Despina is the founder of Ayurvedic Yoga Massage. This is a little more about her and her journey to starting the company.
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 at University level. I got some training to teach adults in higher education settings. Initially I looked for facts, hard scientific evidence that could help people make better environmental decisions. Eventually, I became increasingly interested in the question: why do we still make poor environmental management decisions despite evidence? When I started studying the social and psychological aspects of decision making, a whole new world opened up to me.
I first came across yoga through a vinyasa flow (modified ashtanga primary series) class in 2006, and I could not ignore the explosive widening of my understanding of my own decision making through it. Since the first time I practised I felt happier, full of energy, more centred – and able to make much better decisions as a result. I had no idea that my emotional and mental wellbeing, and through that my life decisions, my impact on other beings and the planet, could be influenced so much by such an apparently physical pursuit. 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 Ashtanga 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 courses. My life does not allow me to have a consistent daily teacher, as I travel so much. I’m currently practising with Joey Miles and Rachel Woolhouse when in Leeds, and with several inspiring teachers in London, such as Roberta Giannotti in Kentish Town, Eileen Gauthier in Camden and Anna Wise in Euston. Both the practice itself and my teachers’ guidance over the years have had a great influence on the way my life has evolved. Since 2011 I’ve been going 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.
Why Ayurvedic Yoga Massage?
I discovered Ayurvedic Yoga Massage (AYM) in early 2011, through a Level 1-2 course 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”. It 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, beautiful 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.
Teaching and learning
I continued to try and find as much information and courses as I could on Ayurvedic Yoga Massage, and found Ananta Girard’s courses in India. I studied, and started assisting Ananta with his courses. There is not a lot of training available on Ayurvedic Yoga Massage, and after completing it and felt that I was very confident with everything that is available to learn, I started studying other relevant methods, such as thai massage and shiatsu pregnancy massage. I have also of course over all those years 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.
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 am 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 use 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, to make the AYM courses all that they can be. Because I really love learning, I love attending well-taught courses so much! When I attended my Masters course I was so impressed by how well organised it was, and how that helped me learn better. And I have had some amazing, inspiring teachers who have helped shape my life, such as Richard Law during my Masters course, and Joey Miles at Ashtanga Yoga Leeds. So I have always strived to deliver well organised courses, and 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. 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 additional modules to the AYM course that I wish had been available when I was learning, and that I can see will hugely benefit the development of my beloved students. I seek a lot of feedback for improving them, and adjust the level of information and pace of the course to the participants. The sharing of such a wonderful method is a beautiful experience and I am still a little surprised each time by the teacher-student relationships that emerge, and also the relationships between the students.
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.