WELLNESS AS A STATUS SYMBOL

The Global Wellness Institute have now released their trends for 2018, which are very conceptual and a little difficult to grasp at the 'grass roots' operational level. However, the trends below presented by Euromonitor struck a chord with me and I thought they were definitely worth sharing. 

LONGEVITY ECONOMY - In 2018, almost a quarter of everyone on the planet will be over the age of 50, a record number. It is being suggested brands focus less on millennials and more on customers over the age of 50. The growing population over 50 represents a fast-growing contingent of active, productive people who are working longer and taking the economy in new directions. Women over fifty want to be represented by the media.

AUTHENTICITY - is a standout consumer value in 2018. Visual communication is inspired by flawed images drawing on wabi-sabi as its founding principles, advocating that beauty is to be found in imperfection, impermanence and the authentic. 

REAL WORLD HOLIDAY - Due to digital dependency and the difficulty of uninterrupted reflection, several tour operators, cruise lines and resorts are now promoting unplugged vacations (Digital Detox Trips). Participants pledge to leave digital devices behind while the Intrepid Travel tour leader emails updates to their loved ones. Urban hotels helping guests switch off include Renaissance Pittsburgh hotel, offering a family digital detox package letting guests exchange their devices for traditional board games. 

EXPERIENTIAL LUXURY - high-end personalisation is thriving due to demand for “experiential luxury”, the shift from “having to being”. 

POST-PURCHASE CONTACT - with the company’s representatives, the medium and the tone of the response are also critical parts of the customer journey, shaping their view of the business. 

STATUS SYMBOL - The desire to be fitter and healthier seems to be almost universal. Healthy living is becoming a status symbol, as more consumers opt to flaunt their passion for wellness through paying for boutique fitness sessions, “athleisure” clothing, food with health-giving properties and upscale health and wellness holidays. The spectacle of those willing to throw money at their quest for spiritual improvement is seen via the frequent consumer Instagram posts of retreat experiences posing against scenic backdrops. Consuming “stuff”, was once an indicator of wealth, but is now being replaced with the lack of things, lack of excess fat, and even a lack of wayward thoughts, which now defines aspiration and is at the heart of the consumer interest in wellness.

WEARABLE DEVICES - now offer to track mental wellbeing as well as physical fitness. 

BOUTIQUE HEALTH - The consumer interest in staying well sees them combining wellbeing activities with cathartic physical activity. This is reflected in a thriving menu of more esoteric, boutique fitness workout choices in urban hubs and spas. Some unlikely combinations have emerged, including BoxingYoga, BootyYoga etc

SLEEP - Many consumers are increasingly interested in products that promote healthy sleep, urged by professionals not to view sleep as a lifestyle choice, but to respect it as they do diet and exercise, as a core health building block. An estimated three million people are listening to sleep playlists on Spotify, making it one of their most popular genres. The above-mentioned sleep monitoring machine Sense has sustained its consumer appeal with the addition of new sounds to sleep to and greater accessibility

WELLNESS HOLIDAYS - Promote the idea that consumers can take some time out, transform themselves and return a better, happier person. Activity holidays for physical and mental health are a growth sector. Money is no object when it comes to top-of-the range luxury pampering and rejuvenation treatments in hotel spas and dedicated wellness centres.

So as I step into my 2018 spa and wellness projects I will certainly be considering how these trends might apply to any given project. 

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DAY SPA AT MITCHELTON

Designing a Day Spa is one of my passions, especially when I have the opportunity to work with an iconic brand, along with visionary owners and interior designers. The commitment to perfection and following the process to get there, is for me a joy, rather than a tedious task. And such was the case when preparing the pre-opening of the Mitchelton Day Spa. 

Working with Hecker Guthrie Design Studio we began with a detailed design brief and an allocated space located on level 2 of the hotel. Once gathering the details of what was required of a day spa, the design team set to working on three possible floor plans. We then discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each upon which the designers quickly came up with another two variations. We were now close to getting it right! Just a few more refinements and our floor plan maximised the space, created optimal flow for the guest journey and reduced the problem of having staff 'running' through the day spa more than was necessary. 

Next we began working on lighting and electrical plans, joinery design and finishes and fixtures. Storage was maximised in each of the treatment rooms so that staff could efficiently turn their room around between treatments whilst also lessening the traffic of therapists visiting reception and back of house for supplies. Less movement equals more peace and a smoother and more effective operation. A drawer dishwasher and hot/cold water filter was built into the relaxation room joinery minimising the need for carrying tea cups to the kitchen. Private change rooms inclusive of toilet, basin and shower adjoin a open plan locker area so as to maximise the space, whilst also providing a luxury experience. All of these details ensure a seamless experience for guests and staff. 

The palette is calming with the addition of 'pop' features such as the tiles in the wet areas and the gorgeous dark green marble reception desk. The floor surface chosen is quiet, anti-fatigue, durable and perfect for a day spa environment where oils and product can easily damage and deteriorate a surface. Beautiful linen curtains and curved walls add a soft touch to the entire space, and removable covers grace the relaxation chairs and lounges so that a fresh clean look can be maintained. 

USPA was chosen as its a perfect fit for this beautiful country location. Made in Victoria and offering a comprehensive and natural face, hair and body collection, the USPA concept marries beautifully with all that Mitchelton stands for. 

The team at Pop-n-Pac Creative developed a luxurious linen bound spa menu compendium and matching collaterals based on the templates provided by Spa Wellness Consulting. 

Finally after many long hours of unpacking stock, setting up, implementing systems and training the team, the Day Spa at Mitchelton opened on the 1st of December. And very quickly we were inundated with gift voucher requests and forward bookings. If I dare say it, I believe this lovely day spa overlooking the Goulburn River and set amidst vineyards and the iconic Mitchelton Estate will very soon be considered one of Melbourne's best destination day spa's, and that makes me very satisfied, content and proud. 

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VANA RETREAT, INDIA

Three years ago I was contacted about a role, for a soon to be opened retreat in India, called Vana. It was an interesting offer, but alas my gypsy soul was well settled back in Australia so moving to another continent was not an option. However, my curiosity was piqued and I was keen to follow this wellness newcomer to see what it would offer when opened. Cut to October 2017 and I find myself touching down at Dehra Dun airport prepared and ready for 7 days of contemporary ashram living. 

A friendly and humble Indian driver was waiting to collect me at the gate and then we drove through villages and countryside for an hour before arriving through the gates of Vana. A welcome bracelet (red thread) was wrapped and tied around my wrist upon arrival, which is traditional when entering temple ceremonies and rituals.

I was inducted into the Vana way and shown to my room before I made my way back to the Tibetan Healing Centre for a Sowa Rigpa therapy, which followed with dinner and bed. The next morning I began my day with a classical hatha yoga class, which included pranayama and yoga nidra to close the class. Something the yoga classes in the west have lost. After breakfast I made my way to the wellness centre with 'spa wish list' in hand. My initial wellness consultation was with an Ayurvedic Doctor and based upon the discussion I was asked to surrender to the prescribed plan that was seen to be best for my dosha and current imbalance. By lunch time I had received my spa itinerary for the entire week, which includes a daily Ayurvedic massage, tibetan healing, a consultation with the Tibetan Doctor and a number of other treatments. 

This is a contemporary ashram in every sense. Vana Retreat offers inspiration as to the power of simplicity, spirituality and silence. This retreat model was appropriate given the location and design of the property as it is not an expansive property and by way of its very design causes one to go on a journey of inner reflection. No mobile phones are allowed in public spaces and this causes further 'present moment awareness' and makes me realise how attached I have become to my device. I enjoy this digital detox. A set of white kurta pajamas are delivered to the room every day and not having to think about what to wear is one less decision each day and has a way of removing the egoic need we typically have to be 'special'.

Currently Vana offers a minimum 7 day retreat and soon this will be a minimum of 10 days as they strive to preserve a purist philosophy and maximise the healing result for guests. I met quite a number of guests who have already been to Vana 5 to 7 times in the 3 years it has been open. Certainly testament to Vana doing something very right. There is certainly a purity to the Vana way that is expressed through the ecological approach of the building, the spa and healing therapies, and the approach to food. The Dalai Lama has been to visit and bless Vana, and quite honestly the strong intention that belies this business can be felt in the ether. Spiritual and cultural traditions are honoured and as a guest I have the opportunity to touch the authentic essence of India without the usual dirt and noise of the country. 

Finally where would a retreat be without its food? Well I can say the approach to food is not restrictive in terms of flavours and colours, but rather served in small portions so that the taste buds can enjoy a variety of ayurvedic foods in a contemporary sense. A cooking class is also presented twice a week. One of my favourite times is afternoon tea in the lounge with my book 'The Road Less Travelled' by Scott M Peck. Apparently when the student is ready the teacher appears, and it seems I am now ready to read this classic tale of personal growth and spiritual development, which lands deeply inside of me given the reflection time I have had on retreat.

Day 7 comes around all too soon, but what I can say is that I am well rested and ready for the final leg of this 5 week exploration holiday. Upon departure another red thread bracelet with a charm is wrapped and tied around my wrist with well wishes. I am also given a red thread (presented on a copper platter) and invited to make a wish whilst tying the thread around an installation on the wall in the welcome/farewell pavilion. I pause and think for a moment before tying my 'lucky' thread to the wall. 

Overall Vana Retreat offers something very unique. Bringing Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and healing together ensures that the Vana way offers a lot of wisdom, integrity and applicable philosophies for modern day life and psychological development.

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THE NYC WELLNESS SCENE

Whenever I am researching fitness trends there is one city that just keeps on popping up. New York City! So it made sense to add a 'fitness/wellness holiday' in NYC following the Global Wellness Summit. Here are some of the experiences and brands I had the chance to visit and try on. 

1 HOTEL - I have been dying to visit the 1 Hotel in Brooklyn and was not disappointed. Its such an excellent model of a socially conscious brand with ecological design at the core of its philosophy. Every sustainable detail has been considered making it every bit authentic. The brand is part of the Starwood Capital Group and brainchild of hotelier Barry Sternlicht. There are currently 3 hotels in USA with 4 more opening internationally in 2018/19, which tells me this sustainable model is wanted by our guests and wellness warriors. 

BAMFORD SPA - Thinking I was going to have to visit the UK to visit a Bamford Spa you can imagine my delight when I discovered that the 1 Hotel has partnered with Bamford Spa. The spa offers a complete ecological perspective throughout its operation and it was nothing short of eco luxe exquisite. Next time I will definitely be treating myself with a treatment, but for this visit a retail bag of bamford goodies had to suffice.  

AIRE ANCIENT ROMAN BATHS - I was told if visiting NYC I had to visit AIRE, and so I booked my first 'night out' here and was not disappointed. This exquisite thermal bathing area is set below ground level featuring candles, music, various baths including a magnesium float bath, jacuzzi, thermal baths, cold plunge pools, a salt pillar for self applied body scrubs, steam room and a space for treatments. I added a salt stone massage to compliment my bathing experience. This brand is expanding across Europe and the UK and I can see why its such a popular choice for city dwellers as it offers an 'other worldly' relaxation experience in the heart of the city.

INSCAPE MEDITATION - This space features two meditation pods with specialised lighting. The variety of seating props were excellent, offering something suited to every type of person and their physical comfort. The class is introduced by a facilitator who sits in the centre but the class itself is lead by a recorded voice. The brilliance in this is being able to offer a class that is universally likeable, with good sound and without requiring an expert meditation teacher to be present. The retail store at Inscape offered an excellent range of boutique wellness products and a very nice relaxation area to hang out with a cup of fruit infused water and a book.

WOOM YOGA - I jumped in a cab and went downtown for a midday yoga class in the Woom room. This centre offers yoga classes and sound meditations amidst a light show of patterns and imagery projected onto the wall. The music was quite loud and the lighting reminiscent of a night club in parts and I felt energised and engaged in the journey. Definitely worth a visit when in NYC.

PELOTON CYCLING - This class is a convenient and immersive indoor cycling experience, streaming daily live classes from the NYC studio. This could be an excellent offering for the wellness hotel room concept. The advantage of this model is that guests receive a consistent standard of instructor. I see this model being perfect for homes and hotels. 

SOUL CYCLE - This class is a style of cycling that incorporates motivational and dance based instruction. It is a fun, intense workout in a dark room that is similar to a dance studio. Taking the cycle scene by storm its an excellent style of class to consider for any health retreat. 

TRAMPOLEAN CLASS - Ive often thought that rebounding classes need to enter the fitness arena. Well NYC offers trampolean and I really got a workout in this class. In a dark industrial style room we did all sorts of moves on the rebounder with the addition of hand weights and therabands to tone and stretch the entire body. This was an excellent low impact class with high impact results. The health benefits of rebounding are numerous as it cleanses the lymphatic system and exercises every internal organ and cell in the body, whilst delivering excellent aerobic exercise without impacting on joints. 

In addition to soaking and fitness classes I also did what anyone must do when in NYC, which was to go up to the top of the Empire State Building, see a show on Broadway and add in a spot of shopping in Times Square. I loved every minute in this vibrant city and cant wait to visit again. 

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MODERN MAYAN WELLNESS

Following the Global Wellness Summit, I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to join a post summit trip to the newly opened Chable Resort in the Yucatan region of Mexico. Ten years in the making, Chable first opened its doors in November 2016 and was already heralding international acclaim, so I was certainly looking forward to the journey. 

Based on ancient Mayan culture and set on the most exquisite 750 acre property, complete with remnants of ruins to remind one of centuries past, a beautiful blue hacienda houses the reception, retail boutique, a bar and some other spaces. Beautiful furnishings, artworks and sculptures grace each room and meet us upon our arrival to this other worldly resort. 

After check in I am escorted along a winding path to my private villa, set in amongst the jungle. The room is spacious and well appointed with a bathroom that connects to the outdoors, a comfortable king size bed and sitting area, along with a private plunge pool and terrace. I am in heaven! After a very social 10 days of travelling I am ready to rest and sink into the surrounding nature. 

A light lunch is served at the restaurant that sits by the most magical pool, before I make my way to an afternoon in the spa. The treatment menu is like nothing I have ever seen before so I book 8 treatments in the space of 3 days. I want to take in all of this mayan healing. I have Janzu, Rain Goddess Ritual, a Bio Energy Lift Facial, Mayan Herbal Compress Massage amongst other things. The menu also offers a Traditional Ceremonial Temazcal, however unfortunately the shaman is unable to perform the ceremony on the needed day which gives me a reason to return. I could hardly imagine going to stay at Chable without having at least one spa treatment from this amazing spa menu. 

The stand out feature of the resort for me is the day spa, but then perhaps I am biased as I am sure a cigar smoker or tequila drinker might say otherwise. In any case the central spa facilities are stunning, with treatment rooms branching off along a circular path overlooking the central cenote, which is a fresh water hole considered to be sacred in Mexican culture. Having other facilities such as the fitness centre, a café, swimming pool and yoga deck connected to the day spa keeps the wellness activities nicely connected. There is also a café located at the spa which offers a complimentary daily tasting of small bites. 

The men’s and women’s change room each have an outdoor thermal bathing area with sauna, steam, salt room, showers and hot and cold pools. Near the entrance to the relaxation lounge is a small open room that displays the local ingredients and herbs that make up the spa products and smoking ceremony mix. A large white conch shell set in the middle of a pond resides in the centre of the spa. Here and before my first ritual I was guided across the stepping stones and into the centre of the conch for a Mayan intention setting and smoking ceremony. Depending on the ritual chosen, some rituals began with drumming, sounding of the conch, rattles or other instruments. Definitely the most unique ritual experience I have encountered to date and I loved it!

The resort had a visiting yoga teacher who offered a number of classes during the day that included yoga, meditation, guided visualisation, journaling and talks on mindfulness. Most classes were on the yoga deck that sat on the edge of the sacred cenote. There were also another couple from Spain that facilitated a qi gong class accompanied by live spiritual music. This was both unique and wonderful. Led in the courtyard under the expansive shade of a large tree I was transported to another place with the movements, breath and sound.

Chable has found a way to successfully offer wellness alongside other cultural traditions of Mexico such as a cigar bar and Ixium, the fine dining restaurant, which has a tequila collection of over 3600 bottles. The food menu’s were not entirely wellness focused, but they were small portions of Mexican style food and the staff always enquired as to whether I had any dietary requests, so they were ready and able to cater to dairy, sugar and gluten free options.

Overall, Chable Resort has found a way to merge authentic wellness, mayan spirituality and healing, along with traditional Mexican culture, which is what makes it the perfectly balanced wellness getaway. 

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GLOBAL WELLNESS SUMMIT

This year I had the fantastic experience of attending the Global Wellness Summit, which has held at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. The professionals that attend this amazing event are at the forefront of the global wellness movement across a wide array of industries. The speeches, presentations and forums were of the highest calibre, with future thinking, ground breaking technology and what is happening across the planet being discussed and discovered. We had glamorous evening events to attend, round table lunches and the opportunity to meet the best in the spa and wellness industry. Inspiring on all levels! 

The eight wellness trends that emerged this year were the most left of field I have ever seen and can be found on the GWS website, so if you are reading this blog I will let you discover those for yourself. My personal favourite take homes were as follows;

Healthy Building Design: Why It’s a Smart Decision for Businesses and Investors - Delos presented research on guest satisfaction, loyalty and behaviours related to staying in hotels that offered a wellness environment via the stay well rooms. The results were very impressive and should certainly have hotels considering this approach.

Millennials are not Wellness Newbies: Presented by Good & Well - This was a fantastic presentation on the trends and behaviours of millennials in regards to wellness. Influencers have a major impact on a business having millennials as followers and are more likely to attract attendees to their retreats.  

Other Interesting Points Learned at GWS were;

Energy is 4 dimensional - Physically energised, spiritually aligned, mentally focused, emotionally connected

Energy expenditure has to be balanced with energy recovery 

Depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion dollars in lost work days 

People actually become happier as they age

Technology opens up Wellness and mental support to all people 

Eyes are direct connection to the brain and if we can stimulate the brain through the power of nature it will have a positive affect

Hotels need to integrate authenticity and sustainability 

When sustainability is only an economic drive the intention is upside down 

Equanimity within and compassion without are the core of living a well life 

Anytime we judge someone new we are judging them on... high warmth and high competence 

Move away from anti-ageing to age embracing 

We are sinking in data but starving in wisdom 

Fear is not a sustainable motivator to change. What is sustainable is fun, freedom, pleasure and love

Hot spring tourism has been emerging and developing rapidly over the past 20 years

There is great potential for virtual reality to be brought into the wellness space

The 2018 GWS will be held at Technogym HQ in Italy so a little sojourn to Europe may be on the cards.  

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HOT SPRINGS TOUR

My trip to Japan earlier this year, along with two other client projects, a couple of random meetings and then an invitation to Peninsula Hot Springs for the launch of Synthesis skincare, have all drawn me into the world of thermal bathing and hot springs. Therefore in following this new path of discovery I decided to join the Global Thermal Think Tank, which was a tour of 4 hot springs resorts in the USA right before the Global Wellness Summit.

Meeting with 20 other hot spring resort owners, developers, suppliers and enthusiasts we began our tour, with a two night stay at Glen Ivy Hot Springs in California. This resort offers a variety of bathing pools, a grotto, mud bath, cold plunge pool, magnesium pool, sauna, steam room and day spa with a menu of assorted treatments and therapies. A well stocked retail store, cafe, restaurant, yoga deck and labyrinth also add to the properties experiences.

The itinerary for this tour included free time to soak in the pools and explore the various facilities and activities. Glen Ivy management organised delicious health fulfilling meals and I had the opportunity to meet my co-travellers and learn of their interest and connection to this industry. In addition we had group forums, presentations and lectures in the schedule.  

Our next two day stay was at Two Bunch Palms, an oasis in the middle of the Californian desert which is quite literally named after the two bunches of palms that sit in the middle of this landscape and mark the hot springs. We were welcomed with an intention setting and smoking ceremony lead by the resident shaman, and then had time to soak and relax before meeting for dinner. The following day various presenters talked of the history, trends and progressions in the hot springs industry. 

Our final destination was two flights and a road trip away to Ojo Caliente located near Sante Fe, Mexico. Nestled in a valley on 1,100 acres, Ojo is deemed sacred by the Native Americans of Northern New Mexico. The legendary waters here have been soothing body, mind and spirit for centuries and are the only hot springs in the world with 4 unique, sulfer-free mineral waters. 

Throughout history, people have used thermal and mineral springs for bathing, healing, socializing, and spiritual reasons. Those traditions are the roots of today’s spa industry, and are finding a resurgence of interest as consumers increasingly seek authentic, natural, and place-based experiences.

There are over 26,000 establishments in 103 countries that have wellness, recreational, and therapeutic facilities and services built around thermal/mineral springs. Collectively, these establishments earned more than $50 billion in revenues in 2013. Only 6,500 of these establishments offer spa-related services such as massages and facials and because they earn much higher average revenues, thermal and mineral springs establishments that offer spa treatments account for nearly two-thirds of industry revenues.

Asia leads the world in thermal/mineral springs revenues at $26.7 billion, with the two main markets—Japan and China—accounting for 51% of global revenues. The Asian market is dominated by the thousands of onsen in Japan and the ongoing massive investments in hot springs resorts in China. The second largest region is Europe, estimated at $21.7 billion, with a mature industry of sanatoria, health resorts, and thermal stations that use thermal and mineral waters primarily for therapeutic, curative, and rehabilitative purposes. 

As the renewed interest in the special properties of thermal and mineral waters continues to pick up momentum, we expect to see a growing number of businesses built around springs in countries where the industry is less developed. In the well-established markets in Europe, many countries are refurbishing their facilities and modernizing their offerings to appeal to modern wellness consumers and travellers. 

I certainly now know that my preference from this point of discovery will to be have a combined hot springs and spa resort experience. Its just so fulfilling to have a connection to a life giving source of wellness whilst being outdoors in the sunshine or under the stars. And with the addition of a day spa ritual, there really isn't too much more one could want.  

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SWC PROJECTS

These past few months, myself and the team at Spa Wellness have had the opportunity to work on a few smaller, but no less important projects. So I thought I would share an update on whats been happening here at SWC HQ in Melbourne. 

AMARA WELLNESS CENTRE - MELBOURNE

Amara is a unique wellness concept that weaves together a range of services. Located in Brunswick, Melbourne and owned by Dr Zara Celik, this centre offers turkish hammam rituals, wellness coaching, chiropractic, endermologie, endermotherapie and a huber motion lab. Traditional spa culture meets modern day technology for a fusion of relaxation, rejuvenation and rehabilitation. 

Upon discussing the objectives we began working on copy for a new treatment menu and website. My graphic designer Stef worked her magic by refreshing the brand and designing the spa brochure and other signage. Marc, my web developer worked on a new website based on how I felt the site needed to be navigated and what it needed to offer. I enjoyed a lovely hammam ritual so that I could offer feedback on the guest journey and where it needed to improve. And we supplied SOPs and standard contracts.  

With these few important changes Amara Wellness Centre now has a greater opportunity to achieve and flourish in the competitive wellness industry.

SWISSOTEL - HOPE ISLAND, QLD

Hope Island Resort is quite a grand property sitting in the centre of a golf course on the sunny Gold Coast. However it is now under re-development and therefore I was asked to provide a design brief for a new day spa. Two architects had already prepared plans and while they were good, amendments were definitely required. The prep room, office and retail area was not sufficient, there were a few too many treatment rooms, with too few facilities and the circulation of traffic through the space was not going to flow. 

This is where having a consultant that knows the inner workings of a space is an imperative, both from an ROI and efficiency perspective, along with the fact that calm staff and good flow equals a seamless guest journey. With that knowing, we revised the floor plan, presented a new concept which meant reducing treatment rooms in favour of a thermal bathing experience, plus added the necessary back of house areas that would support staff efficiency, which thereby reduces labor costs and stress. 

The end result is a day spa, that already just on paper, is going to be more profitable, more attractive, more competitive and a deliver on a much nicer guest experience.

RACV ONE SPA - VIC, QLD

Did you know that RACV has a portfolio of hotels and resorts? No less their own brand of day spa, called One Spa? Neither did I until I received a call in March of 2016 with a request to put forth a tender to review all six One Spa sites. 

Two months later, and following a thorough review of each One Spa, which involved a mystery shopping audit and then a return visit to carefully observe and ask questions of the business, I put forth a detailed report outlining the existing challenges and solutions. From this report, RACV implemented many changes and went onto choose a new spa partner. This then meant changing the spa menu for each One Spa and this was approached strategically based on previous best performing treatments. 

We wrote the copy and drafted the initial spa menu design, which was then completed by the in-house graphic design team. A simple luxe paper stock was chosen as per recommendation and finally after many detailed hours of proofing and editing, the spa menu was launched in conjunction with Comfort Zone as the new spa partner. 

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IKIGAI

Many ancient indigenous cultures took time to honour the question of purpose through ceremony, vision quest and rites of passage in order to help reveal the essential role in the story of life. Unfortunately the space and reverence for this question does not always seem to exist today and for many, our decisions around life-focus unfold in a more reactionary way, propelling us into educational, professional and life-directional paths based less on deep inner calling or soul-inspired vision, and more on societal expectations or so-called ‘practical reality’ and what is required to survive in the systems we’ve created to live in. 

The distinguishing quality of many of the healthiest people is that they seem to be the most aligned or ‘called’ towards some primary focus of meaning in their life. They have a sense of purpose. And this is the single most powerful contributing factor to one’s health and vitality.

Japanese culture actually has a word which addresses this focus. The word is ikigai and translates simply as, ‘reason for being’.

According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. To find it often requires deep enquiry and lengthy ‘search of self’ – a search which is highly regarded. The term ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: iki referring to life, and kai, which roughly means “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”. Unpacking the word and its associated symbol a bit further, ikigai is seen as the convergence of four primary elements:

What you Love (your passion)

What the World Needs (your mission)

What you are Good at (your vocation)

What you can get Paid for (your profession)

When we are immersed in any endeavour that brings us into our hearts, that makes us come alive – and we are bringing ourselves fully to it – instantly we become more generative, more magnetic and more dynamic in our ability to navigate challenges and discover pathways of breakthrough.

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JAPANESE MINDFULNESS

I had the privilege of visiting Japan in May so that I could gain an insight into the culture and therefore conceptualise Japan's first wellness retreat. A luxury destination where guests can experience the Japanese approach to longevity and wellbeing, for which they are renowned. Beyond nutrition and movement, which is where we in the West often limit wellness, is the central concept of mindfulness that is inherent in the Japanese arts, and indeed in their very way of being. 

The simple, but compelling, act of mindful living offers an invaluable tool to cope with the pace of modern day living. Mindfulness reduces stress, improves sleep, cognitive function and balances the emotions. Here below I share a number of mindfulness practices that stem from Japan to offer a perspective on how meditation can be something other than 'the lotus position'. 

ZAZEN - In Zen Buddhism, zazen is a meditative discipline that is typically the primary practice. The precise meaning and method of zazen varies from school to school, but in general it can be regarded as a means of insight into the nature of existence. Zazen is practiced in different ways depending on its tradition. It may involve facing a wall or facing into the centre of the room with eyelids half lowered. It can also include a walking meditation in the room. 

JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY - The heart of the Japanese tea ceremony lies in simplicity of spirit which brings peace to the mind. The objective of the ceremony is not just to make a cup of tea; it is a deliberate exercise in being present in the moment, focusing on one task and appreciating the simple things in life. The ritual of the tea ceremony is based on the 4 fundamental Zen principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

IKEBANA FLOWER ARRANGING - Ikebana or kado is the beautiful, often strikingly minimalist, Japanese flower arrangement art. Ikebana means “giving life to flowers” and kado translates as “the way of flowers”. When Buddhism was introduced to Japan, monks started to arrange flowers to decorate the altars of temples.

KOTO LESSON - The koto is the national instrument of Japan. It is a stringed musical instrument that is plucked with ivory picks called tsume.

ORIGAMI - Japanese origami began sometime after Buddhist monks carried paper to Japan during the 6th century. The word "origami" comes from the Japanese language. "Ori" which means folded and "kami" which means paper. This traditional paper folding art is very relaxing and meditative. 

JAPANESE INCENSE CEREMONY - Kōdō ( 道?, "Way of Fragrance") is the art of appreciating Japanese incense, and involves using incense within a structure of codified conduct. Kōdō includes all aspects of the incense process, from the tools ( 道具 kōdōgu), to activities such the incense-comparing games kumikō (組 ) and genjikō (源 ).[1] Kōdō is counted as one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement.

JAPANESE CALLIGRAPHY - Zen calligraphy is practiced by Buddhist monks and most shodō practitioners. To write Zen calligraphy with mastery, one must clear one's mind and let the letters flow out of themselves, not practice and make a tremendous effort. This state of mind is called the mushin (無 ? "no mind state”). For any particular piece of paper, the calligrapher must be fully present and has but one chance to create with the brush.

JAPANESE POTTERY - Learning to use the potter’s wheel takes patience, practice, and focus. It is also very relaxing and rewarding. Initially the class will make small bowls, plates or cups before progressing onto other forms. Hand building or sculpture, is another way to work with clay. The basic techniques are easier to learn than wheel throwing and there is a larger range of forms you can make. 

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