DIRECTOR OF SPA & SALON
Encore Boston Harbor
Health and wellness coach Virginia Lara began her journey at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona where she ran the award-winning spa. Now based in Boston, Virginia combines her rich experience and extensive knowledge to coach students and empower them, especially during times of transition.
After 15 years of managing and running spas including the Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Boston, what prompted you to become a wellness coach?
Initially I did it for continued education, to keep myself engaged with the industry and what I'm passionate about, making people feel good. This created a great awareness on my lifestyle and taught me how to see the world with a different perspective. It did also provide me with so many other connections and new interests, that made me be a healthier person . This was a wonderful opportunity for self-growth and to find new creative ways to continue inspiring and developing teams to reach their goals and even discover what was holding them back to reach their greatest potential to become their best version of themselves. It has been an anchorage for self-grounding.
The hospitality industry is notorious for long shifts and late nights. When you were working in hotels, how did you manage to maintain your own wellbeing and promote wellness within your team?
Yes it is true and I'm sure many other professionals in the industry would agree with me that it is something inevitable. Hospitality has always been an art, and is no longer something compatible with what the new generations expect from their life-work balance perspective, which is worrying because it is becoming very difficult recruiting genuine and authentic candidates that are willing to compromise. Hospitality needs to evolve quicker and invest in creating greater wellness spaces and benefits for their employees. I always prioritized wellness and work-life balance with my employees as much as possible. Being there for them, listening and understanding their needs, being flexible and accommodative when possible and creating an environment where they come happy to work. I considered myself always being fair but having the common responsibility, understanding and goal as a team of achieving our financial goals and making our guests happy. I always thought of my team first. This provided them with the mental wellness and balance they needed in their lives. We promoted ways for them to be fit and healthy and shared our experiences that usually became inspiring to others. How do I maintain my wellness and sanity? Not easy, sometimes we need to fall to understand taking care of ourselves is serious and should always be a priority. Doing my health and wellness coaching courses opened my eyes, my self awareness and provided me with the inspiration and knowledge I needed to live my life healthier and as balanced as possible. I love my yoga, breathing and stretching my favorites. Long walks, riding a bicycle, sometimes a barre or spinning class can be transforming! I do meditation every morning, I love affirmations and gratefulness to start my day. Journaling and celebrating myself, and learning how to ask for help when I need it, being vulnerable has been the key for me to connect to people authentically and be where I am today.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, wellness has been a much discussed topic. Why is this and what advice would you give for getting through the pandemic?
These unprecedented times have created distress and shaken some areas of our lives like our health, financial security and the way we connect with people which are essential to our wellbeing. Uncertainty takes us away from our safe space, and we are obligated to create awareness of what is happening around us and choose next steps of how to go back to our safe space and more importantly how we can contribute with our actions to make sure we create a safe environment for everyone else. Everyone's situation is different but for all of us is definitely a moment for reflection individually by looking inwardly and finding our own messages and collectively as humans. It is important to take one day at the time, but intentionally, with a purpose. Keep rituals, continue getting up early and maximizing your day with opportunities to exercise, care about your diet, rest well, discover yourself and continue learning with that online course you always wanted to do and never had the time to do it.
What is your most memorable career moment with Mandarin Oriental?
There is not just one moment, Mandarin has been more than half of my career. I will always treasure every moment, every person I meet in the way. I'll never forget my interviews with Andrew Gibson and Andrea Lomas and how impressed I was with their expectations, they truly rocked my world! Barcelona opening, all the laughter and crying moments and the support from Andrea, Petra Roberts and Sean O'Connor, I will always be grateful for everything I learned from them in the way. I loved all the Spa Director's conferences and the connection and sharing opportunities we had with our fellow colleagues all around the world, my friends for life now. The inspiration and new ways Jeremy McCarthy brought to the group, and how he managed to stretch our minds to think outside the box. My teams, my guests, MO colleagues, my vendors and the connections created along the way will always be memorable in my heart.