When my friend @ayla.elmoussa (the queen of NFT's) told me to check out Surya Spa, I jumped on it. Ayla's taste and recommendations are always exquisite. So we spoke with Martha Soffer, internationally acclaimed Ayurvedic doctor, chef, herbalist, and founder of Surya Spa, to learn more about the ancient science of Ayurveda. Martha’s recently opened outpost at the Kelly Wearstler designed Santa Monica Proper Hotel, offers customized wellness and beauty treatments, cleanses, culinary classes, as well as yoga and meditation. And her transformative treatments are loved by Hollywood’s top celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kourtney Kardashian, and Kate Hudson.
Martha, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to create Surya?
I’m from Bogota, Colombia, and, in the wake of a heartbreak, left home for the strange, wintery climate of Iowa to get an advanced degree in Computer Science at Maharishi International University. One evening I was in the dining hall and was struck by the undeniable glow of a group of women who’d emerged from seven days of on-campus Ayurvedic treatments. At that moment, my life took a turn. I tried a treatment for myself and felt called to learn Ayurveda. After graduating with a degree in Ayurveda, I was asked to come to LA to teach a course and ended up staying. I opened the first iteration of Surya out of a room in my house that I converted to a treatment room and I began formulating products for my clients based on their needs. Now, 20 years later, Surya has grown into a bigger manifestation of that vision, a wellness lifestyle brand with the mission to integrate Ayurveda into the fabric of everyday life. I’m committed to maintaining the intimacy and integrity of Surya as we grow—The experience at the spa remains completely customized, though it’s now in a beautiful Kelly Wearstler- designed spa instead of a dilapidated house, and the products are still made in small batches with healing mantras and aligned with the cycles of the moon, though they’re now beautifully packaged and available online so people can experience the magic of Surya from home.
Surya is founded on the principles of Ayurveda. Can you explain what Ayurveda is?
Ayurveda is a comprehensive system of wellness and longevity developed 10,000 years ago by the yogis of Southern India. Centered around the curative powers of the natural world, Ayurveda uses natural medicines and practices that have been around for thousands of years to heal the body and mind.
What are doshas and what are the benefits of knowing your dosha?
In Ayurveda, doshas are the categories by which we understand the presence of the elements in a person’s physiology. The three doshas are vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth and water). When people are first introduced to Ayurveda they often ask “What’s my dosha?” There are actually two parts of the answer to that question— we each have a constitutional dosha and a current doshic imbalance. Each person is born with a unique mix of the elements, which creates their constitutional dosha. Here is a little bit about each dosha.
Vata is the energy of air and movement, so people with a lot of Vata in their constitution are often energetic, creative, and open-minded, tend to have a slimmer build, and, when imbalanced, experience anxiety, insomnia, excessive dryness, poor circulation, and overwhelm.
Pitta is the energy of fire, so people with Pitta in their constitution are often ambitious, insightful, and passionate. Physically, they tend to run hot and have a strong build. Short-temperedness, breakouts and inflammation indicate a Pitta imbalance.
Kapha is the energy of earth and water, so people with Kapha in their constitution are often grounded, intelligent, compassionate, and stable. Physically, they tend to have larger builds and good stamina. When out of balance, excess Kapha can lead to depression, lethargy, and weight gain.
You can think of your constitutional dosha as your body’s core makeup and what your tendencies are. Then, day to day, season to season, year to year, your body experiences different imbalances within the doshas. So even if you are born with a primarily Vata constitution, one day you could be feeling really lethargic and unable to get out of bed— this would indicate a Kapha imbalance.
At Surya, we like to look at it really simply. At any moment, you can ask yourself “Do I feel like I need to calm down (vata imbalance)? Cool down (pitta imbalance)? Or energize (kapha imbalance)? By using these simple questions you can quickly determine what your body and mind need at any given moment. It’s a simple, practical self-care tool that you can use every day. If you feel like you need to calm down, you can meditate, eat grounding foods, or take a warm bath. If you feel like you need to cool down, avoid spicy foods and alcohol and eat cooling foods like aloe and cucumber and slow down your pace. If you need more energy, eat stimulating spices, get your heart pumping with some exercise, or dry brush to bring more circulation and energy into the body. In becoming familiar with your doshas and how they fluctuate, you can become more in tune with your mind and body and more aware of how to bring yourself into balance.
Can you tell us about your Ayurvedic consultations and what they entail?
I start each consultation with both pulse and tongue diagnostics. The pulse is an amazing look into everything that is going on inside the body and mind. In reading a pulse, I get a sense of both someone’s constitution and their current imbalance, down to a very specific level. The pulse communicates so much— the state of mind of a person, the location and nature of pain in the body, the way they eat, how they feel. After I read the pulse and tongue, I talk with the client about their health concerns, their daily habits, and what their health goals are. I then craft a plan for them to return to balance
The feeling of a client’s pulse paired with a quick look at their tongue allows me to understand where their body is currently out of balance. In understanding which dosha(s) is most dominant, I can come up with a plan to bring the body back into balance and nearer to its constitution.
What is Panchakarma and what is involved in a Panchakarma treatment?
Panchakarma is an immersive cleanse for mind, body, and spirit. Clients come for anywhere from 3 to 28 days in a row for your hours of treatment each day. It is completely personalized and meant to detoxify impurities that have been accumulated in the physiology. At Surya, each client gets their own customized oil that cooks in herbs each night. While each day of Panchakarma begins with an abhyanga (our 4-handed lymphatic massage) and ends with a shirodhara (warm oil hypnotically dripped onto the forehead) and a basti (an enema customized to your needs), the treatments in between are totally customized and change from day to day based on what your body needs. Clients enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Surya each day and can also book private sound bath and dosha yoga sessions during their retreat. It’s a truly transformative experience whether you are dealing with a chronic health issue or just need a reset.
Your Glow treatment is very popular with some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities during Awards Season. What does the Glow treatment entail?
While our Panchakarma’s focus on the deep-rooted health issues/focuses of a person, our Glow treatment is a little bit more lighthearted and focused on radiance, relaxation, and rejuvenation. We use all the beauty secrets of Ayurveda to craft an individualized Glow treatment for each client. The Glow often includes full-body scrubs, steams, facial treatments, and luxurious baths. The result is radiant skin, even complexion, less water retention, and that elusive healthy glow. Clients often do three days in a row ahead of a big event (we have lots of brides-to-be come in for this too!).
Can you tell us about some of the courses you offer?
We are releasing our first online course, Fundamentals of Ayurveda, in a few weeks! I wanted to start offering these online classes because so many people have tried our products or had a treatment but want to dive deeper. We’re working on building out a full educational platform that will include courses on Ayurvedic Beauty, Ayurvedic Cooking, and an immersion program where I will guide you on a year-long journey of well-being. We also have a Dosha Yoga program that offers private yoga classes built around your health journey and doshic balance.