5 Questions With...Linda Nelson, founder of M’lis

For author and founder/CEO of M’lis Dr. Linda T. Nelson, spreading wellness is a labor of love—and fun.

Linda Nelson with tribal women in Nigeria

Nelson visits with tribal women at a Samboro village in Nigeria.

Linda Nelson was so ahead of her time when she launched her wellness treatment program 33 years ago, that the U.S. wasn’t ready for her. “We had to spend the first 18 years of our business in Asia because Americans weren’t ready to take care of themselves,” she recalls. But, as is characteristic of Nelson, she came to see that early challenge as fortuitous. “I ended up spending a lot of time looking at Traditional Chinese Medicine and other alternative therapies, so it was very helpful!” she says.

Nelson was drawn to the health arena because of another, even earlier, challenge: fibromyalgia. She ultimately found a naturopath who started her on the path to wellness. And the more she learned about her body’s own healing properties, the more determined she became to not only get well, but to share what she learned. “M’lis is what it is because nature took a sick me and taught me how to be well,” she says. In the mid-’90s, when her clients began to ask her how to find the treatments they’d received in Asia here in the U.S., she knew it was time to take her show west—and that spas were the best conduit.

“In Asia, conventional medicine is holistic, but not in the U.S.,” she reasons. “We knew that only the spa industry would be able to mentor people the way we wanted to, to love people well. People who work in spas have a healing mentality.”

Today, some element of the M’lis treatment approach is used in 3,000 spas and 17 countries around the world. DAYSPA chatted with Nelson to find out what keeps this 70-year-old dynamo inspired.—Linda Kossoff

Other 5 Questions With... Interviews: Barbara Panagos | Boldijarre Koronczay | Linda Appel Lipsius | Lisa Crary | Tony Cuccio | Dr. Howard Murad | Zvi Ryzman | Ken Simpson

It’s hard to imagine you in any field other than wellness. Had you not gotten into this industry, what would have done instead?
Actually, during the time I was sick and taught to get well I had a chain of children’s clothing stores! I was a fashion buyer for the Emporium department store in San Francisco. But after working with a naturopath, I eventually decided that I didn’t care whether children were dressed in cute clothes. Everything changed: my family, my friends, my life! I went to school and earned a doctorate in preventive health care.
Now that alternative wellness treatments are more accepted in the U.S., how can a spa owner decide what to include on her menu?
First, find a company that’s established—lots of them just come and go. You need to research companies, attend their trainings, etc. We encourage spa professionals to actually go on our 30-day lifestyle program because you can’t sell something you haven’t done.
How would you describe the culture at M’lis?
It has all stemmed from my personal experience. I’ve surrounded myself with people from all walks of the holistic life. Our most fun thing to do is teach people how to get well and be well. Everyone that works here loves to do that.
How did the company fare during the recession?
The last three years have financially been the biggest years for our company. Maybe people feel like the only thing they have control of in their lives is themselves. We’re doing way more in volume, training and education than any other time in the company’s history. We come to work giddy every day!
What are your three greatest priorities in life?
One, my family—I have six children (including a son who’s a naturopath and a daughter who’s a licensed clinical therapist), 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Two, my profession, specifically working hands-on with people in the community. And three, travel! I loved Africa—we went on a photographic safari there. I can’t go anywhere twice because I always want to go someplace new. I just have to take advantage of everything that I love and I can’t waste time doing anything that isn’t important. I want to enjoy every single day!

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