5 Tips to Be Mindful of on a Yoga Retreat

I felt like I was the only person that has ever come back from a yoga retreat more pissed than when I left…

I recently read an article about someone’s experience at a healing retreat and was completely triggered.  Her experience felt like my own.  Different location, same foolery.

I have experienced wonderful yoga retreats (e.g. Kripalu Women of Color retreat and Get Free Philly) that were clear in focus and simple in execution so I truly believe it is possible to be a successful retreat organizer.  For me, my expectation is for the organizer to follow-through with what was designed and if there are significant changes, inform participants with a reasonable explanation.  If you go above that, great.  Below that, by a significant portion, we have a problem.  So here was my experience…

As a member of Black Yoga Teacher Alliance (BYTA), I learned about a retreat to Ghana and based on the posts that I saw, I was interested in attending the retreat. This was my first time to Africa and what would be better than to support a young, Black American man that is also a fellow yogi.  To me, that was win however, this feeling shortly changed as I arrived in Accra.

The original plan for the Ghana retreat was to leave Accra then head west to Cape Coast followed by Cape 3 Points.  Instead we left Accra for Cape Coast (5 days) back to Accra (4 days) and then a six-hour car ride back in the direction of Cape 3 Points (2 days).  This change to go back to Accra did not make logistical sense, you can Google it, and cut valuable time for participants to experience Ghana because of the unnecessary driving. The organizer was more concerned with us spending money with his tailor and buying fabric than doing the cultural activities that he detailed in his itinerary

Throughout the retreat, we began to notice that there were two groups.  Let’s call them the A team and the B team.  The A team received private tours which left the B team to sit around and try to make the best of a bad situation.  It also became apparent that the A team may not have even paid as they never roomed with the rest of the group and the B team were frequently asked for extra money for things that should have been included. The organizer would cut costs by eliminating included activities, provide subpar meals, and skip dinner (though he asked us for more money to accommodate dinner). The organizer was more focused on us paying for services than actually providing a service…shenanigans.

Ultimately,

we tried to find happiness with the little that we did do and forge friendships over the shared disappointment of the retreat.  Personally, I would never recommend anyone to participate in this retreat. I feel that the organizer is predatory and does not demonstrate integrity.  Visiting Africa can be such an emotionally wonderful experience but it was clouded by the organizer’s inability to be a host that is capable of effective communication, be transparent about expectations and costs, and manage time to meet the needs of guests and not his personal interests.  I am concerned about future postings involving his “retreats” and I would regret not speaking up about it so that others would not fall victim to his or others’ social media expertise that exploit participants with snapshots of the experience.

Want specifics, read below:

Time Management:

  • Most of the trip was a complete time sink.  Waiting for the organizer while he:
    • Privately hosted his friends on excursions while the remaining attendees were directed to wait for him and not venture out on our own
    • Partied late at night and slept late in the morning therefore, we did not do any yoga or mediation until the 4th or 5th day and only after we repeatedly asked for it.  Once we did yoga, it was in a conference room and not on the beach as he proposed
    • Though the organizer said it would only be 2 days of partying, it turned into 3.  After the first night, most attendees sat out the other two days after two were robbed.
    • On the 4th day, we were anticipating the Cape Coast Castle tour.  After a late start for yoga and late “breakfast”, the organizer wanted us to wait for him so we could take the tour together.  He had us wait until 4:30 pm. The museum was closing and the tour guide was upset by our late arrival (and of course, the organizer was not present for the verbal lashing). We were rushed through the tour which could have been completely avoided.  When the organizer was approached about this issue, he acted surprise. Ultimately, he prioritized his friends and partying over the group. He takes pics/videos of the 20% that we did but that does not capture the hours/days wasted.

Transparency:

  • The organizer did not reveal the change in retreat schedule as mentioned on a conference call the week prior.  We learned of the change once we were in Ghana which meant less time at the nicer EcoLodge and more time at his crowded guest house in Accra.  This is important as the change in schedule led to further issues:
    • The organizer cornered participants about “donating” towards dinner yet only provided one dinner per the 4 days
    • Attendees were asked to pay additional costs for hiking, food and drinks though it was suppose to be included
    • The organizer cut costs by not providing meals and minimizing our time at the EcoLodge to cram us into his Accra guest house which did not have running water.  It was approximately 20 people with access to 2 bathrooms.
    • Additional travel time was an excuse for us skipping the El Mina Castle tour.  Another cost cutting scheme. Attendees were highly disappointed.

Communication and follow-through:

  • Communication was severely limited.  We only heard information second or third hand about meeting times and activities which created considerable confusion
  • No evening yoga, batiking activity, and El Mina tour (included but not provided)
  • Little to no dinner after receiving more money
  • No cooking session (an add-on service that was paid by a participant)
  • Some participants received their add-on massages hours before their flight (in the guest house compared to on a tranquil beach)

You may have read the article on the Women of Color Healing Retreat in Costa Rica and I wish I had the ability to leave, like the author.  Going abroad and being taken for your money is a vulnerable position to be in.   Of all the places I have been, having this be my memory of being in Africa is what really hurts.  Even looking at my pictures is unpleasant because I know we were killing time and that my private photos were later taken from my FB page to advertise this sorry retreat…grrrr

So here are some tips to help you:

  1. Check references/former attendees of the retreat you intend to take (I tried but couldn’t find anyone tagged in pics)
  2. Research social media for shared friends of the organizer (we had none..)
  3. Maintain the same security precautions that you would on any trip but maybe have an exit strategy…just in case
  4. Vocalize your concerns and build your community so you don’t feel alone abroad (feeling crappy on day 1 of a 10-day vacation is the worst)
  5. Tell your story. Don’t be afraid to speak out about your experience. There is apprehension to provide criticism of minority business owners.  Speaking up with the intention to improve issues is to make things better.  If things get worse, the organizer is not ready to evolve into a responsible, sensible leader and likely shouldn’t host any retreats and may need to work on their own healing.

Hope you find my experience helpful.  Beware of social media marketing that can be a mirage of a healing experience.

Namaste

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