Review 2020: From Europe with Love!

I had a particular playing board this year: finding my way through yellow-orange-red clusters in Europe, arriving to sunny places and getting back without being caught!

My road is filled with yoga retreats, online courses and taking off in a pandemic year. About finding an acceptable balance between online freedom and freedom to travel.

You get a look in the backstage of organizing a yoga retreat – and cancelling it. Setting up an online yoga program from scratch, how to feed it and what this baby grows into after 9 months.

 

‘My’ Yoga Retreat in Chiang Mai

Yoga & Relax was THE retreat I organized and settled in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. The city has a very particular charm with its 300 temples, many of them within the old town, itself surrounded by fortifications, a water channel, food stalls, massage parlours, markets every day and also every night, restaurants for all budgets and an excellent choice of vegetarian and even vegan places. Only a few kilometres out of town, Ban Sabai Village Resort & Spa was the perfect base for the retreat. A couple of months earlier I had visited the resort and its owners, practised and discussed with the local yoga teacher, set up the program for meals, excursions and meditations and I felt it was a good choice.

It was an excellent choice! Every bungalow surrounded by greenery invited for relaxation, we were pampered by the owners starting with a wake-up lemon juice till a most tasty dinner with ingredients from their garden. A monk came from a Buddhist temple giving us initiation to meditation in a playful and accessible way, and we even had young monks from a neighbouring temple making their evening chanting and meditation with us.

The participants to the retreat came from various backgrounds, countries, languages and despite this, very fast and incredible synergy was developed. We met as strangers, we left as friends, regenerated and reconnected to ourselves.

More Yoga Retreats to come

Yes, Chiang Mai was great, I wanted more of it! And take as many people as possible with me on this journey to yoga retreats. They combine my both passions, yoga and travel, which I love to transmit.

Thailand

The date for the next retreat in Chiang Mai was set: end October 2020. End January I discovered a sunrise walk to a remote temple hidden in the forest, which would be integrated next time. Friends of friends took me to Sri Annatta, a Dutch man who lives in Asia for 35 years, practices 40 types of meditation and is teaching in Buddhist monk schools. He agreed to teach meditation and talk about spirituality during our next retreat. The morning classes are led by Kru Nok, a highly qualified and expereienced yoga teacher and owner of Yoga Ananda Chiang Mai, speaking perfect English. And 1st November, right after our retreat, is Loy Krathong, the festival of love and lights floating in the river and the sky over Chiang Mai, the most romantic festival you can imagine! The resort accorded special conditions to all participants of the retreat. I was really much excited and happy to be part of it! Of course, I was the organiser :).

Croatia

As soon as I was back in Europe in February, I headed to Croatia. I visited Villa Covri in Istria, dating back to the 16th century, made of stone and renovated with high-quality material to modern comfort. It was the setting for the retreat Yoga & Detox early April, Easter. I met Svetlana, an experienced local yoga teacher, set up the excursions with the licensed guide Hrvoje and contacted a cook to assure a tasty and healthy cuisine. I set up a nice landing page and started marketing. One of the participants in Thailand had already signed up for Croatia, we were on track!

Madeira

I had visited the hotel Alpino Atlantico on Madeira island, Portugal, during my stay in 2019. It is specialized in Ayurveda, where you get a medical examination on arrival, ayurvedic full board, massage and other treatments. I competed the program with my yoga classes and Emilie Mangoni for sound healing and mantra. Antoine, a licenced mountain guide to take us for mindful walks along the water channels and cliffs of Madeira. And if somebody wished, I could take them around in Funchal, the capital, I had been living there over two seasons.

I set up again a new landing page on my website and made some marketing material.

My year 2020 was all outlined with 3 yoga retreats in great locations and more to come!

 

Investing in myself: Yoga Therapy Certification

I had always been triggered by the benefits of each yoga pose, particularly for the spine and thus back pain. That’s how I came to yoga 6 years earlier, when I was living and working in Thailand: Yoga was my favourite practice to overcome back pain.

End February I joined the  Svastha Yoga Therapy, a program set up by A.G. Mohan from India and Dr. Günter Niessen from Germany. This first module had the focus on the lower back. A full week program packed with 40 hours yoga, bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, ailments, range of motion, yoga in daily life and the power of healing by self-awareness. In October I had the opportunity to complete the 2nd module for  upper back, shoulders, chest, cervical region.

What is Svastha Yoga Therapy?

It is yoga, as we know it, starting with proper breathing, building up strength and range of motion, but always within the possibilities of the participants, without going into pain zone. Forward bending is avoided, or very carefully, flows are privileged, sometimes combined with isometric contractions, working on the deepest muscle layer.

I absorbed the Svastha techniques eagerly and with joy, they finally gave a proper content to my online program Yoga for your Back!

Stopped by Corona

It was early March. I was on my way to the yoga retreat in Croatia, stopped by at my parents’ place in Slovenia. We watched in the news how Corona was making its way through Italian life. Mid March shops and restaurants were closed in Slovenia. Then most people had to figure out home office and keep kids at home. We weren’t allowed to quit our municipality and for me would have been difficult anyway: No buses or trains were circulating!

Croatia: Closed

I called the owners of Villa Covri in Croatia, yes we try to keep the date for the retreat early April, Easter. French customers had signed up, and I collected direct flights from Paris, Bruxelles and Geneva to Pula, or to Trieste or Ljubljana in a blog post and planned to pick up my guests from there.

And Croatia closed its borders. It was one of the first European countries to do so. We cancelled the retreat in Croatia.

Soon later Hungary closed its borders. Italy was closed already. They were all followed by Austria. If I remember well, Slovenia never closed its borders, all the countries around did. And nevertheless, Slovenia had one of the smallest impacts of Covid during this first wave.

Funny enough, my other home country, Switzerland, was in the same situation.

I felt like shipwrecked on an island. My son and friends were in Switzerland, others on Madeira island and of course many friends in Thailand, where I had been living for 10 years. All unattainable.

Madeira: Illusion

23rd of March I wrote to hotel Alpino Atlantico on Madeira:

In einigen Wochen oder Monaten wird das #stayathome vorbei sein und die Leute werden wieder reisen wollen

(in a few weeks the confinement will be over and people will be travelling again).  We postponed the retreat to end July 2020.

2nd of June I cancelled the July-retreat on Madeira and postponed to early June 2021.

Thailand: Hope

Phew, there was still Yoga & Relax in Chiang Mai end October, I was looking so much forward to it!! And Thailand had very few Covid cases.

Boosted by Corona

Despite my Robinson Crusoe feeling I felt very happy and relieved during the spring lockdown. Relieved because I could assist my parents in facing the social distancing and new habits while shopping, doctors visits and so on.

Happy because I had all the tools and know how to finally make a clear program Yoga for your Back and now also… had the time to do so!

Hit the Books again

So I went over my books and notes and recordings and build up classes with the new flows I had learned in February. I got experienced in drawing stick men lifting, bending, twisting, pushing, breathing in laying, sitting, kneeling, standing, half-standing position and somehow tried to memorize all the new flows. It was kind of back to the basics. And there were days I thought I can’t do it, desperate when I didn’t manage to memorize the new flows. So I launched a free course in March: 20 minutes daily over 2 weeks! I didn’t know where this was taking me, I started without any paying ads, just with posts on Facebook and Instagram, people I somehow knew and their friends.

And guess what? They liked it!

 

 

First Launch of Online Classes

Early April, over Easter, “Soften your back” was a 5-day free challenge with 20 minutes daily. I made a simple landing page, a sweet rabbit in overlay with my photo, a video made with March’ session, boosted by a bit of Facebook ads – and I had 80 subscribers within only a few days! I was getting really nervous. Why should it be more difficult to guide a yoga class with 80 people instead of 5? There’s no objective reason…  I knew my new program, had trained it daily over a month. The technical part was all settled as well. A slight stage fright persisted, 80 people, imagine? And that’s the point where friends save you! They listened, reassured and were with me on J-Day!

Around 20 or 30 persons showed up, some of them every day. It was a real success with confined participants from all over Europe and after class we shared our lockdown stories and Easter traditions.

After this lunch I had my first paying customers subscribing to Watch your Back in April! We met 3 times weekly for 30 minutes, special conditions for special times, it was still confinement. We got much more than a yoga group, we shared our stories and supported each others, most of us being alone at home. I call them my corona-friends, some of them are still with me in the classes today. They have special conditions now, of course, I had to figure out a membership scheme after a few months.

 

Yoga Retreat: Revival in Slovenia

As soon as the lockdown finished in May, I headed to lake Bohinj in Slovenia’s Julian Alps. Hotel Triglav was happy to accommodate a retreat and with their Chef Damir we elaborated colourful menues for vegeterians and not-vegetarians.

Organizing a Yoga Retreat

I spent the month of June in one of Hotel Triglav apartments on the lake’s shore. Together with Grega, licensed mountain guide, we figured out the paths we were going to take over the hills and through the gorges. With Katja, guide and photographer, we prepared a trip to Soca valley and most beautiful view points. With Tamara, we made a yoga program starting the days at the lake, ending them in a cosy hall overviewing the lake. Timon set up a beautiful landing page and I started the promotion with a new home-made video (I love making videos).

The dates for Yoga & Mountains were set for July 12 – 18 and August 16 – 22, 2020. I marketed to central European countries, mostly French-speaking areas. They all needed fresh air abroad and not too far away from home, I thought, after all the months of lockdown! In a blog post on mid June I collected direct flights from Amsterdam/Brussels/Paris, flights via Frankfurt and trains for mid July.

Covid Summer in Slovenia

Days got warmer and slowly the remote valley and its lake became crowded by Slovenian tourists. The government had installed a system where every resident of the country received a voucher of 200 euro to be used for accommodation within Slovenia. Lake Bohinj is a very sought after place every year, that’s why I booked as early as I could, and 2020 wasn’t different. Most accommodations had very good booking coverage over the summer with Slovene tourists.

And all at a sudden France is considered ‘dangerous’ because of its covid-numbers and so French residents are not allowed to come to Slovenia any more. The other way round now: Before, you couldn’t leave, now you’re not allowed to enter certain countries.

I first felt bad towards my French friends and contacts for this discrimination, till it turned out being a general game of colours and clusters between the countries. Nobody knew all rules, and they changed every two weeks. So nobody booked more than a week in advance, and surely not for a different country than the own. End June I cancelled the July retreat.

Summer Nomad Life

The retreat being cancelled, my month of July was free! No plans, no particular place to go. The only thing I knew: mid October I would go to Thailand, Chiang Mai! The country had closed its borders to tourism and thus counted only few covid cases. The authorities planned to re-open early September, at latest early October, my friends told me.

Travelling…

Europe started yellow-orange-red rules on that days. Colours defining on which square you’re allowed or forbidden to jump next, or if you had to go back to start space. I had sunshine in my mind and yoga. And somehow managed to move to Croatia, to lake Constance in Switzerland, to Venice in Italy and back to Slovenia, without ever being ejected or punished in any way. My laptop and ‘my ladies’ were always with me, we had online yoga classes over the whole summer.

… and working

I was the only customer and so princess in a castle-like accommodation in Croatia, a working princess with the next courses to design, blog posts to write, translating Sandy’s Love Coach blog and doing accounting jobs to pay my rent. I was jumping in the lake of Constance with kids, met old friends and made new ones in Ljubljana and Lausanne, strolled on a near empty San Marco square in Venice and closed the circle in Slovenia’s countryside.

En July I started a new launch, but the subscriptions were far lower than in spring, the visibility through Facebook ads got much more difficult (because of the US elections already?) and of course people enjoyed outdoors activities more than online sessions. I can understand, finally freedom to move and the days were sunny.

New energy with Emilie: Mantra and New Moon

In August, Yoga for your Back became a partner: Mantra to relieve Stress. Emilie Mangoni is French, living on Madeira island, where we met a year earlier while we both participated on the Yoga Festival Madeira. She is a singer, yoga teacher and has not only a broad knowledge of chanting Mantra, but also the voice that goes directly to your soul.

We set up a program with Yoga for your Back followed by chanting a Mantra. It was a stirring experience for all participants. Soon we added New Moon and Full Moon sessions with Yoga, Mantra and a ritual for setting intentions. The combination first provides a deep relaxation, then gives the opportunity to free one’s mind from obsessive thoughts and consciously orient it. Read more about the experience: how to practice Moon Salutation and its benefits.

The start was in September, blessed with sunny days and evenings all over Europe, the live online participation was beyond our expectation, but the persons who came enjoyed a lot.

 

How my website and digital profiles have changed in 2020

Yoga for your Back was originally the name of a free course I launched in July 2019. On that time I had subscribed for an online marketing academy to give a serious kick off to my online yoga classes. I made my first landing page on Squarespace and when I look back to the screenshots from that time, basically nothing changed! I already wrote “Build Yoga Routine to relieve Back Pain over 4 Weeks”. The purposes of my courses is still the same today. With illustrations in holiday settings.

I figured out several fancy titles over the year, Soften your Back for the free classes, Watch your Back for beginners, Pamper your Back for advanced, but finally, the central theme of all my courses and classes is taking action and practising yoga for back pain.

Therefore I added in June 2020 the slogan “Take Action to relieve back pain with yoga” and in July a graphic designer created a new logo “Yoga for your Back”.

In June, I finally hired a webmaster, to go sure that the technical stuff is all functioning correctly. He stated that the landing pages for my retreats were all with completely different styles, fonts and colours one from each other. In my opinion this was just normal! Different countries, accommodations, activities, energies, colours… After a while I agreed, and he set up a nice modern landing page for the retreat in Slovenia, which covers all topics and can be used as a base for future new retreats.

Graphic design… is still a weak point in my social profiles. Finding consistency will be one of the challenges 2021: my landing pages, blog posts and social media posts are all about yoga, but also about travel, and all contain photographs made outdoors, conveying different ambiances, colours, energies. Maybe my consistency is being inconsistent in terms of graphic design and being free in posting beautiful sceneries in various nuances, just like I feel it?

Not following rules but emotions? Living the present picture, without looking back or planing forward? Sometimes bright and colourful, other days black and white with just a small colour spot (so sad, I don’t have the camera any more that does these wonder unicolor effect).

My Year 2020 in Numbers (status 18.12.20)

1 Yoga Retreat, 6 Launches of Live Online Courses, 10 international trips, my dad got 80, around 100 Live Online Classes of 30 minutes.

250 followers Instagram (150 in July)
500 followers on Facebook
700 Leads (40 in January)

And a memorable number in May: 220 persons subscribed to the free live classes “Soften your Back”. I thought I need to upgrade my Zoom plan (limited to 100 participants). And then: only around 25 showed up… Well, it was sunny days, I’m not resentful, I can understand. And maybe my Ads are too good? 😊 I made a new video for every launch, taken from my yoga and travel life, with deficits like blurry image and “jumps” of images, and somehow they seem to convey the feeling of taking action and ‘it’s possible for everyone” .

Autumn Yoga 4×4

October came, and Thailand was still closed. The government figured out rules where you first go for two weeks in a hotel in Bangkok or Phuket (and a few other pre-defined places) before you’re free to move around. While I’m writing, only few tourists are arriving to Thailand. The October retreat in Chiang Mai has been cancelled, of course, and the next one planned for January 21 won’t have a much better destiny.

Switzerland

The vineyard terraces of Lavaux, on the shores of Lake Geneva, are Unesco World heritage. Take the train from Fribourg/Bern to Lausanne to enjoy this view.

October brings grape harvest to many areas in Europe, and also the time for preparing Christmas ideas. Everyone is VIP in its life – and even more so when you are solo-entrepreneur. Garden Centre Schilliger generously opened their doors early morning, before opening hours, for a shooting session, to avoid mask wearing. Thanks again to the whole team!

 

Italy

Seeking for sunshine, I took refuge in southern Italy in October. On the way back to north and Svastha Therapy training in Gemany, I received the e-mail ‘it must happen online, don’t come to Constance’. The next day I had lunch in Vasto, Abruzzi, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, asked the staff if they knew a flat to rent in the old town, they called a cousin, he called a friend and the same day I moved in. I felt uplifted on the rooftop of my flat, figured out the free challenge Yoga for your Back 4×4, 4 days with 4 poses on a PDF before the class. New landing page, new video trailer, new e-mail sequence and numbers of subscribers rose again! Also, more persons showed up for the live classes.

Winter

Yoga daily

As days got shorter, news from all over Europe prepared us for Christmas to be spent at home, without meeting family or friends. The world was upside down. That’s how Christmas Upside Down was conceived, which I later changed to Christmas – New Year Together: every morning I go live with an energizing yoga class for good mood and taking care of the back. Emilie immediately liked the idea, and so we doubled it: every evening from 25th December till 1st of January she goes live with detox yoga, mantra and meditation for cooling down and relaxing.

To the live Zoom classes, we add streaming into a private Facebook group and with a private Youtube-link, giving the possibility to assist without showing ones face, doing the yoga in pyjama or the meditation with a glass of wine at hand (well, I wouldn’t mind if you would show up with it :).

First sign ups came in already (status 18th December), far earlier than in previous classes. We have high hopes for high participation. I know we’ll spend a wonderful time together, during and also after the classes (for those who want to stay) sharing end of year traditions and experiences all over Europe. As I’m writing this review, I still have to find the right tone for e-mails and social media communication to spread the word.

 

Moving in Italy

Tonight I take the train to Trieste, with the self declaration in my pocket, tomorrow Covid test for the customs but also for my parents. Trains and buses in Slovenia just started circulating again a few days ago, it should be possible to cross the border within the 48h after the test (if I receive the results within 47 hours :), and spend Christmas with my parents. From tomorrow on, Italy restricts any movement between the regions, only important reasons like working or health are accepted. And going home. You’re always allowed to go home.

Outlook 2021

  • My year takes off in Fuerteventura with all participants to Yoga for your Back on my side, well in my laptop, for live sessions from a sunny place! Might ‘my ladies’ go for 4 weeks or 8 weeks, they will be part of the trip to Canary Islands and to a place with yoga touch!
  • End May the retreat Yoga & Mountains at lake Bohinj in Slovenia is fixed – for now. Will there still be a colour game limiting the jumps between regions and countries?
  • Yoga Retreats on Madeira island, Croatia and Thailand… they’re all ready, just waiting to be switched “ON”…
  • Relieving back pain with Yoga and Svastha Yoga Therapy: Online classes
  • Outfit 50+: Is there a chic top out there flattering femininity and still carrying decency?

For 2021 the grounding has been set in 2020. A proven program helping busy women and men taking action to relieve back pain with yoga. Taking action by enjoying it, as much as I do. A yoga retreat can be a good start into regular moving, a 4-week program with live online classes as well. It’s that simple.

Simplicity is my motto 2021. For my customers and for myself, while reaching our goals.

It won’t be always easy, will still require efforts. But should not be complicated or overwhelming. In a year going smoother than 2020.

Simple steps to follow, on a regular basis.

  • For my customers to take action for their health with yoga.
  • For me to provide the teaching, conduct retreats and reach more visibility with regular content.

Just received this picture today from a friend staying in Bali and writing me “would be a nice setting for your yoga”. So simple, sometimes.

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