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5 Pitfalls & Pleasures in Opening a Yoga Retreat Center

July 11, 2016

Costa Rica

Opening Blue Osa has been one of the greatest joys in my life.

My Blue family has given me the deep sense of purpose and fulfillment I was looking for.  In the journey, I’ve also had a lot of challenges and sleepless nights.

So, is it worth it? Check out the pros and cons of opening a retreat center.

5 Pitfalls & Pleasures in Opening a Yoga Retreat Center

The 5 Pitfalls

1. The time it takes to creating the perfect support network. 

I have been an entrepreneur and have run my own business throughout my life. When I set goals, I made them happen. I opened a yoga studio overnight. I created a worldwide student network within a year. When I put my mind to something, it happened.

It took a long time to get Blue Osa built. It too even a longer time to get her running and sounding like a purring cat. And we are still working out the kinks.

A big reason why it has taken much longer is because my operation is no longer just me. My operation is me plus 20 to 30 people.

You have to give yourself time to put your team together. Hiring and rehiring people will take place in the first few years. Additionally, it will take you time to find the right professionals to work with you: the accountant to manage your books, the right lawyers to work with you, etc. In time you will discover you need different professionals to fit your different needs.

The worst mistake you can make in opening your yoga retreat center is to try and get the perfect team assembled on day one, or even in the first year for that matter. It just won’t happen. And you don’t want to have all these people hired on day one because you do not have the funds to pay them. Give yourself time.

The process of creating the perfect team and support network will take a lot of time. In fact, it is exhausting to be learning all the time.

The deep learning curve is long and arduous. It takes an enormous amount of stamina to learn everything you never expected to know to make retreat center functional.

After so many years into Blue Osa, we are still learning about how to manage and maintain Blue Osa. We have had to learn about so many operational aspects of Blue Osa. Everything from simple gardening tasks to setting up a permaculture system. How to start a pig farm and raise chickens. How to maintain a complex energy system using solar power. How to evolve a sophisticated menu catering to a changing food culture.

And just when you think you have caught up and know everything you need to know, you need to start all over again.

3. Opening a yoga retreat center is a decision more about lifestyle than about financial investment; you will invest so much capital into this but you’ll yield little to no investment in return.

When you become a yoga teacher, never have any illusions about ever becoming rich. The same as in owning a yoga retreat center.

Owning a yoga retreat center is a lot of work. The expenses are high. The gratitude expressed — from your staff and guests — makes it sometimes not worth it. Few people appreciate the hard work and money you have invested for them and their life.

The solution is for you to remind yourself every day why you are doing this.

I remember every day the reason why I opened Blue Osa is to create a lifestyle I enjoy. I created an oasis that supports my life and to attract the kinds of people I want to interact with.

I am grounded in my mission and purpose. My strength, determination, and willpower stems from my purpose.

4. The overwhelming expenses can eat away at your soul.

Running a yoga retreat center is like running any business that has brick and mortar. There are big costs associated with them and the keep coming. They never stop. And in the beginning, you will have so many bills. You think you can control them. You think you can make them stop. You can’t.

When first starting out on this adventure, I have the following suggestions:

  • Be very mindful of what you spend money on. Always ask yourself, is this a need? Or is this a want? And have someone support you in this mindful practice.
  • Have an enormous rainy fund. It can never be too big.
  • Don’t be in a rush to get projects finished. Sometimes you think you have to complete everything right away. For example, when you first open, put more money into marketing than into landscaping. Don’t worry of your garden is not finished. You need people more than you need that beautiful garden. The garden will come. The people won’t if you don’t spend some time and money in your marketing.

5. The moment you realize that yogis are humans as well.

When I first started envisioning Blue Osa, I was already a yoga studio owner. In my yoga studio was a feeling a community, camaraderie and genuine support. I always had the feeling that yogis were special people who were kinder and more loving. Yogis were these people who cultivated love and acceptance for all. I believe this until they traveled to my yoga retreat center. (I believe now that travel brings out the worst or the best in people.)

There is a  moment, a distinct moment, of awareness that happens when you realize that yogis are also humans with human problems. And just like you, they don’t practice all the Yamas and Niyamas 24/7. In fact, you would be lucky if the yogis you meet even knew what a Yama and Niyama was!

My 5 Big Pleasures

So I know I have sounded a bit negative from these pitfalls. If you have been following this series, you might be wondering, “Why is Yogi Aaron running his own yoga retreat center?” This is a valid question. And here are five of my biggest pleasures in running my own yoga retreat center. Check out my biggest below.

1. Creating a culture and environment that which can truly support your lifestyle!

For many people, if you ask them why they want to start their own retreat center, the reason is simple. They want to create the perfect utopia in which to live their life. They are looking to create a place that supports them and their own spiritual needs.

This is why I created Blue Osa. I wanted to not only create a place that attracted a community of people to it but a place that supported me.

One of the biggest compliments I receive from people is how perfectly Blue Osa weaves a modern life with yogic principles. Every detail has been thought about. We practice morning silence followed by Himalayan prayers, played on the sound system. People enjoy Yoga, first class spa services and go on eco-adventures. Throughout the day, we serve healthy, nutritious and tasty farm-to-table meals. At night we gather before dinner to share our experiences.

I did not create this for other people, I created it for me. And the result of them chasing Blue Osa means they receive the benefit of my perfect utopia.

2. Meeting people from all over the world.

One of my secret pleasures is that I love to meet interesting people. And over the past few years, I have been really lucky to meet interesting people from all over the world. Each of these people brought something unique and different to Blue Osa.

3.  A real deep sense of changing people’s lives for the better.

People’s lives are changed when they do yoga. If people’s lives can change after doing a couple of one and a half hour classes every week, imagine what can happen if they are able to sustain the practice for a full week? Or a full month?

Creating a yoga retreat which engenders a yogic lifestyle can be profound and life altering for many people. For many people, the experience is life-altering.

Your guests will go home making big and important decisions that change the course of their lives.

4. Creating a huge extended family.

After living in New York City for 10 years on my own, I was missing a family / community life. Up until the age of 27, I had lived in various community kinds of lifestyles where we ate and communed together.  While I loved the space of independence I experienced in New York, I was deeply missing my connection to my family.

Now that I have created this oasis in the middle of nowhere, I have essentially, 20 new family members.  For better or worse, we are in this together. No matter what problems we face, we face them together. And when we experience joy and success, we share that together as well.

5. You get to live in your paradise.

I made an enormous effort to find the best location for my yoga retreat center. And now you get to live there!

This is an important point to remember in the moments that challenge you. In those moments you feel the weight and burden of your responsibilities, take a walk. Walk throughout your property or the local area. Practice sitting in gratitude for all that you have.

Many times when the weight of carrying this yoga retreat center, I take a long walk on the beach with my dogs and reconnect with what is important. I look at over the ocean at sunrise and the minuscule and self-induced stress no longer afflicts me.

As in anything life, there are pitfalls and pleasures. The question you have to ask yourself is if the pleasures out weight pitfalls. Our if the pitfalls are too overwhelming.

In my own journey, clarity and vision coupled with determination and  a strong dose of daily gratitude are my secret recipe. This what has given me the strength to overcome the pitfalls and allow them to wash over me.


Yogi Aaron, author of “Autobiography of a Naked Yogi” is the co-owner of Blue Osa Yoga Retreat and Spa, where he brings passion and adventure to countless students through his teachings and lectures. Inspired by his own practice, he guides students to secret and far-flung locales, empowers them to realize their own limitless potential, and 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 leading the One-Month Immersions at Blue Osa. Follow Yogi Aaron on Instagram.

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