Every aspiring yogi or yoga teacher I talk to these days asks me the same question: “How did you do it? How did you open a successful yoga retreat center in paradise (aka Costa Rica)?”
The truth is, unlike many aspiring yogis, opening a yoga retreat center was never my dream. In fact, I distinctly remember saying to myself:
“I will never open a yoga studio!"
"I will never open or run a yoga retreat center."
You know what happens when you tell the universe in no uncertain terms what you don’t want to do? That’s right…the universe gives it to you. It’s like some giant karmic joke.
The idea of opening a yoga retreat center happened while I was running my studio in NYC. I loved being surrounded by a like-minded community of yogis who supported me, each other, and who truly embraced their practice. I thought to myself, “Imagine if this community lived together?"
That question was enough to spark the idea and start me on a journey that would lead to my opening Blue Osa Yoga Retreat Center & Spa.
The year was 2007, and I was hosting my third retreat in Costa Rica. The drive from the airport to the final destination of this particular retreat was a rather long one. You know what they say about long drives—they make you think. By this time, my initial spark had grown into a full-blown idea—an obsession really. I dreamed of creating a special kind of retreat center. A place where people could go inward—on a daily basis. A place where people could savor stillness. A place where people could safely explore the question, “Who am I?”
I dreamed of creating a space where people could find rest, and leave knowing all of their dreams were possible. Where they could see that their dream life was on the other side of the door, all they had to do was believe and step through.
It was on this drive, that my driving companion and then student, Adam (now Blue Osa’s co-owner) spotted a beat-up Century 21 yard sign. Intuitively, we pulled over. As we exited the car, three dogs, and one angry French woman immediately began to bark at us. “No, go away!” she said.
And so we did.
But something told us not to give up so easily. We found a realtor. Toured the property. And…it was a majestic mess.
Well-meaning friends and family said don’t do it. The costs needed to get the place into gear seemed astronomical and all too risky, considering we were against the idea of partnering with investors from the get-go. But something felt right.
Before getting on the plane to leave for home, Adam and I looked at each other, with hope glimmering in our eyes, and made a commitment to open Blue Osa.
And like we always tell our students, “The bigger your faith, the bigger your life.”
So, we went all in. Invested every last cent.
So far, this journey has been amazing, hard, difficult beyond anything you can imagine, blissful, emotional, and very rewarding. Adam and I often say, if we knew then what we know now, we would have never done this. But we are so glad that we did.
Often times, we tell people that we had wished someone would have asked us questions to help us embody more deeply the enormous step we were about to take
1. Why do you really want to open a yoga retreat center?
This is such an important question to ask for two reasons:
a. Is your why big enough to carry you through all of the hard and difficult times and challenges. The bigger your why and the more connected you feel to it, the more endurance you will have to stay the course.
b. Maybe your "why" could be satisfied through achieving a smaller goal. For example, your "why" is that you would really like to live with some yogis and practice yoga together every day. In this case, you could just rent a large house, do not furnish the living room, find a group of yogis who want to live together and practice yoga in your empty living room.
2. Who is going to share this experience with you?
After running my own business in NYC for 10 years, the last thing I wanted to do was start a business venture on my own. I wanted a partner to lean on, share the burden, and gather inspiration with.
You will face a lot of obstacles on this journey—lack of funds/capital, staffing problems, bad reviews, and more. And you will need someone to lean on.
And on the other hand, you will have many good moments too. A big moment for me is in witnessing the transformation of your guests and how much they appreciate what you have done. In those moments, you want to share the joy with someone who understands and has experienced what you have experienced.
Share this experience with someone. Find a business partner you can champion, and who champions you.
Do underestimate the importance of finding the right co-founder.
This one decision can make the difference between success and failure. Remember, when you start a venture with someone else, that partnership is not that different from a marriage. Choose wisely.
3. If your yoga retreat is in a different country, are you ready to face all the challenges that will bring?
It is so easy to be altruistic in thinking that living in another country will be easy. Many people who come from a western country tend to think that living in another country will be this paradise that they do not have in their own home.
Friends of mine opened a yoga retreat in Goa, India. It didn’t last long. The reality of running a business in India, a land with a very different set of rules (more often no rules) made their experience unbearable.
In Costa Rica, Adam and I faced many challenges. One, from our first lawyer who stole $7,100 from us at the onset.
You will face a lot of challenges in opening a business in a different country. Are you ready?
4. How much of yourself are you willing to invest in your journey? How hard are you willing to work?
This is a loaded question. At the end of the day, how much of yourself are you willing to give? How much are you willing to sacrifice. In any new business, you have to give everything, or it will fail. It will fail because you held back and failed to go all in. A yoga retreat center requires your consistent attention. Everyone at the yoga center requires a piece of you. There were some weeks I would work as many as 70 to 90 hours. Are you ready to give it your all?
Which leads us to the next question.
5. Are you in this for the money or for the lifestyle?
The lifestyle of owning a yoga retreat center is like no other. Many people think opening a yoga retreat center will lead to a more peaceful life. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I often joke with my students and tell them (honestly) that I often found more peace in my New York City Harlem apartment than I ever have in Costa Rica. I also had more money.
As with any business, owning a yoga retreat center takes all of your time… and money. You will be constantly giving back to it.
6. Are you resourceful when there is no clear path?
Adam and I have had to face so many challenges. The first was on New Years Eve, 2009. A month before our soft opening. We received word that the Muni was going to be sending bulldozers to our property to tear it down. It took every bit of resolve and clarity of will to overcome that challenge. We overcame it because we were two resourceful people who perpetually think outside the box. There's more on our creative solution to this potentially disastrous situation.
7. How will you promote and market your retreat? How much marketing experience do you have?
One fatal mistake any business owner makes is thinking that all they need to do is open a business and the people will come. That might work for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams—but in the real world, people need to know about you.
At Blue Osa, this did not happen overnight. It happened over several years of consistent, targeted marketing efforts. It takes a lot of time and resources to make that investment. Do you have what it takes? Or are you able to attract the team of people to make it happen?
8. Do you know that yogis are people too?
Even I have fallen victim to this notion or idea that yogis are special wonderful people who are striving to be better. All yogis are people who are in pursuit of perpetual peace and radiate gratitude consistently.
If you are one of these people who do not know that yogis are real people too, you will find out the first day your retreat center opens. Yogis can be just as unpleasant and entitled as the next person. Yogis can complain and offer as many opinions as any non-yogi.
Having said this, I will tell you, from personal experience, that we do not deal with as many complaints or challenging guests as a regular hotel.
And this brings us to our next point...
9. Do you know you are actually a hotel and a service industry provider?
I never wanted to open a hotel, bed & breakfast, or guest house. But somehow I did. As much as I hate to admit it, our yoga retreat center is a part of the service industry. Our guests come expecting to be serviced and take care of. They expect a high level of customer service. They have needs and their needs need to be acknowledged, listened to, and taken care of.
Are you ready to wear that too?
10. Are you ready to take the journey of your life?
Opening a yoga retreat center will be the journey of a lifetime. Nothing will ever compare to it. You will develop deep bonds with your staff who come to love and depend on you. If you are true to your path, you will create a the community and life you crave. You will make the contribution your heart is asking you to make.
Ready to begin? Stay tuned for part II in our series…