A Yoga Teacher's Guide to Hosting a Yoga Retreat
If you’re thinking about hosting a yoga retreat, this guide will help you through each part of the process. Hosting a yoga retreat might seem glamorous, but it’s actually a lot of work. It requires immense planning, skillful organization, clear communication, and persuasive marketing. Deciding what exactly you’d like to teach is the easiest part! But, the reward is worth the effort.
Yoga retreats can be life changing experiences for your students; a time to deepen their practice, be part of a sangha or community, and connect more deeply with themselves.
That’s why beYogi has broken down the retreat process into five thorough steps: planning, marketing, getting ready to go, hosting, and transitioning home. beYogi has included all the things that you may not have thought of so that your retreat is the best it can be.
STEP 1: YOGA RETREAT PLANNING
Proper planning is as important as actually hosting the retreat itself! Your options for location, group size, content, and retreat format are endless. Your choices will create a very particular vibe for your retreat, so decide on each of the following aspects thoughtfully.
The planning phase can take a substantial amount of time—as much as a few months or more depending on where you’re going and what you’re offering. Your retreat will reflect how thorough and intentional you are throughout this step.
Get clear on your intention.
Be really honest with yourself: what’s your intention for leading a yoga retreat? You’re asking your students to pay a lot of money for this experience. What will you be giving them in return? Will this experience enrich their yoga practice and their lives?
If your intention is solely to make a ton of money and travel for free, hosting a yoga retreat is not for you. There’s so much work and energy that goes into this process. With it comes worldly and karmic responsibility.
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You should only host a yoga retreat if at least part of your intention is to help your students grow. Money is of course needed, and you may indeed be very handsomely rewarded for your time. But if you’re hosting a yoga retreat merely for money and free travel, you’re not being fair to your students.
Take some time to think about your intention before jumping into the next steps. You might even write down your intentions and what kind of experience you’d like to create. Again, the more thorough and thoughtful you are now, the better your students will feel and appreciate it during the retreat itself.
Decide if DIY is for you.
In a DIY retreat, you take on all aspects of planning and marketing. You’re practically a travel agent. You may end up putting just as much time into the pre-retreat phases as the retreat itself.
Sit with this and decide if you have the time and energy to dedicate to a DIY retreat. Is organization part of your skill set? How about traveling? If not, you can still lead a retreat by hiring someone to organize it for you. There are tons of retreat companies who offer this service—this option has its pros and cons.
Pros of hiring a retreat company:
- They will handle logistics
- They will help you price out rooms
- They will take care of student enrollment
- They may put your retreat on their website so you’ll reach a wider audience
Cons of hiring a retreat company:
- You will make less of a profit
Remember, you’re paying for their service. So, weigh your options here: how much is your time and effort worth?
Where in the world will you host your retreat?
People have all kinds of reasons for attending yoga retreats: from wanting to spend time with a particular teacher to wanting to travel internationally without much effort. Keep this in mind as you pick your perfect spot.
Location may or may not be that important for your offering. Maybe you simply need a big enough space for a large group of students to come together for a weekend. Or, location might be part of your retreat’s allure. You’ve got some big choices to make: would you like to keep things local, explore somewhere new in your own country, or take your group to an international destination?
Keeping it local will make your retreat more accessible. People love being able to hop in a car and arrive at the retreat center within a few hours. They don’t have to pay for a flight, and they might not have to take as much time away from their work and families.
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This is a good option if ease of travel is important for this retreat, if it’s only for a couple days, if you’re working with a lower income group, or if you have less time and energy to devote to the retreat planning process.
International retreats, though, can sell themselves. The popularity of international yoga retreats is proof. Your students get to travel somewhere new, beautiful, and very special, while nourishing their bodies and minds and spending their money in a conscious way.
International retreats offer their own special sparkle. They also add many layers of complexity and potential challenges. Here are some important factors to consider as you search for an international location:
- Is the country politically stable? Retreats do get cancelled due to political unrest. Will you be able to refund your students if this happens?
- Is the particular part of the country you’re going to considered safe? Check your government’s advisories and err on the side of caution.
- Is the locale safe for pregnant women? Pregnant women are advised not to travel to areas with Zika; something to consider.
- Will your students need vaccinations?
- Will your students need a passport?
- Will your students need a visa?
- Is the retreat center easy to get to, or will it involve complex local travel once they’re on the ground?
- What’s the time difference and will jet lag be too hard on your students given the length of your retreat?
- Will it be high or low season in your locale? High season means high prices and more tourists.
What will the weather be like? Beware of hurricane and monsoon seasons.
- What if someone is injured or needs to be evacuated? Factor group insurance into the retreat price, or consider having each student buy their own comprehensive travel insurance.
Don’t let this list scare you, but let it help you choose a safe and accessible international destination.
If you’re not connecting with a local or international destination, there is a nice in between. Consider hosting your retreat in your own country. Look at retreat centers that are within a five or so hour drive so that people still have the choice to drive or fly. Or, find somewhere really beautiful and special that’s probably not somewhere most of your group has ever been. If you’re in the US, your options are endless.
Choose a retreat center.
There are tons of centers designed specifically for yoga retreats. These are a great option for a few reasons: the centers are accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of yoga retreats, they usually offer healthy food, and they have yoga studios. They may even help you price out rooms or sign up students. If you want the retreat planning process to be easy, this option is for you.
But you’re definitely not limited to yoga centers. Small boutique hotels are sometimes open to a hotel buyout, meaning you reserve all the hotel rooms for your group. You can rent a big house or villa, or take your group camping. Any of these options will require extra work. You’ll need to arrange meals and may even need to figure out transportation for your group.
Yet another option is to rent a group meeting space and have your guests find their own lodging.
It may behoove you to scope out your retreat center before booking. Think especially hard before you choose an international location that you haven’t yourself visited.
You are asking people to pay hundreds and possibly even thousands of dollars to go somewhere that you don’t know. If the retreat center isn’t as described, it’s on you. Getting to travel for free is awesome, but it comes with huge responsibility and liability.
Consider sharing the load With Other Yogis.
You’ll likely be on call 24/7 during your yoga retreat. If you’re a good retreat host you’ll be socializing with your students, making sure they’re comfortable in their rooms, potentially solving drama between students, and helping them with small logistical issues like having their toilet fixed. Hosting a yoga retreat is so much more than just teaching a few hours each day.
That’s a lot of energy! Make sure you’re up for it. Or, consider sharing the load with a co-teacher or a retreat helper.
Leading a retreat with a colleague can be fun for you and your students. Not only can you lean on your co-teacher for support, but your students get to experience two different teachers’ perspectives and skill sets.
If you decide to co-teach, initiate clear communication. Discuss your expectations in terms of sharing the workload, marketing, and profit. Then, put everything on paper in a simple contract. This is a basic and integral part of being a good business person.
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Hire a retreat helper
You may also want to hire a retreat helper. They can assist you with the entire process of planning and organization, or just help you during the retreat itself. Again, clear communication is key. Make sure your helper knows exactly what’s expected of them.
You can either pay your helper outright, or offer them free or discounted enrollment. Just be sure that the energy exchange between their effort and the money made or saved is equal.
Find that perfect place.
Pricing is a challenge, especially for yoga teachers who so sweetly want to keep costs low so that everyone can join. But this is simply not realistic. Retreats are expensive to host, and therefore expensive to attend. Those who can come and who are meant to come, will. They’ll be happy to pay for the value of the retreat they’re receiving.
There’s no rigid guideline for retreat pricing. It comes down to the location, the simplicity or lavishness of the retreat center, how many and what kind of meals you offer, how much class time students will receive, and any bonus activities that you include. Remember that your costs need to be covered, too—everything from lodging to transport and food.
To decide on a price, you should first make a spreadsheet with your estimated costs. Don’t forget to include the costs of your stay. Depending on what you plan to include in the retreat, price out:
Depending on what you plan to include in the retreat, price out:
- Group lodging
- Group meals
- Group transport
- Your flight
- Your baggage fees
- Your meals and lodging
- Your local transport
- Your ride to the airport
Divide this amount by the number of retreat attendees to get a rough estimate of retreat cost. Then, you’ll need to decide the cost of each room type and the price difference for sharing a room.
Now, decide how much profit you’d like to make. Remember that your work starts way before the retreat and you’ll be putting many hours into planning and organization. Let’s say you decide on a $200 profit per person. If ten students attend, you’ll make a potential net profit of $2,000. Does that amount feel like an equal energy exchange for your work?
And does the final retreat cost seem reasonable? If it’s too high, think about opening the retreat to more people so that the up charge is less per person. If it’s an intimate experience that you’d like to create, then it’s fair to charge more per person.
Play with the numbers and find a cost that feels right for you. Remember that your time, energy, knowledge, and your own unique way of sharing yoga are valuable.
STEP 2: YTT MARKETING
And now, the step that most yoga teachers hate: marketing! It’s an essential part of the process—your students won’t know about your offering unless you tell them about it. Approach it with a sense of lightness and fun. If you’re offering something great, you should be excited to share it.
there are many places to market your retreat:
- Your website
- Your email list
- On social media
- On yoga retreat websites
- In the yoga studios where you teach
- In your yoga classes
- Telling your students directly
Don’t assume that your retreat will fill up with one email blast, though. Chances are only 10 percent of your students will even see your email. You’ll need to send many emails, post on social media often, and make an announcement in every single yoga class you teach.
Begin this marketing process as far in advance as possible. Depending on location and length of the retreat, start marketing at least three months before it commences. If it’s a longer, more expensive, or further away retreat, give it at least six months.
STEP 3: GETTING READY TO GO
With your retreat date nearing, it’s time to prepare yourself and your students for the experience.
Know your students.
be sure to gather basic information about your students before departure:
- Contact information
- Emergency contact information
- Medical conditions and medications
- Dietary restrictions
Depending on your group size, you might even ask them to send you their photo. You can then make a chart with each student’s photo and name. This can help you and retreat staff to remember who’s in which room, who has food allergies, medical conditions, or dietary restrictions, and to simply put faces to names.
Send a packing list.
Your students will be most comfortable on the retreat if they’ve packed appropriately. Help them prepare by sending a packing list that addresses these questions:
- What will the weather be like?
- What kinds of clothes should they bring aside from yoga clothes?
- Are lycra yoga clothes appropriate, or would something loose fitting be more respectful of the local culture?
- Do they need to bring a yoga mat and props, or will the retreat center provide these?
- If you’re traveling internationally, how will they get local currency? Should they bring dollars to exchange or will an ATM card suffice?
- Would a reusable water bottle be useful?
- Do they need to prepare for the unexpected with an umbrella, hat, sunscreen, bug spray, or a warm winter coat?
- Is there anything special they should bring, like a particular book or journal and pen?
Depending how far away your retreat is, consider arriving a few days early. This is especially important if you’re traveling a new time zone. Give yourself ample time to reset your own internal clock. Arriving early will also allow you to get to familiarize yourself with the retreat center, neighborhood, and the retreat staff.
STEP 4: GETTING READY TO GO
Alas, it’s time for the retreat itself! Here are a few tips to make your students’ experience extra special:
Lay down the law.
Take a little time at the beginning of the retreat to explain the schedule, the orientation of the retreat center, and most importantly, house rules. Part of being a retreat leader is leading. Lay down the law about things as seemingly mundane as phone usage during class, how they should ask questions during class, what to do if they have a problem with their room or another student, and any local cultural differences that they should be aware of.
Many people find retreats so appealing because of the opportunity to connect with like-minded birds of a feather. You can help foster this connection through group activities, making it easier for strangers to become friends. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone loves group activities—feel out your crowd to know how much is enough.
Meals can be a nice opportunity to encourage connection. Would you prefer for your group to sit at one long table for a family style vibe, or would it feel better if they can sit at smaller tables for more intimate conversations? Or perhaps it differs at each meal. These are the little things to think about it, as they set a certain tone for your retreat.
In the most literal sense of the word, be present. You’ll have to relinquish your need for alone time on your retreat. Be there for your students. Make it a point to connect with each person in a one-on-one conversation at least once. Your students must know that you care about them in order to build their trust.
STEP 5: TRANSITIONING HOME FROM YOUR YOGA RETREAT
While your students will have gained so much from your amazing yoga retreat, the real growth happens when they apply their new knowledge and wisdom at home.
Going home can be tough, especially if the retreat was for more than just a few days. Your students have potentially had a life-changing experience that their friends and family probably won’t understand, nor care to hear about. It’s a hard truth! Offer your students some guidance on how to transition home and how to communicate their experience to their loved ones, not taking a potential lack of interest personally.
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This is also a great time to get feedback from your students. The goal here is to find out how you can do a better job next time. You can students a survey at the end of your time together or once they get home, but do it while the experience is still fresh in their minds.
It’s possible that you’ll feel overwhelmed after reading through this guide. While it’s good to familiarize yourself with all the steps that go into planning a retreat before you decide to dive in, keep in mind that this entire process unfolds over the course of many months. You don’t have to and won’t do it all at once. And remember, you can always hire a retreat company to help you with this process.