Photography: Mahakala Retreats
This month we have had the pleasure of getting a chance to sit down with the founders of Mahakala Retreats, a Manduka retreat partner. Mahakala is a beautiful wholistic retreat in Montenegro that is run by a mother daughter duo who combine their passions to bring a unique concept to the world. It is their social actions in their community that drew us to want to learn more about them and their concept. Enjoy this fruitful conversation with Vesna & Marijana.
Tell us how the Mahakala journey started and where you are at today?
It evolved from my mum looking for a holiday place for herself and she found a beautiful spot in Montenegro in the mountains and she started building a small place for herself. Being a doctor she always wanted to help people and discovered there was a limit to how effective she could be with medicine alone. Yoga unifies the mind, body and soul and through her own personal journey had added the final piece to the puzzle in her own pursuit of wellness.
Since I was small I have always dreamed of starting a social enterprise to help people in living a sustainable lifestyle. After inviting a group of friends to experiment my ideas on, I knew in my heart that this is me and exactly what I am here to give. I thought that yoga retreats were for women having a midlife crisis! Then, I experienced the pure magic and connection and realised it’s for everyone. Just a few short years later we have a thriving eco haven for anyone from anywhere to retreat, recharge and reconnect with themselves. Everyday my mum and I are in awe that we have the privilege of this experience.
In a few words how do you describe your yoga retreats?
An experience for all the senses to touch, feel, smell and taste to help connect back to the body. A remedy for the chaos and busyness of everyday life bringing people back to themselves. We offer a place to rest, restore and find their inner fire; a reinvigorated zest for life.
What is it that sets you apart from the other retreats out there (for your guests)?
We are a Mother and Daughter duo that combine our unique qualities; my mothers medical experience and wisdom for nutrition, combined with my love for infusing life with creativity and the healing power of nature has created an experiential haven. We are located in a very special country that is reminiscent of childhood fairytales with mountains and wildflowers and the turquoise ocean which is still relatively unspoilt and is a rare treasure to any who find us.
How did you decide to develop your non profit element to your business? And how do you select the women who get to join your retreats?
We believe everyone deserves to have an experience like this and sometimes those that need it most have the least resources available to them. This is also why we have a price range that makes the retreats as accessible as possible. We give the complementary spots to women who have experienced trauma or abuse, are in financial difficulty or experiencing extenuating circumstances. This is a matter close to hearts having experienced generations of female oppression. We also support our local community; artisans, farmers and local tradesmen. We even offer them free yoga classes!
Your location is stunning with views across the ocean. What was it about Montenegro that drew you to set up here? Do you have other connections with Montenegro?
Well as the saying goes “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” My mother looked all over Europe and we still find it amusing that we found our home in her birth home and I am completely in love with discovering my roots here. To find land held by the mountains, amidst olive groves and fig trees and so close to the sea was the cherry on the cake.
How have you seen the impact of your retreat on the communities you are helping out?
Firstly, many people in Montenegro have never even heard of yoga. So by offering free yoga classes and knowledge of nutritious vegan food we have seen a big change in the mindset of the local community here.
I have also noticed a huge impact on the women in need. We have helped by offering them a safe place, a community and space to reconnect. I have seen how empowered and heard they feel. I have seen how important it is to create spaces like these for women around the world.
Vesna, how do you bring your other professional elements into Mahakala?
To be honest my daughter has taken over most aspects of mahakala. The part of the retreat that is my baby is the cuisine. As a nutritional doctor my biggest passion is to heal people through nutrition, so I have spent months creating a balanced and wholesome menu that teaches and inspires guests to try to cook vegan and healthy food at home. This is actually still a secret but we are working on a book so everyone has a taste of this knowledge.
Marijana, at what point did you realise that this was going to be your focus and bring Mahakala retreats to the world?
When I saw the sparkle return to the eyes of the first guests as they settled in our safe space. There are really no words that do the feeling justice of witnessing such beautiful transformations in our guests.
What is the one thing you want each and everyone of your guests to walk away with at the end of one of your retreats?
An awakening of the passion and connection to themselves that lives in them and has been waiting to be expressed.
Quite often people assume that a successful business is driven by a huge team of people, in reality it is often much smaller than they may think. Tell us about the extended Mahakala family?
At the start it was just me and a few others and I have no idea how we pulled it off especially as we were so young but now we have grown to an incredible but inanimate team of people who are passionate about what we offer. We are a mix of local staff and international teachers. I have realized though running this place how important it is to have people you love and trust working for you and without this amazing crew mahakala wouldn’t ever be as special as it is.
We see that you are based in different corners of the world, do you attend the retreats yourselves or do you have people who take care in your place?
During the pandemic we have been resourceful and miraculously managed the retreats remotely as I was stuck in Australia. That said we both favour being there in person because we so highly value seeing the magic of this place for ourselves. We are still able to travel and my mum still runs her clinic in Berlin as we have a full team running the retreats for us.
What has been the hardest thing you have had to deal with throughout this journey so far?
Knowing that at the end of the day I am responsible for so many people's wellbeing, not just my guests but also my staff and still remembering to take care of myself and find a good balance.
I think starting this retreat at twenty meant there was a lot to take on but I am so grateful for it because at this age I had no fear and it was the best growth I have ever experienced. I wake up every day with gratitude and joy being able to be part of this.
With thousands of yogis everywhere dreaming of hosting their own retreats what pearls of wisdom would you give them?
Go for it! Follow this dream, the world needs these healing places more than ever!
For example we are already booked out this whole year. Another thing I'd suggest is to experience other retreats to get inspired.
While so many yoga initiatives are struggling right now, what is it that keeps you together?
The passion, the team and the support of the community we have built around the world. Just to keep remembering our mission and why we started this place after that everything is just a bonus.
What would you like to see for Mahakala and yourselves in 5 years time?
I’d love to create more of these spaces around the world that help people reconnect to nature and themselves. This year I’m actually scouting locations in unknown sacred places.
Quick facts about yourself: Marijana, co-founder of Mahakala Retreats
- Where did you first practice yoga?
My mum used to teach me at home but to be honest only really properly connected to yoga at the retreat as I found it intimidating going to classes at studios. That's why I would suggest to anyone wanting a taste of yoga to join a retreat.
- Who introduced you to yoga?
Since a young age I’ve always read about buddhism, philosophy and yoga but my mum was probably the person who really introduced me to asana practice. I remember being a young girl trying to copy my mum's headstands but my teachers at Mahakala really introduced me to yoga as a lifestyle.
- Tell us about your yoga journey?
My yoga journey really changed when I started to see breath as the main part of the practice and that yoga is so much more than the physical practice.
- How did your practice look like before covid and what does it look like now?
Since covid I have developed a more intimate sadhana practice for me to do at home. During covid I studied and read about making your practice more feminine and connected to our cyclic nature.
- Tell us your preferred form of yoga
I like a more slow paced, intuitive practice which I change throughout my cycle depending on the needs of my body. I also love partner yoga as it brings connection and fun back into the process.
- Your favorite place to practice
Either in my little wooden cabin where I can hear the birds and am held by the mountains, or of course our yoga shala that looks over the coastal mountains so much magic happens there with our most incredible teachers or right by the sea where our yoga platform.
- What mat do you practice on?
My black Manduka mat is perfect for my vinyasa practice and my slow paced yin sessions. I also part of the reason I chose them is because I love the sustainability ethos behind their company.
- Name a Manduka prop you can’t live without?
- What’s your go to yoga pose?
Marjaryasana/Bitilasana - Cat and cow! I practice it every morning and it lets me connect to my breath and see how my body is feeling after I wake up. I make it really intuitive and a fun fact is that I actually practice everything with my eyes closed.
- Where did you grow up?
All over the place actually… I was born in Germany and then moved to England for some of my childhood before moving to China for my high school years. When I finished school I packed my bags and moved to Australia before then splitting my time there with Montenegro. I absolutely love being able to live in Montenegro now, connecting to my roots on my mothers side.
- Fun fact about you
Growing up I was a complete tomboy who only wore men’s clothes and wanted to be a famous football player so sometimes I can not believe I run women’s retreats who help women connect back to their feminine.
- What activities do you do outside of yoga?
Surfing is my absolute passion as well as art and general adventuring. I just love putting creativity into everything I do and seeing everything as playful. I also love gardening and growing my own food. Montenegro has such rich land where flowers and plants grow abundantly.
- Top book recommendation?
Women Who Run with the Wolves: Clarissa Pinkola Estes has changed my life and I suggest for any woman to read this. I also can’t not recommend A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, whilst I was reading I felt I was becoming more present with every page of his wisdom.
- Favourite quote/mantra?
Our Mahakala mantra which encompasses our mission . This is what Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu "May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all."
About Vesna and Marijana - founders of Mahakala Retreats in Montenegro.
A passionate mother-daughter duo Dr Vesna Lemm - Vesna is a 770 hours certified Sivananda Yoga teacher as well as general and holistic doctor in Berlin. She is a midwife, detox expert and nutritional therapist with a wide knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine. Her personal journey with yoga started in 2013, and it didn’t take long until she felt the urge to share the happiness and spiritual connection yoga had given her with others. Vesna is the mother and the driving force of Mahakala, full of energy and passion.
Marijana Lemm - Marijana founded her first small business at PCA University in England in 2017. A sustainable, up-cycling fashion company named Mahakala. Just one year later she began to pour her heart into establishing Mahakala Yoga Retreat with her Mother, further integrating her eco-friendly values. After initially setting up the website and being responsible for the marketing she took over the role of CEO in 2019. Taking over the major role of running the organisation. She is the loving heart of Mahakala. She has also done her 300hr Yoga teacher training as well as her meditation training.
Mahakala Retreats are equipped with Manduka PROlite Yoga Mats, Lean Cork Blocks and Align Yoga Straps. To gear up your retreats with quality yoga equipment, please connect with us or visit our let's partner page.