Kripalu

»The largest yoga retreat in North America«

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Kripalu is the epitome of Westernized yoga and healing retreats. Set in a forested environment in an exclusive resort area, meat and coffee are available on the menu, and class attendance is not compulsory. This distinctly non-yogic approach is counterbalanced with simple accommodations, silent breakfast-times, and an understanding of yoga that could have stepped out of India itself. In short, it is the place to go for an ashram-like experience without the intensity of true ashram living.

  • What we love
  • Vast array of programs to choose from
  • Extensive grounds, allowing peace and solitude even in high season
  • Many guest teachers and speakers throughout the year
  • Yoga and other therapies used to target specific health issues
  • What to know
  • Not a place for ashram-living purists
  • Meals hall can be crowded in summer
  • Very simple accommodation
  • Why go
  • Short retreats for fast-track spiritual detox (good for those with a limited amount of time)
  • Guest teachers skilled in a range of yoga styles
  • Beautiful natural setting

Kripalu has a colorful background. Originally springing up out of the 1960s interest in communal living, the ashram dissolved in a flood of rumors about administrative corruption. What remains today however is a well-operated retreat center that uses the Kripalu Yoga style to bring harmony back into the daily lives of its guests.

While guests here really are guests, with no requirement to rise with the sun and spend their day engaged in a compulsory schedule, potential visitors should not be misguided into thinking that this is five-star living. The main dormitory was once a Jesuit monastery. This means there are no fancy fixtures and fittings inside the cinder-block building that rises starkly out of the green expanse of lawn. In ashram tradition, the monastic cells are designed for inner richness and contemplation, not to indulge the physical body. In other words, if you're looking for Egyptian cotton sheets and 24 hour room-service, go elsewhere.

While there are a myriad of program options, it is the yoga that we like to focus on! The style practiced here is unique to Kripalu, logically called Kripalu Yoga, and is born out of the original Swami's background in Kundalini and Raja, also known as Ashtanga. One of the guiding principles of the Raja/Ashtanga style is using meditation to develop a deep self-knowledge, which is the foundation of any yoga taken at Kripalu. Whether a guest is taking a beginner, moderate, or advanced class, a three-level approach is always used. First, the asanas – physical poses – are used to begin to bring alignment to the body. This is blended with pranayama – breathing exercises – to invigorate the energy flow. Second, meditation is incorporated to balance mental awareness with physical. The third and final stage is a more spontaneous style unique to Kripalu in which guests are encouraged to allow their bodies and minds to guide their own session, listening to the body's demands for the next pose.

The yoga classes here almost invariably use yoga as therapy. Everything from weight issues to Parkinson's Disease are targeted, with the yoga itself being adapted to the health and skill level of the individual. Guest teachers give workshops in their own style, with their own specialties in mind. Notable names present options as wide-ranging as yoga-for-back-pain through to foundational workshops in the unique Iyengar style.

Because of the eclectic mix of program options, there is an equally eclectic mix of guests. While a minority of past participants have felt that Kripalu is something of a yoga 'scene' that is more concerned with how good a person looks in Spandex than how far their inner journey has progressed, most attendees perceive the mixture of backgrounds and personalities to be diverse and interesting.

One of the most notable longer-term programs is the Teacher Training Course. Accredited with the Yoga Alliance and offered in the international standards of 200 or 500 hours, graduates are trained in the Kripalu style. To date there are more than 500 graduates of this course, with the number increasing yearly as each small class completes its qualification. Potential students should note that the 500 hour qualification is actually just 300 hours that can only be undertaken by those who have completed their 200 hour certification in any yoga style.

Kripalu has been voted the top yoga center in the United States by five US-based magazines and as the oldest established yoga and healing center in the country has received plenty of media coverage. For our American readers with a little time and some spare funds, this is probably the ideal place to experience a yoga retreat for the first time. Bringing together the basic tenets of peaceful contemplation and yoga with a softer approach to daily life than a true ashram experience, this sweeping estate in the Berkshires is one part holiday, one part monastic retreat and one part deep yoga instruction.

About the area: The Berkshires

The Berkshires are a southern arm of Vermont’s green mountains in western Massachusetts. A hugely popular vacation destination, this green forested area is dotted with small towns for which the word ‘quaint’ was probably invented. During the mid-year summer season the Berkshires are brimming with tourists, almost all of whom come for the lively arts scene or to indulge in the many outdoors activities that this area is notable for. During peak season the hills are filled with hikers, the rivers with rafters and the trails with horse-back riders, yet it is still possible to feel alone as the sprawling area allows plenty of space for all. Temperatures are most pleasant during late spring through early fall, ranging from 15 - 24 degrees C (60 - 75 degrees F).

Image credit: Kripalu

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