I don’t mind admitting that my first yoga retreat was not a stellar success. I’m still haunted by vivid memories of taking to my mat that very first morning, opening my mouth and finding all of my vocabulary had evaporated. Nothing was coming out.
I stood there gaping, my knees trembling. My mind, blank.
As twelve pairs of expectant eyes looked on, I could only gaze desperately back and try to gather my writhing emotions enough to squeak out a feeble “Om”. I am not proud of what followed… five days of excruciating classes, jumbled up words and incredible awkwardness. The harder I tried, the more the well of inspiration ran dry.
Despite my anticipation, my excitement and my extensive planning, I wasn’t expecting the performance anxiety, blinding nervousness or the myriad of variables which needed to be navigated in order to deliver a meaningful experience.
The truth is, when I took that first solo flight, I didn’t appreciate what it meant to teach a yoga retreat. Thankfully that has changed, and my first fumble into retreat teaching gave me the insight I needed to shape the teacher I would one day become.
Knowing if you’re ready to teach a retreat can be tricky, so here are a few questions to help guide you on your way.
You may never feel 100% ready to teach your first retreat, but feeling somewhat prepared and confident is essential.
Consider your motivation for teaching a retreat, and ask yourself the following questions:
Aim for a 50-60% yes response before taking the leap into organising your first retreat.
A retreat should build day by day to create a seamless experience that takes people on a transformative journey from beginning to end. You’ll need to have more than enough teaching material and tools to craft a considered, often custom-made, retreat experience for your guests. Depending on the length of your retreat, it’s likely you will be teaching for several hours everyday with little time for yourself in-between, so you’ll need to have plenty of energy and stamina too.
We can’t always be in our happy place, but it’s a good idea to conduct your first retreat when you feel reasonably content and emotionally stable. Otherwise you might find the pressure or performance anxiety overwhelming, and struggle to cope.
Attending a yoga retreat is a special and unique experience. Often there is a greater sense of intimacy, connectedness and sharing among groups, and given the chance to decompress, it’s not unusual for guests to shed a tear or two.
It’s rare that you’ll personally know all of your attendees. It’s crucial to plan enough in order to define the retreats theme, identify its key learning outcomes, and shape what kind of experience you want to offer, but try not to get caught up in interpreting what you teach. Your job is to offer guidance, not dogmatic belief. Allow space for students to make sense of the teachings for themselves. Your own yogic understanding and experience won’t necessarily be the same as theirs.
Retreats attract a vast array of students, and it’s not unusual to have a complete beginner and a very seasoned practitioner together in the same group. You need to be ready to adapt your class delivery to suit your students, and consider how to manage your class dynamics to ensure everyone is satisfied and practising according to their capacity.
Are you sensitive to the unseen? The truth is, not everyone will openly share their story or current situation. Often it takes looking beyond the obvious and interpreting body language to decide how to give a student what they really need.
Checking out the retreat venue, discovering the area for yourself, knowing the daily rhythm and pace of the retreat space, and meeting the people that will be supporting you is absolutely essential ahead of your retreat. It removes the risk of unanticipated surprises, and will have you feeling more comfortable and organised when your retreat begins.
Yoga tourism is a competitive market. Consider how you’ll get people to retreat. It helps if you have your own customer base, are willing to invest time and effort into your own marketing, and are working with a well established and reputable retreat venue.
Get ready to be the hostess with the mostest. Be prepared to inspire and entertain a range of different people and personalities.
Are you professional and able to rise above any personal melodramas, illness or misfortune, in order to consistently offer good classes and a quality retreat experience? It’s worth bearing in mind you may not have back up during your retreat, so you need to plan for the unexpected.
Although the life of a travelling yoga teacher may seem glamorous and a good excuse to escape to the sun, remember your aren’t on a holiday. Your primary focus should be your students, and sometimes you’ll need to appear approachable and available, even when you don’t feel like it.
The truth is all first experiences are a bit of a fumble into the unknown, but knowing what you’re getting yourself into and giving it proper consideration upfront is very beneficial. Every retreat you teach will educate you, each offering a unique experience that will help you develop the right skill set over time. My advice to you would be to start small, and keep your heart and mind open.
For guests, a yoga retreat can be life changing. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching your guests grow as their breath starts to slow, and tired faces begin to glow – if you feel like it would be a rewarding experience, start considering running a yoga retreat today!
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