Retreats are beautiful spaces to immerse ourselves in nourishment. Healing happens through yoga, nature, food, rejuvenation, knowledge, seclusion and community — essentially retreats are a ‘time out’ of our daily lives and a ‘free pass’ to devote every moment to ourselves.
As a teacher, being able to create these sacred spaces for students is one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences.
So when do you know if your ready to lead your own retreats?
Well, here is the big secret, you’re never ready unless you ARE ready. Being ready means feeling confident in what you offer as a teacher. It doesn’t matter the style of yoga, level of experience or amount of minutes you can sit in meditation…if you can 100% authentically deliver and express your teachings to students in a safe, accessible and inspiring way, then you have something valuable and worthwhile to share with the world.
If you feel strong, healthy and empowered as a teacher then read through my simple tips which can help you organize and share your best possible self on retreats.
1. Have integrity: What is your intention behind leading a retreat? Sure, retreats are a great way to experience new cultures and also give yourself a break from daily routines (yes, teachers have loads of fun and relaxation on retreats too!), but never plan a retreat with ulterior motives because ultimately it should be about sharing your practice and dedication with others. Know as a teacher that leading retreats is much more than a gorgeous place in the world and a suntan…it is an opportunity to experience, learn, grow and challenge yourself.
2. Activate your Pita (inner fire and organization!): Planning retreats takes a minimum of 5 months. Give yourself 1 month to create your retreat - choosing a theme, solidifying the venue and putting together your marketing. You will then need a minimum of 4 months for promotion leading up to the retreat. Use Google Drive so you can easily access and update your documents - your retreat plan, contracts, expense and student booking form and marketing files. Highlight most retreat details on your personal website and create a more personalized and detailed PDF which you can send to potential students when they inquire.
Attention to detail, consistency and organization from the first day of your planning will only help to ensure smooth the behind the scenes work and actually retreat is smooth and enjoyable.
3. Finances: When you are planning your retreat, work out your personal costs and calculate how many students minimum you need for the retreat to be financially and energetically successful. Give yourself a deadline before the retreat (one where you won’t lose out on the full deposit for the venue) in case you need to reassess your logistics or postpone the retreat for a later date. Overall, start small and begin with a retreat where you only need 4 students to cover your costs so you can be sure the retreat will take place.
4. Choose wisely: One of the biggest aspects of your retreat is where you will host it, this includes which part of the world and in which type of venue. What you want to offer, what feels authentic to you and your student demographic should all determine your selection.
The options for creating a unique retreat which aligns best with you are endless.
Choose a theme and create a program that are personalized and will interest students. Instead of simply ‘Hatha', why not offer ‘Hatha and deep relaxation through yoga nidra', ‘Hatha and art to boost creativity’, ‘Hatha and sacred circles to tap into your hearts true desire’ — give students something unique to remember your retreat by!
Offer a retreat in the same way you would enjoy one. It should be an experience that is well-rounded with different practices and plenty of extra touches. Most of the time these ‘extras' are free, all you need to do is get creative - think juicy savasana adjustments, fresh flowers, tibetan bowl meditations, meditation walks, communal circles.
Knowing your unique theme and who the majority of your clients are will help you to narrow down your options of where in the world to host your retreat in and which type of accommodation to look for (basic, comfortable or luxury.)
My first retreat I ever hosted was in Costa Rica (a country known for its nature, yoga and beauty) at Nautilus Hotel, which I knew would appeal to a broader demographic as it was in between basic and luxury. It was a comfortable and affordable (in relation to other yoga retreats in Costa Rica) boutique hotel, with charm and in a quiet location minutes from pristine beaches. One of the reasons why I chose to host my retreat at Nautilus was because it was family run and I personally connected with the owners. It was obvious that they were committed to helping my retreat be a success with their attention to detail, flexibility in meal preparation and consistent communication. I chose to support Nautilus because they have similar ethics and standards. It is important that you feel good about the place where you are hosting your retreat, and trust that they want your retreat to be as successful for you as it will be for them.
Hosting your retreat at a well known venue can also be helpful in bringing students as they already have a student base and websites with very high google rankings. Most often they will help with marketing (promote on their own website and social media) and will naturally attract guests as they will have trusty clientele who continue to invest in holidays year after year due to the high standards. Note that while most of these retreat centers (while beautiful) may be much more expensive which means a higher overall retreat price.
5. Be proactive: This is one of the most important (and sometimes most scary) aspects of leading a retreat - how to ensure you will have enough to make it financially and energetically sustainable? Even if you have a steady clientele of students, they may not be in the position to go on a retreat during the dates you offer, so don’t count solely on them. Look for ways to promote locally within your community to potential students who may be able to personally meet with you and/or come take a class before signing up for the retreat. From my experience, 75% of students on retreats know you somehow through a friend, family member, coworker, etc. Of course there are many useful websites (just to name a few, bookyogaretreats.com, yogafinder.com, www.bookretreats.com) which act as yoga search engines and can expand your demographic beyond your local yoga scene. Look for sites which have high traffic and will also market for you on their social media pages.
Whether you enjoy it or not, self promotion can be extremely useful. Social Media is a great tool to connect and reach a more personalized demographic - people who may contact you because someone they trust knows you and/or your yoga. Although it can feel like an uncomfortable ‘ego boost’ to post about your personal events, when done with genuine enthusiasm, there is nothing wrong with these posts. Personally, I would much rather my newsfeed be filled with inspiring cultural/spiritual events than negative status updates, so I actually appreciate when a friend shows excitement about their own hard work and shares it on their social media.
Building an ‘online foundation’ for yourself is key. Not only using social media, but investing in a website for yourself is vital. A website is a landing page which essentially becomes a live portfolio and peek into your career and lifestyle. A website gives you professional credit and can be showcase your teachings in a unique and creative way. Website builders like Squarespace are user friendly (for both designers and users) and has my vote for simple, clean and fresh templates. Using high quality images are key in creating a site that is visually appealing and professional. Tory Dube, Nora Wendel, Meg Jamison are a few recommended designers who can help to create you online presence.
6. Be professional: Always maintain a professional attitude towards this ‘getaway’, but work to find the balance between being the coordinator, teacher and friend. Retreats are overwhelming and entail lots of organization from the moment you begin planning. Students require your attention and efforts before, during and after the retreat - make sure you are ready to support them with minor details such as arranging travel before hand via email, or on the mat when they open up and may share personal stories and experiences. Be present and tune in. Step back from your ‘leading role’ as often as the group allows, and enjoy the community dynamic without always feeling as if you need to be ‘center stage.’
7. Plan a schedule: But be willing to alter it, everyday if need be. Planning for a retreat is absolutely necessary to ensure you are clear in what you plan to offer, which brings essential stability to the program. This will automatically send signals to your students, telling them to trust you as their guide, sit back and fully relax. However, be ‘flexible’ in your program (mind!) to change timings, classes, activities and even themes once all of your students have arrived as a group and the retreat is in full swing. Know that being in a group community people naturally reflect one another’s energies. Keep in mind that any immersion into yoga (detox from daily comforts, change in routine and environment, etc.) will act as a cleanse and be transformative for people. Depending on their frequency of practice and health, it is natural to have students feel as if they have hit a ‘breaking point’ or struggle as they work through deep rooted blockages. When your students arrive to their mats feeling exhausted, know its your job to gently guide them into yoga nidra and skip ‘awakening the core’ for another day, or maybe even another retreat. Be incredibly intuitive and let go of your own ego and expectations for what you thought you ‘should’ offer. Instead, offering students what they truly need moment to moment is a natural gift of wisdom, and one which any true teacher embodies.
8. Expect the Unexpected: Flight delays, illness, injuries, grumpy and hard to deal with participants — I have heard all kinds of stories from friends who have been leading retreats for decades, and have even witnessed many of them myself. As the teacher (leader) you must not be swayed by any of the ‘negative’ circumstances. Maintaining your inner strength, focus, determination, compassion and pure love is key, especially during circumstances that are challenging. If you truly believe that each experience happens for a reason, then you should easily integrate these real life problems (even when in paradise on retreat) into teachings…ultimately moving any darkness out and making room for more light.
9. Grab a friend :: A great way to dive into the world of leading retreats is with a trusty friend! Even better if it is someone who has had previous experience leading retreats or is a mentor to you. The most important factor is that you have a healthy relationship with this person and value what they can offer your students. Clearly map out your professional ideas and roles to ensure you have a similar vision. It is vital that you respect each others unique teaching styles and personalities, while finding a balance to fuse your differences together to offer a more specialized retreat (why have 1 amazing teacher when you can have two!?)
Co-leading retreats are extremely useful in terms of reaching a larger network and can help to take off some of the pressure as you will ultimately have a larger network, more time and double the amount of energy. And the best part of leading a retreat with another teacher? You give one another unconditional support throughout, and at times, the opportunity to learn and enjoy the retreat through the eyes of a student.
10. Stay positive :: While retreats are immense amounts of hard work and effort, be ready for the hard work to pay off in the most rewarding ways, and be prepared for them to happen at any random times. Usually these are the most simple and profound moments that remind us of why we do what we love - seeing your students completely blissed out during savasana, witnessing the group bonding over nourishing foods, or a long nurturing hug from a grateful participant.
Still overwhelmed? Start locally! Even if you are confident to lead an international retreat, take the opportunity to organize a retreat locally. At the time when I hosted my first retreat, I was living in Costa Rica. It was important that I could visit the area and hotel where I held my retreat so that I could personally feel confident giving my students advice. Since I knew what to expect, I could easily translate this to students, giving them a sense of security before they even arrived.
By planning shorter long weekend retreats closer to your home, you can advertise through local studios, grow your network of students and build a foundation. This foundation gives you experience which leads to trust in you as a teacher, allowing you to make smoother transitions when leading groups to new parts of the world you may not have even explored yet.
Remember! Stay open to suggestions, feedback and ways on how to improve every retreat. This will help you to transform your retreats so each one can be more smooth, enjoyable and an in depth experience. Think back to your very first yoga class you ever taught - and now fast forward to your most recent class you've taught - witness your personal growth. Know that just as your classes have evolved, your retreats, too, will organically grow and flourish over time with patience, effort and dedication.
Go into each retreat you lead (the first or twenty-fifth!) with the same enthusiasm, devotion and passion.
Embrace the imperfections, be open minded and willing to grow, while maintaining your confidence by staying true to your unique and beautiful self.
LAUREN LEE E-RYT 500 is passionate about living with purpose, exploring the world, and empowering others to live as their most authentic, radiant Self. Founder of Raise Your Beat, dedicated teacher and forever student on the path of yoga, she leads transformational workshops, retreats and trainings to awaken the individual and collective consciousness. Read more about her here