Beyond the Sheets: Michael Lahm Discusses Current Wellness Trends

Beyond the Sheets: Michael Lahm Discusses Current Wellness Trends

Michael Lahm, Vice President and COO of TLEE Spas, is no stranger to wellness momentum having launched his spa career with the creation of Bliss, what we know of today as the epitome and standard of the urban day spa. He is a self-proclaimed behind-the-scenes person in the spa, beauty and hospitality space. But after a half hour listening to him talk about the state of the hospitality industry, his personal mindset change for the upcoming year and laying out current wellness trends, it was apparent to me his passion extended past his credentials - wellness, in all forms, is his north star, his purpose. 

Jessa Gibboney (Nollapelli): Let's dive in here, Michael, and thanks so much for jumping on with us. I am  excited to talk to you about rest and sleep. You're so in tune with the wellness industry, at the beginning of your career, you launched the urban day spa brand, Bliss, which many people are going to be aware of. What trends do you see taking hold? 

Michael Lahm: It's interesting, this early January dose of trend reports seems to be a little slower, a little sparser than usual. I did listen to a media roundtable at the Global Wellness Summit in November. There were a couple of things that  jumped out at me from both a professional standpoint, but also personally and a couple of those were worrying about boundaries between traditional health care, medical care and wellness and  a  rise and focus on preventive and integrative medicine. This  health is the new wealth paradigm. 

In a  simple and fundamental way, fitness has shifted so much during this pandemic. What they spoke with resonated with me as well, this  third wave that was going on prior to the pandemic, which was this  boutique fitness movement driven by millennials - this increasingly more specialized, niche class model  has for obvious reasons has been exchanged for this hybrid approach. And then in real time, this  back to basics approach in terms of basic fitness that I think also is important because it  pre -tages a significant democratization of fitness, which is so important because so much in this [wellness] world, , as a result of this year, how can we be more relevant to a larger audience as opposed to the 10%, right?, let's  face it. Most wellness has  been driven by the affluent consumer. 

The third thing that came out, which is  something that we've been preaching for a long time is  this appreciation, this respect, this acknowledgement of what nature does to impact our wellbeing and what it  is doing is to driving people to seek out travel and lifestyle experiences that are putting them in direct connection with Mother Nature. We've been  advocating this approach for a  long time of getting the spa outside of a base building and outdoors. So that's exciting. If I were to take out my personal crystal ball for 2021, or even leading into 2022, is this proverbial brass tax approach.

Everything is coming to a return back to basic and timeless aspects of wellbeing, the idea of creating connection and a sense of belonging, that human element, human touch, interpersonal contact, resiliency, mindfulness. Then, of course, the things that are front of mind for people with regard to COVID are immunity building, respiratory health and breath work. For a while there's going to be a reset and it's not going to be about all of these, weird out there treatments. It’s going to be about  a foundational approach, and getting people access to those experiences. 

Jessa: Absolutely. Coming into this year, do you personally have any wellness acts that you want to instill that fell off the train from last year? Or are you staying steady?

Michael: It's funny. I am usually resistant to load up on resolutions because they often fall by the wayside for me. This year I did make one commitment if you will. It falls squarely in the emotional, the mental realm. It is my goal to try and approach life's stickier situations with a sense of optimism, humor and openness, rather than coming to the table or leading in with fear and negativity. That's front of mind for me, it's so clear to me that when I shift my mindset of a particular situation, there's such tremendous power to create a sense of happiness and wellbeing. Ya know, that En Vogue song from the nineties, I'm dating myself here, but this whole idea of freeing your mind and the rest will follow…

Jessa: I love that song!

Michael: Yeah, absolutely.

Jessa: How are you working towards that? Are there steps that you're taking? It's one thing to say, I'm going to go in with a positive mindset. It's another thing to do it. 

Michael: When I feel myself going into that familiar place, it's a sense of you don't need to do that. Here's what you can do, it's that split second conversation that we have with ourselves, I breathe and smile, those physical cues. It seems a little Pollyanna, but for me, I'm such a classic New Yorker, hard charging, blah, blah, blah, And it's slowing down, breathing and being present. That's the way I am approaching it. It's being aware and mentally making that pivot.

Jessa: This will air in March and we talked to someone [Kami Jones, PhD] for February and she's big on breath work and the power of it. And, the distinction between - you have to breathe to live, but then there's also quality breath that can bring about change. 

Michael: How short and tiny or abrupt breath typically is, especially stressful situations.

Jessa: Absolutely. It's incredible. 

Michael: Right, but it's hard because we're so ingrained in this  constant adrenaline rush, fight or flight My goal to bring that into my daily living, but also with the goal of I don't want to be negative or resentful.  I don't want to lead with that mindset. 

Jessa: That's a good transition into my next question. I want to talk about quality rest and quality sleep. You being in the spa industry, how important that is not just sleep, not  just resting, but the quality of it. It escapse a lot of people right now. Why do you think that is?

Michael: I think it stems from a couple of dynamics. Speaking to what you mentioned, there isn't the same priority let's say put upon it [sleep]. There's a lack of awareness of the role that sleep plays in physical and mental health, yes, there certainly is a shift. But I do find it interesting that many of the same people who fully embrace the benefits of regular exercise and nutrition, often don't place that same priority on sleep. And I think that's changing. And then the other thing is, I think it's this about this American infatuation with productivity and success, this whole work, hard play hard mantra. It doesn't not put an emphasis on the benefits of stillness, reflection, and downtime, which for me are underlying precursors to good sleep.

Jessa: It’s  so funny because we have that time now, maybe not all of us - everyone's weathering different storms, but there is a shift of people that now have that time. How can people make sleep a priority, quality sleep, or even quality rest? I won't even go to actually falling asleep, but having those moments where you are resting and restoring yourself.

Michael: It comes back to that whole priority piece. I still think many people think it's a negotiating point, right? With all the other competing demands of life, [sleep] seems to be the one that falls by the wayside. The other thing I think is approach and sleep, we're all about this whole self care explosion, but sleep in its own way is the ultimate self care ritual. Applying that same sense of mindful and meaningful intention to bedtime as one does for other parts of life. Going back to that whole mindset, mindfulness approach, but rather than a tactical laundry list of things, making it the priority and embracing it. 

Jessa: I want to pivot away from sleep. And I want to hear about how the spa industry is doing, I want to hear about how you guys are handling this, because again, the turn of the year, I think a lot of people felt okay, we're going to hit the ground running and we're in the same situation and we're gonna be in the same pandemic situation for a while. 

Michael: Luckily for me and my company, TLEE Spas, we’re on the development side as opposed to operating an existing spa business. We're going to come out of this at some point in wellness, that it has proven ascendant in all aspects of life, including in the hospitality space, which is primarily where but I will tell you, depending on the location, Florida is doing well, they've made that approach to open up their entire economy. But in many places in this country, that's not a real thing. If they have not reopened or the spa has reopened, it's a very skeleton experience. 

Most of the time people will check in and go right to their treatment room and there will be all sorts of protective measures in place. And then they leave. So it's quite abbreviated if you will. When I think about the hospitality industry in general, it's an epidemic. People are wholesaling out of work. Of course that will change very quickly. I think what's going to be very interesting is, keeping pace with consumer demand as that ramps up, as people start to feel more comfortable in those kinds of spaces and have the financial resources to do that. Let's face it, very wealthy people have done fine in this pandemic. Luxury is not going anywhere.. It'll be interesting to see how operators in the hotel space respond.

These reopenings are going to be all about instilling security and comfort, not only on the part of the guests, but also on part of the staff and that there's a real appreciation for that process, so that people have a  meaningful treatment experience. These therapists give a lot of their intention and their energy, if they're freaked out, stressed out, angry - we lose. So I  hope that decision-makers place a priority on nurturing and training their staff to handle these situations. 

Jessa: Well said. Last question, we're coming back to sleep. What is one thing that you do for your sleep every day?

Michael: Okay. Let's see here. Well, here's, here's by, by personal proclivity, by instinct, I always shut down  my devices. Well, before bedtime, I always have, especially now it's - work is done. I am not sneaking away and looking at the emails that are coming in at eight and nine o'clock at night because I don't need to bother. There's that piece for me. And also I maintain a pretty consistent sleep schedule. And I'm a Virgo. 

Jessa: Me too. Me too.

Michael: The other thing is we worked on the Equinox Hotel and Hudson Yards and one of the big things they were claiming was the science of sleep. And so I learned a few things in that project and it's what I do for my own environment is making sure that my bedroom is clean and serene, but also, it's dark, it's chilly. I typically do not put on the heat in the winter time. It helps me with the quality of my sleep. 

Jessa: Michael, I cannot thank you enough for coming on with us. I know it was a quick chat, but you packed a lot of information in there and we so appreciate your time.

Michael: It's my pleasure. First of all, and I think it's Allison's birthday today, so happy birthday, Alison!

Jessa: That’s so sweet. I will pass that on. 

For more professional information on Michael Lahm, check out his Linkedin as well as TLEE Spas.