Terrie Absher Kochman of ‘Total Glow’: “Sometimes less is more”

Sometimes less is more. My main lifestyle tweak is that more is not always more of the right thing, and sometimes less is best. It can be more supportive and optimal for our wellbeing to take it slow, simplify, carefully think over the whole picture, and just let some things be. Wellness is a very […]

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Sometimes less is more. My main lifestyle tweak is that more is not always more of the right thing, and sometimes less is best. It can be more supportive and optimal for our wellbeing to take it slow, simplify, carefully think over the whole picture, and just let some things be. Wellness is a very broad category with so many different interpretations and it is not immune to fads and trends. Before you change your lifestyle, either talk to a professional or give it some careful thought to make sure it is the right choice.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terrie Absher Kochman.

Terrie Absher Kochman is the founder and owner of Total Glow, a full-service health and wellness medical spa located in Atherton California. She brings nearly two decades of experience to clients and is a certified Ayurvedic health counselor, licensed medical esthetician, and trained in Cidesco European standards for esthetician services. Terrie has long been focused on the skin’s reflection of overall health, fueling her holistic and comprehensive approach with clients today.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

While I was born in the United States, my mother is from Korea, and I spent the majority of my early life until I was a teen in Okinawa and Korea. In Korea, there is a lot of cultural emphasis on taking care of one’s skin — it’s a part of my heritage that I learned from my mom. Having youthful, radiant skin is a huge part of being healthy and beautiful. With adolescence, however, I developed skin problems that were pretty severe, such as cystic acne and rosacea. In my quest for solutions, I discovered a link between overall wellness and skin health that led me to a deeper and more holistic approach to self-care. I had a natural interest in health, nutrition, and wellness, and spent a lot of time doing my own research — but it wasn’t a consideration for a career yet. Eventually I found myself working at a law firm, and while I loved my career, as a single mother I wanted more flexibility. I never thought that after a conversation with a dermatologist friend about my passion for skincare, I would get my license and begin working with him. We had one of the first HydraFacial machines — which is still a staple of my practice 17 years later!

Eventually I launched my own solo practice while also working as a fitness instructor. My interest in fitness always informed my awareness of the holistic nature of wellness. Wellness isn’t just a topical ointment, but something you create from within yourself. As I expanded on this approach, one of the most significant steps in my wellness journey actually sprung from a period of personal loss. I began studying Ayurveda after my father’s passing after receiving an email about an upcoming certification program. I decided to get back on my feet and throw myself into studying something that I loved. It really changed my life and the way I approached my practice. I learned so much about myself, but most importantly about other people, wellness, wholeness and a road back to skincare that was even better than what I practiced before.

My dream of a true Wellness and skincare business started forming shortly upon my graduation. After a few false starts, I eventually found the perfect location and embarked upon creating Total Glow Wellness, a business that really focuses on the individual as a whole on a level that was missing in our industry. My new business was still clinical and high-tech, but now also focused on wellness and a combination of Ayurvedic, East Asian, and Western practices.

My dedication to learn more naturally hasn’t stopped! While on my professional path, I continue to look for the healthiest ways to resolve and restore skin naturally and carry the traditions of my ancestry into my work. I knew I wanted to blend eastern and western practices with wellness, and that’s how I run my business.

Today, I am the Founder and CEO of Total Glow MD, a wellness medical spa that combines modern clinical practices with ancient eastern tradition. I’ve built a successful practice and have an excellent talented team, and my children continue to be my biggest supporters.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Looking back on the start of my career, there were a number of circumstances that helped guide and shape my direction. Treating skin had evolved over the years to include a lot of nutritional and wellness aspects, however, we definitely couldn’t be classified as a wellness practice.

An interesting story about how Total Glow actually came to be was through a life challenge. I had a lifelong interest in many Asian philosophies and traditions including Ayurveda, but never took it further than that into my career. The impetus to bring Wellness from a personal pursuit to a professional one happened through chance. My father passed, and I found myself in very deep mourning for him and feeling stuck. One morning I received an email in my inbox about the start of an Ayurveda Wellness program by a Doctor I knew, and it immediately felt like a lifeline. The more I read about it the more I knew it was the right path for me to start the healing process for myself and to be able to provide more for my clients and patients.

The program was incredibly spiritual, educational, and equally applicable to every aspect of our lives and health. While Wellness integrates mind, body, and spirit, many healing sciences such as Ayurveda understand that it doesn’t stop there. This integration of our self extends to everyone–whether someone is close to us or not. That’s a beautiful way to look at life; it makes it natural to appreciate rather than judge the differences in a loved one or a complete stranger. This made me think of a favorite Rumi quote of mine, “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean in a drop.” This quote is our mantra, and we have it in huge letters on the wall in our lobby to make clear what Total Glow means and who we are. We are each important, every individual matters; we are all part of the whole. That is how our business is run.

So, while I have always been a compassionate and driven person, my experiences with Ayurveda really changed my personal life and professional life in such large ways. I like to think that who I am as a person shows in our care and acceptance of everyone and is as apparent as our commitment to provide impactful, comprehensive treatment. At Total Glow our passion is to help our clients through positive change: it is really about what is best for the person.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I made so many mistakes when I started. One stands out in particular as a longtime client and I shared the same mistake starting in our businesses and used to commiserate with one another. Costs are high starting out and some might appear to be the least impactful areas where you can limit resources or cut altogether. I wanted the best equipment, best providers, best location and best ambiance in our facility and I wouldn’t be deterred. Website design and branding didn’t feel as important as the actual quality of my products or services. There was only so much capital available was my thinking. I felt comfortable taking what I could get in my perceived less important areas, for example, getting a friend of a friend to help out.

This is a common mistake, although perhaps nowadays people are more accustomed to the importance of brand recognition and social media presence. The problem is, by the time you are a more established business, you have less time to develop these things, which is never ideal. When starting my business, we found ourselves getting a lot of traffic to our website but our conversion rate to actual clients was low. This created stress during a very busy time and a loss of business during an important time. While referrals are a wonderful way to grow a business, when a person doesn’t have a connection to the business our website was their first introduction, and it failed.

I wanted to think that people would just know who we were and how much more we had to offer, but reality is it takes individuals with experience in your particular line of work to understand the why or how you are different. How to convey that when it isn’t a personal referral it’s often by face-to-face interactions, or at least an actual interactive conversation. This really is a critical area for the success, recognition, and understanding of your business. Your brand and website represent pretty much your entire business. Even with social media, which wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today, if you are successful in engaging someone, they will likely want to go to your website to check out your business further. Take the time to do it right and have it be a priority in the beginning.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It’s difficult for me to say one person who has helped me get to where I am today, because I have such a supportive family as a whole. Each one of my family members has helped me in unique ways at different times in my journey. My father sadly passed away before I was able to launch my business, but he had a huge impact and influence on my work. His character and legacy lives on in the way that I conduct my business. I wouldn’t have the success that I have today without him.

My children have been a huge influence on my career in countless ways–including pushing me to pursue aesthetics, a career that I’m passionate about, which gave me the flexibility to be in their lives more. As they grew up and left home, my children have continued to support me and my business. They see that my work is something that I’m passionate about and know how important it is to me, and they’re incredibly proud of what I’ve created over the years.

I’ve also had so much support from my husband, who is my rock and someone I can lean on when needed. Not everyone is fortunate to have a spouse who fully supports their career, especially one that takes up so much time and energy, but my husband has always encouraged my dedication to my work. When this job keeps me busy on nights or weekends, it’s made so much easier knowing that I have his unwavering support.

If I had to pick the one person who had a direct impact on my business it would be Franck Joly, Master Trainer for Dermaconcepts, the US Distributor of Environ skincare products. Franck was patient with me when I had exhausted possibilities with other skincare lines and was panicking about possibly opening without products! How would that be possible! Franck took the time to study pictures of my skin issues and send me products because I refused to fly to LA to take the long weekend training necessary in order to have access to Environ. Although I saw a difference immediately and still have the time dated images, I naturally spent the first year calling him several times a day asking incessant questions. He always responded quickly in between conferences and trainings. He sent white papers, emails, case scenarios, and listened carefully to all my questions or comments. Franck supported me every step of the way from the start as a skeptic to knowing that Environ’s products really were as good as they said–arguably even better. Today, we are their Flagship and top award-winning Environ Medical Spa in the US.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I’ve always found that happiness and success is felt the most when helping others. That’s why, even during the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, I’ve continued to find ways to support my community and causes that I care deeply about. I always say, give more even when you have less.

My business is all about wellness, so I feel that my staff and I do a lot to help our clients and broader community in these areas. Not only do we offer wellness consultation, but we also integrate wellness aspects into our services. This can mean anything from offering individually blended Ayurveda oils to improve the health of the skin, to nurturing the spirit and offering calming treatments designed to correct imbalances and promote wellbeing. I really do believe in a “one person at a time” approach. We make a difference by providing another point of view, or by offering compassion, acceptance and support. We design programs to support an individual so they can find their Glow through health and wellness in their own life.

That being said, we also feel it is important to directly contribute to organizations that are committed to doing good in the world. Rather than just solicit donations from our clients and patients, we give from our bottom line. Our clients can enjoy our services, knowing they are making a difference through our contribution made from their purchases. We will always contribute to organizations and support charitable programs that have an impact on the community.

For several years, we have contributed to Copper’s Dream in San Francisco, which is an all-breed rescue that provides foster care in private homes until adopted. We have sponsored up to 4 dogs a month as well. Total Glow is a cruelty free business with a team of animal lovers. I have two rescue dogs and two cats and most of the staff have pets of their own!

This year, my staff and I organized two separate cancer walks for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and fundraised to support charitable organizations that help cancer survivors and fund research. It’s a cause that has impacted many of us personally in one way or another.

We also raised funds for Eat, Learn, Play, an incredible local organization that helps children gain great access to after school programs and nutritious meals. For us, helping children is about supporting the future and trying to do what we can to address the imbalances we see in our communities.

It’s important that I do what I can to help my community, and that I demonstrate my values in the way I do business to set an example for my staff and my family. I’m grateful to have a wonderful team and wonderful clients that support and work with me to see this vision through.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

I find that some practices we believe to be wellness can at times be harmful or at the least cause imbalances, especially when talking about western traditions of wellness. These are my top five tips to address that imbalance:

  1. Sometimes less is more. My main lifestyle tweak is that more is not always more of the right thing, and sometimes less is best. It can be more supportive and optimal for our wellbeing to take it slow, simplify, carefully think over the whole picture, and just let some things be. Wellness is a very broad category with so many different interpretations and it is not immune to fads and trends. Before you change your lifestyle, either talk to a professional or give it some careful thought to make sure it is the right choice.
  2. Honor your Body. Your body type is not a trend. Be the healthiest version of your body type. The culture around the optimal body type that exists today can lead to and encourage unhealthy diets and habits. Eating healthy foods and giving your body the nutrition that it needs is what’s going to contribute to your overall wellness, and help you look and feel your best. However, the focus on weight loss in some cultures such as ours misses important parts of this idea of wellbeing. Restrictive diets can work well for some people, but for many, drastically changing the foods they eat throws them off balance. The idea with any sort of lifestyle change is to work with your body and with your natural tendencies, rather than against them. If you are happy and healthy at a slightly higher weight than others, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve seen this with clients and friends of mine who are healthy at a higher weight. When they start to restrict their diet and lose weight, they look unhealthy. The skin loses its luster, and they can become low energy and unhappy. It’s best not to fight your body type but embrace it and work with it to give it the right nutrients, activity, and care that it needs to thrive.
  3. Physical health. Keep moving — all movement is good. Sometimes we can set ourselves up to fail by expecting too much from ourselves. Take the need to exercise as an example. As a long-time runner, I didn’t want to run if I couldn’t do at least 4 or 5 miles. In my mind, it just didn’t count. Many of us underestimate how effective it is to just take 15 or 30 minutes to take a walk, hike, or do a few laps around the house with weights. Once again, the key is to work with your body. You don’t have to push yourself to your breaking point in order to get a good workout; just use your beautiful body for what it is designed to do! Walk, dance, or just spend some time stretching. Really — just make a start and be consistent.
  4. Sleep and mental health. Restore your mind and spirit — that means taking a break from either being too much in our heads or escaping altogether. We can overthink, or we can distract ourselves with games, television and other things. While I don’t have judgement against those activities, it’s more important to know when we are drained and we need a real break, where we put our worries and work matters to the side. The only way to achieve this is through meditation, breath work, and other similar exercises. Oftentimes real relaxation and rejuvenation is something that requires intention and thoughtfulness rather than distraction. Recognize your stresses and worries, give them the space they deserve, and then let that go and allow yourself time to just be. If this doesn’t sound like something you would do, there is an app that makes it easy that I use call Open. Otherwise, just sit back and try breathing slowly and relaxing for a bit every day, if possible.
  5. We have all heard this one– moderation. In our industry, I give options for a healthy lifestyle that supports wellness; however, I understand how hard change is. Habits are very difficult to change, but another way of looking at it is if you hang in there, you can develop healthy habits that will support you. Habits are hard to break — it works both ways, so develop the right ones for you.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

As opposed to the well-known movements such as for self-care, digital detox and more, I would want to start a wellness movement that centers on Acceptance & Integration. I know from personal experience that peace comes with knowing we aren’t alone in whatever we are going through in our lives. That isolation is one of the most significant impediments to Wellness. Feeling “stuck” after my Dad died left me feeling so isolated and so alone. I was surrounded by an incredibly loving family that supported me unconditionally during that time, but I was stuck in my sadness and grief which made me feel isolated.

There are a few meditations that can really help us through this feeling. During Ayurvedic school, we started and ended the day with meditation. That and the education in general helped me feel connected to others once again and feel less isolated and happy, even, which I didn’t know would be possible again. I started practicing different meditations that allowed me to let go of negativity about anyone I felt had harmed me. This may seem to ask too much of us, but it is a liberating feeling which purges the negativity of anger or upset, allowing a peace to settle into its void.

Understanding we aren’t perfect, that no one is, and that maybe other people feel that same isolation and loneliness at times, is a revelation. To know you are loved, accepted, and not alone; to believe that others are standing by you, wishing you well and encouraging your success and happiness. Most of all, knowing that you are capable of accepting that care and encouragement is powerful. That connected feeling when we believe in ourselves and others makes for health and wellness at every level of our mind, body, and spirit.

Our wellbeing has a direct correlation with our feeling of belonging and community. Even with all of the tools we have to connect with one another, we still feel isolated and stuck. The pain of feeling alone and being stuck because we don’t feel right expressing ourselves and being “bad company” or being perceived as weak or being embarrassed or angry — whatever the reason — that pain of feeling alone goes deep and is profoundly agonizing. That’s why the movement I’d like to start would be to help people connect in genuine ways, and know they aren’t alone. We’re all here and we all have our stuff and we are ready to get real and be there for one another.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Remember to be present. Starting a business requires most of your time and resources. Remember to have fun, remember to see your friends, remember to always make time for your family so you can keep in touch with who you are. The person you are who took that leap to start a business is smart, ambitious and insightful. Don’t let the well run dry. If you are with someone you care about — actually be 100% with them. Don’t stop to answer a call, respond to an email or have a side conversation. We can all tell the difference. Value the people in your life.
  2. Remember who you are and why you started down this road in the first place. If you do #1, you have a better chance of holding on to the fire. Something I was aware of but its importance can’t be overstated: Do what you’re passionate about and don’t compromise on your ethics and big ideas.
  3. A trend is called a trend because it is popular at the moment. Trends work for some businesses in fashion, food and décor; however, they don’t belong in the business I am currently in. Do your homework, assess and research whether this popular trend actually does what it says it does and you want your name and brand behind it 100%.
  4. Confidence. Don’t second guess yourself. I believe in asking for advice, but listen to your instincts, they probably have led you in the right direction or you wouldn’t be starting a business.
  5. Personnel makes or breaks a business. Every position is critical and every person is important to your brand. There really isn’t a job that is less important than another. At the end of the day, each person represents you and how you feel about your business, your employees, and your clients.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

All of these topics are important in talking about wellness. My business is part of the Green Spa Network, and follows sustainable practices wherever possible. However, I’d have to say that my biggest focus is on mental health and in its connection with overall wellness. As I’ve talked about earlier, our wellness is directly tied to our connections with one another and I think that combatting the isolation that people feel would be one of the most impactful ways to improve our wellbeing. Mental health is such an important part of wellness and it’s really integral to what we do at Total Glow. Whether it’s by lending our clients a supportive ear to listen or guiding them through a difficult time in their life, what we offer at Total Glow is not just at the surface-level. Wellness goes beyond what you can see. We all need a little bandwidth sometimes; when people are healthy and balanced inside, they are able to make better choices for themselves and their community.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

The Total Glow Instagram page would be the best way to follow: Total Glow Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/totalglowmd/

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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