December 1, 2019

Lessons from Amani Spa

“Sometimes you need to hit the reset button.”

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my daughter Hannah who has inspired me to pursue my passions and follow my dreams which means writing my memoir, growing my blog, and becoming a better writer. It’s great to have a role model so close to home (although she’s in New Zealand right now), but people who inspire are everywhere. To find them is simply a matter of paying attention.

People don’t have to be famous to be inspirational. Sometimes it’s the folks going quietly about their business, striving to live their best lives, taking chances, and stepping outside their comfort zones who can have an impact on us.

Earlier in the fall, I spent two glorious weeks in Greece on a writing retreat with my coach and mentor, Kathleen Hamilton. While we were there, Kathleen surprised me with an amazing experience at a family-owned spa on the island of Alonissos. Amani Spa is nestled on a hilltop just a few minutes’ drive from the port town of Patitiri where we were staying.

It was here I met Luke Wood, the spa owner, and although I spent only a short amount of time with him, I learned a lot about living your best life, as much as I would have from reading a book.

As context, I regularly run across people who dislike or are disengaged from their jobs. According to whichever study you read, it runs from sixty to eighty percent of us. That’s a lot, and that’s disturbing. What a waste of human potential.

If you see your job as a means to an end and have interests you pursue outside of work hours (like me), that’s fine.

That may be enough to keep you content. But if your job is dragging you down, and you can barely stand the thought of walking in the door every morning, you may need to consider other options. Luke is one of those people who studied the options and made a decision to change course.

The day of our spa experience, Luke picked Kathleen and me up at our hotel – a service he offers to those who don’t want to drive or don’t have transportation. I was immediately struck by his pleasant nature and appearance. I liked him right away.

Although Luke was a stranger, I found him interesting, and whenever I find people interesting, I start asking questions. During our conversations on the ride to and from the spa, as well as here and there throughout the few hours we were there, I found out some details about how Luke ended up opening Amani Spa.

He said that almost fifteen years ago, his parents bought the land on Alonnisos because they were looking for a place they could truly call home for themselves and their children. Luke said that up until then, his family had moved throughout Africa because of his father’s work. This meant they never really had a place to call home.

As well, because of the political climate in Zimbabwe, Luke’s parents wanted to have a more secure place to call home.

After purchasing the land on Alonnisos, Luke’s family spent many years designing and slowly building their new home. This strategy worked well because it gave them the opportunity to see what would and wouldn’t fit with the landscape. They wanted, as much as possible, to maintain the natural look which reminded them of their time in Africa and their family camping and safari trips.

At the spa that day, Kathleen and I availed ourselves of massage (restoring), fresh-squeezed juice (delicious), a hot tub (heavenly), an infrared sauna (cleansing), and an infinity pool (spectacular).

For lunch, Luke’s brother prepared us the best salad I think I’ve ever eaten. It was an afternoon of luxury, rest and rejuvenation.

Because I believe supporting small business is important (even if that small business is almost 7000 km from where I live), I’m going to take a moment to do some promotion: Amani Spa offers a wide range of massage – classical treatments, ancient Indian massage, Hawaiian massage and more – body scrubs, body wraps, facials and other packages which incorporate a full body, indulgent experience.

All the spa’s services are personalized to the specific needs of each guest. Every guest is treated as an individual. As Luke said, “Different bodies, skin types, emotional issues and physical issues need to be addressed based on the person.” So for all my readers out there who may one day find themselves on Alonissos, you need to visit Amani Spa.

I left the spa that day feeling like a queen. However, another big takeaway was the things I learned by talking with Luke, things that serve as a good reminder for me and I hope, you.

Figure out your purpose. When I asked Luke why he chose to open a spa, he said, “I do it to provide people with a sense of worth and well-being and to give them a place where all the stresses and worries of the ‘real world’ disappear as they let everything go and allow themselves to be taken care of.”

He said the spa was inspired by his life in Africa and the emotions and feelings he experienced when he lived there. It’s that inspiration he wants to pass on to his guests who’ve never been to Africa. He also wants to bring people closer to nature because he feels that our way of life, which is removing us more and more from the natural world, is detrimental to our health and well-being.

Step out of your comfort zone. Before he opened Amani Spa, Luke worked in hotels around the world. He had studied hospitality in Switzerland at Les Roches School of Hotel Management and at one point, was working at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. Unfortunately, the stress of his career led to burnout so he returned home to the family home on Alonnisos. Luke knew it was time to drop out of his fast-paced career and start something new. Luckily, he’d saved up some money and wanted to use it for something meaningful.

Plan, do your research, and take some risks. As someone who availed himself of spa services when he travelled, Luke thought he’d like to open a spa himself.  He did some research, looked around Alonnisos, and discovered there weren’t any spas like he had in mind. There were massage services, but he wanted to create a spa experience so he stepped outside the parameters of his current life and Amani Spa was born.

Do something you love (even if it’s not your full-time job) and do it well. Luke told me he loves owning and being fully involved in the operation of the spa, not only because he can operate it as he feels is best for the company and the guest experience, but also because it’s the best pay he’s ever earned. In his case, though, this has nothing to do with money but rather seeing people arrive in one state of mind and leaving in a better one. Knowing he’s contributing to people’s sense of peace and joy gives him a sense of pride and achievement.

Enjoy the moment, but keep an eye on the horizon. Luke’s plan is to keep fine tuning the operation and continue providing exceptional service to every guest. Right now, Amani Spa is a small operation encapsulated by a strong family bond. Every guest is treated like family. Luke dreams about opening other spas on other Greek islands, but he admits this sense of family is hard to duplicate. However, he continues to think about it.

It’s not necessary to travel long distances to find meaning and purpose. However, while I was in Greece being inspired on a writing retreat, I stumbled upon inspiration in the form of a small, family-owned business and the man who started it all. Thanks, Luke, for an amazing experience at Amani Spa and for being yet another reminder of how important it is to do the things we love.

Have you thought about what you want to do?