STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. – The advice from Linda Trichter Metcalf, my instructor for the week at Kripalu, North America’s largest yoga and holistic health center, was simple: “Write what you hear.”
Part of the beauty of Kripalu is often you don’t hear a thing. There’s no television. No public computers. Cellphone use in common areas is frowned upon. And by 10 p.m. most halls are empty, doors are locked, and lights are out.
One November night, sitting alongside another night owl, I was amazed to find the window directly before us wide open. It prompted an investigation of crystal clear skies above western Massachusetts’ Berkshire Hills, alive with stars, silence – and stillness.
“In order to understand the path of the strivers,” writes Stephen Cope – the founder of Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living – in “The Wisdom of Yoga,” “we will have to convince ourselves of the necessity, the magic, the absolute brilliance of stillness.”
While stillness can be experienced anywhere, Kripalu offers the opportunity to explore it more deeply.
I wanted to drink it all in. At Kripalu, the well seems to overflow. Whether you’re a yoga novice, your practice is second nature or you haven’t got a clue as to what to do on the mat, here your cup can runneth over, starting at 7 a.m. at silent breakfast.
Lying in the Stockbridge Bowl, 925 feet above sea level, overlooking Lake Mahkeenac, Kripalu is bounded by a range varying from Tyringham Cobble at 1,310 feet to Mount Everett, at 2,602 feet.
Its history is equally impressive. In 1893, on the slope Nathaniel Hawthorne named Shadowbrook in “The Wonder Game,” entrepreneur, financier and philanthropist Anson Phelps Stokes built a home that at the time was believed to be the largest in the United States. The year 1917 saw Shadowbrook become Andrew Carnegie’s country home, which his wife in 1922 sold to the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), who converted it into a novitiate. A 1956 fire took four father’s lives and Shadowbrook to the ground, leaving only its foundation. The Jesuits rebuilt, but declining enrollment caused them to leave in 1970.
In the 1970s, nondenominational Kripalu organized originally as an ashram in Summit Station, Pa. Swami Kripalu, a Hatha yogi for whom Kripalu is named, lived with the community for four years. In 1983 the members purchased an empty Shadowbrook, bringing new life to the property and the area.
The picturesque and serene center welcomes 25,000 plus visitors annually. Yoga is the foundation, and classes, available to all guests, are held morning, midday and late afternoon, in addition to yoga workshops. Yet the program here is broad, ranging from health and wellness, creativity, spirituality and professional advancement.
“Most come to get deeper into yoga … Or their lives are in transition,” said Micah Mortali, of the volunteer program. Mortali came here in 2004 to be a yoga teacher and returned as a volunteer, then becoming program manager. (He serves as director of the Schools of Yoga and Ayurveda.)
Whether to volunteer, study, visit or even work, Carol Bosco Bauman, Kripalu’s media relations director, gives a sense as to why people come to Kripalu.
“It’s a great way to mesh the fluidity of lifestyle, working in a community-minded, nonprofit organization that has fun, yoga and health-oriented programs, is doing good in the world, and empowers people to listen to their intuition, make good decisions and be mindful of self-care.”
Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living is taking Kripalu’s mission “to empower people and communities to realize their full potential through the transformative wisdom and practice of yoga,” to the streets so to speak. The institute has taken on a number of projects, collaborating with researchers at Harvard Medical School, the University of Connecticut and the University of Virginia.
All this study and practice is not to imply Kripalu is all work and no play. Some want to do it all by day, and continue on through the night. Kripalu evenings offer the chance to join in a drum circle; participate in kirtan, India’s call-and-response chanting; explore Kripalu Yoga’s fundamentals; or enjoy a concert. Informal lectures and cooking demonstrations also are part of Kripalu at night.
The R & R Retreat is an excellent way to introduce yourself to Kripalu. A two-night stay is required, and allows you to customize your visit by attending yoga classes, workshops on nutrition and wellness or enjoy outdoor activities such as kayaking, swimming, skiing or snowshoeing. An uphill climb to Monk’s Pond, one of several trails here, will afford you an exhilarating afternoon, and an even better view of the Stockbridge Bowl. Venture down to the water’s edge, or visit the Swami Kripalu Meditation Garden.
I allowed myself to indulge in the food. It’s hard not to; the likes of herbed tofu pot pie, long grain and wild rice, roasted beets and fennel, steamed almonds, green beans and kale await in the dining room.
“Our dining room reflects the programs at Kripalu,” said Executive Chef Jeremy Smith. “We embrace many approaches to food, but all are grounded in quality, discernment, choice and intention.”
The Kripalu kitchen prepares fresh, wholesome food, using organic products when possible.
The emphasis is on vegetarian protein, with greens and whole grains served everyday. Poultry and seafood are served free of hormones and antibiotics. There’s a sandwich bar where you can grill your own panini or make nut-butter sandwiches. A typical day may find you having buckwheat or gluten-free pancakes with agave nectar topping, and having a black bean burger covered with mushroom gravy for lunch. The Kripalu menu was a feast I looked forward to every day, hated to leave behind and long to return to.
Kripalu accommodations are retreat style. Dormitories with bunk beds and shared hall bathrooms are common, as are double occupancy rooms, again with shared hall facilities. If traveling alone and you register for a shared room, you’ll be assigned a same-sex roommate. Standard plus rooms with private baths also are an option.
If you go
• The Norman Rockwell Museum is a 10-minute drive from Kripalu, and Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, is virtually across the street. The nearby village of Lenox, home of Shakespeare & Company is within walking distance.
• Getting there: Kripalu is about an hour east of Albany. Your best bet to determine how to arrive is to go to www.kripalu.org/directions.