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5 Ways To Become a Great Retreat Leader

Retreats provide yoga teachers an opportunity to dive deeper into the heart of yoga and its practices with their students. And, yoga retreats give teachers an opportunity to step up and become leaders.

Now entering our 6th year, we at Blue Osa have had the opportunity to meet many yoga teachers and leaders. And yes, there is a big difference between the two–a huge one.

Kiersten Mooney from Bala Vinyasa Yoga says:

[x_blockquote type=”left”]”A yoga teacher shares their knowledge. A yoga leader empowers others to create and declare it for themselves. The path of leadership is one of humility, partnership and being up to something bigger than oneself.”

Many yoga teachers make two big mistakes when they bring their students on retreat:

  1. They themselves have never been on a yoga retreat. So they plan their retreat like an extended yoga class and the students don’t get all that’s possible during their stay.
  2. They play cruise director for the week, expending all their effort on pleasing their students.

Yoga Retreats in their very nature challenge teachers to step and lead students on a yoga journey. Your retreat is in an isolated place with few distractions to tear you away from the light you are cultivating with them–a time for you to practice Tapas and spiritually “heat” your community.

So what is the difference between a teacher and a leader? Karina Mirsky from Sangha Yoga defines it more clearly for us:

Yoga Instructors are people who have a passion for yoga practice. They have completed a teacher training program and may offer yoga classes in a variety of settings. They instruct on how to do yoga postures, often delivering a fitness or wellness oriented class. There are many successful Yoga Instructors. Some may become Yoga Teachers.

Yoga Teachers are people who “study” and practice yoga as a lifestyle. They often have a spiritual teacher helping to guide their own practice. Yoga Teachers usually have advanced certifications, and understand yoga beyond the postures alone. They have a knowledge base acquired through multiple years of teaching experience. In addition to teaching classes, Yoga Teachers may offer students opportunities for higher education in the form of workshops, seminars, trainings and retreats.

Yoga Leaders are Yoga Teachers who have the knowledge base, communication skills, and social reach to provoke thought and action in others on a broad scale. Some of the ways Yoga Leaders might influence others is by: building online communities, writing books or articles, producing videos, doing outreach, running organizations, presenting at conferences. Yoga Leaders know how to reach people and excite them to take action. They inspire us by being both successful in the world and in a spiritual life.

Based on my experience in watching leaders, we see the leader mirrored back through their yoga students. If your students are dedicated to their practice, are kind and generous, and are the “go with the flow” kind of people, this is a reflection on you and your leadership ability. And if your students are not exhibiting the best qualities of a yogi, that is also a reflection on you.

That can be a tough pill to swallow for some teachers and leaders, but it’s consistently true.


You always have the opportunity to step up and lead your students to become better yogis–and more important, better human beings. We need more leadership in the yoga community.

Here’s an amazing talk by Rod Stryker on the power of what we can do as leaders, if only we step into that role:


But how do we do this? Here is our list of

5 Ways To Become a Great Retreat Leader.

1. Stop catering to the whims of your students.
You are a leader, not “Julie the cruise hostess.” Your students are waiting for direction.

Jen, the Travel Yogi, provided the next two ways to become a great retreat leader:

2. Knowledge without presumption.
The best teachers intuit what a student does and doesn’t know. You gotta love a teacher who can help and guide you, without making you feel dumb or like you should have joined the intro class.

3. Laugh more.
We are so guilty of taking our practices waaaay too seriously and, even worse, not even being aware of doing it! Our favorite teachers can turn-that-frown-upside-down and remind us that this is ‘practice’ and that perfection can sometimes be a dirty word. As Alan Finger from Ishta Yoga would say, “If you are going to be a mess, then be a happy mess.”

Carrie Williams from Bella Vita Yoga gave us this one:

4. Cultivate your ability to hold space.

This is one of the most important qualities of a leader. Holding space encourages others to be the most authentic version of themselves. Bring out the best in others.

Here are some suggestions on how to hold space in your yoga retreats:

  1.  Be organized and clear with your schedule.
  2. Make sure there is enough food and that your students’ basic needs are looked after.
  3. Have a clear morning structure; incorporate practices such as morning silence.
  4. Define spiritual practices for the week; for example, encourage a “don’t complain and don’t explain” mindset.
  5. Have heart circles at specific moments to engender community and trust.
  6. Show up and begin your yoga classes on time.
  7. Make sure your yoga space is clean before you start your practices.
  8. Encourage students to practice soucha (cleanliness) in the yoga space.

And finally, our last suggestion:

5. Teach what you know.
If you don’t know something, practice it until you completely embody the teaching. Far too many teachers attempt to teach material they don’t practice. And, too many leaders tell people to be or live in a way that they do not practice themselves.

Teach what you know.

One-Month Immersion Yoga Teacher Training Costa Rica

These are our tops suggestions to become a great retreat leader.

Now, what are you waiting for? Get started planning your international yoga retreat today.

About Yogi Aaron

yogi aaron yoga teacher costa rica blue osaYogi Aaron brings passion and a spirit of adventure to his teaching. Thus inspired, he guides students to secret, far-flung locales, which not only empowers them to realize their own limitless potential but also makes yoga relevant and accessible for the modern world. Since 2002 he has been traveling and leading retreats worldwide. He currently serves as the Yoga Director at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat + Spa in Costa Rica

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