As far back as I can remember, I felt drawn to explore human potential -- how we can live our lives to the fullest and maximize our individual potential, personally and professionally. I wanted to understand what distinguishes a mundane existence from a quality life, and how we can embrace our daily lives with awareness and a sense of wholeness. This search has had many twists and turns along the way, but has ultimately led me to my present position as President of TARA® Spa Therapy, Inc., a company that aspires to improve lifestyles through education and quality products, supporting my deeply held belief that "cultivating relationship with self" is our ultimate goal.
Following an impulse is the only explanation for why, having never experienced a massage, I enrolled in massage school after graduating with honors from the University of Michigan with a degree in psychology. Sometimes, even though we don't always know why we go somewhere, we just "know" we're in the right place once we've arrived. I discovered I had a gift for touch, and embraced bodywork as one of the stepping stones on my path.
After earning certifications in Massage Therapy and Wholistic Health Education, I moved to Harbin Hot Springs, (during the time that Watsu was developing). I practiced bodywork in Calistoga, one of northern California's historic spa towns, and earned certifications in Hydrotherapy and Kneipp Treatments.
Craving a more scientific basis for my healing work, I was drawn to the ancient Eastern healing system called Ayurveda. I journeyed to Santa Fe, New Mexico and the College of Natural Medicine to study with the first Ayurvedic Physician to come to the U.S., the renowned Dr. Vasant Lad from Poona, India. Dr. Lad made the connection between ancient traditions and modern technology and integrated science and spirituality. I spent three years studying in Dr. Lad's medical program and working in the Ayurvedic clinic, where I prescribed herbal medicine and diets, recommended lifestyle changes and taught Yoga.
Before the completion of my apprenticeship, Dr. Lad blessed me with a new name, and Donna Grodjesk became "Tara," a Sanskrit word meaning "star."
All budding "stars," of course, go either to New York or to Los Angeles. Even though my heart felt at home on the California coast and in the mountains of the West, I took my new name and my Ayurvedic Practitioner certification, moved back to the east coast where I was born, and took up residence in New York City. I opened a private practice called Bodywise, The Center for Relaxation and Rejuvenation, where I was able to integrate all I had learned and believed in -- massage, Ayurveda and Yoga. I shared an office with a new acquaintance, Pratima Raichur, a biochemist, esthetician and naturopathic doctor from India. Pratima was developing herbal formulations for an Ayurvedic product line and body treatment. In 1987, Pratima asked me to assist her in bringing the awareness of Ayurveda to the spa industry. I saw myself as a bodyworker and Yoga teacher, not a sales woman! But my enthusiasm for Ayurveda motivated me to accept the challenge -- a choice that would forever change my life!
To get started, I bought a copy of Spa Finders magazine and picked out the biggest and best spas promoting health and wellness. After spending months in the field visiting these spas, I was surprised and disappointed to find that the services being offered by most of them were really more about "pampering" than therapeutically oriented. A gap was identified and the seed of a vision was planted - to bring a more wholistic message to the spa industry, along with truly therapeutic and authentic treatments. Ayurveda would be the core of this endeavor.
Spa directors were enthusiastic about adding a therapeutic element to their services through Ayurveda. Marriott Desert Springs Resort in Southern California was the first client to take on an Ayurvedic spa treatment program. Soon after, well known spas such as Sonoma Mission Inn, Watercourse Way, Lake Austin Resort and the Claremont Hotel and Spa were incorporating Ayurveda into their treatment menus as well. Enthusiastic guest response further fueled the growing popularity of this unique and exciting experience. At the Marriott Desert Springs, Mr. Marriott received a letter from a guest extolling the benefits of the Ayurvedic treatment. He then shared the letter with the entire hotel staff, increasing their awareness of the spa and the positive role it played in adding to their guests' experience. This treatment soon became the best selling service on the menu!
Many spa directors began asking me for assistance in finding other natural products for therapeutic treatments. Responding to the needs of my growing clientele, I studied extensively with Master Aromatherapists and also studied a variety of therapeutic spa treatments including thalasso, pelio, and hydro therapies. I then sought out the best of the best in the natural products market. I'd find a great product, repackage it, then reposition it for the spa market. As my product repertoire expanded, I realized that I had "found" another niche for myself as a networking resource. I was now representing over a dozen companies in addition to Pratima's, but spreading awareness of Ayurveda continued to be my focus.
In between my travels, my mission for Ayurveda and my career development, I met and fell in love with a wonderful man by the name of Mark Rainey! We were married in Big Sur in 1992. Mark encouraged me to start my own business with my own line of products. He demonstrated his belief in my potential by selling his business and joining me to develop mine, handling all the administrative details of the newly formed, Bodywise Spa Products, Inc.
The first Bodywise office was an extra bedroom in our home. Before long, the business expanded into the garage to accommodate the growing staff. Mark was in charge of production and manufacturing. Carole Spellman joined us to assist me with marketing and sales. For a long time, I was the company's only sales person, the single Educator and the creative director! Other staff were added and our home became a constant hub of activity, with delivery trucks making numerous daily trips down our long, steep driveway, much to the consternation of our neighbors.
The first product Bodywise introduced to the spa industry was my own formulation of professional massage oil, which I had personally used for 7 years in my private practice. It was followed by the aromatherapy neck pillow. Filled with the warming herbs of cinnamon bark and orange spice and "hard" herbs to hold moist heat, the combination was an instant winner. The pillows were an overnight success, as spa clients throughout the country experienced the amazing pain relief and relaxation benefits of these warm herbal pillows around their necks. The TARA® neck pillow is still our #1 spa retail item, as well as an essential component for many spa treatments.
Expansion of the product line continued with the development of pre-blended aromatherapy massage oils that we call "Aromablends." In the midst of considering a further expansion of the business, Mark was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was also 4 months pregnant with our son, Jacob. I stopped traveling and devoted all of my time and energy to support Mark as he underwent treatment for his tumor. Carole and other loyal staff members kept on top of the daily details of the business. My whole family rallied to support us during this extremely difficult time. Ken, my brother, took a sabbatical from his teaching job and moved to California with his wife Carol, to help run the business. The spa industry also showed their support, and ISPA donated $5000 to the Mark S. Rainey Healing Fund.
After a courageous but arduous battle, Mark passed away on October 19, 1996, just one day after our son's first birthday. My grief was overwhelming, and I immersed myself in my work. Infused by Mark's belief in me, I went back on the road, where the positive response to my products and treatments and the love and compassion expressed by all of my spa friends, truly renewed my spirit.
At this tragic time, Pratima also expressed her support for me, and acknowledged my dedication and commitment to bringing Ayurveda to the spa world by giving me permission to put her formulations under my own label.
Ken and Carol returned to Illinois and took the company's shipping/distribution services with them! Ken resumed his teaching profession as a college professor and Carol now manages our Illinois Distribution Facility with her son, Joe.
In 1997, we changed the name of our company to TARA® Spa Therapy, Inc., and fulfilled Mark's and my dream to develop my own product line. Our collection debuted at ISPA that same year. The company outgrew its garage accommodations in 1998 and we moved into our current headquarters in Carmel, California. I now serve as the company's President and Creative Director with the assistance of an incredible, tireless and inspired staff who share and help manifest my vision. I continue to educate spa staffs in the wisdom and techniques of Aromatherapy and Ayurveda, but I now have the assistance of a team of equally impassioned educators. I especially enjoy my role as consultant to resorts and hotels in the creation of new and exciting signature spas including products and treatment program menus. And, finally, I can enjoy some peace and quiet when I'm at home (except, of course, for that young boy, Jacob!)
I'm passionately committed to the wholistic philosophy of health and well-being, and the value of balance in one's personal and professional life. I continue to seek high quality natural products that allow and support individuals to nurture themselves and live a full, quality life. My personal goal, and the goal of my company, is to empower people to take responsibility for their own healing and provide them with the lifestyle tools that support maximizing their potential for cultivating a nourishing relationship with self.