One of my women’s retreats in Guatemala.

6 Keys to Organizing a Successful Yoga Retreat — Even If You’re Not Ready

Worried about filling your first yoga retreat? Here’s how to plan mindfully, attract the right people, and ensure everything runs smoothly.

Want to lead your own yoga retreat but feeling full of self-doubt? I know exactly how that feels. I’m here to tell you that your concerns, even if somewhat valid, are not the whole story. The truth is, you can do this, and I’d like to share what will help you get there.

Retreat planning is a lot of work. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you know what to expect. This article will focus on overcoming any doubt that might be getting in your way, as well as some great tips to set the stage for a successful retreat.

Meditation session during one of my introvert retreats in Mexico.

1. Get Out of Your Own Way

If you’re like I was, you might find a lot of reasons for not being ready to hold a retreat. Some reasons might be valid (i.e., you just had a baby, or you hate traveling), but most simply stem from fear.

Many teachers assume they must be established as teachers with top-level experience and knowledge of yoga. And probably the even bigger myth is that you must have a large student base and following on social media. While these can indeed be helpful, they are not everything. In fact, many established teachers fall prey to the “if you build it, they will come” mentality only to find themselves scratching their heads when students don’t register.

Planning and executing a successful yoga retreat is less about where you’re starting from and more about where you’re going. You can achieve your goals more easily with a strong vision and commitment than with a strong name and following.

I had a self-critic who showed before I took the plunge to launch my first retreat. It sat on my shoulder all the way until I led my first retreat in Guatemala. The critic told me I wasn’t ready. It compared me to other teachers. The week before I went to Guatemala, it showed up to tell me that I was a fraud and didn’t have my life together enough to lead others.

This critic will come and go. But if you can learn to recognize your own authenticity and the value of your unique voice and story, then you have the beginning of a retreat.

The first thing to recognize is your negative self-talk. Fear is just fear, and it lies to you.

I launched my first retreat when I was still in yoga teacher training. Some people might balk at that. But for me, I had been dreaming for years about bringing people to the Latin American countries I loved so much to share in the eye-opening experiences that were part of my personal growth process.

I knew I had to let go of the doubt and take a leap. After all, action gives fear less power. This has become a central theme of my teaching.

Lake Atitlan and the Atitlán volcano (center), Guatemala. Town of San Antonio Palopó in foreground. Image Source: Chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons.

2. Plant the Seeds of Intention

As a yoga teacher, you know the power of intention and the importance of a strong foundation for practice. Planning a retreat is no different. There are some key fundamental components of a strong retreat that must come before you decide to drop a deposit on a retreat center in an exotic location.

As a leader, you’re going to be holding space for a group, and part of holding space is having a cohesive vision and purpose. Take the time to tune into your core intention for holding a retreat. This intention will help you to stay focused and motivated throughout the process.

Around the time I made the decision to host my first retreat, I was working as a social worker in a behavioral hospital. I was stressed to the gills and had to examine my own self-care seriously. I had been posting on Facebook about my journey toward taking better care of myself. It became an obvious theme for my retreat… self-care. And I really wanted to hold it in a country that was off the tourist map and dear to my heart. That country was Guatemala.

I also knew I wanted a small group for my first retreat. With that intention, I discovered the perfect house that would fit eight women plus me. I believed I could bring eight women together for that first retreat and I did.

Setting our intentions at one of my women’s retreats in Guatemala.

3. Define Your Theme

If you face self-doubt and anxiety (I did, here’s my story), you’re likely quick to criticize yourself and overlook some of your hidden strengths. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to tap into your strengths if you plan to hold a retreat. Here I’ll talk about how these strengths are essential to designing your theme and attracting your ideal guests.

Since I launched my first retreat when brand new to teaching, I didn’t feel comfortable calling it a yoga retreat nor did I want yoga to be the focus. I reflected that much of my life has centered around learning to manage anxiety and take care of myself. And as a social worker, I had experience with counseling others in self-care. I realized I could weave my skills together to support women in their journey toward self-care.

This is a place where I encourage you to think outside of the box. To get you started, here are some questions to ponder.

  • Do you have a unique skill or hobby?
  • Could you marry yoga with your professional background in a creative way?
  • What about using that history or philosophy major you thought you’d never use?
  • Do you have an interesting personality quirk that others might identify with?
  • What is one of the most significant obstacles in your own life you’ve overcome?
  • Do you excel at teaching a particular type of student such as beginners?

The idea is to develop an authentic theme that reflects your unique story and strengths while drawing the people who want what you have to offer.

4. Get Clear on Who Your Audience Is

We often make the mistake of wanting to ensure our retreat fits everyone. We think we’re leaving people out if we become too targeted. I’d like to share with you a couple of personal examples of how this has played out in my retreat planning.

  1. Introverts: Over a year ago, my boyfriend and I were talking about our own introversion. We noticed a gap in the group travel market for introverted types and decided to create a retreat format that would be just for introverts. There’s a lot I could say about what this looked like and how we went about marketing. But for now, I’ll say that twelve introverts had a magical time, and another introvert retreat is happening in 2018.
  2. Women: For my first retreat in Guatemala, the initial theme was “Self-Care for Women in Helping Professions.” But from the start, I had quite a few women asking me to hold a self-care retreat for all women. It was early enough for me to change it and I’m glad I did. The women who attended were a particularly wonderful group and “self-care for women” turned out to be focused enough. I filled my Colombia retreat with the same theme.
One of my women’s retreats in Colombia.

5. Engage Your Audience

Before getting too far ahead of your audience, I recommend engaging them and asking them if they’d be interested in attending a retreat focused on (theme) in (location).

  • After Classes: At the end of a class, mention that you’re considering holding a retreat and would love to know where your students would like to go. If you have interested students, get their email addresses.
  • Online Surveys: If you have an email list, consider sending out a short survey with no more than three questions to get input on a particular theme or location. If you don’t have an email list, get one.
  • Social Media: Write an engaging post on social media to elicit input from others. Contact those who respond personally to ask if you can add them to your email list so they can be the first to know about your retreat.
  • Friends and Family: Talk to some of your close family members and friends to find out if they’d be interested and add them to your email list. Referrals from friends and past participants is one of the key ways I’ve filled retreats.

While planning one 2018 retreat to Peru, I was indecisive as to whether I wanted to hold a retreat for women or introverts. I asked my audience. I found there was enough interest in both that I decided to hold two retreats with one for women and one for introverts. Both my introvert retreat and women’s retreat are completely full.

You will get invaluable information from your students, friends, family, and social media following. Ask questions.

My first “Introvert Retreat” was held in Mexico.

6. Build Your Team

We’ve discussed tapping into your strengths for what you have to offer on a retreat. But you’ll need to go a step further. I advise taking an honest look at which aspects of organizing you can do and what might require assistance.

There are many aspects of retreat planning that require attention. Here are a few, but note that there are many considerations under each of them.

  • Geographical location
  • Retreat center (reputation, layout, room/bathroom configuration, etc.)
  • Dates for the best time to go
  • Budgeting and pricing
  • Itinerary creation
  • Marketing
  • System for communicating with guests and organizing data
  • Contract and liability waiver
  • Content creation for your classes, workshops, discussions
  • System for feedback post-retreat

If I can offer you one piece of advice here:

Make sure you have support.

Even if it’s simply a very trustworthy and hands-on retreat center, you need support. I love organizing, and I selected Guatemala for my first retreat because I knew the country well. I felt I could keep my cost low and thereby offer a great price to my guests. I also planned to lead a couple of the hikes and day trips.

And then, I broke my foot in Guatemala just two days before my guests were to arrive. This is a story in and of itself, but thankfully, I had support. I had hired two chefs for the retreat who were hiking with me that day. Aside from carrying me down the mountain and to a hospital, they also helped with tasks that I simply couldn’t do.

Furthermore, my Guatemalan colleague, who was responsible for organizing transportation, stepped up big time. I was supposed to go to Antigua, Guatemala the first night to meet my guests. She saved me a three-hour bus ride and more crutch hobbling by ensuring all my guests arrived at the hotel, staying with them that night, giving them a tour of Antigua, and sending them to me on a shuttle with a packed lunch. Priceless.

Take your time to think about what kind of support you’ll need for your retreat whether it’s on the ground at your destination or in the form of an assistant to manage the organizational details.

I suffered a broken foot in Guatemala, but thanks to the support of my chefs (see story above), we had a great time anyway.

Closing Thoughts

Remember that fear is just fear. Let go of the doubt and get intentional. With firm intention, your commitment will follow, and you’ll be able to offer a life-changing retreat your guests will not forget.