Replete Retreats
Rachel Roberts
10/10/08

Yoga teachers often have other jobs, talents, vocations that help them fill the time and pay their bills. Meet a yogi and ask them what they do and you may get,

– I am a yoga teacher/massage therapist/barista/circus performer.
Still another may reply with,
– I am a yoga teacher/public relations manager/professional skier.

Given that not every yoga teacher is a shrewd business person/travel agent/tour guide… when it comes to planning a retreat, where is a yoga teacher/candle maker/plumber to go?

Retreat planning is becoming big business in the West, the hustle and bustle of the modern world is making it increasingly difficult for the average person to truly unplug during a vacation. Surely you have heard someone return to work from two weeks on a tropical isle only to proclaim that they need a vacation from their vacation.

With yoga’s ever-growing popularity so comes increasing interest in yoga vacations, also known as spiritual tourism. These retreats generally blend yoga asana practice with sightseeing, spa treatments or physical endeavors like surfing or skiing. For participants, the appeal is that they don’t have to plan – yoga vacations are the all-inclusive Mexican resorts of the future, minus the cheese and heavy on the relaxation and spiritual growth.

The key to marketing a yoga vacation is the simplicity of it for participants. Once a guest arrives they know that yoga asana practice is at 7:00 am, lunch is at noon, the hike to the volcano is Monday at 1:00, shopping can be done from 3-4:00 on Thursday, alcohol-free cocktails will be served on the Ledo deck at 6:00 and so on. Their only job is to completely unplug and focus on themselves.

To successfully pull this off the planner must know the location for the retreat in depth, they must know what tour guides to use, which taxi service to hire, which restaurants offer vegan lasagna and raw food tacos,…all of this makes it challenging for a teacher/nurse/rock-n-roll drummer from Michigan to pull off a seven-day retreat in Todos Santos, Mexico or on a remote island in the Indian ocean.

Fortunately, every vacuum must be filled and with the need for spiritual vacations came the advent of the retreat planning company. These groups specialize in organizing every aspect so that all a yogi/microphysicist/stained-glass maker needs to do is make a call, plan their curriculum and round up 5-15 students willing to attend.

For teachers wanting to host a retreat in Bali, the Island of the Gods, there is a company that does all the heavy lifting for you. Claude M Chouinard and Iyan Yaspriyana have been in Bali for many years and have built a retreat planning company that makes all the arrangements for a teacher.

Claude describes his service like this, “we have built an online form that allows teachers to pick all the activities they want, the meal plan, their transportation needs, everything. They simply choose the elements for their retreat, our staff runs the costs and comes back with a break-even point for the number of students required, a profit calculation for each additional student and then they get to the planning part.” And ONEWORLD retreats doesn’t just plan retreats for others, Iyan hosts his own series of bi-weekly courses aptly named ‘Escape the World’.

I decided to test there services out myself as both a participant and a retreat leader, to see if a ‘spiritual vacation’ for a yoga teacher/writer/photographer/vagabond gypsy such as myself was as simple, relaxing and rejuvenating as I have been led to believe. As it turned out, it was every bit as easy and far more luxurious than I had expected.

Each day was planned out at a leisurely pace, ensuring that there was plenty of time for reflection, balanced with cultural and spiritual activities. A typical Escape the World day begins with morning yoga practice followed by breakfast and then spa treatments ranging from pedicures to a two and a half-hour chakra balancing Ayurvedic massage that is not to be missed. Each day included an excursion that exposed the students to traditional Balinese villages and rituals. Evenings were filled with a restorative yoga class and/or yogic philosophy discussion and then a gourmet dinner.

Every possible need was catered to throughout the stay. When we emerged from the holy water after a purification ceremony we were met with fresh towels and hot tea. During the day of silence we were addressed by the staff in a series of hand-written notes, lest anyone have to break their silence in order to ask what time the afternoon massage was scheduled for. A gentle gong kept everyone on schedule, ringing when it was time for class or an excursion.

As an instructor you have an assistant assigned to you. This person sets up the yoga shala before each class, laying out mats, props and flower arrangements. The assistant handles all the hotel and tour arrangements and sees to it that everyone knows where and when to meet for any excursion. The assistant even rings the gong so that not even the retreat leader needs a watch.

ONEWORLD retreats can handle all of the financial aspects for a retreat as well, allowing students to pay by credit card – they then pay all of the tour operators and associated retreat bills. When the course is over, a planning fee is deducted and the teacher receives a payment for whatever funds are left over. While generally we aren’t talking about a huge payday for an instructor, there definitely are financial benefits to be reaped and at the very least, a retreat is often a free vacation for a teacher/auto mechanic/homemaker.

So, if a teacher/waiter/aspiring actor from L.A. wants to host a week-long Iyengar yoga retreat with spa treatments, volcano and temple tours and Indonesian cooking classes, capped off with a Hindu cleansing ceremony, he or she need only fill out the form and ONEWORLD retreats does the rest.

After my Escape the World week, I left feeling rejuvenated and spoiled, which was unexpected as I was supposed to be the one helping others feel rejuvenated and spoiled. Ubud provides the backdrop and ONEWORLD retreats makes it possible for any yogi/lounge singer/archeologist to focus on their teaching and to host their own successful retreat, even in a place as far away and exotic as the Island of the Gods.