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.

About the author

My name is Anne. I’m a happy person who loves surfing and yoga. As founder of good retreats I understand the thrill and excitement of starting a business around the things you really care about. Sharing the knowledge I earned in online marketing over the past years might help you to make your dream come true! Join me on Facebook.

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