This week I connected with Lena Schmidt, a full-time yoga teacher based right here in San Diego, CA.
Lena and I met through Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga. Right after I finished my teacher training I practiced at Pilgrimage and Lena was one of my favorite teachers. I loved her Yin class and took it almost every week. Lena has a warm personality and a knack for theming her classes in a way that makes her students feel connected. She often reads poetry or quotes from underrepresented voices. Lena sees teaching yoga as a form of activism and relates yogic philosophy with current events. She has a lovely voice and often sings mantras to begin or to close out a class. If you haven’t tried one of her classes, I highly encourage you to do so! Lena has hosted yoga retreats locally and internationally for the last 5 years. I got on a phone call with her to pick her brain about how she started to teach and what inspired her to host retreats.
I asked her about her history and what brought her to yoga.
Lena grew up doing gymnastics and dance competitively. She danced through college where she studied women’s & ethnic studies. After college, she wanted to keep her body moving but was ready for a break from competitions. At that time, she moved in Ocean Beach, San Diego and found a studio that offered Vinyasa classes that had a dance-y vibe. “I got hooked on Vinyasa,” Lena said. After several years of practicing yoga, Lena found out that Elka Yoga & Wellness, where she had been practicing, was going to host their first teacher training and she jumped on the opportunity. During teacher training, in 2011, she realized that yoga brought together everything she loved. Part of her teacher training was a yoga and camping retreat that planted a seed in her that grew into the retreats she hosts now!
Lena taught her first yoga retreat in 2012. For that retreat, she partnered with Positive Adventures for a yoga, camping and rock climbing retreat in Idyllwild, CA.
“I am really passionate about getting outdoors… I try to make that an element of the retreats I teach… My intention is adventure and immersion in nature and going deep into the yoga practice.”
Lena started local, hosting retreats within an hour of San Diego. The feedback on her local retreats has been great, especially when students realized that nature isn’t so far way!
“You don’t have to go to Bali or Costa Rica… you can just have a day of community connection a few hours from home and feel rejuvenated”
For some people, international retreats are not an option. They are more expensive and it can be hard to take extended time away from work and family. But some people like the added sense of adventure and a chance to truly get away.
This year is the 4th year that Lena will take a group to Costa Rica and this retreat is a full-on nature immersion.
“[In Costa Rica] We live in a tree house, you have to walk through a river for 20 minutes to get to the retreat center… we eat local food and practice yoga outdoors with the sounds of nature.”
This year, in just 2 weeks, Lena is hosting a retreat to Italy too! They will be staying in a villa in Tuscany. I asked her about how that retreat came to fruition. She had a student, here in San Diego, move to Italy who suggested hosting a retreat there and Lena obviously has no reason not to say yes! Sometimes the universe just hands you opportunities that you can’t pass up!
I asked her if it is difficult to find people that are able to spend the money, take time off and go all the way to Italy and she said that surprisingly it wasn’t hard at all. Her retreat was so popular she ended up adding a second week so she will be in Italy 2 weeks in a row. There are still 1-2 spaces left if you’re looking for a last minute get away this month!! Sign up here, you won’t regret it!
I asked her about the logistics. There is a lot at stake when you are in charge of creating space for yoga classes, meals, excursions and lodging.
“I like to travel and I teach less on retreats then [in my] normal life but don’t get fooled into thinking it’s a vacation…I do all the background work myself, creating program plans, emailing and coordinating constantly. Some is fun creative stuff like what quotes to share or rituals to do but a lot is also the logistics of how to get people from place to place. I happen to like organizing stuff but marketing is the bain of my existence… it’s necessary and I like the creative part [like creating social media posts] but it can be hard to be a sales person.”
Lena has experience both working with retreat centers and hosting completely on her own. Both have their pros & cons.
For example, her Costa Rica retreat is at a retreat center so they provide the chefs and food. On the other hand, she has planned Italy on her own. She rented out a Villa and hired a friend who is a chef. They will arrive a day or two early to grocery shop and get everything set up. It is more time consuming but also leaves more room for creativity.
Another thing to keep in mind when planning a retreat is that there is more to each day than just yoga. I asked Lena about how she fills the space in between and she gave me some insight on what students can expect during her upcoming retreats.
Lena said that during her first few retreats she tried to cram in a lot of activities but realized that people really enjoy their free time too. It’s all about balance. Typically, her retreats feature 2 yoga classes per day (meditation, yoga nidra or partner yoga may be offered as well). Below are some of the excursions and events you can expect to see offered on Lena’s upcoming retreats.
In Costa Rica, you might zipline, snorkel, head into town to explore local shops & food, or take a surf lesson at the beach.
In Italy, there will be art lessons and cooking classes with an optional wine tasting adventure. Also, a group dinner at a local Italian restaurant to experience the Tuscan cuisine.
In Bali, you will visit Balinese temples and one afternoon will be dedicated to visiting a birthing center to drop off donations to help people there.
Each retreat has its own unique vibe.
I learned that Lena likes to plan a theme for each retreat and come back to that theme in her classes and events during the week.
The Costa Rican retreat center is off-grid and 100% solar powered. The theme for Costa Rica is sustainability. Not only in terms of the environment but also in terms of finding a way to sustain the practices of the retreat when you are back in normal life.
In Italy, it’s all about pleasure and desire. Life is beautiful. Lena hopes that attendees of the retreats will still be able to see life through rose-colored glasses when they return home!
To wrap things up I asked Lena what she has learned over the last 5 years of hosting yoga retreats.
The number one thing she said was that she learned how to collaborate and the importance of seeking the right people to collaborate with.
“Collaboration is challenging. You can have an idea and then start planning but realize that both people have different ideas & leadership styles and so it doesn’t always work out. But sometimes it works beautifully. “
Over the last few years, Lena has found partners that she continues to collaborate with over and over and she is thankful for those relationships.
She has also found a balance between professionalism and connecting with her students. After spending a whole week with a group of people strong bonds form and she is happy to facilitate these types of connections.
“As I’ve matured as a teacher I’m realizing how much it means to students when I’m vulnerable. There are still professional boundaries but we all just want to feel like we belong’”
“The teachers I admire the most are the ones that are learning just like I’m learning. We’re learning from each other and we’re all in it together.”
She also emphasized that over-analyzing can ruin a good thing.
“Think of a place you want to go, work backward and make it happen.. there’s not a magic formula just dream it up and then get back to the logistics of it.”
It’s kind of a ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality. Create something that you would love and chances are there are other people who will love it too!
A last quote from Lena:
“Retreats are really fun! You should come on a retreat!”
My talk with Lena was super informative & fun. I hope that other yoga teachers can take something valuable away from this interview. If you want to learn more about Lena’s retreats or sign up for one CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION!
What did you think of this article? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or in a private message HERE. Thank you for reading.
Want to keep reading? Read more about yoga retreats in my previous blog posts.
*All words in italics are Lena’s.
*All photos are Lena’s and are used with her permission.