This week, BookYogaRetreats.com had a wonderful chat with Vanessa Pattison, the owner of Zen Yoga and co-founder of Nicaragua Yoga Institute (NYI), the most luxurious yoga retreat in Nicaragua where yogis from around the globe come to deepen their yoga practice as well as to relax and have plenty of fun!
We talked about everything from the inspiration behind the creation of Nicaragua Yoga Institute’s retreats to what she believes has been the most important factors to its success. During our chat, Vanessa even shared a valuable piece of advice for those looking to start their own yoga retreat. Curious as to what Vanessa said? Here’s the rundown of our inspiring chat.
Let’s start with your yoga journey, could you tell us when you first started andwhat first drew you to yoga?
My yoga journey began in Ventura, California with my first class at a YMCA gym back in 2003. I knew something great was taking place in my body and mind so I never stopped practicing. Once I moved to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua in 2005 I discovered a mother/daughter yoga team who were leading classes from the comforts of their home. They were from the US and taught Ashtanga Yoga. I ended up practicing yoga with them 2 hours a day 6 days per week for a year until they decided to move away. When they moved, I decided to move into the same house and keep my yoga practice going.
What inspired you to create a yoga retreat and why did you decide on Nicaragua as the location of the retreat?
I was already living in Nicaragua for 7 years and leading regular yoga classes out of various locations and was becoming well-known as the town's yoga teacher. I taught at most of the hotels in and around the area as well but it became clear to me that a yoga studio was needed so in 2011 I built and opened Zen Yoga Nicaragua where I was able bring others on board to teach yoga. This then eventually led to a co-creation of Nicaragua Yoga Institute with Joe DiGiovanni where we are able to expand the types of yoga services we offer, focusing on yoga retreats and training programs.
Nicaragua Yoga Institute is a luxury yoga retreat, were there any particular reasons that made you focus on the luxury yoga retreat niche - as opposed to budget retreats?
Nicaragua Yoga Institute’s retreats cater two types of clients; the retreat leader looking to bring a group and the retreat participants looking to join a retreat.
Most retreat leaders who are budget conscious want to try and do it on their own to “save” money but in the end, they often find it difficult to do so and/or ended up skimping on quality. The team and I provide a service for yoga retreat leaders so they are able to leave the planning and details to us. Since I have been living in Nicaragua for a decade now, my team and I have the necessary knowledge and experience to get the best deals while ensuring that it doesn’t sacrifice quality. For example, we have negotiated group rates at beautiful locations that a leader/participant would otherwise not be able to get on their own.
Whereas for the participants looking to experience a retreat, though our retreats would fall under the luxury retreat category, pricing wise, we believe that the retreats we offer are competitively priced and affordable. We offer great retreat options that are infused with love for all budgets and preferences. We have even been known to accommodate one person if they have no flexibility on dates. When this is the case, we will create a hybrid retreat to make it work for them. In the end, we strive to make people happy and for them to share their Nicaragua Yoga Institute experience with their friends, family and others in their network. And of course, we want them to come back to enjoy even more retreats!
In your opinion, what factors contributed to the success of Nicaragua Yoga Institute and its retreats?
I believe that passion and authenticity are what made the success possible. It is a combination of a decade worth of building real connections within the area and within the yoga and wellness industry mixed with business acumen, topped with a generous helping of love of what we do.
How do the mission and vision of Nicaragua Yoga Institute reflect upon your own values and life principles?
I aim to create value to everyone I encounter and this is reflected on what we do at Nicaragua Yoga Institute. We want our clients to leave feeling inspired, rejuvenated and filled with love after having experienced our retreats and as well as from coming in contact with myself and the team.
What challenges did you encounter when you first started Nicaragua Yoga Institute? how did you overcome those particular challenges?
Every business has its challenges, but for us, the start up phase was pretty seamless. It was just a natural progression for what was needed and what we wanted to provide. Our current biggest challenge is to continue to offer high quality and affordable retreats that meet the needs of every leader and every participant every time!
A balcony yoga session overlooking a stunning view. Image by Nicaragua Yoga Institute
Now that Nicaragua Yoga Institute is well established, what aspect of the business do you find most rewarding and why?
It is always most rewarding when someone shares that his or her experience at Nicaragua Yoga Institute had helped create an shift in his or her lives – that their experience enable them to bring about positive changes within themselves and their lives whether its on a professional or personal level. Through the retreats we offer, we seek to add value to our client’s holiday experience so it’s really inspiring to hear when participants share with us that found their stay with us was beyond just a vacation – it means that we’ve done our job well.
How does Nicaragua Yoga Institute aim to enrich its clients' lives?
We believe that our retreats enrich our clients’ lives simply by “shaking it up”. What I mean by that is that we encourage them to step outside their comfort zones and help them see how they can make the most out of life. For example, a client may not realized how his/her hectic schedules has prevented from truly living their life. Our retreat encourages clients to do less and enjoy life’s precious moments more. We’ve also seen where people are inspired to create a more profound shift by making a change in a unhealthy relationship or career change.
Could you share a story where attending a retreat at Nicaragua Yoga Institute made a significant impact on and/ or change a client's life?
In quite a few cases, I’ve seen yoga retreat leaders being able to create a good income generating business of co-creating retreats with us which allow them to flourish their own business and careers.There was even a retreat participant who spent an extended time on the retreat who decided to move to Nicaragua and ended up starting a business here!
Participants having fun at the beach. Image by Nicaragua Yoga Institute
What is your vision of Nicaragua Yoga Institute moving forward - say 5 years down the line?
In five years time, we see ourselves as the go-to leader for yoga retreats and training programs in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. We hope to grow our relationships with the yoga community as well as the local community so that we are able to create more yearly retreats and training programs with teachers/leaders that inspire us. Currently, we already have some awesome partnerships with yoga industry leaders such as Jo Tastula, Peter Sterios & James Bailey.
Last but not least, what is the single most important advice you can share to those who are interested in starting their own yoga retreat?
Take an honest look whether the location where you want to start a retreat business actually needs it. If the answer is yes and you believe that you have the finances, skills and passion to see it through, then go for it!