Using time to create yoga retreat themes
Hosting a yoga retreat is a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with your students that goes far beyond the limits of a studio class. If you have the pleasure of teaching a select group of students over a long weekend, ten day yoga retreat, or anything in between, the possibilities for how to best utilize that time are endless.
By organizing your retreat into a theme, you not only prevent yourself and your students from getting bored, but you stand apart from thousands of other retreat offerings. A theme can help deepen your students’ awareness of the teachings by offering them an anchor on which to focus.
What to do with all the time that a yoga retreat allows for? We break down a few options for theming your retreat with time in mind.
Seasonal yoga retreat themes
The time of year
As human animals, we are intimately connected to the seasons just as all wildlife is. From spring and summer, to winter and autumn, we move cyclically as the planet does. We can also experience seasons within a day, as spring arises with the sun, summer appears at high noon, we transition through the autumnal afternoon, and into the winter of evening.
Theming your retreat around the season(s) can deepen your students’ awareness of how the current season is affecting them, or how their energy changes throughout the seasons of the day.
A seasonally themed retreat could draw attention to a particular time of year and the energy that accompanies it. For example, a spring retreat could be themed around re-birth or awakening, and intentionally hosted in an area where the trees are budding, snow is melting, or the wildlife is awakening from its winter slumber.
Alternatively, a seasonal retreat could offer respite from a particular time of year. For example, a winter retreat in a sunny, warm destination invites guests to shed their associations with the season that begs us to hide away, bundle up, and get cozy by the fire. Instead we can hibernate in a unique way, warmed by the sun and blanketed in the silence of meditation and yoga.
Progressive yoga retreat themes
The number of days
If you’re hosting a 5 day retreat or longer, it may make sense to theme your retreat along a progression, from day one to the final full day. What type of journey would you like to take the group on? How will they arrive, and how would you like them to feel when they go home?
Especially if you’re expecting guests from varying backgrounds and yoga practices who may not know you, it could make sense to offer a progression that flows from a simple to more complex asana practice. Begin on day one by teaching the foundations of yoga, be it through movement, or an exploration of foundational philosophy; the yamas and niyamas.
Your yoga retreat could progress through the body, from a grounding asana practice that invites awareness of stability and connection to the earth, to a playful yoga practice that on the final day, moves into the space around you, closing out with inversions and feet floating towards the sky.
Anything that offers a numbered list begs for a theme and daily attention to each item on that list. For example, the eight limbs of yoga, the four noble truths, the four layers of consciousness, the ten yamas and niyamas.
Not all progressions need to be linear. You might plan for a bell curve of energy throughout your retreat, beginning slowly, easing the group into longer or more intense practices, and then peaking a few days before the end of the retreat, during which time you slow down again.
Structuring yoga retreat themes
The time of day
How would you like your guests to experience each day? Should the morning flow slowly, beginning with a gratitude practice as guests roll out of bed? Should each day begin with a seated meditation while the energy is still quiet and calm, or slow and mindful movement while the body awakens from a good night’s rest?
Perhaps your group will do best to rise with the strong energy of a power yoga class followed by a day of outdoor adventure, then returning to a soothing yin practice, or a sunset meditation.
Depending on the theme, it might make sense to align each practice with a particular time of day. A surya namaskar with the energy of the rising early morning sun. A restorative practice with the warmth of the afternoon light. A late-night guided meditation practice under the stars.
Within your yoga retreat theme, pay attention to the structure of each day, and if it makes sense to stick to a routine, or make changes as the week progresses. Some in the group might feel best in the bodies first thing in the morning, while others are better able to access their deepest binds in the afternoon. If working with a particular asana sequence, you might offer it at different times on different days.
On the other hand, be aware that traveling to a new destination, surrounded by new people, new teachers, and intensely focusing on a yoga practice can be disruptive in a good way, yet sometimes overwhelming. A consistent, daily routine can have a lovely grounding effect. Consistency with the daily schedule is a good idea if the yoga is anything but.
Time to do nothing
Time with your students is indeed a luxury. Use it wisely and be creative as you play with your yoga retreat theme and structure. At the same time, beware of getting too complicated and filling up all that time.
Our yoga is the practice of creating space, and we work hard to remind our students of that. As teachers, we too can fall victim to speaking atop the silence, over-scheduling our free time, and otherwise filling up empty space.
Remember that while all that time to teach is a luxury for you as a teacher, you can’t teach 24/7 on retreat. Time is equally a luxury for your students. Let them enjoy it by keeping your retreat spacious and balanced. It’s within those empty spaces, the silence and the unscheduled time, that your guests can process what they’re learning and arrive at their own realizations.