Personal Retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

Written by Teresa Bergen

December 30, 2022
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At Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires, you can participate in a self-discovery workshop or take a private retreat on this alcohol-free campus.

When I visited Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in January, the 125-acre campus in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains was covered in snow. Outside, I wandered a beautiful snowy labyrinth alone, marveling at all that bright white snow. Hundreds of people were having their own retreats inside the buildings, whether reading a book in a quiet lounge, participating in a self-development workshop, or free-form dancing to live drumming while pairing off and affirming each other with shouts of, “You’re amazing!”

Kripalu Center.

Kripalu in winter. Photo by Teresa Bergen

There’s a wide variety of experiences at Kripalu, and it’s all done sober, as it’s an alcohol-free campus. I highly recommend a retreat there for people who are into yoga and wellness modalities, as long as you have a high tolerance for alternative points of view. I’ll admit mine was stretched at times. But overall, I was greatly impressed by how this massive yoga centered catered to the needs of so many earnest navel gazers (myself included). It’s a well-oiled wellness machine.

Kripalu History

First, there was the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. Then there was the late nineteenth-century cottage owned by Andrew Carnegie. In 1957, Jesuits came and built a monastery on this land.

Meanwhile, Amrit Desai came to the United States from India in 1960 to study at the Philadelphia College of Art. Desai was a disciple of Swami Kripalu, a revered yogi. He brought Swami Kripalu’s teachings to Philadelphia and co-founded the Yoga Society of Pennsylvania in 1966.  Later the name changed to Kripalu Yoga Fellowship. As Desai’s influence grew, he opened facilities and expanded offerings to include all sorts of self-discovery and holistic health programs in the 1970s. In 1983 Kripalu bought the old Jesuit property, Shadowbrook.  By the mid-1980s, more than 350 residential staff were massaging guests, training yoga teachers, advising on spirituality, and making the whole complex run. At that time, Kripalu was an ashram rather than a secular retreat center.

A historical display shows off some of Swami Kripalu's artifacts.

A historical display shows off some of Swami Kripalu’s artifacts. Photo by Teresa Bergen

After charges of Desai’s financial and sexual improprieties (an all-too-common problem in the yoga community, what with all those lithe bodies and gullible minds) in 1994, he was forced to resign. Kripalu transformed from a religious society into an educational organization in 1999. Instead of a guru, a board of trustees oversaw it, just in time for a huge yoga boom and seemingly limitless opportunities for teacher training.

I don’t mean to sound cynical. I started practicing yoga in 1992 and taught in studios, gyms, and corporations for thirteen years. Yoga can be a huge life-enhancing practice. But I’ve also seen a lot of misplaced faith and heard countless unsubstantiated claims. I love the American yoga world in a family way—with appreciation and some eye rolls here and there.

The Campus at Kripalu Center

Kripalu has a super campus. Think miles of trails and a postcard-perfect lake. Since I was there in the winter, I saw the snowy side of things—crunchy trails and frozen streams. The lake was just for looking. But in summer, people swim, kayak and paddleboard.

The lake at Kripalu Center.

The lake in summer. Photo courtesy of Kripalu

The main building is still called Shadowbrook, the name the Jesuits gave it. There’s also an annex that contains more rooms. Guests could easily stay inside Shadowbrook for a week. In addition to lodging, it has a massive cafeteria, many classrooms, a meditation room, a sunroom, a wireless lounge (guests are asked to confine their electronics to here or private rooms), a huge main hall, café, gift shop, gym, whirlpool, and sauna.

Hang-out area at Kripalu Center.

A hang-out area at Kripalu. Photo by Teresa Bergen

The café supplies coffee and snacks between dining hall hours of operation. In the gift shop, you can choose from a staggering selection of self-improvement books, buy a Hindu statue, or buy an extra pair of $100 yoga pants in case you didn’t pack enough. You can browse if you’re feeling far from everyday city shopping. I know I’m very American that way—it seems strange to go for days with nothing on offer to buy.

A Snowshoeing Workshop

People can come for group workshops or personal retreats. I signed up for a three-day snowshoeing and yoga program. We had a pretty light schedule—a couple of hours of snowshoeing in the morning and a two-hour yoga session in the afternoon. Otherwise, we were free to wander, participate in extra yoga and attend evening events like talks or musical performances.

Snowshoeing near Kripalu Center.

Our snowshoeing group. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Two guides led us on walks along snowy trails, encouraging our group of 25 to stay silent and mindful. It was only about 10 degrees, so we mostly kept moving. But occasionally, we stopped for short mindfulness exercises, and once near the end, we passed around a talking stick—i.e., a hemlock branch– and took turns sharing what our walk in the cold forest had stirred in us. There was a lot of talk of gratitude and feeling connected to nature. Our group was mostly female, and a lot had stressed-out lives. On our last morning, a woman started crying as she thanked one of our guides for carrying her water bottle the previous day. She seemed used to bearing the weight of the world and doing everything herself, which is surely an all too common feeling.

Pausing for a mindfulness exercise.

Pausing for a mindfulness exercise. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Other Kripalu Center workshops

Kripalu divides its programming into the general themes of yoga; Ayurveda; creative expression; health, fitness, and wellness; self-discovery; and spiritual practice and meditation. Usually, several programs are occurring simultaneously. A typical weekend could include courses on secrets of great relationships, building a better immune system for lifelong health and vitality, and a silent retreat. While many weekend retreats last two nights, longer programs in yoga therapy, yoga teacher training, and mindful outdoor guiding can last ten days or more. During the pandemic, Kripalu also beefed up its online program so you can participate from anywhere.

You can expect a lot of yoga.

You can expect a lot of yoga. Photo courtesy of Kripalu

For people interested in recovery-related retreats, Kripalu has a few workshops in early 2023. Rolf Gates, a leading voice on yoga and recovery, is hosting his annual “Yoga, Meditation, and Recovery Conference” in May. I would love to go to that one. Kripalu faculty member Aruni Nan Futuronsky’s program Grief, Loss, and Renewal has been helpful for people in recovery.  That workshop is coming up at the end of March.

A personal retreat

Many people book personal retreats at Kripalu. This means you can pick from a daily schedule of classes and experiences or do your own thing. You could be busy from morning to night with yoga, guided hikes, ecstatic dance, and entertainment like music or storytelling. Or you can choose to be as un-busy as you want, wandering the grounds and participating in a yoga class.

I was partial to wandering the labyrinth.

I was partial to wandering the labyrinth. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Whatever you do, you’ll be doing it alcohol and smoke-free. “Kripalu does not have a philosophy or attitude on alcohol,” Tracy Williams, Kripalu’s senior director of marketing told me. “That said, we are a sober campus, and it is a wonderful place to visit for those choosing to abstain or take a break, given our focus on mindfulness and self-care, beautiful grounds, and delicious and nourishing food.”

As a long-time sober person, I seek out situations where alcohol is blissfully removed from the equation.

Time and space for contemplation.

Time and space for contemplation. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Accommodations at Kripalu Center

The rooms are all very simple, keeping the theme of mindfulness. I had one of the more deluxe rooms, which was still pretty basic, with two twin beds, white walls, and no art. The one colorful indulgence was a pillow with big hot pink flowers on each bed. Despite the simplicity, the bed was comfortable, with nice covers and a decent reading light.

A deluxe room at Kripalu.

A deluxe room at Kripalu. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Lodging ranges from shared dormitory rooms to rooms with shared baths to relatively deluxe rooms. I had a private bathroom. All rates include three meals a day, yoga classes, and additional programming along with the room. You might be able to stay for about $100 per night if you are willing to share a dorm room. Otherwise, expect to pay about $300 to over $500 per night, depending on room type and whether you visit midweek (cheaper) or on the weekend.

Food at Kripalu Center

All of Kripalu’s food is buffet style and mostly vegetarian, though they serve a limited amount of fish and poultry. As a vegan, I loved the extensive selection of vegetables, Indian entrees, beans, a big salad bar, and homemade bread. I appreciated that all the ingredients were listed near each dish. It was sometimes on the bland side—I heard one night’s meal of mung beans, whipped carrots, chard, cabbage, and couscous screaming out for hot sauce—but it was very healthy and nutritious. Kripalu also makes delicious vegan cookies, mostly for sale in the café rather than included in the buffet. I bought at least one chocolate chia cookie in the café and a coffee there. Coffee is only served in the cafeteria at breakfast.

Dinner at Kripalu.

Dinner at Kripalu. Photo by Teresa Bergen

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My Time at Kripalu

During my time at Kripalu, I felt particularly reclusive. So I was thrilled that Kripalu features a silent dining room in addition to the main dining room. No need for small talk. It was awesome. The people I interacted with were all very nice, but I wasn’t in a friend-making mood. I enjoyed that there was space at Kripalu for people who wanted to ecstatic dance in a room with 60 others, those who preferred wandering a snowy labyrinth alone, and everybody in between. The next time you are looking for a spa or a wellness retreat, let Wander With Wonder be your guide. We also have a growing selection of articles dedicated to sober travel.

At Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires, you can participate in a self-discovery workshop or take a private retreat on this alcohol-free campus. 

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Personal Retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

Written by Teresa Bergen

Teresa Bergen is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer and web content developer specializing in sustainability, outdoors, vegan and sober travel. Her articles appear in Inhabitat, Bluedot Living, MSN Travel, USA Today Outdoors Wire and other print and online publications. She’s the author of Easy Portland Outdoors and Sober Travel Handbook and co-author of Historic Cemeteries of Portland, Oregon. Teresa belongs to the Society of American Travel Writers and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

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