Hosting a yoga retreat can be rewarding, fun, and a great way to earn money while simultaneously traveling the world as a yoga teacher. However, it can also be exhausting, frustrating, and an all-around headache. If you don’t do your research about where to go or the type of retreat that you want to host, then you end up making last minute decisions, your students won’t know what to expect, and you will be stressed out. To help make planning and coordinating your retreat a whole a lot easier, we’ve come up with five very helpful tips for making your retreat hassle and headache free.
1. Create a schedule
The go-with-the-flow, see-what-happens, live-in-the-moment kind of ethos can be very rewarding, but with a group of traveling free spirits that approach quickly becomes a great way to get nothing done. The majority of people have a tough time being the decision maker in a group, whether they know them or not. Instead of leaving it up to the group to find a leader, you need to be that leader. Take charge and plan ahead so that you and your students don’t have to worry about what is to come.Spend time before your retreat talking with your lodge or retreat center to ensure that you have all of the activities you want lined up ahead of time. When I led a retreat at Casa Marea Alta in Costa Rica, they worked with me to ensure that I had included everything we wanted to do, such as jungle tours, surfing lessons, chocolate-making classes, boating trips, and horseback riding. When I arrived, they even confirmed with me the days and times that worked best for our chosen yoga class schedule and activities based on the ocean’s tides. Because of this schedule everything went smoothly and without issue. The students were excited about what they were doing the next day and looked forward to it. At dinner, we would discuss the previous days events and look through pictures — eventually someone would ask what we were doing the following day and all of the students’ eyes would light up with great anticipation and excitement. And that is what you want as a retreat leader, excited and happy students who are ready to take on whatever you hand to them with an open mind and happy attitude.
2. Be Authentic in your Marketing – Let your students know exactly what to expect
When you’re advertising for your retreat be clear about exactly what the retreat entails. Not all yoga retreats are the same, so make sure that you know what you are offering and who you are offering it to. This will help you to advertise the retreat to the right market and ensure that you are with the students you are looking for during your trip. When I planned a yoga, surfing, and adventure retreat through Punta Banco Retreats, I knew that this type of yoga retreat was not for all of my students. It was a very physical retreat that involved students doing daily surfing lessons, a couple of hard hikes through the jungle, horseback riding on the beach, and more intense yoga classes of inversions and arm balances to go along with the spirit of the retreat. ( Don’t worry, we did cool down in the evenings and relaxed our bodies with juicy, opening stretches and Yoga Nidra sessions). However, this had to be advertised for what it truly was. The last thing you want as a retreat leader is to have someone come on the trip who won’t enjoy it; for example, someone who is scared of going in the ocean when you have planned to have daily surf lessons. This would mean that the student would then feel left out or have to find something else to do in the meantime, and by their self. That stresses out you as the leader and creates the question for the other students of whether it’s truly a group trip or not. Don’t let that happen, instead ensure it doesn’t by planning ahead and effectively describing what type of retreat you are hosting, outlining what the students can expect to do, see, and enjoy.
Similarly, imagine if you were hosting a more spiritual and meditative retreat yet found yourself with students looking for something more active. I helped lead a group of yogis to Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Reserve for an amazing week-long meditation retreat, however, there were some students who had only registered “yogaretreat” and gone, not understanding that there was very little actual asana practice during this retreat. The teacher of the retreat ended up answering a lot of questions as well as questioning their own idea for the retreat. The teacher spent a few days worried that students weren’t enjoying themselves and that they would be disappointed that they had come. Luckily, this group wasn’t disappointed and truly ended up enjoying a new side of yoga, though at first it was confusing for them. Instead of creating unnecessary stress, be clear about what your students are going to receive when they get there.
3. You will be a therapist
Know that during your retreat, you will be a leader, yoga teacher, activity coordinator and, most importantly, an impromptu therapist. And that is okay! Understanding this first, before you decide to lead a retreat, is key in ensuring that you’re prepared to do so.
Many students join retreats to dive deeper into their practice, to have fun, and to let go. In order to do those things, some walls will likely have to be broken down, and it can be hard for students to fully accept this new space they’ve come in to. It can be scary and difficult for them to break through and they will probably come to you as their leader and spiritual guide during this journey to talk about their feelings and where they are. Don’t run away from this or find yourself uncomfortable.
As a yoga teacher, you are always guiding students to their safe place in their physical bodies, thus they are naturally going to feel comfortable coming to you to feel safe and secure in their psychological space as well. Allow them to vent and work through the problem, yet don’t allow it to consume you or the student during your mutual time there.
Allow the student to let go and comfort them. Spend time with the student so that they know that you care about them and are listening but make sure they get involved in the activities and yoga classes too. Encourage them not to fall into the cycle of thought and allow themselves to be present in the moment. This will allow you to know that the student is in a safe place and allow you time to focus on the other students (and yourself!) as well.
4. Be flexible
If you do all your planning in advance and work with the retreat center to ensure that you have a solid schedule, then the rest of your time can be fluid. Remember that some things don’t run on strict Western time, they run on beach time, so prepare yourself to allow fluidity and flexibility. Embrace that aspect of the culture you’re operating within and enjoy the time that you have. If your surf instructors are a little late because the boards wouldn’t strap to the roof rack properly, don’t sweat it. Find a creative way to use that time as an impromptu chanting session or an acro-yoga play session with your students. Live the yoga that you teach and don’t stress. Remember: you’re on vacation too.
5. Have fun and don’t get stressed out
It can be daunting and tiring being responsible for a large (or even small) group of people, so just stay grounded in why you wanted to lead a retreat and remember to have fun. If students see you stressed out, not engaging in the group activities or only coming to teach the yoga class so that you can de-stress, then they will feel stressed and rushed as well.
Just relax and enjoy your time in the beautiful location that you chose, secure in the plan you’ve set into motion and the professionalism of the center you’ve chosen as your location. You shouldn’t be running around the lodge trying to track down your event coordinator or fix the rooming situation for your students. If these challenges occur (and they will!), the retreat center staff will happily solve them for you — if they don’t then you should definitely change to a better lodge. You are most useful executing your retreat operations, not facility ones.
The more fun your students see you having, the more fun that they will have too! Model the experience that you want for your students during their time with you. You have brought them to a magical and beautiful place — enjoy it and they will as well.
Elizabeth Arnold is a 200 RYT, Tai Bodyworker, and Reiki Practitioner. She is currently the resident yoga teacher at Casa Marea Alta in Costa Rica. You can find out more about Elizabeth or join one of her private or group retreats by visiting her website www.bethanneyoga.com