.