By Meryl Pearlstein
Yoga lovers are familiar with the extensive programming offered at Kripalu, a yoga and health center in the Berkshire Mountains, just three hours north of New York City. But you may not realize that Kripalu is much more than yoga; it’s a center that fosters a way of life-based on wellness and mindfulness. It’s also a gorgeous getaway regardless of whether you’re a yogi or not.
Kripalu’s history began in 1983 when Shadowbrook, a structure used as a Jesuit educational center, was converted into a retreat for devotees of Swami Kripalu. The Yoga & Health Center now offers year-round programming that goes well beyond yoga. Outdoor activities on the 100-acre Stockbridge campus enhance indoor wellness in a comprehensive (and personalized) R&R program. Especially enticing are hikes on the trails of the Yokun Ridge, paddling on Lake Mahkeenac and forest bathing, the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku. A new concept for me, forest bathing, is simply walking in the forest, a meditation in motion to build a connection between nature and yourself. I was also told that the scent of pines helps reduce stress.
While these experiences are especially lovely and visually striking when the foliage explodes with fall color (you’ll want to sit back and stare at the tapestry of leaves), the spring season is a wondrously tranquil time.
All programming is run by skilled faculty and educators. Book for a week or make it a long weekend escape. You can be involved and active or keep your schedule relatively uncluttered and let spontaneity guide your day. You’ll be joining a community of some 40,000 guests from around the country who visit each year, including locals who have made Kripalu a regular part of their day.
I filled my three-day schedule with yoga, movement, and education with a post-dinner spa appointment each night at the Healing Arts Center. Breakfast was a learning experience where I was challenged to fully embrace self-contemplation and focus on my meal in complete silence. Surprisingly, this was rather easy, as the all-natural food buffets were so good and the setting so beautiful that I didn’t need (or want) further distraction. It also helped kickstart the day by setting an intention, a good yogi practice.
But socializing is definitely part of the experience and YogaDance, workshops about stress control (or as it was called during my stay, “Centering from Riding the Wave,”), and cooking classes are all designed to foster community as well as learning. Lunches and dinners are anything but silent (unless you choose to sit in the silent dining room).
Kripalu’s Healing Arts program is an essential part of achieving wellness. With a broad range of bodywork, Ayurveda, and some 20 modalities to choose from, you can put together sessions to improve your health with a balanced mind-body-spirit connection. I chose a Kripalu Signature massage to start but then ventured into energy work. Reiki and craniosacral therapy from Kripalu’s master practitioners are designed to reduce stress, ease muscle tension, and balance energies. They also helped me sleep much better.
A variety of weekends offer specialists in many areas. Yoga retreats are popular featuring instructors like Colleen Saidman Yee and Rodney Yee, and Shiva Rea, well known for yoga and creative empowerment. In spring alone, the catalog shows more than 170 programs in a wide range of topics. Throughout the year, Kripalu has mother-daughter programs, women’s weeks, men’s weeks, meditation immersions, and other deep dives into learning and consciousness. Solo travelers are welcome, but you’ll be sure to leave with new friends and perhaps a return trip in mind.
Take-home learning from these sessions is your gift, and Kripalu’s beautiful shop has a library of self-care books along with clothing and yoga equipment to create a practice that continues after you leave.
Guests are encouraged to pack simply to enjoy the benefits of the retreat. Kripalu’s rooms are plain but comfortable, and the most you’ll need is workout clothing and footwear, and a casual dinner outfit. You can choose from accommodations ranging from group dorm rooms to singles and doubles in Kripalu’s all-green Annex. Cell phone use is discouraged and not allowed in public spaces or shared sleeping areas. Wi-Fi is available in the Café if you need to connect. By the end of your stay, you might forget how to unlock your phone anyhow.
From New York, Peter Pan buses take you to Lenox, Massachusetts. Metro-North goes to Wassaic, New York. A shuttle to and from Kripalu is available on weekends and some holidays. Alternately, a drive up the Taconic or New York State Thruway will take about three hours.
For more information on Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, visit kripalu.org.