I have just finished co-leading another successful retreat in Tuscany, one of ten this year, and I’m laying the groundwork for a July 2013 Amalfi Coast retreat. While it’s fresh in mind, I want to offer some key things to consider before deciding to lead a yoga retreat.
1. Leading a yoga retreat is not your vacation. Clients have paid some serious money to learn, transform, relax, try new things, see new places, make new friends and enrich their lives. Creating a solid curriculum for the length of your retreat is like a mini “teacher training.” Each module, each class, builds upon the last with coordinated exercises beyond the asana to support your clients’ growth and self-work. This combined with an awareness of the whole picture - and managing all the unexpected things that arise! - leaves little downtime for the retreat leader.
2. Leading a yoga retreat is not just about teaching yoga. You are also guiding. In some places like Europe and South America, guiding is a specialized college degree. The amount of knowledge required to be a really accomplished guide is serious business. Clients rely on you as their contact point for everything: towels, dietary changes, where to buy something, wifi, flights, etc. You should be familiar with detailed logistics of your area to be able to anticipate client needs. Most important is managing your clients’ safety beyond the asana room, getting waivers signed and keeping an eye out for everyone.
3. You won’t be able to attend yoga classes as a student while on retreat. Therefore, you will benefit from a committed home practice. Self practice may be the only yoga you will get while guiding a retreat. This, along with a strong self-care program, is mandatory. You’ll find it necessary to cultivate strong boundaries to maintain the energy needed to share with your students. Too often retreat leaders try to do too much resulting in illness or depletion. Take care of you. Make time for meditation, aloneness and quiet.
4. Be a student first, then a teacher. Just like in teaching yoga, we can only teach what we know; the same goes for yoga retreats. Before you consider guiding a retreat, it is best to go on at least one or two as a client. Listen to fellow retreat goers’ likes and dislikes. Apply what you learn into how you want to guide a retreat yourself. Also, talk to your retreat leader, and see if they are open to having you apprentice with them or assist on an upcoming retreat to really see the behind the scenes action.
5. Retreat planning and preparation is extremely time-consuming. It requires excellent organizational skills, marketing experience and a desire to manage the details for sometimes no profit. By deciding to do a retreat, you are accepting another full-time job. You are essentially serving as Project Manager and your own staff simultaneously! The hours you spend in designing the trip, administration, negotiating with the retreat center, hotels, restaurants, and other subcontractors along with correspondence with potential clients and promotion is time away from generating revenue for yourself by teaching studio classes. Teaching a yoga class at home is a known way to make a living; deciding to lead a yoga retreat does not guarantee a profit. Be sure to factor in your basic expenses like airfare and lodging (don’t assume that you stay for free even while on retreat).
While in the corporate world, my human resources specialism was training and development. This involved a great deal of event planning, which has served me well in organizing retreats. I also have 15 years of corporate management experience with staff based in offices throughout the U.S. Also, reporting to the European arm of my firm for a few years showed me how to be more culturally in tune with ways of working abroad.
I spent many years teaching yoga, traveling, studying abroad, owning a yoga studio before combining my passions to lead retreats worldwide. Before you consider leading a yoga retreat, take your time. Just like it took me five years of practicing backbends before doing my first Wheel Pose, allow yourself room to grow. Most of all, listen to your heart and be true to your motivations for why you want to guide. Love yourself, love your day, love your life!