Spa Director Karen Shawn
Written by : managing editor
Category : spa directors
spa director – karen shawn
Name of current spa: Miraval Life In Balance
What year you started there: 2006
Previous experience that you want to share:
I’ve been working in the health and wellness industry for over 20 years. For the past seven years, I’ve been employed by three top hotel companies internationally – in Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean. This incredible experience has given me an amazing insight into what it is like to work with different cultures in diverse environments. My specialty is in opening new spas; five so far! I love the intensity and challenge of openings. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to be able to create an incredible place of healing and tranquility for a hotel’s clientele. Now I am looking forward to bringing Miraval’s spa to the next level!
Training/Education/Life Experience that you feel contributes to your expertise:
I studied Recreation Facilities Management and Sports Administration in Canada and had been mainly employed in municipal and private recreational facilities in Canada, but one day, out of the blue, an opportunity through one of my former club members came up for me to go to work in Egypt in a hotel with a spa. Being the adventurer and world-traveler that I am (and a spa lover), I packed my bags and never looked back. Seven years later, I’m once again in North America after my wonderful time working overseas. I never expected to be managing spas internationally, or let alone managing the #1 rated Destination Spa in the world!
What is the most important change or contribution you have implemented at your current spa?
So far I have been concentrating on our team of 130 staff. There are many different personalities in a spa which can make things quite challenging, but I work hard to create and cultivate an atmosphere of open communication, trust and respect. It is and has always been most important to me that everyone on the team feel respected, empowered, loved and honored and that their opinions and history are valued. I strive to provide team members with as many opportunities for communication and input as possible. Staff that is content and happy will help keep our guests happy and will help Miraval continue to keep its top rating. Now that I’m settled in, my focus is shifting to developing new, holistic treatments and services that will keep us on the leading edge of the spa industry and will follow the path to sustainability that Miraval is paving.
What are you most proud of at your spa?
I would have to say that at Miraval it is the incredibly talented and diverse group of staff that I have the pleasure of working with each day. The entire team delivers a consistently high standard of service and demonstrates such a level of talent and caring that it brings guests back time and time again.
What do you think is the most outstanding aspect of this spa or program?
Miraval has been rated #1 Destination Spa for the past four years. I believe this is a result of the incredible staff that we have working here and also the beautiful and magical environment. Guests and staff often comment that there is something special about Miraval and to me this is true. You just feel it here;almost like there is something in the air that you can’t grasp, but you notice the peace, comfort and pleasure it brings you. When I came to Miraval for my interview for this position, I was invited to experience a stay and to partake in any activities and services like a guest. My experience over that weekend was incredible and memorable. I felt more relaxed and at peace than I had in a long time. How this could happen after only a couple of days I wasn’t sure, but I knew that there definitely was something unique about this place that I had never experienced elsewhere at any other spas. I knew this was a place I wanted to work. It called to me on many levels.
What is your favorite treatment/ product or program (activity) at your spa and also anywhere else?
I really can’t say that I have only one particular favorite offering at Miraval because there is just so much to choose from and each month there are new activities and programs that I wish I had more time to partake in. I can say, however, that I do enjoy the lectures and private consultations given by our talented team of specialty providers that discuss Miraval’s philosophy of mindfulness (the practice of bringing awareness and acceptance to the moment and being fully present) as well as wellness, healing, spiritual growth, joyful living and personal transformation. One of the ones I have very much appreciated and benefited from has been the Transformations Session; an intuitive psychic reading that taps into the subconscious to help a person better understand what their emotions, thoughts and feelings are trying to tell them. I also always love a good deep tissue massage no matter where I am, but with our incredible selection of treatments, I never just stick to that. Our spa menu has over seventy-five services that meet the needs of every guest in one form or another.
If you were visiting your spa, what are some of the things you would not miss? Not just treatments.
I wouldn’t miss the Equine Experience which is an amazing activity that helps people gain insight into their personal and professional relationships. Through practice with Miraval’s beautiful, specially selected horses, patterns of learned behavior are revealed that may be causing stress and damaging relationships. I also very much enjoy the Challenge activities. One in particular helped me overcome (well, at least face J) my fear of heights! To relax, surrender and feel really free, there is nothing better than an Aqua Zen treatment (also known as Watsu or water shiatsu). I usually fall asleep in the arms of the therapist as I am gracefully floated, stretched and danced through the water. This is true bliss!
What are some of the things within a 30 minute drive that you would do if you were staying for a week at your spa? (This is only for destination/resort spas that have accommodations)
I love to go for a tasty breakfast and a walk through the garden and gift shop at Tohono Chul Park. Another very interesting sight to visit nearby is the Biosphere 2, a self-contained eco-system which was a prototype for sustainable housing on another planet. It is currently maintained by Columbia University and tours are offered. Also, although it takes a bit longer than 30 minutes to get there, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a must see; the plants and animals are just amazing!
What is your favorite meal at your spa?
All of the special dishes that are made for me because I don’t eat meat, dairy, wheat or citrus. The culinary team always creates something interesting that meets my dietary needs and is fresh and flavorful. I usually ask for a fish dish that is served with greens and rice and is always amazing. Miraval uses organic produce whenever possible and all meals are truly delightful and delicious works of art.
How would you define the experience or state of bliss?
Feeling a sense of calm wash over me and the peace that that brings. Seeing the beauty in all things around me. My life is hectic and small moments like this are bliss to me!
How do you cultivate your own personal bliss?
I spend as much time as I can with my fiancé and our two dogs. We love to get out into nature, hiking and biking. Whenever possible, I create quiet moments where I do, feel, experience and appreciate those things that bring me peace and into a state of calm; the wind blowing through the trees or caressing my face; standing in the desert, all alone, just breathing deeply and feeling the sun warming my body; listening to the sounds of the crickets at night till I fall asleep or the waves washing onto the shore; watching the stars glisten at night or the leaping flames of a campfire. These are the things that lift my spirit and make me happy!
Any suggestions to potential visitors about preparing for their visit to your spa?
To make the most of your stay, plan ahead and book your spa services and activities well in advance of your arrival. Miraval has such an incredible selection of wonderful programs, activities and services that guests want to enjoy as many as possible during their time with us. Preparing and organizing your schedule ahead of time will make it that much more enjoyable. Our Life in Balance team can help; just give them a call.
What was the last movie you saw in the theatre?
Pirates of the Caribbean. I used to live in the Caribbean and just loved it! The scenery of the sea, islands and beaches in this movie brought back fun memories, even though it took place in a different era, and although I never sailed on a pirate ship, (ha, ha) it also reminded me of my sailing days and what it was like to travel with just the wind!
What was the last movie you rented?
Memoirs of a Geisha. I loved the ending!
What is the movie that you would suggest to Find Bliss readers to watch that is blissful or has an important message?
I’d suggest watching “A Walk to Remember”. I appreciated this touching movie, because, although it is sad in parts, it reminds us of the importance of seeing the good in others, of enjoying life to its fullest and of being grateful for every moment that we are able to share with those we love. Get out the tissues!
If you need some music to relax to what CD to you listen you?
I most often chill out or fall asleep to nature recordings of water because I find the sounds so soothing and peaceful and they often remind me of places I’ve been. I listen to the sea, as its waves wash onto a beach (Relaxing Waters by Lifescapes); to the rain and thunder as it makes its way over a forest (Thunderstorm in the Wilderness by Solitudes); and bubbling streams flowing through mountains and meadows (Green Meadow Stream by Bernie Krause for Wild Sanctuary).
What was the last book you read?
Awareness by Anthony De Mello. Anthony De Mello was a Jesuit priest, speaker and spiritual teacher who passed away suddenly in 1987. In this book that combines elements of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu spirituality, he calls on all of us to wake up and become aware by understanding the needs and potential of those that we live and work with. He helps us to understand the beauty of human existence and teaches us ways to find our “soul feelings”. They are the kind of feelings that come upon us when we are in touch with nature, when we can converse in openness and when we love the work that we do. He encourages us to feed ourselves on those feelings, rather than gaining the world through popularity, praise and winning.
What is your favorite “treat” food?
Wow…that’s a tough question, but I would have to say it is a toss up between chocolate and ice cream! If I could eat dairy like I used to, I would love to have even just a taste of either (or both – together!) of these every day!
Amy McDonald and Associates, LLC is a spa and wellness consultancy that provides strategic solutions to enhance marketing and economic opportunities through developing customized spa services, programs and products that reflect integrity, authenticity and unique points of differentiation.
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