Good Escapes

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wellness Weekend: Kripalu

Kripalu's grounds were originally landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted and have great trails

The Kripalu center, a new-age landmark in Lenox, Massachusetts, known for its beloved integrative-style yoga, its bland but healthy food (often eaten in silence), and its ashram deprivation-for-enlightenment ethos, has moved on from its ‘70s-style silent retreats with new and improved rooms, terrific (not strictly vegetarian) food, and a roster of yoga and mind-body superstars.

It’s still housed in a former Jesuit seminary, built in the unfortunate cinder-block institutional style of 1957. But now the Annex, a groovy, eco-friendly building sits beside it, provides a touch of architectural glamour and much plusher accommodations than Kripalu guests have ever known.

It used to be that Kripalu’s inner life was what attracted guests and the best and brightest yoga teachers, spiritual leaders, and mind-body practitioners who teach sold out workshops year-round—Rodney Yee, Robert Thurman, and Julia Cameron are all regulars. But on a recent visit for a Sadie Nardini retreat on Core Strength Vinyasa, I quickly noticed that Kripalu offers almost every necessary resort amenity—stellar spa services, the aforementioned delicious food, gorgeous grounds, plus sauna and hot tub facilities—but without the pomp or major price tag. (This retreat cost $210, but rates vary.)

Kripalu-style yoga classes are offered several times a day

That’s not to say it’s luxe. The luxury of Kripalu is the time, space, and encouragement to partake in a little self-improvement and guru-sanctioned naval-gazing. And permission to walk around in yoga pants all weekend. At any given time five to ten retreats are simultaneously in session. That means hard-bodied, Type-A yogis attending David Swenson’s Ashtanga workshop rub shoulders with a light-headed group on a 5-night detox program and gooey couples studying partner massage. You can also make your own a la carte curriculum, and just pick and choose from Kripalu’s daily classes, an impressive roster of sessions on everything from yoga and kirtan to aromatherapy, and join the others in the dining room at meal times. Here’s a bit more about what you should know before you go:

Kripalu QUEEN Room Annex

Suite dreams: Kripalu's new eco-friendly Annex room

ACCOMMODATIONS
Kripalu is famous (or infamous) for its affordable dormitory lodging and shared hallway bathrooms. Dorm rooms have between two and eight beds; you choose beforehand and get what you pay for. Book in the main building, and you’ll be bunking in the one-time bedroom of a Jesuit monk, and not a lot has changed since Brother John was in residence. (It’s perfectly clean but my college dorm room was nicer.) In the new Annex, the comfortable yet concrete rooms have colorful Marimekko pillows on white beds, signaling a small decorating effort. Private bathrooms have a glassed-in tub that peers directly into the bedroom. The dorms start at roughly $151 and the Annex rooms can run from $249 to $451, depending on time of year and weekday versus weekend. Rates are per-person, per-night and include meals and all of Kripalu’s own programming.

SPA

The Healing Arts Center has been around since Kripalu’s beginnings, when it was dedicated to Ayurveda. In fact, today Kripalu still runs a world-renowned Ayurvedic training program. Spa services are top-notch with therapists who love and excel at what they do. And the menu is huge, including nutritional counseling, energy work, body work, and every Ayurvedic treatment imaginable. Not surprisingly the focus is on healing and relaxation instead of results-oriented skincare (Dr. Hauschka is the house brand) or vanity slimming services. In the basement are whirlpools and saunas for men and women. Avoid them at all costs: The sauna quarters were cramped, and the whirlpool looked like a frothy cauldron of bleach.

dining at Kripalu

The broader buffet at Kripalu makes vegans and carnivores happy

FOOD
Visitors to the Kripalu of yore remember a vegetarian regime of bland kale, brown rice, and eating in silence. Breakfasts are still silent, but the rest of the meals are taken along with the earnest conversation of self-improvement. (Though there is a small Silent Dining Room adjacent to the cafeteria.) Vegetarianism has given way to a broader menu that includes fish and meat, though a separate line for vegetarians spares them the trauma of coming face to face with the locally sourced bacon. Macrobiotics and vegans get their own buffet bar. The only remaining interdictions are on coffee and wine. At breakfast I saw a woman arrive with her own French Press (no one confiscated it), but I didn’t see anyone uncork a bottle of wine at dinner. Condiments include kelp flakes and dulse, and the cafeteria-style tables include placards containing healthy eating tips.

Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, near Lenox, Massachusetts, 866-200-5203, www.kripalu.org; the drive is just under three hours from New York City

Have you been to Kripalu? Tell us about your experience, here!

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