5 Ways You (maybe) Didn’t Realize Wellness is Baked into Greek Culture

5 Ways You (maybe) Didn’t Realize Wellness is Baked into Greek Culture

In this post, we explore the world of Greek wellness with Kristina Headrick, founder of Yia Mas — a brand + workshop and retreat series centered around the intersection of well-being and Greek culture.

We first met Kristina back in 2018, when she was curating all exciting new Greek things in her blog, Delphi Reclaimed, and interviewed us right before our launch and our fresh new foray in the world of Greek sandals! This month, we turn the tables and interview Kristina, as she lets us in on 5 ways wellness is baked into Greek culture. 

Kristina Headrick, Yia Mas, Greek Wellness, on the Greek island of Folegandros

On top of being founder of Yia Mas, Kristina has written and taught extensively about how to integrate Greek philosophy, folklore, and traditions into modern-day well-being. This combines seamlessly with her love of teaching meditation, Greek dance, yoga, and leading Yia Mas workshops and retreats (keep reading on how to sign up to her next one on the out-of-this-world beautiful island of Serifos)!

view of Serifos island in Greece from it's highest point


How did you first start Yia Mas?

KH: I initially started Yia Mas started an event/ workshop series, with no intention of creating a brand. At the time, I had an existing blog called Delphi Reclaimed where I interviewed Greek and Hellenic diaspora creatives and entrepreneurs. But life has a funny way of guiding us, and as the concept of Yia Mas was so well-received, I decided to keep the event going. This happened in conjunction with a career shift towards more wellness-focused pursuits, both teaching and content-wise. So, I took the energy I was putting into creating content for Delphi Reclaimed and shifted it towards creating a Yia Mas Instagram and brand a few months later. It all just kind of flowed! The community really took off on Instagram, and I found there was so much I wanted to research, share, and talk about (more on that below) that it all grew organically. The branding and vision was also my personal reaction to showcasing an alternative side of Greece beyond the more mainstream diaspora vision - i.e. beyond the blue and white, the “evil eye,” etc. This was also my vision with Delphi Reclaimed, and it carried over and evolved into Yia Mas having very earthy colors and promoting the gifts of the Greek dance.

What's the most exciting thing about the Greek wellness space?

What's most exciting is that no one was approaching it in this way. Yes, there were tons of conversations about food and the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and the Mastiha conversation was also being had in the press - but taking a broader, holistic look at the lifestyle habits, the potent herbs, the way dancing and being outdoors is baked into the culture - it was this “aha” moment for me. It clearly resonated with a lot of people as we’ve seen the interest grow and a lot more conversations sparked in this direction. Since then we’ve seen a lot of off-shoot accounts created that are promoting a similar Greek wellness ethos and think that’s great. It’s about time people have the conversation! Also, this space is sort of self-created, so in a sense, it’s still something we’re researching and shaping. A very cool future lies ahead and we hope to continue exploring it through our workshops and retreats in Greece!

And now, without further ado:

5 Ways You (Maybe) Didn’t Realize Wellness is Baked into Greek Culture

 1 ~ Yiayia’s herbal teas may be a key to longevity

greek herbal mountain teas

If you’re like my mother, you may associate mountain tea with being sick and not love it, as such. But our Yiayiades were onto something. Greek herbs are your friend! From sideritis (mountain tea) to sage and thyme, Greece’s climate, topograph, soil, and relative lack of industrialization make it a mecca for herbs that are incredibly high in nutrients. In fact, Plant biodiversity in Greece is among the highest in Europe. I have a cup of herbal tea every night! Usually the Yia Mas Hygeia blend, but often just mountain tea on its own. onversationThere are MANY things we love about Yia Mas, from its very name (an anglicization of στην υγειά μας, meaning “to our health”) to its dedication to health, Hellenic culture, community and Greek dancing.

2 ~ Take that Siesta

mediterranean beach, crystal clear waters
I’ll never forget how befuddled I was the first time I experienced a Greek siesta on my first trip there. The whole village/town/city just completely shuts down in the late afternoon, and no one, I mean, NO ONE, is allowed to make a peep. More recently, I think it’s shifted a bit to be more capitalistic / Euro-centric, but the late afternoon nap and siesta time is actually so good for us.
Firstly, the oft-documented late afternoon slump is a natural physiological thing. I remember struggling SO much in the afternoons at my first day job. I thought there was something wrong with me - but now I know to honor that. If you have the privilege of designing your day, follow papou’s napping suit and take some down time! Short naps have also been shown to boost memory, ease stress, and a host of other health benefits. This may be easier said than done for those of us not retired, but as someone in business for myself, I try to take the afternoons to take a break from screen time and take a walk, meditate, and generally reset as my brain tends to feel like mush.
3 ~ Dance, dance!

The Greeks have been dancing at least since they started documenting it on their ancient pottery. This is built into many of our customs and celebrations, including the summer “panigyria” that celebrate saints (but have more ancient pre-Christian roots). Movement and community are necessary for health on this planet! Our ancestors were onto this without the “scientific” backing we have today. Firstly, it’s a darn workout! Try dancing an hour of Cretan and not finding yourself drenched in sweat. Studies show(1) that a sense of belonging and purpose greatly enhance our mental health. While we are of course not living in the same societies within which these dances developed, we can still benefit from them. Also, it’s an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness. Dance brings us into the present moment. With much Greek dancing, we hold hands or dance with partners. It’s a communal experience where you literally feel the people you’re dancing with! This makes it a great way to connect to others, especially at a time when people are lonely. Dance is a much-needed reminder of how interconnected we are when data (2) shows that depression rates are on the rise.

1 https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/November-2019/The-Importance-of-Community-and-Mental-Health
2: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/major-depression-rise-among-everyone-new-data-shows-n87314

greek dancing

4 ~ Eat slowly, eat with others… and dine al fresco when you can. 

Raise a hand if you frequently at lunch at your desk, standing at your counter, or generally solo, in a rush. Of course this is also often the case in modern day Greece - notably for those at work. BUT! In general, the culture of dining slowly and as a family or with parea (friends) is celebrated. In New York, you’ll often be rushed out of a restaurant after dining and paying the check, while in Greece it’s often hard to even get your check. There is no rush, and meal time is sacred. There’s a host of health benefits to eating more slowly, including for your digestion. Dining with others and often outdoors, as they do more often in Greece (and much of Europe) is also good for your overall wellbeing.


greek food, grilled fish, dining al fresco

And finally,

5 ~ Take a walk. 

Here’s one that is baked into Greek (and European culture), but also harkens back to the ancients. Have you ever heard of the Peripatetics? Founded by Aristotle, these ancient philosophers would walk to enhance their thinking. In a world where we spend more time seated than ever, taking frequent walks is critical for your health, but it can also help you with creativity.