Community Spotlight: An Interview with Susie Arnett, Director of Wellness Programming at Six Senses

 

In this fourth Community Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susie Arnett, the Director of Wellness Programming at Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas. Other than the word “wellness” being present in her current job title, wellness has played a crucial role in shaping Susie’s career and life experiences. Prior to working at Six Senses, she spent a chapter of her career working in broadcasting, shaping some of the world’s most influential content on platforms like Lifetime TV, USA Networks, and MTV News. Furthermore, yoga is a particularly important part of Susie’s wellness journey. She not only used to work at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, but rather, she also wrote an incredible book called Born Yogis, which beautifully shows how babies explore wellness through yoga poses. After my discussion with her, I had a more profound appreciation for the ways in which wellness can be emphasized and celebrated in a variety of industries. I also, perhaps more importantly, learned so much from Susie’s intentionality in maintaining wellness as a consistent thread throughout her life. So, without further ado…

Susie, how do you prioritize wellness in your life? 

Well, I think that wellness is baked into everything in a way. Overall, I prioritize wellness because I do consider it in a lot of decisions, but I don't think about it as an abstract concept. Rather, I tend to ask myself things like: “What's going to be good for my body right now? Have I been sitting in front of my computer all day? Maybe it’s time for me to get up and walk?” 

Wellness has especially been important to me throughout the pandemic. Before COVID, I thought wellness was going out and about to be active and engaging with other people at a yoga class or two. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the usual daily plans changed during quarantine. My kids and I mostly stayed at home. In a way, you could say we’ve been in “comfort mode” in terms of what we eat, what we talk about, and how we layer activity throughout the day. I think that my kids and I are experiencing a different  type of wellness because we are really intentional in taking care of ourselves. My couch has a dent in it now, but sitting on it so much has been worth it. My daughter and I have a lot of what we call “coronavirus conversations,” and I really enjoy them. My kids are teenagers, so, if anything good has come from this pandemic, it’s been the opportunity to spend more quality time with them. There’s so much suffering happening during this time, and I want to be clear in acknowledging that. My family and I have been really lucky though in using this time to connect. 

In orchestrating wellness programs at Six Senses Hotels, have you noticed ways in which the wellness and hospitality industries are connected? 

Yes, absolutely. While I can’t speak for all hotels or resorts, at Six Senses, wellness is at the core of everything we do. We consider wellness when making decisions about the mattress, the lighting, the design of the space, the quality of the food ingredients, and really anything else you can think of. For example, we have a property in Douro Valley in Portugal that's open now and is offering a fall longevity retreat. The rooms have windows facing East so you get that morning sunlight to set your circadian rhythm at the beginning of the day. Wellness is such a huge part of going to a Six Senses resort. Resetting, rebooting, and changing patterns and habits in your day-to-day life can be really healthy and helpful and easier sometimes when you’re away from home and your daily habits. At the end of their stay at Six Senses, a  lot of people will say that they actually feel better than they did when they arrived, which of course is the goal, which is very different than what a lot of people say when they get home from vacation, which is that they need a vacation from their vacation since they overate or wore themselves out from too many activities. You don’t really hear that from our guests at the end of their stay. 

For the hospitality industry, obviously right now, even more people are thinking about how to layer wellness into their experiences so that they can come and have a healthy stay. I’ve noticed a lot of hotels incorporating immune-boosting programming, recipes, special tonics, and other things like that, similar to what we offer at Six Senses. Right now, it feels risky to travel, so if people are going to go on vacation, they want to feel like the hotel is proactive about taking care of their guests’ health and how to support it in concrete ways. 

At Six Senses, we also really want to help foster reconnection. During vacation, we want our guests to reconnect to themselves, to each other, and to the planet. As a quick plug for our sustainability division, every Six Senses property has sustainability initiatives tailored to the needs of the surrounding community. For example, at our Maldives location in particular, we have three NGOs and 10 marine biologists on site. They live there year-round working on marine conservation, reef repair, and manta ray protection. The sustainability team there has been so effective that the Maldives government considers our team to be a reputable conservation resource for the health of the country. In essence, as the hospitality industry continues to consider wellness, it needs to be mindful of not only how we keep our guests well during their stays, but how we keep our environments and local communities well too. 

With your immense experience in broadcasting, how do you think the media shapes individual and communal understandings of wellness? 

Well, I think a couple of things. Before I worked at Six Senses, I worked for Kripalu, which is probably the top yoga and wellness retreat center in the country. Being deep in the yoga community, I noticed how damaging a lot of the imagery surrounding yoga used to be. Striving for the perfect physiques captured in the photos was really hurting a lot of people. To me, it seems like the media is much more inclusive now. In Yoga Journal magazine, you  are more likely to see more diversity in the images that are used. Wellness doesn't just look like that skinny white woman who's young and perfect. We all embrace  wellness in our own ways. I'm in my 50s, and I’ve gained probably 20 pounds during quarantine. At my age, I'm not going to look like I did when I was 30, and really, that's okay. Seeing a lot more variety in media imagery helps reinforce the acceptance and celebration of diversity, which I’ve come to appreciate within the yoga community and the wellness world at-large. 

However, at the same time, the media also has a greater tendency to commodify wellness now. The imagery is more diverse, but it also seems to come with a price tag. For example,  I was going crazy with clean beauty products. I felt like I had to try whatever clean beauty product I could get my hands on. But then, I took a step back and asked myself: “What am I trying to achieve by buying all these new amazing-sounding things?”  I also started to notice that my daughter, who's 16, began to approach these products in the same way, drawn to all the clean beauty ads she saw. So both of us are working to focus on the products that we feel best serve our true wellness journeys instead of being swept into media marketing wellness trends. 

Your book Born Yogis features adorable babies exploring wellness through yoga poses. Reading about it and seeing the pictures definitely made me smile. How did the process of making the book shape your own appreciations of yoga and wellness at-large? 

Writing Born Yogis made me see how natural yoga is.  When I saw my son at seven months and all his other baby friends doing these yoga poses naturally,  I really began to understand how much these movements that we call poses, help us strengthen certain muscles. These movements are like a bridge technology that take us from one developmental stage to the next. For example, on the cover of the book, my son is in the cobra pose, and this motion us something every baby does before they start crawling. The cobra strengthens the upper body, which helps facilitate further development. As an adult, when I started doing a lot of yoga, I noticed this strengthening in my muscles and that seemed to transfer to other areas of my life as well. As I said before, yoga is like a technology that takes me from one level to the next. It's such a big part of wellness for so many people, opening new avenues to explore things like certain eating practices, meditation, shamanism, or other possibilities. Overall, I’d say that writing the book showed me that yoga is part of how our bodies move and how we can understand ourselves. 

Do you have any content recommendations (books, TV shows, podcasts, etc.)? 

Because I'm such a wellness junkie, I am very specific about what I like to read, which is basically anything I can about wellness. Right now, I'm reading a ton about neuro linguistic programming, or NLP for short. NLP is basically a cornerstone of old school wellness as it is one of the first kinds of modern self-help tools introduced into the popular culture. I have this one book called Change Your Mind and Keep the Change: Advanced NLP Submodalities Interventions, which was written by Steve Andreas and Connirae Andreas. It was published in 1987, which actually isn't as long ago as I thought it would be, although it was still 30 years ago, which is significant. The book provides insights into ways you can change your thoughts on a very cognitive level. This work is interesting because it helps us understand  a lot of what is considered modern self-help. And it's great. It’s full of exercises and whenever I do one, I always get an insight into how my mind works, so it’s very interactive. I love this book and I really think anyone interested in wellness should have some understanding of NLP.

A huge part of the LILAS mission is recognizing incredible women making major contributions to the advancement of women's health. Their hard work and dedication enable all of us to strive for progress and be optimistic for a future in which women’s health concerns are prioritized.

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