That One Thing We All Need: A Retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

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The view of the lake and the Berkshires from Kripalu’s front lawn.

Kripalu is many things, but really it is just one. It’s one of those rare places where you get to explore just ‘being’. Because that’s not an easy place to get to – between taking care of ourselves and our families, doing our best at our workplaces, not to mention the myriad random details life throws at the modern person, it’s no wonder the Monkey Mind* sometimes seems like he’s taking over.

Because our lives are so full (sometimes wonderfully, sometimes frustratingly) finding the space to be quiet with ourselves doesn’t happen as easily as we would like. Places like Kripalu offer us a variety of tools by which to better understand our own processes and habits, whether they be mental, physical, psychological or spiritual. And it is only by being able to both look and learn to modify those things that we are able to make the true changes in our lives that we really need to move forward, live more consciously, feel healthier, and love more openly.

In other words, Kripalu rocks. (Because yes, all of the above can be plenty of fun too!)

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The meals at Kripalu were fresh, delicious, and varied delightfully from day to day.

Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to Kripalu to check it out – I had never been. I signed up for the “R&R Retreat“. The center offers both open-plan visits like the R&R as well as retreats and programs around a specific focus, like yoga (at all levels), couples communication, heart health care, chanting and dancing, and more.

The R&R program includes three meals a day (more on that below), and yoga classes three times a day (at three levels each time – so one can take a Beginner class in the morning and a more advanced one later in the day) as well as open classes in ecstatic dance, meditation, nutrition, mind-body communication and other health and spiritual topics. (Check out a sample schedule here.) There are also live music performances, films, and lectures, and plenty of on-your-own activities like hiking the grounds, going for a canoe ride, or napping (I can’t imagine any kind of getaway that doesn’t include at least one nap a day).

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Meditation is an important part of a Kripalu yoga class.

Upon check-in, after a lovely and leisurely ride from my home in coastal Connecticut to the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, I organized my things in my Standard Plus room (this always makes me feel more relaxed), which was relatively spare and not gigantic, but cozy in a modern sort of way (see my photo below). The bathroom’s tub was deliciously deep and I definitely enjoyed it one evening post-yoga. My room was located in the newly-constructed annex, an impressively green addition to the main building, and it was extremely quiet every time I was in my room, which is a necessary part of being able to truly relax.

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The accommodations in the new ‘annex’ building were supermodern, green, and minimalist-comfortable. I LOVED the happy Marimekko prints on the pillows in my room, which had a lovely view of the lake below and the Berkshires behind.

All organized, I headed outside to check out the grounds. It was a bit of a misty Spring day, but I could still make out the lake down the hill and the beautiful Berkshire mountains in the distance, and in the foreground some giant rolling lawns leading down to the road.

I think my only complaint about Kripalu are those obscenely large lawns – what a waste of green space! Lawns are basically dead zones – not amenable to plant or animal habitats – and while some lawn areas are great for relaxing on, I would love to see some of those many acres of lawn made into wildflower meadows, or a native plants showcase, or butterfly garden since people come from all over the world to attend programs at Kripalu. Or even a giant herb garden! But I digress – I have a personal problem with the uselessness of lawns.

I walked around the imposing main building, which was originally a Jesuit seminary (and looks it), as well as the newly-added annex, and up the hill behind the building. I could smell tantalizing odors coming from the back of the building, where the kitchens were located, and spotted a sweet little labyrinth which are always a great place to practice a walking meditation. It was a little cool for swimming, unfortunately, but the lake is lovely and there are boats and swimming is permitted at one’s own risk.

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A sign for breakfast (my fave meal by far!), which is, thankfully, silent. It was a relief not to have to speak during the morning repast and really helped me clarify my day.

My first meal was dinner, and I have to take a moment here to elaborate on how incredibly good and fresh the food was at Kripalu. I’ve eaten at a few retreat centers, and plenty of group-buffet type situations, and I had honestly given up on the idea of food cooked in bulk ever tasting great. But the chefs in charge of the mostly vegetarian meal bar (there’s a vegan meal bar too, even though the two overlap quite a bit) really know what they are doing; the yummy smells I had noticed earlier were not a prelude to disappointment at all. I ate warm oatmeal and quinoa with eggs and fresh fruit in the morning, giant salads with tasty sides (for me) like enchiladas at lunch, and totally chowed on the veggie lasagna and Indian entrees at dinner (with more salad – it was fresher than what I got at the supermarket!). And I kid you not, I still lost 3 pounds in 3 days.

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A cairn I found along my hiking route.

Along with a superfun ecstatic dance class (in which I both sweated and cried!) with mostly other women, I took several lectures in about mindful eating and the connection between our thoughts and our goals. Both covered territory I thought I knew, and both surprised me with what I didn’t.

I also really enjoyed the Kripalu style of yoga – though I had never taken an Kripalu class before, it’s now become my favorite kind (and I’ve been practicing for about a decade, off and on). I loved how heart-centered and emotionally connected it was. I felt like I got a good workout in the moderate class, and a good stretch in the beginner class, but more importantly than how much cardio that I got from the yoga (I know how to work up a sweat doing yoga poses all on my own), was the much more move-at-your-own-pace, love your body, non-judgmental style of it. I fell back in love with yoga in my introduction to the Kripalu style, and one of the best yoga classes I’ve taken in my entire life was taught on my retreat by the incredible Carolyn Lundeen.).

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Taking time to enjoy – and photograph – trees against the sky on my hike.

I also took a hike into the woods above Kripalu – because I think spending time in natural spaces is the most relaxing possible way to spend time, and I just love being outside more than about anything. With a hiking map in hand, I walked uphill for about 30 minutes before reaching a sweet Lost Pond, where I took a few minutes to meditate and stare up at the trees. The trails were perfect for hiking solo or with a friend, and ideal for trail running back downhill.

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A beautifully rotting old dock at the Lost Pond.

Just before I left, I was lucky enough to get to experience a massage in Kripalu’s Healing Arts Center. After having such a warm and relaxing time overall, I almost thought that I didn’t have need for a massage at all – until I got one. To be honest, I don’t remember most of it, because I travelled into happy bliss land and didn’t come out until I was halfway home. But now I can’t imagine a visit to relax and heal that didn’t include this final touch.

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The Lost Lake on the peaceful hike I took.

An important part of the Kripalu experience is that it isn’t just about the guests enjoying themselves; a big part of the center’s mission is giving back. They do this in various ways, but the one I was most impressed with is their research into how yoga can help teenagers deal with emotional and psychological issues. I’m also thrilled to hear that they are actively working to get the benefits of alternative therapies and yoga out into a wider audience via the LEAPS (Leadership and Education Program for Students) program in Integrative Medicine, which brings med residents to Kripalu to teach them self-care skills as they prepare for a career in medicine.

Thank you Kripalu, for a truly heart-centered and totally relaxing retreat!

*Describes a mind that jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumps from tree to tree. The monkey mind is not content with exisiting in the present moment, but rather engages in the thoughts that pass through.

One comment

  1. Travel Magma · June 15, 2012

    Thanks Starre for sharing your valuable experience about such a eco-friendly and healthy travel getaway. Hope, this will inspire many fellow travelers to rethink about their trips to make it to a place for complete healing and relaxation.