Yoga-Travel-Transform. Repeat.

YogaHotDish is heading in a new direction…well, not really new, but let’s say clearer. For the last 5 years, YogaHotDish has been offering annual “retreats.” From the get-go, they weren’t your typical yoga-all-day, howl-at-the-moon, vegan meals-with-designer-water retreats. No offense to all the other retreats, but that’s just not the kind of thing HotDishers want. It’s not a yoga 24/7 situation. Our first was to Phoenix, AZ, staying on the Thunderbird Global School of Management campus (known for its Pub and International clientele). Since then, we have been to Palm Springs twice and Costa Rica with two villas overlooking the Pacific right before Covid put the kibosh on life as we know it.


It dawns on me that, in fact, quite a few lessons have been learned taking YogaHotDish on the road to a variety of destinations and properties--never the same one twice. I make all the arrangements, curate the participants, run the yoga while Mr. HotDish plays chef, bartender, and even bouncer in a pinch. I supposed you could say we’ve been essentially running B&Bs in all these places, just without owning the bricks-and-mortar. Wait a minute! Might it be kind of like running a yoga studio…without a studio?

We painstakingly choose a destination, find a property, get our boots on the ground, get all the shopping done, set up for yoga, liase w/ the locals, and have hopefully have cocktails ready when you arrive. We keep it all going for about a week: 2 meals (breakfast and dinner, drinks, snacks), a daily 2-hr yoga practice, and a well-vetted list of potential activities, guides, and outings. We know who’s arriving when, who might be up for a roommate and/or uber buddy, and who’s interested in what. I also know who’s rehabbing a sprained ankle and who might need some space due to a family or work situation back home.


I think Mr. HotDish and I have struck a good balance between providing just enough “infrastructure,” a scaffolding of sorts, but not so much as to kill the spontaneity. Be it group exercise or group travel, the danger is things coalesce around what’s easiest to shepherd a group through, not what’s ideal for the individuals in the group. You see this play out in package tours. I actually have a recurring nightmare where I’m on a tour of Tokyo walking past “Cool Japan” en route to yet another temple, guided by Minnie Mouse. As is evident in Japan (more so than other destinations) tour companies don’t necessarily know what visitors want to see and experience; or, they’re so enmeshed in relationships with the owners of various “attractions,” they don’t do much off the beaten path (read: free).

Ask someone just back from package travel, “how was your trip,” and they say things like “fine,” or “great,” but rarely elaborate. That’s because there isn’t much in the way of a story to tell: the package promises you X,Y,Z over days A,B,C. You see pretty much everything as expected, tick the boxes and come home. If anything spontaneous happens, it’s usually a setback: lost luggage, canceled flight, etc. Your traveling companions are people who like things set and sorted; they take comfort in itineraries and relax knowing they don’t have to make decisions. They may or may not bother to get to know others in the group; this makes sense though, as, beyond the destination, there may be little affinity between group members.

That’s all fine, but we prefer a paradigm we call “Planned Spontaneity.” Think of it as the difference between singing karaoke and being part of a jazz ensemble. First, you “musicians” are vetted. You all have yoga in common; and not just any random style, but YogaHotDish’s Smarter Yoga for Better Living. That one tagline defines values and aspirations that are pretty unique and not-so-easy to come by on the Internet Wild West.

We know we’re dealing with intelligent, often well-traveled, capable people, which is why we wouldn’t dream of “inflicting” our agenda onto the entire group. Rather, we “group source” a variety of outings in which people may or may not participate. Sitting down as a group over meals, making plans, decisions, etc. kicks off a whole bunch of small-group dynamics (i.e. forming and storming). Deciding and coordinating give way to a kind of cooperation and cohesion you can’t get without working together. Conversations continue, convening in the hot tub or loading the dishwasher. Friendships are formed and connections are made that often extend well beyond the trip. Strangers on one trip may end up as roommates on another. This is yoga-off-the-mat at its finest.

In short, you don’t just sign up for an experience, you become one of the authors of the experience! This isn’t so unlike YogaHotDish classes. I learned early on I couldn’t overplan–rookie mistake. Sometimes people show up who you weren’t planning on; or, a regular mentions she has a “tweaky shoulder” on a given day. So much for the upper-body intensive I had planned. It’s more like cooking w/ o a recipe w/ the ingredients you find in the fridge. That’s Mr. HotDish’s specialty when it comes to food; perhaps it’s mine when it comes to yoga.


From Day 1, Kripalu has been known as “The Yoga of Transformation.” I think that’s one of the things that drew me to it in the first place. From my time in Asia, I knew there was a “work-in” element to the practice that no other form of working out offered. I found that work-in quality of classical yoga to be just the antidote to a lifetime of Midwest perfectionism that was no longer serving me as an entrepreneur and new mom in Singapore.

While “hanging on for dear life” may be a winning strategy back home, entrenched in your comfort zone, the only thing that works abroad is flinging yourself into the current; you stop clinging and jump in with both feet, toddler and all! The only way you can start paddling is to “let go for dear life!” Not everyone does it by the way. The world is full of well-traveled unworldly people who’ve lived/traveled everywhere but grown little in their experiences–you can usually find them at The American Club bar, starting at noon, if not before!

It’s hard for me to imagine two more transformative things on earth than yoga and travel. With some Covid reflection time, I see how elegantly they intertwine and complement each other. I also see how, in addition to the current of life positioning me to become a yoga teacher, it was also shunting us toward sharing our passion for a unique kind of travel.

Mr. HotDish and I used to joke how “it’s like we’re running a B&B,” back during our odyssey of global living that took us twice to Singapore, twice to London, and eventually Cape Cod. We would host friends (often Tbirds), for at least a couple weekends each month. We’d turn over our beach house on the Cape after friends left Monday for the next batch coming in Thursday or Friday. In between, someone might get some “actual work” done.

It’s so Covid-clear to me now that all of that was preparation. There’s a skill set to hosting people and Joe, in particular, has been cultivating it for a long time–about as long as I’ve been a yoga teacher. He takes notes as he watches the Saturday AM cooking shows on PBS (sorry Sat Zoom had to go), keeps up with his French Inv. Banker recipe swaps and unleashes some of his fancy country-risk assessment tools on potential destinations.

With this newfound Covid clarity, I also realize I’ve, or I should say “we’ve” outgrown the name YogaHotDish. It’s kind of like noticing one of your kids’ pair of jeans is an inch too short–when did that happen you wonder?

YogaHotDish was cute and local, a great name for a not-so-serious part-time yoga teacher. It just doesn’t capture what we are now though. Sure, it’s still an eclectic mix of yoga, but it’s grown up a little more and gained confidence along with a greater global footprint. We’re in the travel-yoga-transformation business and have a much bigger reach beyond Minnesota, with trips in the works to Japan and Vietnam. We have grown our cast of characters to include local guides who know us, know our students, know our mindset.

So please stay tuned for some exciting announcements, a name change, maybe a new website, etc. Oh, it’s Ok, you can still call me “HotDish” –I won’t mind 🙂

Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham

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