The morning that I speak to Endota Spa owner Melanie Gleeson by phone, she’s surrounded by boxes as she prepares to merge two offices into one headquarters in Melbourne.
Having built the business to 100 locations across Australia, employing over 1000 people (around 90 percent are women), and with an annual network income of $60 million, it’s time for a bigger office.
There isn’t an ounce of stress in her voice though. Instead, she’s completely lighthearted as she tells me she’s just had her lashes tinted and has accidentally put her hands to her eyes and then on her white pants suit. It’s a bit of a problem because she’s going straight from the office to speak to students at a local high school.
“Oh well,” she said.
With her parents being quite spiritual in their beliefs, Melanie’s introduction to wellness was at a very young age. Having attended what she described as an ‘alternative’ school on the Mornington Peninsula, her Year 10 school camp was at an ashram in Dalesford.
Melanie became a day spa entrepreneur because she wanted to help people. And while she could have just as easily wound up being a yoga teacher (and she may yet one day), she wanted to create something that made wellness accessible.
“There weren’t many spas around 16 years ago,” she said. “There were places you went for a massage or you could go to a beauty salon for a facial, but there wasn’t a merging of the two. And if there was, it was very intimidating. I wanted to create a space for people to just take some time for themselves.”
I was lucky enough to have been booked in to try one of Endota’s newest treatments, a Deep Recovery Massage, straight after the interview. An unhealthy combination of thrashing my body at the gym and prolonged computer typing had left me in great need.
“I love that treatment,” Melanie said, when I told her what I had booked in for. “Make sure you turn your mind off and just see what comes up for you.”
(Note: It was a divine experience. Much nicer than remedial but more therapeutic than a simple relaxation treatment, with hot stones and oils throughout. My therapist was lovely and gave me a kind lecture on the importance of stretching my upper body after working out if I wanted to avoid the pain I’d been in.)
I had suspected that a woman who has founded an empire on wellness would have some excellent self-care practices of her own. I wasn’t wrong.
First cab off the rank is sleep, and getting lots of it.
“I’m in bed by 8.30pm at the latest and I’m up at 6am,” Melanie said. “Sleep is just so important and I’ve only recently really discovered just what a difference it makes. You just feel better.”
She quit alcohol this year
“I enjoyed a glass of wine or two,” she said. “But what was tending to happen was I would have a glass to wind down, and before you know it, I’ve had three glasses of wine a week and I haven’t hit the weekend yet. I thought there had to be a better way. My sleep is so much better because of it.”
She hasn’t missed alcohol at all. “Now when I get home from work, I have a soda water with apple cider vinegar in a wine glass,” she said. “I’m still fun, though I promise!”
Yoga and meditation are staples…
“I attend a yoga class two times a week, and I’ve been doing yoga since Year 10,” she said. “I do a guided meditation most nights, and I do it with my boys [Jimmie 4, Fergus, 8]. We’ll find one on YouTube.”
…as is practicing gratitude.
“Being thankful for what we have is all a part of wellness,” she said. “And now the science is there to back that up – we’ve seen the value of mindfulness, of sleep, of being grateful.”
She views spa treatments as part of a balanced lifestyle
“Once upon a time, people might have only visited a spa as a treat but today it’s valued less as a luxury and more as a part of a balanced lifestyle,” Melanie said. “It’s seen less as something selfish and more as something you need.
“The treatments that we have at Endota are designed to work on so many levels. When you have a massage – and I love a massage – it’s the quietening down, it’s the oils, that silence, and some moments to connect back to creativity.
“With a facial, yes my skin is more nourished and hydrated but I’ve also rested. We all want to look beautiful, but I see it less as pampering and more as a healing modality that makes you feel better.”
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She brings wellness to work
“We meditate, do qigong breathing… I’ve brought in sound healers and crystals,” Melanie said.
She’s mastered the art of switching off and saying no
“When I stopped doing things just because I felt obliged to, I found I was saying no to a lot of things,” she said. “And that freed me up to do more of the things that I love.
“It’s the same with taking the time to have a massage. We don’t understand the value that comes from these moments, where you’re worrying about no one else apart from you. We think we have to keep going, keep working, to have more. By taking the time, the work will be better. I believe that if we can learn to integrate balance and care, more of everything will come.”