How to Host a Retreat

Love the idea of taking your beloved students on an exotic retreat? It would pay to plan it well. By Jessica Humphries

The idea of hosting your first retreat can be both daunting and exhilarating. There are so many variables to consider. As yoga teachers and lovers of all things wellness, our expertise can often be far from that of the business-minded. The pressure is on to promote ourselves, but it can feel nauseating just thinking about it. Despite the fact that self-promotion is ‘not yogic’ you have to overcome it to host a retreat. If you’re reading this you’re ready to surrender. Remember, what you have to offer is special and beautiful and you deserve to be rewarded for that so that you can flourish in this world. Some of us have been fortunate enough to discover yoga and build our careers in the industry from a young age, but many, like myself, have come to the practice via the corporate world. We combine our skills in logistics and marketing with our passion for yoga – and we’re here to help!

My personal experience in events spans almost a decade. Before pursuing a career more focused on yoga, I worked a nine-to-five city job in corporate conferences. Eventually I was able to use the skills I gained in the industry to manage yoga events, notably, the Evolve Yoga Festival and regular retreats with Byron Yoga Centre.. I asked a few regular retreat organisers what the best approach is when considering hosting a retreat. First off…

Think about your location and venue.

Hannah Chapman is the National Marketing Manager for Power Living, a thriving yoga business that holds up to 7 retreats every year and has since 2010. Hannah says it’s important to build an awareness of the local area “to ensure everything will be suitable for a comfortable retreat environment. It really depends on location, but seasons and visas are things to consider.” Once you’ve decided on your location, research some venues. Know their cancellation policies and find out about the required deposit as well as how much of that would be returned if your event does not go ahead.

If you’re new to the retreat process, it helps to go with a well-established centre that can facilitate the business side of things. Wayne Moffat is the General Manager of Komune, a Bali retreat centre catering to yogis, surfers and wellness events, and site of Power Living retreats. He explains that when an enquiry comes through to Komune, he calls the organiser to discuss the details: What what is required, how many people are expected to attend, the type of retreat, accommodation required, length of the retreat, additional activities to book such as tours or cooking classes, massages and treatments required (available at the resort) and the spaces or yoga shalas needed. “A detailed proposal outlining the various elements enabling a clear costing for individual costs is then prepared and explained.” Choosing a venue with staff that are easy to communicate with and hold your hand both in the lead-up to and during your event will substantially decrease your workload and stress levels throughout the process.

From there, begin to build a budget. Look at it realistically. Starting tinkering with variables and begin to understand the finances of your retreat. Next…

PLAN YOUR MARKETING

Depending on how established you are as a teacher and how confident you feel about getting attendees, you may like to consider this step before even thinking of where you’ll be hosting your retreat.  Do you have a website, collection of email addresses and a social media presence? Platforms like Instagram provide effective, free marketing. Some social media savvy teachers are able to book out their retreats using this medium alone (especially if their pictures consist of them morphing themselves into pretzels with a stunning, tropical backdrop). Let your current students know about your retreat. It might feel a little awkward promoting yourself at first – but your students know and love you, and will be far more likely to come along to your retreat than one hosted by a stranger, even if that stranger is a little more ‘Insta-famous’. Power Living markets its retreats through studios and an online database – a collection of email addresses gathered from students and contacts over the years. Other businesses are finding success through targeted Facebook marketing. Of course there’s always word of mouth. In the yoga world, making connections is a great (often unintentional) marketing strategy. The industry is still relatively small in Australia, and the more people you know, the more opportunities you have to spread the word about your event.How do other people do it?

Consider whether the venue provides any marketing support. This is a great, low risk option if you don’t have much marketing expertise. Komune are always happy to assist and provide imagery or suggestions on activities that will assist with the appeal of the overall package. Some retreat centres will offer to take care of all the necessary marketing themselves in exchange for a share in the event’s profits.  Now you need to decide…

RETREAT NUMBERS

There is no ‘ideal number’ of retreat guests. For Power Living, retreat numbers range from 25 to 90 people. “The energy and support within the communities taking part in these retreats is what makes the experience so powerful and unique. Everyone forms friendships and supports each other on their individual journeys” says Hannah.

In terms of the group dynamic and the emotional rewards, as long as you create an open and loving space you can facilitate a beautiful and intimate experience with anything from two to one hundred people. Remember that you may not only be teaching, but also answering questions and entertaining during outings and meals. If you’re running a retreat solo, you don’t want to be responsible for a huge number of people asking you questions 24/7. The maximum number of guests you consider taking should depend on how big your retreat team is. Once you’re there, you need to be present for your students to create the best experience for them. When creating your budget, Produce a budget for yourself to identify how many students you will need in order to cover costs. If you don’t reach that number you can still choose to run the retreat as a kind of working holiday or for practice in hosting. You might even make a couple of great contacts who choose to join you on a retreat in future. If you’ve done your planning and marketing now you have to set a…

PRICE

The price of yoga retreats varies greatly from business to business. Hannah explains: “There are so many variables when considering the cost of a retreat – location, teachers facilitating, length of time, level of retreat (open, 200hr or 500hr training) we really work it on a case-by-case basis. For teachers looking to create their own retreats, we’d advise them to look at what is out in the market and then consider their offering.” Whatever your price, ask your students to pay a non-refundable deposit at the time of their booking so that you’re covered if they cancel at the last minute. Finally…

You arrive at THE RETREAT

You’ve organised your venue, marketed your event and the day has arrived. One of the most important elements in hosting a retreat is ensuring your guests feel nurtured.  On arrival be approachable – people attending retreats often feel quite apprehensive on the first day as they ponder what strange, new- age activities they’ll be engaging in. Begin your retreat with an opening circle so that everyone can meet and you can discuss logistical details. Prepare a retreat schedule so guests know what activities are happening when. Remember to nurture yourself throughout the process. Be vulnerable and allow yourself to connect and be present with your guests. A retreat can be a very powerful and transformative experience and you are a big part of what they will remember. Hannah explains that the Power Living program allows students to “confront beliefs that are holding them back in life to discover their ultimate Self. The retreat will facilitate the awakening that is required to become truly powerful. The process can be intense but if they are ready to do the work they’ll be amazed at the transformation.”

In the end, hosting a retreat truly is a labour of love. It takes planning, work and , patience, but the process can be deeply rewarding, emotionally and spiritually. So long as you respond in a loving and helpful way to challenges that arise, your guests will respect and love you and want to join you again in future.

Things will go wrong…

No matter how prepared you are you can’t control everything. Sometimes a guest will be unhappy with their snoring roommate, afraid of a spider in their room or struggling with physical or emotional sensitivities. Be aware that these things may arise. Be prepared to respond, rather than react, to any stresses that come up. If people can see that you’re doing your best and are approachable and available, they will make allowances for things not being one hundred percent perfect. At the retreat centre I worked for, we had a resident cat. We would always ask guests to keep their doors closed but sometimes they were left open and the cat would sneak into the room for a nap: not such a big problem if your guest isn’t allergic. At other times we had construction going on as we built a pool and new dwellings at the centre. During that retreat I organised more day trips to the beach and in nature, and at the closing circle I gave everyone a small gift and a voucher for a discounted retreat in future. We never received any negative feedback from any of these guests.