Leaving the golden cage and starting a yoga retreat. Here is how.

Before becoming a yoga instructor, Alessandra tried to put herself in a golden cage after the other. She worked as a researcher for the European Union, a fund raiser for rural electrification in Laos and energy manager in a production plant of and American multinational for consumer goods. In the back of her mind she was aware that was not the life she wanted, however being in a “prestigious career” and working long hours was distracting her from making the decision. Now a few years later she is running a small but personal retreat on a sailing boat. Read on and learn what it takes to step out of your comfort zone:

yogaandsailing_alessandra

 

1. Before starting the yoga & sailing what were you doing for life?

After four years of work in multiple positions, I felt at a junction point. To either buy an apartment in Berlin postponing, again and again, the crazy decision or giving up the comfort of a “secure workplace and career,” come to terms with my fear of not being employed and confronting my family with the fact I would from now on change Alessandra.

In spring 2012 I took the “crazy decision,” deleted all that I had been doing until then, and started a long phase of self re-discovery. I had been living and working abroad since I was 21, and after 8 years I felt the need to come back to Italy. The year after I started teaching yoga and by pure chance – if it exists 🙂 –  I ended up in Sardinia, where the idea of combining yoga and sailing slowly took shape.

 

2. How did you start?

The idea of yoga and sailing came from a vision I had during a Gestalt seminar I did in Germany, I saw myself sailing and practicing yoga in the Mediterranean. For someone who had been spending the previous 8 years mostly in German-speaking Europe studying wind turbines and solar panels, this was quite odd.

In 2013 a common friend introduced me to Ghego, the skipper of the boat, who was also keen to combine the sailing charter weeks he was already offering with yoga. He had never done yoga before but wanted to try it.

 

3. How many retreats are you running every year with how many guests?

We usually offer our retreats during the first half of June and in September, and we run 4-5 retreats a year.

As Sardinia is pretty crowded during the whole summer season, we pick the weeks where the tourists and boats around are not many. This allows us to easily find quiet bays and beaches where to anchor and practice yoga.

 

4. How big is the group and crew usually?

Until now we are welcoming max. 6 guests on board. This makes the group very cosy and allows me to give specific correction to everyone’s practice. On top of that, everyone gets to learn the basics of sailing, steering the boat and setting the sails included. Ghego is a very experienced and patient sailing instructor.

The crew is composed by Ghego skipper/sailing instructor and me: vegetarian-vegan chef/yoga instructor.

There is a possibility to fill up the second boat, go around with a small fleet and 12 participants. And from next year we will have a bigger boat, where we will host 8 participants.

 

5. Yoga on a boat. What are challenges you face running a retreat on a boat? Do you have a plan B for certain situations like bad weather?

We never practice yoga on the boat. We always go by dinghy to the closest beach or dock, we place our yoga mats in a quiet and flat spot which is not rocking, and we do our morning practice.

It is quite rare bad weather in Sardinia during summer, and it seldom rains for longer than a couple of hours. Our yoga practice is usually planned in the morning around 8:30. Should it rain, we anticipate the breakfast, set sails and postpone the yoga practice to the afternoon.

6. What do you do for marketing, or how do people usually find you?

We have three websites advertising the retreat. We have created one website specifically for the retreat: www.yogaandsailing.com. Ghego has his own website for sailing charters: www.altamarea.org. As a yoga instructor, I have my personal website dedicated to yoga and the massages I offer www.ayurvedayogasardinia.com. We also advertise on multiple listing sites.

7. How would you rate the opportunity running retreats for the upcoming years? Where do you see yourself and business in 5 years from now?

I see an increase in popularity of yoga retreats, which I understand.

I guess it makes sense to use the holiday time to get out of the usual life and the unnatural environments most people live to “thank the person and body” with new input, skills, and nature. The week is though not only to be on holiday but also a detox to mind and body to come back full of energy and inspiration for the daily life.

I would love to increase the number of yoga and sailing retreats we offer at yoga and water sports in general, opening the water sports more and more to women.

We are also evaluating to expand our offer to beautiful islands with a warm climate during European winter. 😉

The four elements air, water, earth and fire summed up in the wind, sea, sun and granite stones of Sardinia create here one of the most beautiful realities Mother Nature has shaped.

 

8. What advice would you give yoga teachers or anybody else who wants to start running a retreat center?

Be patient, patient, patient. With yourself, with the others, with your ideas, before you find the right ways to bring your ideas to life and to advertise your offer.

Be passionate, passionate, and passionate about what you want to bring to life.

Offer something exclusive with particular attention to quality and care of the participants. For example, we offer 100% organic, locally sourced vegetarian food during the whole week, with gluten-free, lactose-free and vegan alternatives for participants requiring special diets. We cook vegetarian and the whole week is alcohol-free.

Offer something exclusive with particular attention to quality and care of the participants.

- Alessandra Silvestrini - Yoga & Sailing Sardinia

9. Let’s close with a personal wish. What is the biggest wish you have, regarding your business and or maybe personal?

A wish for my business: I hope I can keep on bringing my passion to the world and work from it.

My personal wish: I hope everyone takes the courage out to bring to life their gifts and talents and create wonders that feed this world with goodness! 🙂

 

Thank you very much, Alessandra.  May the wind cary your passion to all the ones who are seeking for it!

Yoga and Sailing Sardinia


Learn how to accept your challenge from this inspiring woman

Before stepping into opening up the inspiring Montezuma Yoga a decade ago Dagmar's home was the dazzling music business. Promoting bands and working with photographers organizing shoots for Bon Jovi and Black Crowes, which were at their best that time. But thats a long time ago. Dagmar is running retreats worldwide for more than 15 years. We are very excited to get to know more about this inspiring women and of cause share it with you!

 

1. Today you are running a successful retreat business. What would you say was the most challenging parts getting there?

I was used to always being in the background and promoting other people, but there was always a little questioning inside me about my creativity, I wasn’t good enough to play an instrument, to sing or as a photographer, so I was wondering what my purpose, my art was? So naturally, when I moved to Costa Rica my first idea was to promote yoga teachers and help them organize and promote their retreats as a host at Montezuma Yoga. The first teacher who led a retreat at my place was Elena Brower, my teacher back in New York before I moved, and she then encouraged me to become a teacher too. It was scary because all of a sudden I couldn’t hide anymore behind other people and needed to find my own voice, at the same time it was beautiful because I loved teaching from the first moment and realized that finally, I had found my way of being creative and expressing myself.

From the moment I accepted the challenges, everything started falling into place. Click To TweetI had a beautiful balance of teaching classes and hosting retreats and like that met a lot of really great teachers who I was fortunate to practice with in my studio! I hosted teacher trainings as well and could participate and continue my education, which was great since I was so removed from any other studios where I could have studied. When I started in 2001 there was not a lot of yoga happening yet in Costa Rica, so the community was relatively small, and that was wonderful because we supported each other and had a great exchange.

 

2. What makes Montezuma Yoga special? What is your approach?

Yoga to me was always about community. We don’t have to do it all alone. We realise other people have similar stories, challenges, and dreams when we share with each other. Whenever I was in a tough place myself, I would go to yoga classes and leave feeling better, grounded, connected and with a sense of hope and faith that things will work out. Montezuma Yoga offers this kind of sanctuary to the people who live here or pass through as they travel. It’s very authentic and personal, we have a lot of single travellers coming through and enjoying a place to feel home and inspired and to meet other people. All our teachers are very skilled and teach from the heart; you can tell that we love what we do and I think people can feel this energy. It’s not the fanciest shala, but it has a lot of heart and feels real. The sounds of the jungle and ocean and the monkeys and birds add their own magic and Sylvester, our yogi cat, who always hangs out in the middle of the studio gives it also a sense of home.

 

3.What’s your personal secret to success?

Consistency and Clarity.

If anybody had told me 30 years ago that I would be a yoga teacher in Costa Rica, I would have laughed, because I didn't think it was possible to live such a dream.Click To Tweet But then with the yoga, my personal journey became clearer to me, and it really helped me to develop the trust and courage to follow my heart. Once I had a clear vision, I just kept doing all the little steps to move forward towards that vision. I kept up my studies and practice, I asked for support when I needed it and found inspiration from other teachers. I kept a consistency at the studio so that people could rely on me. The first 10 years I did it all alone, and I was there every day, no matter if one student would show up or 20. When I doubt myself or when I feel I am getting stuck I reach out to my teachers or go on a retreat to get new inspiration and energy. I think I have a pretty clear style and am good at holding space for others to be themselves. People receive a lot of personal attention and care and appreciate this connection, it’s about putting love also in small details that is making a difference, and it’s never just been a business for me.

 

4. You have more than 10k fans and over 100 positive reviews on Tripadvisor. Where do you get your knowledge in online marketing?

I have some friends who started marketing courses for yoga teachers and have learned a lot from them. It’s a lot of trial and error still, but I think these days it’s important to accept this as a part of our business. I see a lot of other teachers struggling with their online presence, and I understand it because we all get into a place of “who am I to tell my story” and keeping ourselves small. But

the secret is to share your story in ways that it is inspiring and helpful for others Click To Tweetand then it becomes really fun. I am grateful to the people who inspired me on my journey, so if I can be that person for somebody else, why not share a bit of my story and my tools.

 

5. Do you have three personal marketing tips you would like to share?

  • Building a community on Facebook has been really working well for me because Montezuma Yoga is a very transitional place. People pass through from all over the world, and it’s a great way to stay connected. I get a lot of sign-ups for my retreats through Facebook posts and events.
  • Build your email list and write a newsletter. People want to hear from you and what you are up to. I am still a bit shy to ask people directly for their emails or to sign up for my newsletter, but there is a book at the studio where people can leave it, and I have sign-up forms on my website. I send out a newsletter about once a month, and I make it not just about my own event offerings, but rather also include articles that inspire me, free videos or recipes, so that people have fun reading it.
  • Start creating videos. I filmed my first yoga videos back in 2005 when somebody passed through and asked me if I was up for it. I didn’t think anybody would ever care about online yoga videos and did it just to be creative and play with it. These videos have now over 1 million views on youtube and people still write to me or come to my classes and retreats telling me that they have been practicing with these videos for years!  I never expected that, but I see now what a wonderful tool it is since the internet has grown so much. I have since produced more videos, and they sell really well. You can share what you love and reach a wider audience and create a following because it’s more personal and people who don’t know you can see your style of teaching, and hear your voice.

6. What advice would you give a person who wants to start running retreats but has no experience?

I have been hosting and leading retreats now for over 15 years, so I have learned a lot from my own and other teachers mistakes. I think it is important to create something unique that represents you and to build your community so that you can stand out from the vast retreat offerings out there.

Yoga to me was always about community. We don’t have to do it all alone. We realise other people have similar stories, challenges, and dreams when we share with each other.

- Dagmar Spremberg - Montezuma Yoga

7. Many people are afraid of leaving their comfort zone. Any advise how to overcome fears and take risks?

Yes, I can relate very much, there were many moments when I was scared to make the jump into the unknown, letting go is hard! But when you look back it’s those scary moments that always opened a magical new door, so you build a bit more trust and courage every time you jump! I always wanted to live life fully and with integrity and esp. as a yoga teacher I cannot inspire my students to follow their intuition and not live from my own teachings 😉

So it comes back again to the community, whenever I doubt myself or get scared I ask for support and help from my teachers and friends.

I do the things that make me feel alive and strong and nourish my spirit. Sometimes that means to take a break and pause, breathe, listen,Click To Tweet so I spend a lot of time in nature which always helps me to see the bigger picture.

 

8. How would you rate the opportunity running retreats for the upcoming years? Where do you see Montezuma and yourself in 5 years from now?

I think the market is very overwhelmed right now, you can book a retreat anywhere anytime and it’s a bit harder than ever to fill your retreats. So far I have been very blessed that I can fill all my personal retreats, so I always search for new exciting locations to offer something different, f.e. this summer we go to Iceland and Greece. I also teach the retreats together with my partner Gaudan, who plays the Hang instrument in some of the classes and we have created a unique and magical experience that I hope to share for many more years on the road. I am blessed to split my time between Montezuma and Europe, with the majority in Montezuma (8-10 months) which is a very beautiful, popular and transformative location, so hopefully, we can continue to thrive and share the space with many wonderful visiting teachers.

Recently I also started to offer private one-on-one retreats here at my property, where I rent out two beautiful lofts. I can see the demand for a more customized, personal retreat experience because not everybody likes to spend a week with 20-30 people all day long. These mini retreats can be booked on individual dates and include one private yoga session per day.

I have had couples, mothers-and-daughter, and single women as clients for these retreats and it’s always been a very rewarding experience for all of us to share. I have the vision of creating more magical experiences in different places for the next 5 years while also keeping a sanctuary for like-minded people here in my studio. It’s fun to be creative and have visions and as they say in an old song from Massive Attack: Never keep your eggs just in one basket! 

 

9. Let’s close with a personal wish. What is the biggest wish you have regarding your business and or maybe personal?

My business is my baby, and so every wish will always be personal too. I wish to stay healthy and that the world moves towards more peace again, and that we are not destroying it.

It's heartbreaking to see what is happening right now all over the world, but I hope this is just what is needed to transition to a better place.Click To Tweet I wish for people to step out of their fear and to trust that they can create a life of their dreams and that I will always be surrounded by an incredible, inspiring community all over the world. I realize these are actually a few wishes, not just one, but it’s all connected 😉

Thank you very much, Dagmar!

More about Dagmar’s inspiring work can be found her:

Montezuma & Dagmars Retreats


What It Takes to Become "France's Best Retreat"

Before starting a breathtaking retreat centre located in the picturesque province of Gascony in the south west of France, Isabell studied business psychology and worked as a meditation teacher and model for 17 years. We had the chance to meet Isabel and would love to share her inspiring story.

 

1. What made you start a retreat location?

I used to work as a model for 17 years and was more than sick of that environment and of being permanently on the road. Privately, I was looking for more grounding, deepness and nature. I had an intense insight during one of my meditations in nature. It was a very clear vision of what path I would have to follow next, even though I didn’t have the capital at that point.

 

2. Tell us a bit about how you started and how you found this beautiful retreat location?

Luckily, my partner who is half Indian took me on a journey to this extreme country, where I was able to get deeper insights into all kind of healing techniques like Ayurveda, Osho meditations, craniosacral therapy, ancient wisdom, shamanism, tantra etc. In Goa, I met my future landlord, a British photographer and immediately felt a very strong connection with him. One year later, I met him in India again by chance. An intense impulse guided me to show him the business plan I had already written for the future Chez Zen, which I wanted to locate preferably in France. A few months later, after visiting the location in France, I realised that this property provided most of the features I had planned for in my original business plan. Even so, I knew I still needed to invest a lot in order to transform my dreams into reality, but I felt truly guided and knew that there would be a way for me to do so.

 

3. How did you finance this amazing space?

I was able to cash in my inheritance ahead of time and get four private loans; one was from someone who was a stranger at the time, two were from friends and one was from my partner’s mother. I was so lucky that they believed in me.

 

4. How many retreats do you run at Chez Zen every year?

Around 21. Some of them are our own retreats such as holistic silent meditation & yoga retreats or silent Ayurveda yoga retreats. Others are run by external teachers who bring their own group. Occasionally, we run small holistic festivals as well.

 

5. What make Chez Zen special and what is your philosophy?

Aside from the picturesque beauty of the nature, the magical energy everyone feels sooner or later and the comforts (e.g. 9 bathrooms, 8 terraces), Chez Zen is a place where all human aspects and feelings are fully accepted in order to find your way into wholeness. It’s a place of detachment and deep transformation. Chez Zen accepts that polarity exists and doesn’t try to create a place just full of light. I strongly believe that polarity is both part of life and the human condition. The feelings that we don’t want to feel need the most compassion. Chez Zen is a place of conscious compassion. We want to support transformation (which we see as a transformation of the heart) and self-awareness. That’s why our own retreats include silent periods, although screaming is also allowed at Chez Zen. 🙂

 

6. How much space do you offer for retreat organizers?

On 2,2 ha, I provide nine guest rooms in two guest houses (single, double and triple rooms). Camping is allowed as well. The maximum amount of people who can practise yoga on the yoga deck and in the indoor hall at the same time is 23.

 

7. What do you think is the most important thing a yoga teacher should look for when choosing a location? 

From my experience, the location can be a ramshackle hut as long as the spirit is right and the teachers are able to deal with the expectations of their participants. This is even more important when students have unfulfilled expectations and emotional issues. In terms of successful destinations, I would choose always a country where retreat centres are still rare.

Sometimes, reality can be more magical than dreams.

— Isabell - Chez Zen

8. What is the most challenging aspect of running a retreat location?

To constantly have an overview over the current state of each area as well as to remain in a state of permanent acceptance and equanimity for the clients‘ and team member’s expectations and projections around oneself. It is also quite challenging to find the time for your own little retreats.

 

9. What keeps you motivated?

The vision that I had about this life was truly intense. I strongly feel that I am nestled in the learning field I was supposed to end up for this time of my life. Also, watching my daughter Coco grow up in this environment of consciousness and looking at the soulful faces of visitors during and after their stay fills me with deep joy and gratefulness.

 

10. How do you market your place and how do people usually find you?

Actually, I don’t do much marketing. Word-of-mouth recommendations have been quite powerful from the beginning. We also get participants through holistic travel agencies. Retreats that are run by external teachers are mainly advertised by the teacher. I do, however, support them as much as I can through Facebook, the webpage and booking platforms.

 

11. What do you think, generally, about the business of running retreats in the coming years? And, specifically, where do you see yourself and your business in five years?

It seems that a new retreat centre opens somewhere every week; retreats are becoming the new way to go on holiday. Many people nowadays prefer to spend more for a week of self-experience than for two or three weeks of the usual “doing nothing” on their holidays.

I fear that it will become more and more difficult for end consumers to detect the quality of retreats. Yoga & spirituality have become a lifestyle boom.

As soon as my daughter is a bit older, I want to run more holistic silent & bodywork retreats at Chez Zen and at other locations as well.

 

12. What advice would you give yoga teachers or anybody else who wants to start their own retreat centre?

 

  1. Explore your reason behind – your personal why!
  2. Have enough initial investment capital and reserve assets for each new coming season.
  3. Start with a proper business plan.
  4. Avoid selling weeks to fresh-baked yoga teachers.
  5. Build a team you can trust! I had good experiences with friends.
  6. Bury the expectations of your clientele being more “spiritual” or awake than other people.

 

13. Let’s close with a personal wish. What is the biggest wish you have regarding your business and maybe personal life?

I very much enjoy running seminars that are influenced by the tantric philosophy of life. I would like to invite more Osho therapists to Chez Zen. Right now, I  feel more than blessed that Klaus Eibach, author of “Philosophie der Gefühle”, found his way to me. He belongs to the community now and accompanies many retreats as a tutor or wise soul. Sometimes, reality can be more magical than dreams.

Thank you so much Isabell.