Planning a retreat? Three ways teachers forget to put yoga first
Planning a destination yoga retreat is an exciting time. Yoga teachers dream of leaving behind the limitations of a 60-minute studio class and spending multiple days with their students in an exotic location. You’re of course planning themes, classes, workshops and perhaps a variety of activities.
Yoga is important to you, and you’re excited to share it with others, more so at your favourite destination. We can all get carried away with retreat planning, and in the worst case, lose sight of the yoga itself. From experience, observation and feedback, here are the top three ways in which we see yoga teachers forgo the yoga while planning their retreats.
Keep these pointers in mind, and your students will enjoy a positive all-around yoga experience they won’t soon forget.
Yoga teacher vs. yogi traveler
It’s rare to hear about anyone who didn’t enjoy their yoga retreat. And yet, when asked what one thing most people would change about a retreat they attended, they wish their teacher would have been more available to them outside of class time.
Yes, travelling the world to teach yoga is exciting, and you want to see the world too. While teaching your retreat, however, be a yoga teacher, not another yogi traveller.
Keep in mind that most people who book your retreat will do so because of you. They want to learn from you, but they also want to get to know you. They’re investing in your multi-day experience because of you.
Understand you’ll be expected to act as a leader outside of studio time. You’ll be the go-to for anyone who’s nervous about travelling, who’s looking for local information, who has questions about the yoga or meditation class, and who’s dealing with the emotions that often arise in a retreat setting.
Unless you’re gathering your best friends together for a group trip, your role on retreat is not as a peer of your students. You’ll be expected to hold space as a leader.
Will you join the group for non-yoga excursions and activities? Will you make yourself available during down-time at the pool? Will you eat meals with the group? These questions and those like them should be intentionally planned for in advance.
Leading a retreat is a lot of work, and of course, you’ll need time to recharge. Your challenge as the leader is to find a balance between being alone and being available.
Beautiful locations vs. beautiful locations for yoga
The world’s most beautiful villas, castles, farmhouses, yurts, cabins and haciendas can be rented everywhere these days. When you think you’ve finally found the perfect seaside villa on a Greek Island, but there’s no dedicated yoga studio, are the accommodations really perfect?
Rearranging the living room furniture to make space for yoga at your luxury farmhouse may not be the best option for your retreat. Make sure the physical space prioritizes yoga in the same way you do.
Find a yoga retreat location that not only offers a dedicated yoga studio but supplies mats, bolsters, blocks, blankets and other props. Students travelling from afar will appreciate leaving their supplies at home. As a teacher, you’ll appreciate not having to pack twelve bolsters into two extra suitcases for your restorative yoga session.
A dedicated yoga space allows you to establish energy zones on your yoga retreat. Doing your yoga poolside in the same space where you had dinner and drinks the night before brings with it a certain type of energy. Walking into a dedicated space for yoga, possibly with an altar, candlelight, or incense sets a different mood and invites a deeper focus.
While it can be nice to practise yoga outdoors, many teachers insist upon a closed-in space for yoga practice. This allows students to be free from the distraction of wind blowing up the corners of their mat, the occasional insect, uncontrollable temperatures, or outdoor noises.
Ask yourself if there’s enough yoga space for everyone to move in all directions and spread out on their mats. Ask yourself where your students would feel most comfortable in savasana, able to relax and close their eyes. When choosing a yoga retreat location, look beyond the rooms to the yoga shala, and vice versa.
Yoga retreats vs. vacations with yoga
You’re so excited about taking your group to Thailand that you’ve planned for them not only to do yoga and meditation classes twice daily, but to visit the elephant preserve, take a Thai cooking class, learn about Thai massage, go for a hike, volunteer in a local village, and spend an afternoon snorkelling at the beach. Your guests still have to eat three meals a day, shower, and sleep.
How many retreat hours will your group spend doing nothing? That’s right, good old nothing. Remember to account for time and space on your retreat. It takes time to move from one activity to the next, and it’s usually more time than you think. It takes time to eat meals, and you want them to feel spacious. In fact, you want your entire yoga retreat to feel spacious.
Space and extra time is something that needs to be scheduled and is as important as any other activity. Most of us are overscheduled in our daily lives, and attending a retreat is one way to finally step away from that. To sit with the possibility of nothing on the to-do list can be as transformative as twice-daily 90-minute yoga sessions. Allow your guests this opportunity.
While you may feel pressure to add value by scheduling full days, most people are perfectly happy lounging around, especially since you’ve done the work to choose a beautiful place for them to lounge in!
Putting "nothing" on the schedule gives participants the opportunity to get to know each other, and to get to know themselves too. Allow your guests ample time to wander the grounds, to process the yoga teachings, to just be alone, or be themselves.
Scheduling space for your guests gives you space too. You too need to process the day’s activities and classes, leave yourself room for making adjustments to the schedule and teachings. You also need to leave space for your own practice.
Whether it looks like waking up early for quiet meditation, finding an hour alone in the yoga shala, or time to go off for a walk, maintaining your own practice while on retreat is vital for both you and your guests. Prioritizing yoga while planning your retreat means prioritizing it for yourself, too.
Putting yoga first means remembering the importance of being ready to show up daily to give the group your best.