Leading a yoga retreat can be a deeply rewarding experience. Organizing a yoga retreat, however, can be an overwhelming endeavor. Beyond planning and teaching your classes, you’re responsible for choosing and booking a venue, planning the agenda, marketing the event, and managing enrollment. I’ve led over 15 yoga retreats now, but planning my very first one was a huge learning experience. I spent a lot of time visualizing the kind of experience I wanted to offer my students and organizing it, but I had no idea what I was doing. I remember having a lot of questions and feeling overwhelmed by all of the decisions I had to make. What have I learned over the years? Planning a successful retreat is about designing an experience. Visualize the kind of space you would like to create for your students and let it guide you through the planning process. Here, six steps to help you keep big-picture perspective as you focus on the details and create a retreat that reflects your intention.
Step 1: Visualize your experience.
Before you plan anything, take a few moments to contemplate the kind of experience you hope to design for your students. Map out your retreat by writing down your vision. I do this every single time I host my annual retreats at Heathen Hill, a small organic farm in the Catskills. This roadmap helps me stay focused, so I don’t lose sight of the overall experience I’m trying to create as I start planning the logistics.
Here’s my advice: Ask yourself, “What kind of retreat would I sign up for?” Your students will likely resonate with the kind of experience you would enjoy. Where do you want to go? What factors are important to you? Stay true to yourself. Your retreat will be a success if it’s an authentic extension of you!
Location is one of the biggest considerations for people interested in going on a yoga retreat. The options are truly endless! From a small retreat center like Heathen Hill to a vineyard in California, from a luxury hotel in Hawaii to an ashram in India, you can book a retreat almost anywhere in the world.
Travel is a crucial detail in determining your location. Consider: How far away is it from your home base? From an airport? How expensive is the travel? Can you drive there? How do you get from the airport to the venue? Will you need transportation for excursions and activities? These answers will help you determine whether your dream location is logistically and financially feasible for you and your students.
When choosing a venue, consider a few key factors: Does the venue have a space for yoga? Do they have props? If you use the wall in your classes, is there enough wall space? Does the venue offer any activities or organized excursions? It’s a good idea to visit the venue before booking so you can see it and experience it for yourself.
Many venues have a specific contract in place for retreats with pre-determined costs (per room or per student), minimums, deposits, meals, and included activities. This can answer a lot of your questions and simplify the process. If you’re negotiating a contract from scratch, though, it can be helpful to turn to your peers or your teacher and ask for guidance.
Most retreat venues require a deposit to book your retreat. This is your personal financial risk—if you have to cancel for any reason, you’re on the hook for the deposit. Many venues also have minimums, requiring a certain number of students to sign up in order to host the retreat.
Before determining your prices, consider any additional costs, such as advertising the retreat, your own travel expenses, and lost income from the classes and/or privates you’ll miss while you’re away. Ideally, your prices should cover your total costs and generate a profit.
The easiest way to determine your prices is to add a teaching fee to the cost per student. For example, if you’re teaching five classes on your retreat and you decide to charge each student $20 per class, you would add a $100 fee to your cost per student. I like to take this a step further by considering my students’ total out of pocket expenses. How much does it cost to travel to my retreat? How much time off work will my students need to take? How much will they need to budget for food, activities, or excursions? I also look at how much other teachers with a comparable level of experience are charging for retreats of a similar format. I think one of the biggest mistakes teachers make in pricing retreats is not looking at the big picture.
Once you have the logistics squared away, you can start planning your classes. Refer back to your roadmap. What kind of experience are you hoping to offer your students? What might they need? Look within yourself—what are you currently working on in your practice and your life?
Once you’ve identified the main takeaway from your retreat, support your theme with thoughtful sequencing and curated inspiration. Retreats are more intimate than public classes, so be sure to leave enough space in your plan for spontaneity and inspiration. For example, I find that my teaching becomes more relaxed and playful when I'm at Heathen Hill; the space accommodates only 18 people, which gives me the ability to connect with each student and tailor the experience to their needs.
Marketing happens organically when you’re aligned with your offerings. Simply put: selling a retreat is easy if you’re excited about it! Genuine enthusiasm is contagious, which brings me to your most powerful marketing tool: word of mouth. Shout your retreat from the rooftops, engage people one-on-one, and don’t be shy about asking your network to spread the news.
Personalize your promotion efforts by sharing the whys. Why are you excited about this retreat? Why did you pick the location, the venue, the theme? Why should students consider signing up? Incorporate those points into inviting marketing collateral that reflects your vision for the experience. If possible, use personal photos of the venue (another reason it’s beneficial to visit before you book). Maybe consider using new, updated headshots to help your marketing efforts stand out to your audience.
When I lead a retreat, I think of myself as a hostess and the venue as my home. To be a good host, you have to anticipate your guests’ needs. Your job as the retreat leader is to make your students feel welcome. This is where attention to detail comes in. I’m very fortunate to work with Susan Orem at Heathen Hill because she thinks of everything—fresh flowers in our rooms, amazing meals cooked with the food from her garden, and a plethora of activities to do (or not do) during our stay.
Love is in the details. Consider writing your students a note or leaving a small gift in their room for them to find upon arrival. I always send out an email with a welcome packet of information to help answer frequently asked questions. I supply a daily schedule and make myself personally available to my students.
About Our Expert Chrissy Carter is a yoga educator, writer, meditation teacher, and lifestylist based in New York. She shares her passion for yoga and the art of mindful living on her blog, H(OM)E. Chrissy is a senior teacher at YogaWorks, where she has been leading teacher trainings for over a decade. She teaches meditation classes at MNDFL and is a featured teacher on Meditation Studio App. Follow Chrissy on Instagramand Facebook.