Brandy Hill didn’t always know she wanted to be a massage therapist. However, a friend who asked her for a quick shoulder rub discovered quickly that Hill had a talent that could not be ignored.
For 15 years, Hill has been the owner of Vela Massage Retreat in Grass Valley, currently employing 10 massage therapists in addition to two aestheticians (though that number will grow by one as Hill recently received her certification in aesthetics after retiring from massage). However, her massage experience goes back 28 years, with a 19-year-old Hill following sound advice from a friend while living in Yosemite National Park.
“A woman came to work for the summer and she would always (ask) ‘can you rub my shoulders? Can you stick an elbow in there?’ I’d be like, yeah. And she said, ‘Honey you have a touch. You should totally go to massage school and check it out.’
“That next summer I was like, I’m gonna do it. I am going to go through massage school just to do something. I was living in a national park and was like, is this my life? Which was amazing…”
Hill went to massage school in Las Vegas, where she said standards were set particularly high. She thought she would practice until she figured out what she was going to do with her life, but then started getting gigs in high-end spas and resorts. This experience would shape how she took on her approach to running a business.
“My goal in opening Vela was to have a place where there was massage available seven days a week and that was above and beyond what you often find in most spas,” Hill said. “The focus here is we’re a massage retreat. A lot of spas focus on the hair, the nails; massage tends to be the bottom of the totem pole.”
Hill’s South Auburn Street space — located behind A&A Conditioning — boasts a community six-person steam sauna, foot spa lounge, infrared saunas, and multiple treatment rooms which can accommodate couples. Her space also features a hand-chosen selection of jewelry, tapestries, candles, and body care.
Hill said she made the decision to open her own spa when she began to feel like her body might not allow her to continue in her chosen practice.
“I was like, I can’t do this forever,” she said. “I was wondering, what is a good way to not be using my body as much? And I love this industry. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I thought I am so good at creating a place. I have always had a very successful private practice and, for massage therapists, that’s the struggle of getting the clientele and having the space and answering the phones.”
Her sole inspiration comes from one source and has forged the path for how her business is run: “I realized I love touching the body. I was trained in sports massage and trigger point therapy. I really specialize in finding the cause of the pain and got lucky that that was the focus within my school. So that’s why I was so successful. People would come back to me and say, that hurt shoulder doesn’t hurt any more. I’ve always been into very therapeutic, more medical-based massage, so I am really particular about who I hire.”
As much as she learned from her educators, Hill said she has learned much from her clients throughout the years.
“I think that’s why I love it so much, is the connection with the people. I don’t like conveyor belt massage. We have 30 minutes between each of our sessions.”
And if that wasn’t enough to inspire her, Hill always has the constant reminder of another dear friend who helped set her course on her massage adventure. The name Vela, it turns out, has significant meaning.
“I had a very dear friend who gave me this old astronomy book and she recently passed at 94 years old and I was friends with her for many years. When I was opening Vela I was trying to figure out a name and I opened that book and the constellation Argos is a ship and the sail is the vela. I thought the sail was appropriate because I have done massage since I was a teenager and I have sailed through this life, I have traveled the world because of it, and it’s also been this ship’s sail. Massage is what has kept me going. This is my sail. This is my baby.
“I think the most important thing is that I take it all so seriously. I feel like when people come into get a massage I want them to have the best treatment. I want them to feel like they can slow down, that we have slowed down for them as well. We want it to be a healing experience.”
Vela Massage Retreat is at 763-B South Auburn St. in Grass Valley. They can be reached at 530-559-7172. They are open seven days a week from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Vela accepts cash and credit cards.
Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 530-477-4232.