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  • Writer's pictureTribes Team

In a Spa State of Mind. Unique world class resort-spas are thriving. What can we learn from them

By Kaitlyn Benally, TribeAwaken

What is a wellness spa? The word spa conjures up images of mud baths, soothing facials, relaxing massages, and rejuvenating body scrubs. The International Spa Association defines spas as “a place devoted to enhancing overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body, and spirit.” A wellness spa steps things up a notch. It includes those personal services and also incorporates other experiences that are specifically aimed at improving health. These experiences help a person develop a healthy lifestyle by providing cuisine that emphasizes healthy eating habits, fitness programs, stress reduction classes, therapeutic spa treatments, and educational lectures that teach healthy habits.

I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Tony Skrelunas about his experience at Rancho La Puerta (The Ranch), a wellness resort and spa located in a sacred area nestled away in the mountains of Tecate, Mexico. At first, Tony didn’t know what a health spa consisted of and didn’t know what to expect during his getaway. He stayed at The Ranch for four days and three nights. I asked about his trip to Rancho La Puerta and he had much to say about his experience. For him, it was a really transformative and eye opening experience. When he first arrived at the location, he noticed that the landscaping was world class with a crew working nonstop to maintain the grounds. The rooms were fantastic, comfortable, and relaxing. The architecture and trails surrounding the area all worked together to provide a natural, luxuriant feel. He started off with an electronic detox where he was cut off from using electronics and there was only one spot with wifi. He also told me about the spa cuisine that consisted of a Mediterranean diet such as seafood, fresh picked produce, whole grain, dairy, and eggs. The meals were designed to provide protein, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics to fuel an active fitness lifestyle which the spa promotes through its many fitness classes. As a runner, Tony noticed that this spa diet fueled his body in a unique way, he didn’t need food in the morning but still had the energy to run and lift weights. The classes ranged from karate, tai chi, weight lifting, swimming, tennis, hiking, and meditation. You choose what classes to take, what workshops to attend, and what lectures to listen to. Tony attended many workshops and lectures to get the most out of his experience. Workshops such as sound meditation which taught him different techniques to meditate but many used the time to nap, health classes on how a better diet is beneficial to your body, and lectures about financial fitness and positive family relations. At The Ranch, many of the instructors came from different places around the world to share their passion with others. They all work together to heal your body and mind.

Tony felt like a whole different person and felt healed after his experience at Rancho La Puerta. He has become a lot more aware about healthy living. His diet and foodstyle has changed to include more vegan type protein everyday. He is more aware of traditional foods and the need for meditation. For instance, meditating properly for 20 minutes a day is like getting 4 extra hours of sleep. Tony is a very industrious person juggling running a business, completing high level business projects, working full-time, and taking time to workout and pursue his hobbies. So, he needs to be rested, have energy, and be focused to keep up with his everyday living. Therefore, he applies what he learned from Rancho La Puerta into his life to eat, sleep, exercise, and meditate properly so his body can feel so much better. He says, “You can choose the right path that is best for you.”

From his experience at Rancho La Puerta, Tony believes there is a way to share that positive experience with our tribal people. From his standpoint, many of the healings used at wellness spas are intertwined with the way of life our tribal people used to know a long time ago. For instance, a sauna is similar to a sweat lodge ceremony, medicinal herbs like sage are used in spas for its healing energy, and traditional foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts are also included in a spa cuisine.

There are many things to consider about building a wellness spa on the reservation. First of all, it would be nice to have a part of the spa directed towards the healing of our own people. We have many issues to address on the reservation such as a high suicide rate among teenagers and young adults, many people are battling depression or mental illnesses, some couples are not in a healthy relationship, some families are in a financial bind, and many adults have diabetes or health issues. We need a place to heal and teach our own people. A place that provides workshops, lectures, presentations, and classes on how to improve mental health, relationships, fitness, and diet in a positive healthy way. This could be done as a non-profit healing center component where the public benefits as a piece of a larger business.

Second, Tony would like to help create an initiative and help businesses think about how they can incorporate different techniques for healthy living and world class spa elements into their business. It could be about the food and diet theme part of a restaurant, a class for chefs or the community, a class to teach meditation and yoga, or anything health and fitness related. This goal also appeals to the tourism industry. There is a market for wellness spas in many parts of the world. Many tourists from different countries travel to our lands to experience the culture and sights we have to offer on the reservations. We have fantastic land and views at the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Hopi mesas, and Supai areas. Just being a part of these places is healing and we can design something around that.

Multiple Native American entrepreneurs could come together and join forces to build a world class tribal owned business. It could be a business venture that different tribes invest in or communities could invest into. There are questions to ask such as how can we make it to where the investor is protected, how do we make sure it's a fair set up, in what ways can the community can have some involvement with decision making, how do you raise funds for this venture in a fair way, who does what, and what kind of investment is needed to establish equity in a business? There are investors who would invest hundreds of millions of dollars into this venture.

Tony gets excited as he shares his intent “As a tribe, we cannot think small. We want to be the first to create a world class spa on the reservation that not only appeals to the tourists, but also to help heal our people. The impact of a wellness spa on the reservation would be tremendous. Many jobs would be created because the business would need chefs, instructors, landscapers, maintenance crews, gardeners, restaurants, and so much more. It would be a positive impact because the spa is about health and healing. It would also be an opportunity to take bits and pieces of our Native meditation styles, food knowledge, herbal medicine knowledge and share it with other people. . Each tribe has a unique story and a different approach, melding into a well thought out spa that includes traditional aspects. There are ways to respectfully and appropriately share our knowledge and incorporate it into a world class wellness spa.”

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