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Picking a Yoga Retreat Center Location

April 26, 2016

So you read my first article in this series and decided to take the plunge and open up your own yoga retreat center. What’s next?

aPicking a location, of course. Sounds easy, but picking the perfect location for your yoga retreat center can be one of the most difficult things you will do. Or one of the easiest, if you follow my guidelines.

Like I’ve mentioned—I never wanted to own a yoga retreat center. My journey began on a scouting trip to Costa Rica. I’d had so many students ask me to lead a retreat in Costa Rica through the years, that I had finally succumbed and booked my trip. My first stop was the Osa Peninsula.

As soon as I arrived, I fell in love. A plethora of wildlife surrounded us. You could hear the crashing of the ocean waves day and night. Monkeys swung from trees over our heads, and an actual jungle surrounded the yoga platform with a river flowing below. The whole experience melted and opened my heart.

Our hosts, Nikki and Brad, were the owners of the yoga retreat center we were scouting. They welcomed us with open arms. They were gracious hosts who fed our bodies and souls with nourishment and unconditional love. Originally from Canada, their goal was to live a simple life and share the best of it with others at their retreat center.

I had traveled all throughout Costa Rica, and nothing compared to Osa. I remember there was a moment, standing by the water when I thought to myself: “I could do this. I could actually do this.”

I have always believed that every one of us has a soul city—a place we connect to at a deeper level. Where we feel like we’ve come home. For me, Osa was that place.

For some people it’s a physical place—for others, it might be the people or community.

Adrienne from Jivaro Lodge chose Nicaragua because:

“The people of Nicaragua. There is a humility, a soul, and a simple way they connect. It’s a ‘never met a stranger’ quality. They are filled with love, grace and a true desire to share the pride that they have in their country. The backdrop for our yoga retreat is breathtaking; the colorful, colonial city of Granada combined with the serenity and vast expanse of Lake Nicaragua and Mombacho Volcano.”

When You Know. You Know.

The year following that scouting trip to Costa Rica, I went to India where I stayed in Rishikesh for a few days. I thought of opening a retreat center there. The home of yoga rests at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. A valley steeped in tradition—used to welcoming people from all over the world. I had even made a contact there, who was showing me plots of land where I could build a retreat center.

I even knew a guy named Ben who had established a yoga retreat center in Goa India (the more Southern part of India). In his words:

“Goa has long been a haven for the bohemian traveler. Goa is for those who are looking to exist outside of normal modern day establishment. These travelers have created an incredible alternative international community. Travelers represent almost every country in Goa.  We live without the general prejudices that people may normally face. Here in Goa, we have a melting pot of alternative communities, with many young families. It is also a hot spot for yoga courses, since after all, India is the motherland of Yoga.”

The pull to open a yoga retreat center in India was intense. However, after speaking to several people about the complications of opening a business in India, the idea became less appealing. On the one hand, India is a country without rules. And on the other hand, India is laden with bureaucracy. The only way to get anything accomplished (as a business owner) is through bribes. And the bribes and pay offs never end.

People like Ben, who have the highest and purest of intentions, have had to face enormous challenges.

“As a foreigner doing business in India, there is a huge amount of red tape and hoops to jump through,” he said. “One must do the necessary research and not rush into it. One also needs a trusted local partner to deal with local authorities, and that trust can take years to form. Some of the major problems we have in India are irregular electricity. The internet is inconsistent. General sanitation issues that plague the country.”

But sometimes the challenges we face in opening a yoga retreat center in a country have nothing to do with the country’s issues. Sometimes it is the perception of potential guests who are asking to come to your retreat center.

Again from Adrienne:

“For many, Nicaragua still seems to be a scary place to visit. This is a result of decades of negative media-driven commentary that is seeded in the country’s notorious history. Present day Nicaragua is in fact, a safe and enormously welcoming place to visit. It really comes down to putting fear aside and getting on the plane.”

My growing dream of opening a yoga retreat center at the foothills of the Himalayas was dissipating. But as fate would have it, I was pulled in a different direction entirely.

On a yoga retreat in 2007 to the Osa Peninsula, I drove past a property with a Century 21 sign outside the gate. Past the gate, through a tunnel of bougainvilleas, I saw the ocean with a deep topaz color beckoning to me. I knew I had found the spot. Even before setting food on the property, I knew this was it. And three years later, Blue Osa opened her gates to receive our first group of yogis.

As you go forth to fulfill your dream, here are some helpful hints for picking the perfect location for your yoga retreat center:

You can not pick the perfect location. The perfect location picks you. How? To put it simply you need to go out and find it. Explore the world. Take your time. Visit many places and practice yoga there. Feel the space. You will know when you have arrived.

Is there a lot of tourism in the place you want to open a retreat? Do a lot of people already travel there?

How easy is it to get there? Is it easy for people to travel there? This may or may not be important. If you create a small operation with low yearly overhead, then you might not need a lot of guests. Having a place more difficult to reach also tends to attract a more adventurous and less demanding kind of guest.

Is the retreat location secluded enough? The purpose of a retreat is to disconnect from the world. The last thing you want to do is open a retreat in a spot where there is a tangible connection to the outside world.

What is there to do at your retreat location? Are there activities or excursions for your guests to take part in? 

Would other people love this place as much as you do? Sure you love this place. But would other people? Once you settle on a place, bring other people there and get their opinions. Are there any laws or restrictions that might hinder your yoga retreat center? If you are a visitor in someone else’s land, you need to be respectful of their customs and traditions.

There are a lot of challenges you will face when you open a retreat center, anywhere in the world. But there are also so many rewards to opening one.

For Adam and I, Blue Osa has become our life. Our relationships with our team enrich our lives. Waking up in paradise, in a place where our hearts resonate with the land, is a dream come true.

And finally, the greatest daily reward is to be of service. We show up to people who are seeking answers to solve life’s biggest questions. That is the greatest reward of all.

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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