A Q&A with Lyndall Mitchell
Founder of the award-winning Aurora Spas group, Lyndall Mitchell is an experienced wellness coach, author and mum who inspires her daughters and clients by “walking the talk” and living a life of health and wellbeing every day. Lyndall spoke to us about her epic journey with Aurora Spas, her travels and experiences, and about the philosophy of essentialism, which is reflected in her successful business.
Why and how did you begin your journey with Aurora Spas?
I grew up on a banana farm in Queensland — 140 acres in the Currumbin Valley. Two properties away was Camp Eden Health Retreat. At the age of 14 I was doing work experience at Camp Eden. It opened my eyes to an incredible world and I was so inspired by it that I decided I would like to go back and work there when I finished school.
I spent the next five years there when I left school and worked my way up, from the lowest-paid position to being part of the management team. I was the Program Director, which meant I would have 50 guests arriving and I would be their ‘guru’, effectively helping those 50 people and coaching them through the week to achieve their objectives.
Back then there were no spas in Australia, so getting investors was a real challenge.
We are talking about 25 years ago when people were going to health retreats for some pretty extreme reasons, including alcohol addiction, drug addiction, gambling addiction, stress, emotional crisis and divorce. There was a real mix of people and most just wanted to be healthier and fitter.
I had to help those guests through their experience. I would work 100 hours in one week and then have a week off. So I was there from dawn until lights out – and I was the one person people would go to. It was an amazing experience and a very steep learning curve. I thought the retreat experience was great, but wondered what happened when people went Home.
I am all about longevity and integrating everything that you learn into your life, but there was no place for people to go to continue with what they had discovered. So I came up with the concept of creating an urban retreat where people can go after a health retreat and continue on their path to wellness. Also, for those who did not want to take seven days out of their schedule for a health retreat, they could go to an urban retreat for an hour or two to help avoid burnout and help live a balanced and thriving life.
I came up with this concept 20 years ago. I then grew the brand over the years in Australia and employed more staff. We then had the opportunity to purpose-build a facility, which meant we needed investors on board. Back then there were no spas in Australia, so getting investors was a real challenge. Everyone thought we were manufacturing bathtubs! They had no idea what a spa was, but we had plenty of knowledge and we got plenty of “yeses”, and were able to build the spa at the Prince in St Kilda, which is our flagship spa.
This facility has the ability to accommodate 22 guests at any one time; it is a large full-service spa facility and now we have just under 100 staff. We have four spa locations — the flagship at the Prince in St Kilda, at Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast, and two spas in the Qantas International first class lounges at Sydney and Melbourne airports.
There are quite a few urban spas now. How is Aurora different from the others?
There are 600 spas now — a large amount but not all of them are full service. We are different because we have purpose-built wet rooms and steam rooms for all our water therapies, according to the European spa model.
I guess what has remained unchanged with our spas from the very beginning is that wellness is the core philosophy in everything we do and that is what I grew up with. I saw that it really works.
Everything we do has to have a therapeutic reason and a purpose. We don’t have guests for five or seven days — we’ve got them for one or two hours. So we need to make sure they are getting maximum results in minimal time. When you look at the treatment menu, it’s all about delivering maximum results to our clients. An example is KITYA KARNU, which is our signature steam room treatment. We came up with the concept of doing that treatment because it is truly the most intensive treatment that you can have — a full-body exfoliation, a facial, a massage, hair treatment, facial masque, all while you are in the warmth of the steam environment. All of this happens within one hour; it’s like a very lovely car wash for the body. The treatment helps the muscles to relax and also helps the pores to open up, and you get the maximum benefit from the application and the products that we use.
Everything has a purpose and a reason behind it — even our pedicures, which are done in reclined chairs with recorded meditation or music of your choice. Or you can have an eye pillow and your staff or team member can do the most amazing pedicure possible. It’s about maximising your time and giving you the best results. Most people who have a pedicure don’t want to talk, so you have an hour to lie down and meditate while you’re getting the treatment. We like to do things where less is more — it’s about the quality of the experience and the training we invest in our teams.
You have visited many spas around the world. Can you pick a few of your favourites and tell us what you liked about them?
I’ve been to about 60 spas in 15 countries and that was quite an eye-opener. You really get to see the culture of spas and how things are done differently, and how we can interpret that in our own spa market.
My favourite spas were those that were incredibly authentic and unique in experience. The first one is Mii amo in Sedona, USA. This spa is incredibly authentic to its origin. It’s situated in front of this amazing big red rock and you can have a massage on the top floor looking out to the rock. The waiting room has got red earth as the floor. Naked American Indians come and bless the spa every year and there is a whole ritual around it; all the treatments on the menu reflect what they do best.
The other one is Therme Vals in the tiny town of Vals in Switzerland. Peter Zumthor was the architect and he is very well known because of this project. He consulted with the whole community about how they could build a spa and a facility that would add to the area and not detract anything from the quaint beautiful village.
Everything for the spa was harvested from the local surrounds. Quartz slabs were taken from the mountains, and the water that is running through the spa is the thermal water from the mountains. You can enjoy this most amazing bathing experience in all the different pools. For example, the outdoor pool has wonderful thermal waters, and fields with grazing sheep are right next to you. There are snow peaks in the distance and snow actually falls on your head. That’s pretty amazing!
Each pool is a different experience. There is a local composer who plays music and if you put your ear in the water you can hear the music being filtered through. These two spas were very inspirational.
You’ve got your own line of products. Can you tell me about them and what inspired you to develop these products?
Back in the early days I was hand-mixing all of the products. It was about maximum results with minimum time. I knew I could give the products a more therapeutic result if I made them myself. Some of those on the shelf didn’t have the intensity that I could achieve, so essentially I was hand-mixing all the products, filling jars with them and seeing what the clients loved and what got great results. This evolved and we refined it down to a core group of products called ASPAR which is our range of botanically active products.
Clients would say, “How can I take these home? It’s great you have them here, but I want to continue with them when I’m not at the spa.” For me that’s about home care and health care, which is what we want people to be focusing on. When they are not with us they should have this experience every day whenever they have a moment to themselves. I see each product as the inspiration for that self-care ritual that I am very passionate about.
The product in the bottle is about keeping things clean and skin-friendly, botanically active and results-focussed. Those are the three pillars we look at for every product we create.
About 10 years ago we worked with some very talented chemists to get the products refined so we could manufacture them in larger quantities. Now we have a lovely collection of products which we use in treatments and we know they work, so our clients can have that spa experience at home.
Tell me about your role as a wellness coach. What do you do and how do you help your clients achieve wellness?
For many years I have seen lots of over-worked, over-scheduled, over-tired clients who come to our doors. I have gained a lot of insight from talking to them and ascertaining where they are at and where they want to be in their life.
A wellness or executive coach works with a lot of different people, whether they are senior management, entrepreneurs or business owners, and it’s about helping these people thrive. That might be in their business or personal life. Generally both areas need attention so the individual can see where they are heading, and it’s all about creating a vision and a plan for these clients to focus on.
Every person has a different recipe for what works for them. Wellness coaching gives me the ability to go one-on-one with my clients and look at what they need in order to thrive, and help guide them along that path and set them up for success.
What are your personal philosophies for living life optimally and how do these philosophies reflect Aurora Spas?
I love the philosophy of essentialism — less is more. It’s about quality, not quantity. Our treatments are all about the quality of the experience we are providing, such as our deep-tissue massage, which is one of our most popular treatments. We invest heavily in consistently training our staff to deliver the results we know we want to achieve. It’s about focusing on what we do well.
Our treatment menu really reflects that. Clients want a quality experience, so we invest our time in our people to help them be the best they can be and knowledgeable about the treatments we offer.
What’s your advice to achieve wellness in life? Can you give us some quick tips?
There are a few different areas I regularly talk to my clients about. When we look at food and nutrition, the number-one thing is organisation. It’s about how much effort you put into the preparation and treating your body like a best friend.
The other one is about distraction. Technology has many positive attributes but it’s also important to switch off. Technology in the bedroom at night must go; this is important to get a better night’s sleep as so many people have sleep issues. Consider a digital curfew when the sun goes down, or give yourself an hour before bed of no devices to give your mind the time it needs to unwind.
The last one is to be a detective of your own body. Think of how you can consistently improve your energy levels because that is a really good indicator of your health. If you have a broken energy circuit in your body due to the food you eat or the exercise you don’t do, there will be all sorts of other broken circuits in your body.
What’s your favourite activity when you are not working?
When I’m not lying on a table having a treatment, I love nature. Having grown up on a farm, I love getting back to nature, so even though we live close to the beach, we also have organic vegie gardens and chickens. It’s my little urban patch of Zen. I also do a lot of yoga and I love cooking.
You are a mum of two girls. How do you encourage your children to have a healthy mind and body?
It’s about walking the talk. They learn more from our actions than what we tell them. It’s about letting them see that I’m proactive about my own health and wellbeing and what I do every day to be the best version of myself.
Another thing is the environment they grow up in. We have the gardens and the chickens, so the girls can see the natural cycle when they are involved in the process of gardening and harvesting food. Both my girls are quite passionate about their cooking. It’s important for me to know that what they are putting into their bodies and how they move their bodies is good and wholesome, and that comes from what they see at home.
I am constantly asking myself if I am being a good role model because that is my commitment to them. It comes down to whether I am taking care of myself and my wellbeing because ultimately that’s what they will learn from.
Are there any future plans for Aurora Spas that you would like to share with us?
Our philosophy is to keep evolving and helping people by adding value to their lives. Different opportunities do come up for us regularly and it’s about assessing and working on them so we can add value for our clients.
In the spa world it’s about the products that actually help service our clients. Our vision is to be an exceptional spa provider and consistently maintain that for the Australian market. Everything we do comes back to our vision, values and mission.
We are evolving. There will be more spa locations, more spa products, and our job is to channel all that into delivering the best outcome for our clients.
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