Two years ago, Diane Trieste was asked to help open a new spa in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. But this wasn’t just any spa—this was an integral part of a nonprofit retreat center where every single penny goes back into a global foundation to support humanitarian causes.
The spa, located at The Art of Living Retreat Center—a holistic wellness retreat situated 3,700 feet atop Heavenly Mountain spread over 380 gorgeous acres—has a special focus on Ayurvedic treatments and delivering custom packages designed to bring one back into balance. Its founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a noted and beloved spiritual teacher, founded The Art of Living Foundation in 1981 as an international, nonprofit, educational and humanitarian organization. Its international headquarters are in Bangalore, and there are regional centers in more than 150 countries.The Boone, North Carolina property was purchased four years ago—and the plan to build a spa was realized a year and a half ago.
“I visited two years ago and was lucky to take a workshop from Sri Sri who was at the property,” reveals Trieste, who was asked to move to Boone and take the lead. “At the time, I wasn’t ready, so I offered to be a consultant, but they didn’t want that. We parted ways, but we kept in touch, and the spa opened six months later in 2013.” Recently, they called Trieste to revisit—and this time, the stars were aligned.
Trieste, now the Director of the Blue Heaven Spa at The Art of Living Retreat Center, explains that her mission is to help integrate the ashram setting with the hospitality setting. “They intuitively knew what to create, but they also want to change the world one person at a time. They also know what they don’t know—so that’s how they found me.” Trieste—whose stellar spa background includes Canyon Ranch, Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, and Cortiva, where she, at the latter, headed up the largest national massage school in the nation—is known for getting the job done, and done well.
Trieste, now the Director of the Blue Heaven Spa at The Art of Living Retreat Center, explains that her mission is to help integrate the ashram setting with the hospitality setting. “They intuitively knew what to create, but they also want to change the world one person at a time. They also know what they don’t know—so that’s how they found me.”
“The spa space, open for a year and a half, was acting like it was on its own—there wasn’t an integration, or let’s say, there was a very lean integration. The whole picture now is the bigger picture—wellness—to supply a center that is absolutely an integral part of The Art of Living that delivers therapeutic treatments and lifestyle education,” says Trieste.
There are four retreat buildings with over 200 rooms, a large meditation hall that holds up to 1,300, four small meditation halls, and as it stands now, the spa, a former building that was converted in to a spa hotel. The spa hotel has 27 guest rooms, a two-floor spa with nine treatment rooms, one yoga space, three steam rooms, and a small workout facility. The lovely Shankara product line (the name taken from its founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) is used in treatments. Perhaps the best thing of all is the fact that there are no distractions here. The only distraction, notes Trieste, is nature, yoga,meditation, and being with oneself.
Last year, a six-day Panchakarma program was tested and was a success. Beginning in April, there will be a beginner’s detoxification retreat that involves constant care by Ayurvedic doctors. “When we have these programs, it’s all about nutrition, lifestyle changes, exercise in the form of yoga, meditation, walking, moving the prana. While we have an exercise room, it’s not about getting on the treadmill and losing weight. We are absolutely an Art of Living culture. It’s not a cult or a religion—it’s just a way of breathing love and happiness.”
Trieste and her colleagues at The Art of Living Retreat Center are in the midst of creating a bigger space, connecting more buildings and basically creating a self-sustainable Ayurvedic center. The ultimate goal, she shares, is to create a space to introduce Ayurveda to the masses, as well as to support all the members in The Art of Living community. A revamped spa will open in 2016, with a larger inclusive Ayurvedic center. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m here,” she says. “To help them go the next level, to help create a vision for tomorrow.”