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The Wellness Questionnaire with Mary Bemis, founder of Insider’s Guide to Spas

Get to know industry insiders with a look at their personal wellness thoughts, philosophies, and practices.


A long-time champion for the spa industry, Mary Bemis is a founding editor of American Spa magazine, co-founder of Organic Spa, and founder and editorial director of Insider’s Guide to Spas. She was also on the launch teams of Luxury SpaFinder and New Beauty magazines. In addition, she served on the ISPA and NYSPA boards and cofounded and served as symposium chair emeritus of the Washington Spa Alliance. “Mary has been an advocate for the spa industry and a pioneer for the spa movement,” said Ella Kent, past chairman of the Board of ISPA, when she introduced Bemis as the recipient of the ISPA Dedicated Contributor Award in 2013. “She continually thinks about the consumer and how our industry can address those needs. She forced the industry to grow up and continues to passionately push the spa agenda whenever the opportunity arises.” Here, Bemis shares her thoughts on the wellness and what she does to maintain her own personal wellbeing.

What does wellness mean to you?

Being comfortable in your own skin.

What are your favorite things to do to maintain your personal wellbeing?

Being aware of and embracing what I call the Timeless Truths of Spa:

Water—For me, nothing beats a good immersion in a soaking tub, hot spring, lake, river, or ocean. When I was a child, I found pleasure in sitting in large puddles in the rain.

Nature—I believe that a meandering walk in the woods, in a field, alongside a country road, in a city park—wherever one can find a patch of green—can cure whatever ails you.

Food—I love to cook, and I love to eat good food. I was lucky to have been raised on a fresh Mediterranean diet. Cooking is a common language that I find not only nourishing but meditative.

Community—Without it, we are nothing. I’m proud of all of the work I’ve done building community in our beloved industry. Bringing the leaders of the regional spa groups together for the first time at the National Press Club in Washingon, D.C., is personally one of my greatest accomplishments.

Movement—Because my mother walked with a limp due to polio, I was acutely aware, at a very young age, of the limitations of the body. Thanks to my mother, I was placed in modern dance classes when I was two years old—and I haven’t stopped dancing. Although I work out five to six days a week, I find the most joy in movement through dance.

•Quiet—Though I am a “people person” and love being out and about and always on the go, I really need my quiet time to soothe my mind, rest, and refuel. Without quiet time, I feel frazzled and grumpy.

Sleep—I’m thankful for never having had a sleep issue. I’m a solid eight-hour sleeper and a strong believer in the benefits of a good night’s sleep. I take Epsom salt baths regularly, slather myself in a good quality lavender body oil, and drink a cup of chamomile tea nightly before bedtime.

Beauty—Wherever you may find it, it’s what makes the world go ‘round.

Is there a specific fitness activity that you love, and why?

Archery. I was lucky to have had my first lesson about 10 years ago at the Golden Door with Rho Densmore, an incredible archer who won a national title in 2004 and a world title in 2005. Archery came naturally to me. I took to it like a bird to the sky. When I first grasped the elegant recurve bow, I felt a sense of immense calm. It’s hard to explain the feeling of drawing and shooting that first arrow; it was exhilarating. I felt a giddiness that comes from the discovery that you can do something really, really well—in this case, hit the bulls-eye dead on.

What is your greatest wellness achievement?

That’s a hard question to answer, and one I ask myself often to keep me on my toes. Ella Kent, past chair of ISPA, once told an audience that [throughout my many decades of work in spa and wellness] I “forced the industry to grow up.” I’m known for holding the industry accountable. Through the spa publications I’ve founded and launched over the years and through my many lectures, I’ve continually recreated the language of spa so that it has remained a serious player in the health field. I’ve kept the luxury competition grounded in wellbeing.

What do you think is the most overused word or words in wellness?

Don’t get me started! There are quite a few words that bug me, but at the top of my mind right now is the word “authentic.” It is carelessly bandied about and has become just another trendy, overused word that is on the verge of losing its true meaning.

Do you have a secret health or wellness tip you would like to share?

I believe in the power of a good sweat—and I cannot imagine life without my 20-minute sauna sessions. Years ago, on a visit to Chiva-Som, I met with a doctor who swore by daily sauna sessions, and I incorporated that into my lifestyle when I returned to the U.S., though I opt for thrice weekly sessions now.

What is your favorite place for a healthy vacation or escape?

Mexico is my happy place, though I love the mud of Ischia and the waters of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

About The Author

Heather, co-founder of Well Defined and the former editor-in-chief of American Spa, is an award-winning journalist and content strategist, skilled in writing, copyediting, and media relations. She is also a freelance writer and has contributed to Elite Traveler, Islands, Kiwi, Luxury Travel Advisor, Organic Spa, Porthole Cruise, Travel Agent,,,, and, in addition to various custom publications. She is frequently called upon to comment on various spa and wellness trends for various media outlets.