OJAI, Calif.--()--Sheila Cluff, a wellness visionary who created cardiovascular dance, now known as “aerobics,” in the 1950s and pioneered the concept of the modern destination spa in the 1970s, tells her fascinating life story in “Living Your Dream” (Storyzon; 154 pp).
“I wanted neither a fat farm nor a beauty spa”
The autobiography is available for $16.95 on www.oaksspa.com, at The Oaks’ retail outlet The Nest, and will be available on Amazon.com, as well as an ebook version, shortly. “Whether readers are 9 or 90, my hope is that this autobiography will enable them to channel the universal language of dreams, sacrifice and family,” promises Cluff, 76, a mother of four and grandmother of seven.
Cluff’s life and career have been marked by boundless creativity, passion and admirable perseverance, and throughout the book she candidly relates her experiences of triumph and tragedy. In the ’50s, long before the fitness industry came up with the term “aerobics,” she drew from her choreography as a professional ice skater to create “cardiovascular dance,” adding a spark of fun to exercise. In the ’70s when those seeking to lose weight on vacation had little choice but to trudge off to the grim “fat farm,” she conceived of a contemporary spa that combined luxurious European body treatments with exciting exercise and healthy delicious food. Thus was born The Oaks at Ojai, which would come to be declared the best destination spa in the United States by Spa Magazine.
But “Living Your Dream” is also a story of endurance in the face of personal heartache and professional challenges. Cluff lost a son to emulous meningitis before his third birthday, and writes, “Even today, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, reliving [the tragedy].” Later in life, she nursed her husband through devastating injuries suffered in an auto accident. In the business world, she put all of the family’s finances at risk to bring her spa concept to life in Ojai. “But we did it,” she writes, “and became the first affordable destination spa in the United States to focus on healthy eating and exercise as a way for women to look and feel better, whatever their fitness level.”
This was one tireless entrepreneur – at a time when moms were not commonly found in the professional world. Cluff launched a second spa, The Palms in Palm Springs, hosted wellness TV programs on the NBC network and on KABC in Los Angeles, founded the Healthy Holidays travel company and conducted numerous speaking engagements. She also is one of the founding members of C200 (The Committee of 200), an organization of women entrepreneurs and high-level corporate leaders, and was instrumental in creating the International Spa Association (ISPA), of which she was one of its first board members. When she and her family resolved to transform a dilapidated Ojai gas station and its grounds into a civic treasure, the result was the beautiful Cluff Vista Park.
Cluff’s wellness philosophy flies in the face of most fad diet and fitness regimens, in that “I advise my spa guests to throw away their scales,” she writes. Instead, “get a tight pair of non-stretch jeans, and make sure they always fit. Measurements are more important than weight.” And at her spas, she rejected the idea of subjecting guests to torturous deprivation. “I wanted neither a fat farm nor a beauty spa,” she writes, “but a place that focused on health and fitness, where people would come to enjoy themselves, not be ‘punished’ with exercise and diet food.”
Cluff’s book offers the encouragement that “when we feel healthy and vibrant, we can experience a lot more joy in our lives.” Her story offers readers “a sliver of inspiration, a seed of faith” that they, too, can live their dreams.