Starting a Pilates & Yoga Retreat: the Azul Story

Ever wondered what it would be like to have your own yoga retreat?  Here Jamie Isaac, co-founder of Azul Yoga & Pilates Retreat along with wife Karissa Isaac, gives us a behind the scenes glimpse of how it all got started…

Azul has always been an organic creation. It’s a challenging way to approach business, but I think it keeps things fresh and fun. Life shouldn’t be too predictable!

We were living in and running a surf lodge in Corralejo at the time. It was fun and we enjoyed meeting some really interesting folks and sharing the island with them.

I was teaching Pilates classes in a gym at the end of town and also a fantastic class that I was blessed to teach on a beautiful wooden deck on the beach at La Sirena.

beach yoga deckIt was the latter class that initially got Karissa and I thinking.

For all the fun that running a surf lodge is, the bottom line was that the guests were with us to surf, see some beaches and then relax with a few beers in the evening. It just wasn’t the same mission as ours, and the odd guest that came to stay who would join my classes and would get up early to see the sunrise just highlighted what we could be doing.

Karissa and I had also been furthering our yoga journey with some great local teachers. I’d attended Power / Ashtanga yoga classes with Ilona in Villaverde and we’d been regulars at Radhika’s classes in Lajares.

Beach sunset

We put together a program and an experience that we hoped people would love and put it out there to the universe on our website.

The original schedule was different to our fun packed program today. Our guests would jump in the car with us and head on over to join Radhika or Ilona for yoga, or walk with me to La Sirena to enjoy the outside Pilates (whatever the weather). We walked in the dunes, and did sunset sessions in El Cotillo. We didn’t have the facilities that we do today but it was still really wholesome, healthy and most importantly fun. Little by little, word spread that you could visit Fuerteventura and enjoy some amazing yoga and Pilates.

After a few months it became apparent that our little surf lodge wasn’t going to be big enough. As it happened, we’d been putting our overflow guests in the beautiful La Concha bungalows we’d discovered just up the road where hibiscus gardens and two cute swimming pools made for a peaceful get away, yet still right by the beach and a short stroll from town.

Oliva and Jose, who managed the bungalows, were extremely helpful and as we brought them more and more guests and spent more and more time there, we worked together to build a little indoor studio space and they opened up a private garden patio area for us to hold our classes.

We were happily welcoming four to six guests each week and we laughed that perhaps one day, we could to fill the entire complex.

A few months later we were doing just that. We had closed the surf lodge and had moved into and ran all our operations from the bungalows. Our instructors were coming in to teach, which gave the whole holiday a real retreat feel, as well as allowing us the chance to host our first special weeks.Yoga Retreat team

We ran detox programs, weightloss bootcamps and some very successful Pilates weeks and Ashtanga yoga weeks. And of course with these weeks came more contacts and more staff and little by little our creation had grown. We worked tirelessly but with a lot of love, because we were doing exactly what we wanted to be doing, and sharing the island and a healthy lifestyle with people was meaningful and extremely satisfying – and we didn’t mind doing any job, from carrying suitcases to shopping for fresh produce, from teaching to transfers and everything in between.

I still have to say that my favorite week in those bungalows was the week Karissa and I got married. We filled all 18 bungalows and a few surrounding villas with family and friends and watched as our little yoga and Pilates detox haven transformed with lots of laughter, and yes a little local Honey Rum.

Despite being a beautiful location we still shared the complex with other guests searching for some tranquility, and we decided we wanted to have something that was exclusively Azul.Buddha, rural landscape, sky

It was with this in mind that we found our new home at the villa in Villaverde. The villa had great potential and Villaverde is the most perfect retreat location. It’s rural and so peaceful, without a sniff of tourism, yet it still has all the local needs of a small supermercado, an amazing bakery and two of the island’s finest Canarian restaurants. Of course, purely in the interest of our guests, I’ve tested out the bakery, just to make sure that it is up to standard.

With a baby Hendrix now on our squad, it wasn’t the best time to start a project of this size, but the villa was so perfect we set about moving in.

With a blank canvas of a villa on our hands, we set about planting gardens, installing a kitchen, fitting pools and decorating rooms. Between all the staff, we had worked out that we had travelled practically every inch of the globe and we wanted to celebrate this. So we decorated each room with the theme of a different exotic location. We also thought this would allow our guests to have their own exotic adventure without the trouble of long-haul flying.

I even managed to get hold of a large Moroccan tent that had been shipped over from the Sahara. We put it up in the garden as the perfect accommodation for those adventurous spirits looking for a ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) experience! As Karissa and others will vouch, it was worth it just for the comedy of watching Sonny, Aaron and myself figure out the finer details of giant tent building. Much easier with camels, I’m certain.

It seems amazing at how quickly five years of Azul has gone by. It has been a real adventure. Our team comes from all over the globe and with some amazingly talented people and incredible instructors, we are a very diverse and interesting Azul family.

Karissa and I are certainly very lucky to have gotten to know so many great people. And in the same way, our guests visit us from all over, and also bring their interesting stories and characters to the Azul adventure. In fact some have even been known to get so comfortable that they stay on as staff.

The rest I suppose is history. Long may the Azul family grow and the adventure continue.

About the instructor: Jamie Isaac

Jamie IsaacJamie enjoys many aspects of the fitness and exercise profession, but his passion is Pilates (closely followed by surfing!) Jamie is currently teaching workshops all over the world, including weeks in Bali, the USA, England and Fuerteventura. A former international trampolinist and a graduate in Physical Education and Sports Sciences, Jamie practices and teaches Pilates as more than just a set of physical exercises. By incorporating body and mind he finds the classic Pilates method benefits all aspects of life. Jamie enjoys passing on his knowledge of Pilates, helping others to relax and progress, and teaching in specialist areas such as injury rehabilitation, specialist referral and coaching other sports professionals and enthusiasts. Jamie is the founder of Azul Yoga & Pilates Retreat and Fluid Art Pilates.

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In categories: Interviews
{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Tameera 22nd October 2012, 1:48 am

    Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story on your amazing retreat began. Loved reading this. Every image has a great vibration. Thank you for all you do xo

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