Three Women Entrepreneurs keeping our Community Healthy.
by Lisa Lelas
What is the only place on the East coast you can find an authentic Himalayan salt cave, barefoot massage therapists walking on backs and Rolfing deep tissue massage therapy? You guessed it…West Hartford! Three very unique holistic experiences that are exclusive to central Connecticut and/or the entire state, are all offered within a few square miles of each other, right here in our town! Thankfully, because we live in a bountiful community of forward thinking and entrepreneurial vision, rare offerings are becoming the norm here! And, as an example of that infamous glass ceiling starting to shatter, West Hartford women are in the business limelight more now than ever before! That’s right…all three of these unique business niches were created by West Hartford women.
2013 was aptly labeled the “Year of the Woman Entrepreneur” nationwide, and with that, the momentum of female-owned businesses continues to skyrocket. It’s no wonder we’re seeing more and more unique and helpful services pop up in the community, developed by local women. It’s a win-win for all of us, as their businesses prosper and we, the consumers, get to reap the invigorating benefits!
Currently, women represent a growth market twice as big as China and India combined. The number of female-owned firms is growing twice as fast as all businesses in America today. Interestingly, research shows that female owners start companies more in line with what they are most passionate about and to better balance their work and family lives while male owners are more likely to start a business primarily to make money.
These three West Hartford women entrepreneurs exemplify these findings, as they each developed a unique business niche that blossomed from their passion, drive and mission to spread joy, peace of mind and good health to the community.
Erina Lander, owner of ‘A Touch of Bliss Organic Spa’, celebrates her new business venture joyfully. To her, opening the doors to this one-of-a-kind spa signifies and solidifies the fact that she has finally been able to re-connect to her own happiness again after struggling through many years of emotional pain.
“The reason I put ‘bliss’ in the title was because that’s what is different about this place. It comes totally from a place of healing and love and joy. Born in Russia, Erina came to the United States in 1990. She had been a civil engineer back home but she was always passionate about helping others in some way. Erina continues, “Nine years ago I experienced a tragedy that turned my whole world upside down. It made me question my whole life.”
Long time residents may remember that her 15 year old son, Mark, a freshman at Hall High School at the time, died in a tragic car accident. Through her bleakest days, Erina fondly recalls the people in the community really embracing her with kindness.
“Even though I didn’t know them, they were sending me love and prayers every day,” she remembers. Unknowingly, it would be in this light of the outpouring of kindness that Erina would find a way to re-pay them.
She remembers clearly the day her entrepreneurial light bulb lit up. Erina had been a dental hygienist for 18 years but, after the loss of her son, she lost interest and joy in her job. It simply was not fulfilling enough for her anymore. One day, still feeling down, she treated herself to a facial at a local salon. She was pleasantly surprised when she actually felt rejuvenated. She couldn’t believe how good she felt after the facial. “I felt like I was taken care of for that hour. I felt re-charged even later on that evening. I believe that helped transform me into a new person. I understood that life can change tomorrow. I don’t postpone anything anymore. That day, I suddenly became aware of my life purpose. This is what I wanted to bring to others. I wanted to give love and peace and healthy rejuvenation back to everyone in the community.”
Erina quit her job two weeks later and started researching aesthetician schools and enrolled soon after.
Today, Erina is a popular facial reflexologist and Reiki practitioner but with the opening of her spa just a few months ago, she knew she wanted to offer full service experiences to her clientele. A Touch of Bliss Organic Spa is currently the only spa in Connecticut offering ‘Barefoot Ashiatsu Bar Therapy’ or the ‘feet walking on your back’ massage, whereby a trained practitioner uses her body weight to adjust pressure. “The benefits are phenomenal,” smiles Erina, “excellent for chronic back, neck or hip pain, professional athletes…really everyone can benefit!” Also offered is traditional Ashiatsu massage, a western adaptation of martial arts and medical massage from India, Japan and Thailand. “I hand pick all my staff professionals,” assures Erina, “making sure they are passionate about their skills and love to give. We receive much more from a place of giving,” she explains. Her professional massage therapist, Janette, has been practicing Ashiatsu massage for many years, and as Erina sums it up, “everything is done from a place of love.” Combined with traditional massage, Ashiatsu offers various unique ‘strokes’ of massage. “We work from a very holistic approach on every person that comes in, not just on their physical level, but also emotional, spiritual and psychological levels.”
Also unique to ‘A Touch of Bliss’ is a Hawaiian massage called ‘Lomi Lomi’, with Bradley, the therapist specialist who is actually from Hawaii. “This is all one would expect from the beautiful Hawaiian culture. Restoring on a physical and spiritual level, this is massage and energy combined in deep long strokes and loving touches to nurture one’s body and soul.”
A Touch of Bliss Organic Spa also features Thai massage, facial treatments, a holistic/organic skincare line from Hungary and even holistic workshops on various Thursday evenings.
Aside from being a new business owner, Erina is a devoted wife to her husband, Joseph and mother to her teen daughter, Veronica. She believes love is most important in life and reminds us that in this day and age of texting and electronics, people don’t touch as much anymore. “Touch has numerous health benefits. Regular spa treatments really improve your overall health. People need to be nurtured in order to have optimum, balanced health. It’s not a ‘luxury’ anymore (expensive things not necessary). That has changed in today’s world. Now, it’s about experiencing, focusing and nurturing on one’s self!”
A Touch of Bliss Organic Spa is located at 88 Park Road. www.atouchofblissorganicspa.com.
Sharon Sklar is a certified advanced Rolfer. Actually the only Rolfer in central Connecticut and one of just a handful throughout the country, until fairly recently, when Rolfing centers suddenly started popping up throughout the world, as people began to discover this unique massage experience.
What exactly is Rolfing? As Sharon explains, “it’s a dynamic hands-on 10-session series of deep tissue manipulation and movement education which allows your body to unlock and integrate movement. Even one session works for immediate stress release but accumulative, over 10 weekly sessions, is best for attaining permanent change.” Each session is 1 hour and 15 minutes long.
Rolfing was developed by Dr. Ida P. Rolf in the 1960’s and she later founded the Rolf Institute in Boulder, CO in 1971, a place where Sharon was trained and still continues her education.
A graduate of Boston University School of Fine Arts, Sharon first obtained a degree in sculpture. “I’ve always been intrigued in the human form. And, I grew up with a love and interest in holistic practices. When I heard about Rolfing, soon after graduation, I signed up for a 10 week series.” By her second session, Sharon explains her world suddenly opening up to a blue sky and she heard an inner voice chanting ‘you will be a Rolfer’! “I just knew deep in my soul that this was what I was going to do with my life. Art school helped me with the foundation and I knew this was my path.”
Sharon has been a practicing Rolfer for 33 years now. Working out of her office just off West Hartford Center, she has expanded her offerings to other full services, such as Yamuna Body Rolling®, exercise coaching and nutritional advice.
“Rolfing was my first ever real job. I never really did anything else. I love it.” says Sharon, “I connected to it immediately. I was always creative, even as a child. I saw the world in a different light. My parents were supportive but really had no idea what I was doing until they watched it unfold.” Proof positive that true entrepreneurial vision and passion need to come from within, not from anyone else.
“When we are born,” explains Sharon, “we don’t come with an owner’s manual. We learn habits from our parents and everyone around us, which may not necessarily be structurally sound for our health. We become the accumulative of everything…even every injury we ever had. Rolfing brings us back to neutral.”
With Rolfing, Sharon says that everything is taken into consideration. “Starting with their current lifestyle, and how they carry themselves. It’s not just someone’s current posture, but it’s more about changing structure so the body begins to align itself naturally.”
Sharon notes that Rolfing is great for people post-surgery, healing after an accident, with sports injuries, years of bad posture, or simply stressful living.
“At my practice, I am the one people deal with, no one else. I enjoy getting to know and need to know everything about my clients’ lives to see how I may best serve them. I believe in a personal approach. It’s an intimate process of personal evolution.”
Leading a fulfilled balanced life has always been important to Sharon. Together with her dog, Bosco Boy (a Whippet), they are a pet therapy team, making regular appearances at Hartford Hospital and the Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center to help and cheer up patients.
“It’s my way of giving back. I am a 7-year breast cancer survivor and also a mentor to West Hartford students. I used to travel a lot but find being home with my 3 cats and dog…I am complete. I am happy.” What’s on her bucket list? Simply “to stay free and happy. Nothing’s better than a good meal, good health and good friendships.”
Reach Sharon at her West Hartford studio:
Sarah Howes is the owner of Elements Destination Day Spa & Salt Cave on Farmington Avenue. Imagine that…a salt cave right here in West Hartford!
Recently celebrating its one-year anniversary, Sarah is proud of Element’s success as its popularity continues to grow.
Sarah is no stranger to new business ventures. In the past she has run an organic restaurant’s wine cellar, was a designer, and even had her own clothing line. But it was when she had her first salt cave experience in Killington, VT, that she knew this was something she needed to bring to Connecticut. Now, a trained massage therapist, Sarah studied at the Pyramid Massage School in Vermont. “My teacher there still remains my biggest inspiration.” She says, “She actually built the very first salt cave in the country. There are only about twelve in the United States.”
The benefits of being in a salt cave are plentiful. “We have the salt imported from the Himalayans,” noting that this unique pink salt has the best healing properties and is packed with natural minerals and nutrients. “It’s anti-inflammatory, helps with respiratory issues like asthma, various skin irritations and conditions, and it’s anti-bacterial so it helps with infections. It’s fine for everyone, adults and children.”
But perhaps the biggest reason so many flock to West Hartford to experience the salt cave for themselves is the calming environment it offers. The rock-like salt walls and beach sand-like salt flooring with fiber-optic dim lighting provides instant calm for anyone’s stressed out lifestyle. There are anti-gravity chairs available to relax in and even yoga classes are now offered in the salt cave. Many call ahead to reserve the cave for their own group. One recent group came out noticing their congestion had cleared and they all felt wonderful.
In addition to the salt cave, Elements offers special Infra-red saunas, light therapy, and a wide variety of spa services in a healing environment. Elements is often referred to as ‘a resort-like feel in an urban setting’.
Sarah was born in Vermont and lived in various places around the country until settling into her new home in West Hartford a couple of years ago. In addition to her holistic and business training, Sarah taps into her natural love of nutrition, exercise and health. The oldest of six kids growing up, Sarah was introduced to an organic life early on. Her mother was into good nutrition and the family maintained an herb garden throughout her childhood.
As a wife and mother of two (Jacob, 7 and Ava, 3) leading a healthy and balanced life is necessary for being successful as an entrepreneur. “When I need to re-charge, I go out for a run or use the sauna. And I love CrossFit.” She says.
And Sarah has even bigger plans for Elements. “Within the next year, we are going to expand into a full organic hair salon upstairs, create an oxygen bar, and include various detox and weight loss programs including juicing and cleansing, and even the installation of an outdoor Zen garden.”
Advice for up and coming business entrepreneurs? Sarah firmly states, “Follow your heart. Do what you’re passionate about. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Sarah’s life is at a good place. But she notes, “I pretty much eat, sleep, work-out and work here”…and the attention she puts into the business she loves so much is exactly the reason business is booming!
Elements Destination Day Spa & Salt Cave,
945 Farmington Avenue. 5elements4u.com