Isabella dos Santos – trainer of the trainers at Raison d’Etre

Isabella has worked in the spa and fitness industry for more than 20 years and been a trainer for more than 15 years. Her “train the trainer” method is unique and highly appreciated and has resulted in some of the leading therapists of the world and her experience range from the traditional techniques of Swedish massage to the cutting edge techniques of Aqua Wellness therapy and NIA, with solid spa management and operational experience, both in Europe and in Asia. Isabella also works as one of the world’s foremost “authors” and treatment creators with a long track record of many appreciated treatments around the world. For instance, the famous Spa Spy wrote in the The Daily Telegraph 4 Oct, 2010  “The Be Renewed Treatment  – exclusive to this spa [Nordic Life Spa & Fitness, a.k.a. Raison d’Etre Spa] – is different from anything that SpaSpy has ever tried before. Her body feels more supple, the swelling around her knee and foot have completely gone, and she feels totally refreshed…”  The Be Renewed treatment was created byIsabella dos Santos as one of her many magic spa treatments. We have interviewed Isabella and what she reveals about spa is quite interesting. Enjoy!

Isabella, you have been Raison’Etre’s Training Director for many years and travelled the world. When did you start working for Raison d’Etre?
I started to work for the company in September 2003. The first project that I participated in was to create Taj Hotels own spa brand, that later became The Jiva Spa [a world renowned spa brand  – editor’s note]. In order to work with the whole project I moved to Mumbai India the same month. It became 2 thrilling years, filled with research of traditional Indian treatments (Ayurveda), writing manuals and training Jiva Spa´s training team. And…to experience India, far out, mind blowing, loud, beautiful and a true culture chock. I already had International exposure from earlier, working as a spa manager for Raffles in Cambodia, but India taught me a lot, both personally and professionally. India is like a stormy love affair, loving it and hating it at the same time. Since India it has been a fast paced ride, many countries, teams, beautiful spas and Hotels. A real  adventure. I have enjoyed working for Raison d’Etre a lot, our team has become my family and we have grown and matured, yes it has been a good journey – and more to come now as we move into creating our own Brand, Nordic Life.

I know your agenda varies a lot depending on where in the world you are, but can you shortly describe: What are your main tasks at work?
All of us in the Raison d’Etre team are involved in the creation of a spa, my part is usually to assist with the concept, develop the treatments and the menu that reflects the concept. When we finally reach the point of opening, the big task is to prepare the pre-opening training and fly out and Do IT! We are usually 2 trainers on site and together with the operational manager from Raison d’Etre  we train the team on site and get all the bits and pieces together, to finally open the doors to a new Spa. I do lot of reading and research before starting with the treatments and menu, I think that is one of the great perks with my work; I have the opportunity to deepen my knowledge and grow as a therapist and to use my creativity and to put it into action and be a part of making it materialize.

We know that you love your job, especially when being on site? What do you enjoy most when you are working on site?
Being on site is intense, bringing the team together, setting the treatments. I love to work with the dynamics of a group and the individuals within the group.  For me the treatments are crucial, it’s a question of being able to know the How and the Why behind every stroke and technique, putting it all together through the personal filter of every single therapist and receptionist to make the magic happen. I don’t like step by step treatments very much so it is pure joy to see when the therapists start blending our techniques with their own experience and knowledge. Body work is an art, an instinct, and to follow that instinct is what creates music. If you want to become a great therapist you have to follow your instinct and see each body as an empty, not yet touched canvas. I am very blessed to be able to participate in this process.

You travel the world to all these amazing spas in different locations? Which has been your favorite project and and why?
Hmm, difficult question, all the places, the teams and people that I met  have all been great teachers and experiences. Some places are sure more memorable than others, as they have become landmarks in my own personal journey. Mexico, Cabo, was a beautiful, big team, we were 2 trainers dividing the massage therapists in two groups as there were over 50 of them. The “Caramba” – latin spirit they had was new at that time as I had spent lots of time in Asia earlier. It became dynamic and wild. Our energy work together was buzzing, fun and developing.

I always go up extremely early, catching the sunrise, doing yoga or swimming,so in Cabo I was watching the pelicans catching fish, in February, the wales mates in the bay, just outside my bedroom window, yes it was wild! 🙂

Last year, 2010 you travelled to more than 8 countries? Tell us, which countries? Which project do you remember most and why?
The openings of new Spas has given me the opportunity to travel a lot, sometimes several times to the same place, which is gratifying, as I have an opportunity to meet the teams again and see their development and to take it to the next level. The first years with the company there was a lot of traveling in Asia, but lately we have had the grace to also be involved in European Spas. I don’t know if I have a favorite spot really, the work has given me a chance to see locations that I probably wouldn’t have gone to privately. Great  surprises has been revealed, High Tatras in Slovakia was beautiful, I took every free time available to walk the beautiful mountains. I am a morning person and try to catch the sun rise on every location I visit, and the sun rises equally beautiful everywhere……Ha ha, I always drink Caffe Latte and then eat Caesar salads, I should do a book on salads from every corner of the world. I think I need to feel at home when I travel that much, so that make me choose the same dish everywhere I go. To try to create a sense of home. Or, a lack of originality 🙂

I know that spa openings can be sometimes stressful and intense, but a lot of fun too? Do you have some brilliant or funny memories from last year’s traveling that you would like to share with us?
Openings always are full of surprises, massage tables, equipment that don’t show up on time or other delays and mishaps. You have to keep a good spirit and support the team; I have learnt to take the incidents as comes a long, and not to plan too much. We have been hunting bowls and trays and other things in Hotel kitchens, dismantled tables that can’t pass the threshold of massage room doors. The most important thing is that everyone is doing their best and that they are enthusiastic and want to serve  each other and the guests. And I think as a guest, personality, heartfelt welcome and smiles are always the key. Confusion and laughter is always on!

You have created some amazing treatments and have a great reputation as a trainer. How do you do it?
Well, I don’t know about that :-), but I love this craft and I really see it as a craft where love and passion combined with many many hours of work  will give result in the end. I have always, actually since a very young age, been fascinated by the healing energy and magic that can be created when you touch a person with your hands and heart; I believe that this goes beyond medicine and pills. Obviously I have studied anatomy for many years, since you have to have the foundation. There has also been trial and errors along the way but in the end it is all about passion for the craft, for healing and ultimately for people. I prefer having staff with tons of passion and less anatomy skill than the other way around. Anatomy and massage strokes can be read about in the literature; passion for people on the other hand cannot be bought or read about in the books. Having said that, I have many love stories of staff knowing all the correct strokes lacking magic, that opened up and become magicians.

Finally…We all know the importance of happy staff, especially in a spa – Happy staff gives happy customers, right? Do you have any advice for other trainers or spa mangers, what is the key to motivation and happy staff?
Don’t get stuck with your agenda, be cool when plans change and always come up with creative solutions where there is win win for all involved. Allow staff to have their own learning time, some get things fast, some need more time. Allow the team members to be a part of the creation of routines and rules, empower them, support them and have fun!

Thank you for your time.
Well, thank you.

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