A yoga retreat is a wonderful opportunity to connect with your students in in a way that goes far beyond the 60-minute classes most studios offer. Retreats offer the potential for smaller class sizes, longer classes, and perhaps twice daily classes over the course of 3 to 7 days. As a teacher, it would be a shame to forego the opportunity to take full advantage of the change in format. Here are 5 ideas to get you started on theming yoga classes for your retreat.
1: An Actual Theme. Many retreats advertise an overall theme for the vacation. Instead of Power Yoga retreat, Yoga Retreat or Restorative Yoga and Meditation Retreat, perhaps your retreat is a Journey to the Soul, Self-Discovery Retreat, Women’s Empowerment Retreat, or Restorative Getaway. By choosing an overarching theme other than “yoga,” you give your attendees a clear idea of what the vibe on the retreat might be like, and you give yourself a support around which to theme each of your yoga sessions. For example, a Heart Awakening retreat may offer classes which physically focus on heart opening, chest expanding poses, or classes may be themed around compassion, opening oneself to risk or aparigraha, letting go of past hurt.
2: Start with Foundations. Most likely, your retreat attendees are people who already know you and enjoy your classes. Sometimes, you’ll have registrants from all over the world who are new to you and your classes. Although you may have set some prerequisites, it’s still a very good idea to spend Day 1 of the retreat getting everyone on the same page with a few fundamentals. On Day 1 you could offer a morning slow flow and pay particular attention to alignment in foundational poses. The afternoon workshop on Day 1 might break down essential poses like chaturanga dandasana, the virabhadrasana poses, or even downward dog. As you progress through the week, fold in increasingly challenging poses to the classes and workshops, perhaps working up to a peak pose, inversion or arm balance on the last day. By using the full week to move step by step, everyone has a better opportunity to safely and successfully progress.
3: Create an Energy Arc. On a yoga retreat, not only are you planning for each specific class, but you are creating a mood and an energy for the week as a whole. Just as you would structure a single class with a warm-up, a prep for the peak pose, and a surrender series, you should consider the energy arc of the entire retreat. Will your students be jet-lagged when they arrive? Will they have been traveling on a bus, plane, train or car for a long time? Are they participating in other activities during the week which will demand their energy? Take all of this into consideration. You’ll hold everyone’s attention by varying the pace of the classes, and the focus of the daily energy. It may not serve you best to plan for the same power class each morning, and a high energy workshop each afternoon. Change it up! Finally, once you’ve plotted the energy arc of the week, be open to veering from it. You may have planned for an intense afternoon workshop on pressing into handstand, but if the group is too tired from their morning surf, have a plan B, and save the handstand workshop for when the group is ready to successfully attack it.
4: From Toes to Head. Travel and arriving in a new place can create all sorts of strange energy as people cope with the newness, the unexpected, the physical stress of flights and getting from point A to B. By theming the week quite literally from the ground up, guests have the opportunity to get grounded, establish a foundation and a sense of security. Start Day 1 with a focus on grounding, establishing your base, finding your footing. Avoid getting too upside down or unbalanced. Progress to hips on Day 2, shoulders on Day 3, and so on. Slowly add in more balance challenges and inversions as the week progresses and as everyone feels more comfortable with their surroundings. You could progress through a ground up awareness of the 7 chakras, or use your theming to build trust amongst the group, eventually working towards partner poses. The possibilities are endless!
5: Match the Yoga to the Activities. Does your retreat offer additional activities other then yoga? Are participants surfing, hiking, horseback riding, or diving? Partner your classes or workshops with those activities. For example, a group which has spent all day hiking may want to use their afternoon yoga session to stretch out their legs, or massage the souls of their feet with tennis balls. A group which is about to test the waters on their first ever surf adventure could use a morning class themed around trying new things, moving outside their comfort zone, or building confidence. A group that’s diving on their retreat may enjoy a class that pays particular attention to the breath, and offers pranayama exercises. By weaving the theme of your classes into the day’s activities, and vice versa, your students become more aware of the integration of their practice into their daily lives.
The 60 or 75-minute studio class format has allowed people to fit yoga into their daily lives more consistently, and has been instrumental in bringing yoga to the masses. However, as teachers, we are constantly struggling against the mindset that yoga is a 60-minute per day physical exercise. On your retreat, you have the opportunity to introduce your students to so much more. Once you begin to work through the possibilities, you’ll want to teach nowhere else but on retreat!
Sara-Mai Conway is a yoga and meditation instructor who splits her time between Texas and Mexico. She offers retreat and adventure travel planning services at Baja Surf Yoga. Follow her on Facebook at Baja Surf Yoga, or on Instagram @saramaic