A letter by Eleftheria
In 1999, Eleftheria by pure chance attended a yoga class when she opened the wrong door at a dance school in New York.
She can still recall that feeling she had when it finished.
From that year, she had made up her mind: she would give up dancing to devote herself wholeheartedly to Ashtanga.
In New York she practiced 8 to 10 times a week (yes, too much) and upon her return to Greece she continued practicing alone.
She decided to go deeper in this specific yoga genre. She looked for an Ashtanga Teacher’s Training. She remembered back
in early 90's she had seen a beautiful blonde couple practicing –much later did she realise it was yoga -near her village,
in Agios Pavlos in Rethimno and she had taken some pictures of them. Having to choose between a training in Agios Pavlos
and another one in California and without knowing much about the teachers, she chose to go to Agios Pavlos, driven also
by her adolescence memory. She didn’t know that Radha and Derek, that she had first seen in 1991, where in reality the ones
who had spread Ashtanga in Europe. In the mid 80s, they taught in the first yoga retreat in Europe in Atsitsa on the island
of Skiros and then opened up the retreat in Agios Pavlos.
Eleftheria finished her training in the summer of 2001 and from the following September she started teaching Ashtanga daily
in 5 different spaces in Athens. Her University studies in Dance, that included -among others- classes in anatomy, psychology,
osteopathy, physiology, methodology of teaching and with years of teaching dance-movement, she felt rather confident with teaching.
The classes were “led” which means that the teacher showed the positions. She never expected that they would be so well received.
That year Eleftheria continued to practice daily while at the same time she observed a lot but made very few adjustments,
with her hands, to her students. In class, her eyes scanned all the people and their mood,
physical or not- in order to learn as much as possible from the most reliable and valuable source of knowledge: the practitioners.
In the summer of 2002 at a taverna someone asked her “why don’t you get your own space”. The thought had never crossed her mind.
She decided instantly and given the fact that Eleftheria when sets her mind into something she puts the nail to the bone,
found the space in 3 days. It was, in fact, the only one she had seen. The day of her visit, the evening sun was smoothly
brightening up the room. She counted the windows: 8. She considered that a good omen since Asthanga is the 8-limbed yoga.
That and the huge salamander (a sign of good luck) inside the school the night before it opened.
The school opened on the 15th of September in 2002. To this day, Om studio is situated at the same quiet and energetically
neutral space in the heart of Athens. It is the first space that practiced traditional Ashtanga exclusively,
and throughout this decade it is used only for the spreading of this specific type of yoga. Since then, 12-13 classes take place
each week that follow the teaching of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. In September 2003, Mysore style self-practice classes began in older
to follow as closely as possible the traditional practicing.
In the last decade, everything and nothing has changed. Eleftheria now has a family. She continues practicing daily without
any expectations and continues her apprenticeship next to her teachers. The space is constantly revitalised but
Eleftheria has no intention of expanding it. She has been teaching constantly for the past 11 years, 6 days a week,
10 months a year and thus has accumulated experience that she easily and effortlessly transmits to her students.
This decade, there have been efforts to “imitate” the studio: texts have been stolen-together with their...spelling mistakes!,
the way that it functions, its aesthetics, in beginners classes often “spies” have showed up etc. Despite all this, the main feature
of the school is very specific and cannot be replicated. It is the sincere and unpretentious atmosphere of the teaching.
This is something that stems from Eleftheria who is pure and lucid as a person and thus as a teacher, probably a feature due to her
The “product” that is called yoga, is not sold in Om studio. All these years, it has been a conscious decision that the studio
is not to be advertised. People have been hearing about it from others. Occasional references to the school,
in articles for example, have been made upon request.
The way that Eleftheria is teaching is also rather peculiar. No student has ever received leaflets with “exercises”.
Eleftheria very rarely shows positions/asanas. The relationship between teacher and student is reciprocal. The students goal
is not the end of the asana but the path to it, with the teacher insinuating the way, supporting the student without
pushing him/her to his/her physical or emotional limits. Similarly, when necessary,
she will encourage him/her to challenge himself/herself.
Eleftheria has established a way of teaching whereby the image is used as little as possible (de-visualisation one might say).
The image of the teacher or the image of a leaflet with printed exercises or a video are not used in Om studio.
No guru/teacher is considered a model for imitation. They are an inspiration but the solutions stem from within and are not
to be sought in a person, in life, in nutrition or in the words of someone else. Each person is distinct
and thus each person will conceive yoga in a different manner.
Om studio focuses on the living-through-it experience of each practitioner . We aim at the learning of the asanas
through their practice, creating a strong body-memory and free from any unnecessary intellectual effort during practice.
We thus enjoy a multifaceted experience of yoga without being bombarded by doctrines, aphorisms, lifestyle motos,
and without being 'encircled' by the teachers net. In this way, the student is emotionally free to explore his/her own dynamic.
When someone wishes or needs visual information, Eleftheria encourages the student to look at another student in the class,
so that the information is provided by someone who is not in a position of “power” (i.e. the teacher).
Eleftheria very rarely, if ever, has a picture of her taken when she is practicing yoga
The website has several brand new pictures of the teaching in Om Studio. They have been selected from 4 different classes
that took place in July 2012, without students to be prepared about it. The school’s website was created in 2010 and therefore
these are the only pictures from the classes, 10 years since the opening of the school,
always remaining in the context of “devisualisation”. In the photographs, except from Poly Giannopoulou an Ashtanga teacher,
the rest are students. Some might have been practicing 10 years while others just two months.
Most of them have been working in Primary Series, many in Intermediate Series and a few in Advanced A' Series.
Om Ashtanga Yoga Studio maintains philosophical and social sensitivities and thus ponders with the en masse
training of yoga teacher, from big organisations and private schools. The trainings have certain hours of teaching
for a considerable amount of money but the market can' t absorb these teachers. Here lies thus a serious ethical issue,
concerning yoga and its commercialisation. Furthermore, Ashtanga teaching requires a lot of experience and ability
in order to be taught safely in an emotional and physical way.
Eleftheria has given her consent to only one person to teach, Poly, who has been practicing next to her constantly
for the past 11 years and has been teaching daily since 2005. Eleftheria is very dedicated and meticulous and accepts the end
result with seriousness and modesty. She is surrounded by special and wonderful people who enjoy in this specific
studio the balance between austere and authentic teaching as well as the unpretentious and honest ambiance.
The school is turning 10 years old. During these years, Eleftheria has taught men, women, couples, brothers and sisters,
mothers with their children, in laws and relatives. Inside the studio many baptisms and weddings have been planned,
several pregnant women have practiced and many children as well as friendships have been born. The choice of growing up
in experience/essence is very conscious in order that the school remains a 'family' school and not something else.
Eleftheria thanks the people who have taught in the school all these years-especially during her pregnancies:
Despoina Grigoriou, Rena Papantoniou and Mariella Papaioannou. Of course, Poli Giannopoulou as well.
She expresses her great gratitude to Radha and Pierre for the knowledge they have transmitted to her
in their own silent and special way. She has been lucky to have met Radha in her first steps with traditional Ashtanga Yoga.
The relationship between her and Radha and Pierre is for her a true apprenticeship: since 2001 she has been returning
to them every year in order to go deeper in her practice, under their omnipresence. She is happy they live in her country.
Two thoughts that Eleftheria has articulated, reflect her way of thinking:
-A flexible mind, can make a flexible body but a flexible body doesn’t guarantee a flexible mind.
-Yoga is the way that you adjust to reality at every specific moment in time
Information for workshops and new photographs from the classes and studio's excursions can be found in www.omstudio.gr.
Finally, it has to be noted that Om Studio is a place with a very specific and clear opinion. It works independently
serving a traditional practice, without aiming to make a profit and its main goal is the emotional,
intellectual and physical awakening through a very specific way of practicing.
Next year she might be fishing for sea weeds in Madagascar.
Some books that have inspired Eleftheria and “touch upon” yoga without necessarily mentioning it.
- Harouki Mourakami, “What i talk about when i talk about running”
- Herman Hesse “Kurgast”
- Jose Saramangu “The Double”
- Nikos Kazantzakis “Salvadores Dei: Askitiki”
- Her oldest and beloved book on yoga : “Yoga” Mircea Eliade
The least that Eleftheria can do is say a very big thank you to all those who have trusted in her the past years.
And this, is truly very little.
Thank you very much.
Om Ashtanga Yoga Studio
This text was written in Aigina