What’s the inspiration behind Surya Spa?
I'm originally from Bogota, Colombia, but came to the US to study computer science. Part of my coursework included meditation, which was thrown into the curriculum as a requirement for foreign students. One evening, I met three women in the cafeteria who were just glowing. I learned that they’d come from an Ayurvedic Clinic and that they were practicing something called Panchakarma. From that moment on, I was hooked, and the more I learned about the plants and our connection to nature, the more I realized that many core principles, and even specific remedies, weren’t far from the things my grandmother had taught me as a child.
I love to learn and study and create, and computer science was a way of doing that. But what I quickly discovered was that I truly love to heal. This is my life’s work and it continues to satisfy.
How are you modernizing Ayurveda for today's consumers?
The way we modernize Ayurveda is through Ayurveda’s core principle of “balance.” We lead with that to provide flexibility for people to apply this practice to their own lives.
For example, in Ayurveda’s view, we’re all made up of three elements, or doshas—the heat of fire, the motion of wind and air, and the solidity of earth and water (respectively pitta, vata, and kapha). We’re all a fine and unique combination of these, until one of the elements goes out of balance. For instance, we might find ourselves easily irritated or getting a skin rash, in which case, our fire element (pitta) is aggravated. The solution is to rebalance, so instead of chilis and tequila and hot yoga, we consume products that will cool us down. It’s really common sense: when you’re too hot, take off the sweater!
By teaching people to pay attention to the areas that could use a little rebalancing, and by providing the education and product for people to rebalance, we hope people can return to a much happier and healthier state.
COVID-19 has highlighted the need for self-care. How are you finding inspiration and calm during such turbulent times?
In general, I recommend Transcendental Meditation. There’s no dogma. It’s an easy, science-based practice 20 minutes every morning and evening. From an Ayurvedic perspective, this is the fastest way to restore balance, and from that comes a sense of harmony and more free-flowing creativity. I also like to do a simple “abhyanga,” or morning self-massage before a shower. Just a few minutes of that makes a huge difference.
How do you handle risk and competition?
We’re obviously intelligent about product/market fit, and judicious use of capital, but we don’t think in terms of risk. This is in part due to our mission: we've already helped many people, and as we grow, more and more people are coming in to learn about our practice. The risk is to not move forward and allow this growth.
In terms of competition, we actually trademarked “The Leaders Of Modern Ayurveda,” so that we can continue to position ourselves as that in customers’ minds. That being said, we can’t be the leaders if we’re alone in the field, so we encourage—and often help—newer brands. We want to make Ayurveda as popular as Yoga and we know we’ll never do this alone. We’re not building a ripple, we’re building a giant wave.
How do you think COVID-19 will affect the spa industry?
We’ve just opened our Kelly Wearstler Spa at Santa Monica Proper Hotel on April 1 and we are flooded with bookings. These aren’t for one-hour “massages” either—these are largely for our 7-day+ Wellness Series.
We see that people are hungry for wellness now. From a business perspective, our spa location and upcoming locations are really just brand anchors. There are only so many people you can reach in a physical location. Products and education can reach many millions of people, but our locations are helping us create a bounce into the market. This makes a difference for product sales—and trust me, we’ll be leveraging everything we can!
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
One issue is ensuring the integrity of our hand-crafted products as we scale. We haven’t had a problem yet, but it’s more work, and people aren’t used to it. For example, in terms of “clean” cosmetics, a lot of people say the same things that we say about organic ingredients that are sustainably sourced, etc. But most of the time, this is sadly just marketing talk. Real organic products cost a bit more to create, but there’s an audience that actually wants what’s actually being advertised. I get upset when people are not true to their product... I better cool my pitta.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
That if you trust your dream—if you risk yourself to achieve that dream—and you work hard, you can achieve it. Sometimes you just need to take that first step. A little trust, a little faith, a few prayers, and the support of good friends —I learned they can all carry you a long way.
Your spa is dedicated to promoting internal and external health and happiness. How do you measure your impact?
It’s always nice to hear people rave about the skincare products, but the most moving stories are from clients whose lives are literally transformed through our products. I’m going to mention one (and hopefully she won’t mind). One of my favorite actresses, Angelica Huston, completed a four-hour treatment session with two therapists. They did a procedure where they pour warm oil over the client's forehead in the traditional and transporting Shirodhara. When asked if she had a nice treatment, Angelica first just said, “Wow…” and then, sitting on the couch with tears in her eyes, said she’s never been so taken care of and or loved in her life.
That’s the kind of Ayurveda we do, with that level of love. It goes into everything we do because that’s the happiness and wellness that people absorb.
What’s your superpower?
I’d say knowledge of Ayurveda. It’s ever-evolving and constantly giving me new insight. I believe there is a superpower out there that we can all access—we are part of and connected to the curative powers of the natural world far more than we think. I just have to work hard and do my part!
There is a superpower out there that we can all access—we are part of and connected to the curative powers of the natural world far more than we think.
What’s your kryptonite?
Because of the quarantine, which I understand, what’s hurt me is literally not personally working on people and not bringing the love of Ayurveda through my hands to heal people. That might sound silly or corny, but it’s really true. Healing people is a large part of who I am and what fulfills me. Without it, I just wilt.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I love spending time in nature in all forms! I love getting my hands in the dirt while gardening, going hiking with my family, or taking a morning beach walk. I also love cooking and making some of my favorite Colombian dishes.
What’s your experience been like as a female founder? Any advice for women looking to start their own company?
I have had the honor of working with so many inspiring women since I founded Surya. Getting to know other female entrepreneurs, both through business and as clients and friends, has been so life-affirming, empowering, and freeing.
My advice for women looking to start their own companies is to just go for it! I started Surya out of my own home, knowing very little about how to build a business. I knew I wanted to heal people and bring the healing value of nature back into everyone’s lives. That’s the core vision I still focus on and from that, everything has grown.
Luxury Ayurveda brands have been growing in their home markets with interest from the likes of Puig and Estée Lauder. Spurred by their massive Instagram fan community, and celebrity endorsements for their products, Surya Spa has already shown that it can BE that brand for a receptive Western audience. I am looking forward to supporting them in that journey.
I am an internist with the Cedars-Sinai Medical Group in Beverly Hills, California. I've had consultations with Martha and many treatments at Surya Spa. Martha and Surya Spa are world-class. The world needs them both now more than ever. When Covid is over, Surya Spa will thrive.