Welcome to the Still Waters Blog
This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Natural Nutmeg magazine.
by Amy LaBossiere
You don’t have to be Deepak Chopra or David Wolfe to organize, lead and facilitate a
wonderful retreat that helps others on their path. As a holistic practitioner or group
facilitator, you can deepen connections and provide peak experiences by serving your client
population with a weekend or weeklong retreat experience.
By keeping the group size manageable and the details simplified, leaders of any modality
can design their own retreat rather easily. Here are some points to consider for creating a
retreat of your own.
First, who is your target audience and what are your goals? These two considerations are
critical to figure out so you can be sure the retreat is aligned to your higher purpose.
Holistic teachers, yoga instructors, Tai Chi masters, healers or creative practitioners may
wish to create a retreat for existing clients in order to provide a practice of immersion, as
well as to attract new clients. Getting clear on your intention and goals for the retreat is
essential to creating and leading an authentic experience for participants. As you design the
retreat, check in with your goals and be sure what you’re designing is in alignment.
Consider collaboration with another practitioner so you are sharing the work and
Think about the group size. How many participants are you hoping to serve? Groups of less
than 20 offer more personal inter‐group connections than larger ones. Smaller groups of
10‐12 are also manageable and can work well with one leader and one assistant.
Next, figure out an idyllic location. A “retreat” traditionally serves as a private escape from
everyday, hectic and media‐filled public lives into a beautiful and quiet natural setting. The
lodging should be thoughtfully crafted, clean, comfortable and inviting one to relax and
sleep deeply. The meeting or work area for retreat guests should be intentionally designed
to accommodate and enhance your workshops, whether they are lectures, group
discussions, creative exercises, meditation, yoga, dance, Tai Chi, music, art‐making,
counseling or healing. Consider how far you want your attendees to drive. In today’s
economy, people may be more comfortable to drive an hour or two to get to their
destination, but any longer distance may be too cost and time‐prohibitive.
Many retreat centers book up to one year in advance, so be sure to give yourself enough
time in the planning process to make your reservation. Expect to provide a 10 to 20%
deposit to reserve your dates.
Hosting a weekend retreat is a good start. Many people will not or cannot make the
commitment to take a whole week off, so if you are planning your first retreat, begin on a
The food is of utmost importance. While on retreat, guests expect delicious food. Some
retreat centers offer optional catering and food service, while others do not. Consider what
is important to you. If you have staff or volunteers to help with cooking, you can arrange for
“self‐care,” meaning your group provides its own food. That keeps costs down and your
prosperity margins up. If you go for self‐care, plan all meals, plus snacks for participants.
Consider healthy, fresh and local food so people can feel good while they are on retreat. For
less fuss, planning and overall work for you, ask your retreat center to provide on‐site or
local catering resources. This can help you stay focused on running your retreat but may
cost you and your guests a bit more. Be sure to find out from your retreat participants if
they have special diets (gluten‐free, vegetarian) or dietary restrictions so your food
provider can accommodate their needs.
By now you are beginning to form an exciting weekend retreat. It’s time to put together the
beginnings of a budget. Add up all of your costs—lodging, food (if not included), assistants,
travel, and what you want to be compensated for your time and planning. If you want to
offer additional services such as massage therapy, often the retreat center has staff or an
affiliate resource on‐site for add‐on costs. Also plan for creation and printing of promotional
materials, handouts for the retreat and participant gifts, if appropriate. Once your budget is
complete, you’ll see the total cost of the retreat and can figure out the cost for participants.
Be sure to get your marketing kicked off early so you can get the number of people you want
at the retreat. Consider an integrated marketing mix that includes print advertising, flyers,
personal invitations, press announcements and social media, including Facebook, Twitter
and LinkedIn, based on what’s appropriate to your business. Launch your marketing plan at
least 4 months before your retreat, if you don’t already have a large following for your
business. It will be easier for you to fill a retreat if you have a loyal client base and it may
take you less time to get the commitment. Retreats will sometimes offer an early
registration discount to incentivize participants to sign up.
A great way to learn about retreats is to attend one and learn from others that have done
the work already. There are centers throughout CT and MA that host retreats seasonally and
year‐round. Not only will you enjoy a lovely mini‐vacation, you can also learn from those
that have done this before. Be sure to ask questions! People will usually be more than happy
A weekend or weeklong retreat is a wonderful way for practitioners to provide a deeper
immersion to current clients/students, expand their own practice, create community within
their modality and be of service to those in need of quietude, peace and healing. Retreats are
often life changing for participants, if created and executed with grace and leadership.
When I heard about the work that Roy Holman was doing in the world, I asked him to guest blog for us, as I think many of our site visitors would glean a lot from his experiences. Below is is his post:
Leading yoga retreats has been such a source of joy, learning, challenge and reward for me. Over the past ten years, I have led something like 30 retreats, half in my home state in Washington, and half in wonderful destinations such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Sedona.
Many of my passions are included in these trips: yoga, meditation, travel, hiking, connecting in community, kirtan, healing, wildlife, etc. But my biggest passion and purpose is in awakening, that is, the traditional goals of yoga to end suffering by remembering who we are, awakening from the dream and drama, and being the miracle workers we are meant to be.
In this sense, at times I have been a bit frustrated on our retreats, as many people see the trip more as simply a vacation, or even an escape, chance to party, etc. Of course, we are on vacation, and in a sense, we are escaping our usual mindset and environment and shaking up old patterns. And this is good. But the purist in me wants or at least ideally hopes to attract fellow travelers on the inner journey, those who are willing to connect, go deep, help each other wake up and offer our gifts to this magnificent shift on earth.
Part of the problem is that we are simply tired and worn down. We need an escape! Some of us northerners need the sunshine and the down time and some feel they need a good margarita!
Others go to work. They want to deepen their practice. But even here, I find that many just want to deepen their asana practice, not really awaken. They have a no pain no gain mindset, ready to sweat, but really are not ready or willing to sit and breathe and feel their grief, their pain, their anger, their unmet needs, and face their stories. Who does!?
One thing that surprised me is that our local weekend retreats here in Washington are often the most rewarding. Maybe we do not have the distractions of sunshine and monkeys and whales and mai tais and beaches to draw us outwards. The weekend retreats seem to bring people together very quickly. We connect. We still “do” things, like yoga and meditation and hike and chant, but somehow we go deeper and quicker, and all I can guess is that we are not as easily tempted to “vacation.” The weather itself may be more conducive to the inner journey! We are not taking a vacation to get away as much as we are getting together to go inwards and connect and communicate and breathe and share and remind ourselves what is important.
But a key lesson I have had is that I am not in control. Yes, I set up the retreat and advertise it and lead and teach. The rest is in the hands of each person and the Divine. And it’s all good. My idea of what is good for each retreat-ant is usually wrong. Even when I get frustrated that the longer, tropical trips can be more “outer” vacation adventures and less “inner” awakening explorations, there is a beautiful balance at play. People do yoga, and there is connection and community. Life long friends are made. There is learning and healing. And there is the balance of play time and connecting to the earth with hiking and swimming, connecting with other cultures and creatures.
Those considering attending a retreat might be wise to ask themselves what they want in a yoga retreat. Talk to the teacher. Ask what orientation and purpose they have with the retreat. Ask detailed questions: How much asana? How much inner work? Will there be personal sharing times? Will alcohol will be available or excluded? Is it okay to skip a class? Ask whatever questions you have, then follow your gut and heart’s calling.
Roy is a passionate author and teacher who leads yoga and healing retreats to many countries. Roy Holman, 425-303-8150 www.holmanhealthconnections.com
Westerly, Rhode Island is a sweet little town that’s a 35 minute drive from Still Waters. Tao and I took a day trip to see what the town has to offer lately. We started our trip by visiting a few of the yoga studios on a Saturday afternoon, but they were closed midday. So we stopped by an antiques shop called Repurposed Consign and Design at 36 High Street. There is a lot to look at, from furniture to candles to clothing. Prices were rather reasonable and they had a shop across the street as well. There are many little shops, art galleries and stores to meander into. The people are friendly and the items eclectic.
Next we headed over to the local health food store, Herbwise Naturals, 35 Broad Street. We can always find members of our tribe in a local health food store! Herbwise has a great selection of remedies and whatnot to suit your holistic liking. We purchased some fair-trade coffee, dandelion beverage and two bottles of GT’s Trilogy Kombucha. Herbwise has a great bulletin board with local practitioners and activities–I loved discovering information about Yoga on the Beach. Definitely going to check that out before the summer is over! We asked Ellen at Herbwise where to get lunch. She recommended the pizza joint next door, or The Bridge up the street.
We decided to check out Pizza Place, and see if they made gluten-free pizza. And, they did! We brought our kombucha in with us, and our server was gracious to accommodate our wish to enjoy it. We ordered a really delicious white pizza with gorgonzola, roasted garlic and baby spinach, plus some killer salads and shared a yummy gluten-free chocolate ganache cake. The food was fabulous. The gluten-free pizza was the best I’ve had in the area. The mixed greens salad was simple and very tasty too.
It was great that Westerly was so much fun to explore! Afterward, we drove 11 minutes to the ocean and enjoyed walking on the beach. 35 minutes later, we were back at the retreat center.
We’re going to create a nice binder for our guests that includes menus and maps of all the nearby fun places they can explore, although many of them don’t want to leave Still Waters, some of our extended stay guests want to venture out. It’s great to have nearby places in Connecticut and Rhode Island to explore!
When I first visited Still Waters while dating Tao, long before we had our vision of restoration and creating a retreat center, I felt blessed. Still Waters has sacred energy. It can be felt when walking around and hearing the sounds of nature, the waterfall, the birds and frogs. Many years later, I recall this initial feeling and still feel that peacefulness that radiates from the ground. During our tours, Tao talks about how the site was a saw mill in the 1730s and it makes me wonder if the saw mill workers felt the peace here. I love the tranquility of Still Waters. We look forward to sharing it.