My first yoga retreat just came to a close after 3 magical days of activities inspired by self-love including candlelit yin yoga, forest hike meditations, vegan organic meals, and lots of cacao medicine. For several weeks prior, I created, planned, funded, organized, and marketed the entire event.
Putting this retreat together was an incredible learning opportunity. I found it so fulfilling to weave together my different skills and passions in everything from creating playlists to menu planning. Some things went exactly as planned, but most things didn't.
Honestly, I couldn't be happier with how the retreat, and its special guests, manifested themselves. The house was full of love and good vibes all weekend, but a few things could have helped it run more smoothly. I hope that my experience can be helpful to other newly certified yogis, or people looking to design their own retreats and workshops.
1. Choose a topic that resonates with you
Choosing to shift into an existence of self-love, self-acceptance, body positivity, and self-confidence can be a lifelong journey. Just as happiness is a daily practice, I find that loving yourself is too. I chose self-love as the theme for my first retreat because it is an area in which I can personally relate. I also see the importance of encouraging this movement, as a sort of rebellion against our societal standards of beauty, success, wealth, and unnecessary competition. In preparation for the retreat, I found myself more avidly reading scientific articles, listening to guided meditations, and learning different practices for self-acceptance. I do have love and compassion for the person I have become- but I'll still catch myself in old patterns of negative thinking and harsh internal judgement. Thus in preparation for the retreat, I was reinforcing my own path towards self-acceptance. During the retreat, I never pretended to have all the answers. Instead, I designed the yoga classes and workshops around what previously worked for me. Most importantly, I offered my own journey, struggles, and vulnerabilities as an opportunity for us learn from each other.
2. You shouldn't do it alone
As a solo traveler, I often like doing things without having to rely on other people- but my independence doesn't keep me from knowing when I need the love or support of friends and community. Having run this retreat pretty much on my own, I can positively say that it not something to be done by one person.
Cooking 3 meals a day and keeping a clean kitchen is a full-time job in itself. At the very least, you should hire a chef that shares a similar vibration with the intention of the retreat. A relaxed and happy chef means happy food, which is important because the food is medicine too. I didn't have time to bathe the whole weekend because there was always something that needed to be done. If I had another co-host, yoga teacher, or chef, I would have had more time to relax and connect with my guests.
Allowing yourself to hold space for another person, is a powerful gift. To show respect, is to be present. In a retreat setting, it's important that someone is always in the position of being able to hold space for the guests- which proved to be less than easy when constantly cooking, cleaning, and catching your breath.
3. The biggest healing happens in the connections
A friend of mine believes that the best way to change the world is one conversation at a time. I couldn't agree more. The yoga is beneficial, the food is nourishing, the plant medicines are healing, but the most important piece of a retreat comes from the connections. The magic really happens in the conversations and interactions between hosts and guests. A host doesn't single handedly heal anyone, but rather allows the time, space, and environment for us to heal each other.
4. Adjust your plans to suit the guests and let go of expectations
My guests arrived from the city exhausted, jet-lagged, and stressed. Recognizing their need for rest, I shifted a rigorous hike to a gentle walk, and an ecstatic dance to a reclined meditation. It's important to schedule your days beforehand, and equally important to avoid attachment to any of these plans.
5. Make a budget, and set aside extra
Running a retreat costs a good bit of money, and you'll probably need more than you think. Renting a beautiful space with access to nature is imperative, and may be costly. Any money spent on organic food, fresh produce, healthy snacks, and tea, is money well spent. Plan to burn through some gas in driving around in preparation for the event, grocery shopping, posting flyers, and then also in guest transportation. You might want to purchase advertising, extra yoga mats/bolsters, and incense. When it's all said and done, you may very well exceed your original budget.
6. Choose a fair price, and consider marketing the events individually to the public
My full retreat was priced as a package including accommodations, transport, all meals, and 3 days of activities. I also advertised the events individually to locals that might have been interested in attending one or more of the events. This helped include local energy, bring in a little extra money, and add variety to the group.
As a yogi, it's important that we adjust our prices when someone comes to us in great need. I negotiated with a few people to lower the price so that they could afford the opportunity to come and heal. Two of these guests canceled, but the simple gesture of giving manifests abundance even if we don't see it right away.
7. Start to advertise no later than 8 weeks before your event
Some websites won't advertise your retreats if it's too close to the start date (ie. bookyogaretreat.com). I learned this the hard way. Depending on the location, guests may need more time to buy tickets and schedule time off work anyhow. I didn't pay for any digital advertising for this retreat, instead relying on personal connections and my own social media promotion. I designed and printed 20 flyers and posted them on my island, an adjacent island, and the closest major city. I took the flyers to community halls, book stores, vegan restaurants, organic markets, incense shops, and a ceremonial tattoo studio.
8. Plan for early arrivals or late departures
Some of your guests may be flying to your destination, while others might be arriving from a nearby area. It's a good idea to have enough food, accomodations, and activitites for the guests arriving a few days/hours early or staying after the official retreat closing. This is optional, but I felt it would have felt exclusionary to deny a meal to a hungry guest just "because the retreat hadn't officially started".
9. It's not about you
As excited as you may be about your first retreat, or future travels, or your own waves of emotion, remember that the retreat is not about you. It's about the guests, their needs, listening to their stories, and understanding what they need to heal. It's important to share your insights, speak your truth, and be available to listen and respond- BUT the focus should stay on the guests and their journey.
10. Trust and believe in yourself
You can do this! You don't need to study for 4 more months, read 3 more books, buy a new yoga outfit, or lose 10 lbs. Trust in yourself and your own yoga practice. If you feel doubt or anxiety, meditate, relax, and use your knowledge of breath work to move through these mental blockages. Visualize a successful retreat, a workshop full of people, an accomplished feeling you. The best way to learn how to host a retreat is by taking the plunge and going for it.
11. Schedule a rest day
The retreat ended on Sunday, and Monday proved to be a day of few accomplishments. I canceled my previously scheduled yoga class because I felt that my body and spirit needed rest. I took a nap, a long bath, and started cleaning the rental house. I drafted this blog post before watching a favorite movie and going to bed early. If you're in a position to allow for a day of rest, reflection, and integration then allow that time for yourself. You deserve it!