Associate Director and Wellness Advisor of Badrutt’s Palace Hotel & Ayurvedic Expert
After growing up in Australia, Martha Wiedemann found herself wondering about her true identity. Wanting to feel a connection to her native India, she took up the practice of Ayurveda. She would later use her knowledge of the ancient, holistic system to inform and improve the wellness facilities at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, a multimillion-dollar expansion designed with Ayurvedic principles in mind.
How did your parents become followers of Ayurveda long before it was a recognizable practice?
My parents come from Kerala where most of the text for Ayurveda has been preserved. It is still practiced there in its traditional form. Though Ayurveda is widespread in India, most of the Ayurvedic schools are in Kerala, and it is very much a part of the general population’s daily lifestyle. My parents left India, moved to Singapore and preserved that culture that was native to their wellbeing. They raised us with the Ayurvedic principles. Early on, we went to see a Vaidya, which is an Ayurvedic doctor. I never took medication that was chemical in composition. The only medication we were given was always herbal. In Ayurveda, your constitution dictates your nutrition. It was very rigid as I was growing up, and I didn’t understand why. By contrast, Singapore was very multicultural, so Ayurveda was understood and accepted. At 14, I moved to Australia. I felt quite odd living according to the Ayurvedic principles. I would monitor the time of the year so I could determine what my sister and I could or could not eat. It was very much about constitution and very strict.
What are you and your sister’s Prakriti?
I am Vata-Pitta. My sister is actually more Pitta. At this point in our lives, we are showing traits of Vata Vikriti.
In Ayurveda, what are Prakriti and Vikriti?
Prakriti is your original state, and that stays with you. Vikriti fluctuates with the changes in environment and lifestyle and goes up and down. So, Vikriti is often referred to as the disease state, the not-at-ease, not-at-equilibrium state. You could be a Pitta constitution and have a high Vata state. It sometimes is hard to detect when in diagnosis.
There is a portion of your being that’s static, and a portion of your being that is malleable. As a wellness expert, are the more malleable components to your being sleep and nutrition?
Lifestyle and spirituality, actually.
How does one define their Prakriti and Vikriti?
It is very difficult to teach somebody how to correctly determine their constitution and what is out of balance in their Vikriti state. If you get that wrong and have an incorrect assessment of your wellbeing, you are not optimized. So, you really should have a consultation with an Ayurvedic expert through questionnaires, etcetera. In Ayurveda, we never treat your correct state. So, it’s not always important to look at that. What is important is to know where are you out of balance. For example, if somebody is not sleeping well or having digestive issues, having a very irregular life- style or is very temperamental, we need to understand why.
What about the online assessments/diagnosis?
Some questions are ambiguous and may solicit generic responses or answers. But accuracy in answering those questions and going over those questions with an expert is quite important. You really need accuracy.
Where do you find an Ayurvedic expert?
You have to look for credentials, and it is important to get a referral. There are very good Ayurvedic practitioners, institutes, clinics and wellness centers. Deepak Chopra is in California and really put Ayurveda on the map. He has brought the subject great awareness. We met him 18 years ago when we were managing the Montreux Palace Hotel. It was a delight.
You were born in Singapore, and at 14, you moved to Australia. Tell me about yourself—the period of your life where you lost who you were.
I was confused about my identity. I was often asked, “Where do you come from?” And I thought, “Where do I come from?” I felt very Indian because of the way I was raised. Yet, I didn’t feel very connected to India. I couldn’t say that I really was Indian because I couldn’t speak Hindi. I speak my language from Kerala, which is Malayalam. I felt my soul was connected to India, but I, I didn’t know where I came from. I was searching. I loved growing up in Australia. I loved the nature, and I loved being part of that country, and I wanted to be immersed in it. I wanted to be Australian, but I thought, “I’m not Australian.” I was really lost. I think sometimes, to find yourself, you have to know what it’s like to be really, really lost. I discovered that I was many things, and I didn’t need to be just one. I could bring together all of these different facets of my life and my story to become who I really am. I was very grateful for that because I was no longer bound to a culture, and I could choose what I wanted to be. Ayurveda was still the foundation of my life-style, and so, I thought, if I learn Ayurveda, maybe I’ll learn more about who I am. I went to learn and study, and I realized this is something great. I need to actually bring it into my work. Ayurveda became my career. It became what I do. I was in health and beauty, and I never really felt that beauty was something topical. It is health and then beauty.
You were interested in skin products and skin wellness. Take us down that path.
As a teenager, I had acne. They troubled me, so I covered them up and could not get rid of them.
And look at you now with this absolute flawless skin . . . radiating incredible beauty inside and out.
Thank you. I loved, as a child, the idea of products in jars, lotions and potions. I used to play with them. I wanted to put creams on my mothers skin, but she jsut said, “Oh, no, no you go off and do something else.” But I wanted lotions and potions, and my hands were calling me. I needed to work with my hands. The doors started to open, and I found myself learning about skincare. I studied how to look after my skin. It was always about how I could take care of me, and then it became how I could take care of other people. I found that actually I needed to maintain my skin from the outside, and my nutrition from the inside. So, I became a nutritionist. I studied alternative therapies. I was always studying something whether it was reflexology or massage therapies. It was just exciting world, and I could use my hands. I was delighted because that became my language. It was where I felt the happiest, actually.
And I was fascinated by your individual practice. You wake up, meditate, practice yoga, and you self-massage?
Yes. I think for me this routine is the key to self-love. It is my space with the silence, often with a beautiful view, so that I can connect with nature. I like the whole idea of awakening my body and promoting circulation. Afterwards, I get oils, and I will do what I’ve learned in massage on other people; stimulate my lymphatic system and work my muscles. I start with my feet, and then I work upwards. I massage my face, my scalp. I do everything. I think this is the way to know the state of your body, and it’s the way to actually remove stagnation, which, I believe, is the cause of a lot of disease states. So, it promotes circulation. It activates the lymphatic system, and you look after yourself. You actually feel like this is my body. This is the thing that takes me through the whole day. I respect it, and I care for it. I do not expect someone else to know my body better than me. I want to know me. So, I think self-massage is part of knowing yourself, respecting yourself and caring for yourself. This makes you feel the self-love, which I think is important.
How long does that practice take?
30, 40 minutes. Sounds like a lot of time.
This includes meditation?
Oh, no, meditation is about 45 minutes.
You spend about two hours daily?
Yes. I’m sometimes unreachable before ten o’clock.
And yoga is a big part of your practice as well?
Yes, yoga’s a big part of my lifestyle. However, meditation is becoming a stronger part because I think that mind, body and spirit is more my focus. Meditation takes me to a much greater level. With yoga, the asanas are great, but without meditation, it’s still a limited exercise.
During meditation, is your objective to still a mind or to fill a mind?
My form of meditation is to put a focus on what I want. Every meditation will include something about the planet, because I love nature. I want wellness for the planet. That’s a big desire of mine. And then self-love and being the best version of myself so I will be ready for the unknown. It is where I put my focus. Some people are able to actually clear their mind. For me, it is about focusing on something. Sometimes it is about eliminating stress. I know that I have to focus on peace, so that I am able to connect with it and not focus on disturbance. I worry about people. I worry about things. So, if I’m worrying about someone’s health, I’ll put my focus on their wellness rather than their illness. It is about putting my focus on where I want to generate my energy.
What are three cornerstones to living well?
First, is self-love, self-respect and appreciating your creation. Then it is being connected to nature because we are nature, and we cannot separate ourselves from that. This world gives us everything. Finally, I think that contribution is a big thing, that it’s part of being alive. So, if I just did the same things each day, I wouldn’t feel that state of aliveness. I do believe we’re energy forces more than anything else. So, what did I create with my energy force today? What did I contribute, and how do I want to make a difference? I’ve been very lucky, and I’m aware that it’s not enough just to exist. I want to live, and that means making a difference, generating something, something great.
Your two children. You have a boy and a girl?
Do they practice Ayurveda?
My daughter does but not my son. I never sold it to my kids because I felt it was imposed on me. I never wanted to do that. I think if you love it, you’ll embrace it. They watch how I live, and they do come to me very often and ask my advice. Maybe they think that I’m a little too alternative. My son certainly giggles at me. My daughter is very close to wellness. We do a lot together. We travel to India and do panchakarma cleansing. We go to meditation retreats. There isn’t a day that goes by without us focusing on a new piece of information out there that we can explore, that can help achieve wellness, because wellness is so important. You know, if it’s Chinese medicine or whichever school of thought it’s coming from, there’s something great to explore.
Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, imagine that at one point in your life you would be living here in Switzerland married to a principal at Badrutt’s Palace and lauded globally for your insight and enlightenment in the wellness arena?
They say be careful what you wish for, right? I can tell you that this is very, very true. At ten years old, I was in a big bookstore, and I opened a book about Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. Imagine, a little girl in Singapore, who had never seen snow or castles or anything in Europe. I saw this picture of this hotel, and I read that people actually met in the hall and drank tea together. I thought, “Wow, what’s that?” And the snow. And, you know, I disappeared into this book. It was magical. You are an amazing person because you write about things. Women are reading all of this and magical things also happen from the things you write. I told my husband before we were married about the book I had read about Badrutt’s Palace as a child. He was quite surprised as he had not been there and really did not know that much about it.
Hans your husband was raised in Switzerland?
He is from Basel.
He then moved to Australia and worked in the food and beverages business where you met? Tell me about the budding relationship in Australia?
He opened up the European world for me, and I was fascinated. The whole culture was interesting to me, and he was fascinated by my culture. We were both in the service industry and always understood how important that was. I learned so much from him because the hotel business is all about people and service. I bettered my profession just from learning from him. He had a very natural quality when he interacted with people. There were some fundamental key methods that he used. He was very attentive, and he explored cultures, food and wines. I didn’t know anything about that role. It was all a delight for me. I entered this world, and we became friends. We respected each other. I think that was a good foundation for love. I didn’t feel that I’d met somebody who was flippant. He was definitely deep.
How long was the courtship before marriage?
A couple of years.
And did your parents like him?
My parents liked him even though they wanted me to be married to an Indian because of the Indian culture. I grew up in Australia, and my parents were always frightened about what I might do. And then he came home, and brought flowers to my mom. He was very respectful of them.
Two years after meeting, you and Hans were married. Where did you go from there?
I always worked. I always had a little practice, and it was never far from his hotel establishment. I felt I was the side support for Hans and was immersed in the hotel business because he became general manager very fast. He opened the first University Hotel in the Gold Coast in Queensland. We traveled a lot. We went to China where he opened a hotel for the foreign ministry. We lived there for two years in ‘91, ‘92. For me, there were beauty salons, health clubs, chiropractors and physiotherapists, but there was no spa or wellness industry. It was very divided. So, I was learning bits and pieces from different areas and figuring out how all the pieces might come together to treat one person.
Do you think that Deepak Chopra was the genesis for a kind of universal acceptance of the idea that Ayurveda and wellness was not just skin or chiropractic?
Definitely, because Deepak Chopra brought awareness to Ayurveda and made people understand that it wasn’t a cultural idea, that it was a wellness idea, and that it could be applied to anybodys life. You didn’t have to be Indian, and you could take part of it, or everything that came under that one word. It was yoga, meditation and nutrition. Everything. So, Ayurveda just means life’s knowledge. He made people feel at east in that world. Effectively, we could look for natural ways to treat our body, and prevention was a key component. He talked a lot about not having to wait to be ill to do something about wellness. You could maintain your health. You could maintain your life. You could enjoy your life. It wasn’t about longevity. It was a quality of life. Yes, I think we all owe it to him for bringing that awareness to us.
You and Hans then spent 20 years traveling Australia and China, and then, you came to Switzerland 24 years ago, in 1995, to Le Montreux Palace Hotel. Then, in 2004, he took the helm of the Badrutt’s Palace. What are your roles today?
Hans retired from managing the Badrutt’s Palace two years ago. He is a delegate of the board now. It is a small board responsible for directing the continuity of our unique product. Richard Leuenberger was introduced as managing director. I started to take on new responsibilities as associate director of Badrutt’s Palace in addition to my role as wellness advisor. I was a bit scared because Hans was a tough act to follow.
Under your tutelage their multi, multi-million-dollar wellness center was built.
Yes, it was 2009 actually. At the time, the Badrutt’s Palace was doing a lot of renovation. One of the areas they needed to look at was the spa facility. We decided that we were going to do a good market research on our existing clients and find out what they were looking for rather than what we thought the product needed. They were looking for wellness. To come to Engadin is a big decision. To come to the Badrutt’s Palace, you decide to have that experience. We didn’t want to give them a feeling that they had gone to a place that didn’t identify with the product. So, we didn’t want to have an Asiatic spa. We tried to create something that still had the architecture and touches of The Palace all the way through, so that it would feel a part of The Palace. It would always remind you where you were. And the Engadin up there is so magnificent. It’s already a destination of wellness in the pristine mountains, the clean air and the clean water. All we had to do was put in a lot of windows to bring the view and that whole image of the Engadin in. We decided to keep it simple and use natural elements of which the whole Palace is built, such as the local granite and the local wood. They have a lot of etchings in the Engadin region. So, we brought that in too. We studied the region and The Palace and the clientele, and we knew that a lot of families stayed with us. So, we wanted to cater for young kids and teenagers. For us, stimulation is wellness. It was not about creating a spa for a business hotel where people need to switch off. It is a very stimulating wellness center with a lot of sports, activity and brightness. The experience is energizing. I used a few elements in there too from my studies of Ayurveda where we have what we call Vastu Shastra, which is the equivalent of Feng Shui. I designed the center according to the energy flow, but I kept the Engadin style. I thought that was very important because buildings are happy when they’re connected to their destination. I did want to take into account energy flow. So, you will see that, within the treatment center, there’s a garden where you can open the doors and have fresh air. We don’t have a lot of recycled air or use artificial lighting. It’s all natural light. We don’t want people to look at clocks and watches to know what time of the day it is. They can feel it from the sunlight. Those are subtle aspects of getting people to switch off and not feel like they have to check where they are or what time of the day it is but to connect their body to nature. The treatment center’s certainly that. Water, fire, air, earth, all of these elements are present.
Can you give me a two-minute history on The Palace?
Badrutt’s Palace is a building that has its own energy. I think it speaks to everyone. And everyone who comes there leaves something of themselves there too. People come there and have so much fun. Even now, when the hotel is closed and everything’s packed away, furniture’s put away, you can walk through the hall and just feel this energy of joy and laughter and pleasure. It is a hundred and twenty-three years old. Caspar Badrutt built the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. A little tower actually existed. It was under construction, and somebody wanted to sell it, and he bought it from an auction. He then built this whole amazing palace around that. I think the tower might have inspired him. It is the second oldest hotel in St. Moritz. The Kulm Hotel which is actually the oldest, was owned by Casper’s father, Johannes Badrutt. The father and son became competitors, but The Palace has a very strategic position. It has this amazing view of the Alps and this wonderful lake where everything happens. It is built in the style of this castle, and fits the mountain so well. It is a landmark in St. Moritz today.
Were there any instrumental women?
Yes. Helen Badrutt, who was the wife of Caspar’s son Hans, took leadership of the hotel in 1953 upon her husband’s death. When she passed in 1960, her son Hansjurg and his wife, Aniko Badrutt, carried on this leadership. Both Helen and Aniko Badrutt were close and contributed much to what remains in the Palace today.
When you were a young girl, was there anyone, other than your parents, who influenced you?
I love the story of Mahatma Gandhi.
If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
Why am I here? I want to connect to what I have to do here and what I should do here. I’m always looking for deeper answers to that because I know I’m here for big things.
Do you have anger or fear?
I used to be a very angry person. I definitely had turmoil within me. Fear, no. I shed a lot of that. I feel I’ve come to a point where I’m quite courageous now. I’m so happy to walk into the unknown. Love it actually.
Where will you be 20 years from now?
If the universe wants me here, I’ll definitely be here. I will be doing great things like sharing wellness and ways to be well. It’s not as hard as people think. It’s not that everyone has to give up something to get well. It’s really about connecting to that divine within you, the light within you. From there, wellness can emerge. I want to share that with people. I know I found it for myself. Where will I be 20 years from now? I’ll be enjoying my family. I will be at The Palace.
What do you want to be remembered for?
That I brought wellness to people’s lives.
If you had one wish, what would that be?
I know it sounds so cliché. I really want people to love each other without any stigma behind the word love. Even self-love is misunderstood. I think love, that is my wish. I want us to love the planet, and love every living force, and respect it. Love and respect.
What advice would you give a young woman, like Cassi Sherbert, our cover model?
Pay attention to the light within you. Not all the answers are outside of you. Trust yourself. Don’t be scared. If you have a fear, find a way to release it. Don’t accumulate all your troubles. Be free of them. Very important, I think. Live light. I wish someone had told me that when I was a young, but I learned it, and I think it’s valuable.