Kim at Kripalu

Greetings from Blissville. Since Monday, I've been soaking up the relaxed vibrations of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. The largest yoga facility in North America, Kripalu sits on 300-plus acres overlooking the Berkshires, a cluster of glorious mountain ranges in western Massachusetts.

Although under Kripalu ownership since 1983, the property - Shadowbrook - dates to the 1890s, when it was originally built as a private country estate. Having changed hands a few times (including Andrew Carnegie, who used it as a summer home), Shadowbrook also operated as a Jesuit seminary for nearly 50 years.

Another cool tidbit I discovered: Shadowbrook's luscious acreage was originally designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park).

For many, mention of the word "Kripalu" conjures up images of a Hindu ashram, and rightly so. For many of its 23 years, Kripalu did operate much like an ashram, with a few hundred people living there as full-time residents, working on the property in exchange for room, board and spiritual sustenance.

Those days are long gone. Nary a year-round resident now can be found at Kripalu, and two years ago, the strictly vegetarian dining hall expanded its menu to include fish and poultry. During my stay this week, the carnivorous choices included blackened tilapia, turkey sandwich fixin's for lunch and Sloppy Joes made with ground turkey.

Still, Kripalu offers a unique lodging experience that is strikingly different from a night at a Hilton.

For starters, the rooms are a TV, phone and air-conditioned-free zone. (I know you're thinking there are plenty of B&Bs without such electronic comforts, so what's the big deal) But have you ever stayed in a place that is keyless? That's right, you do not receive a key of any kind when you check in at Kripalu. All doors are unlocked, and I gotta say, there's something liberating about the experience.

For most guests, bathrooms are shared space, and it's rare to have a bedroom of your own. If management has its way, though, Kripalu will expand over the next few years with 80 new rooms, all with private baths (and oooh! Possibly air conditioning).

But for now, there's no alcohol or soda. You want coffee? You gotta pay for the caffeine jolt--$1.50 for a 12-ounce cup of organic stuff, and it's available only until about 4:30 in the afternoon. Dessert is served twice a week, and breakfast is a silent experience.

The modest comfort level was of no concern; I was happy to adjust to simple surroundings (although, I say that typing this post from Kripalu's wireless café area, where a few 20-somethings at adjacent tables are talking to their pals via Skype).

As you may imagine, the food limitations brought about a cause for pause in my hyper-culinary world. However, considering the mass volume, the food looks and tastes good, with attention to both culinary and nutritional details.

You don't want cow's milk? That's cool - you can have soy or rice milk instead. Vegetarians get their own buffet line so that their food stays separated from meat products. Raw foodists would have plenty to eat here, and there's even a "Macro Bar" which offers several hot macrobiotic choices.

And because I couldn't have dessert with every meal or coffee anytime I wanted it, my cravings for these things began to wane. I was eating less, too.

When not in yoga or meditation class with instructor Jillian Pransky (who teaches in the New York metro area), I got lost in the woods, swam in nearby Lake Mahkeenac and had my first full-fledged foot massage (Ever have someone devote 50 minutes to your feet? Amazing!)

There was time to stare at the mountains, commune with wildlife (rabbits on the front lawn, wild turkeys in the forest -- and get this -- a few black bear sightings!) and listen to myself breathe.

In spite of my regular yoga practice, it had been too long since I spent quality time listening to myself breathe and breaking from ridiculous pace of urban tower living.

Maybe Kripalu is not your kind of place, but where do you go to unplug and turn inward? Do you ever explore the ways you eat, drink and rest? Or is this a completely foreign concept? Share in the comments area below.

I fly to Washington today, then tomorrow I head west for Gilroy, Calif., where the 28th annual Garlic Festival is underway. Check this blog space on Monday for a full report!

By Kim ODonnel |  July 28, 2006; 11:28 AM ET  | Category:  Travel , Vegetarian
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I am so jealous! I have been contemplating a trip to Kripalu for a while. I was drooling over their latest catalogue just yesterday. Right now my budget can't handle it. But it sounds like its worth saving up for! Thanks for sharing your experience.

Posted by: | July 28, 2006 01:16 PM

that sounds like absolute misery to me!!! give me a spa w/ champagne!

Posted by: me | July 28, 2006 01:35 PM

Thanks! I've been to Kripalu before, but it sounds like they've changed the menu to appeal to more people. Used to be a coffee lover had to trek to a coffee shop in town. I suspect Kripalu's 'business' has been challenged by the growth of the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, as it's offered more yoga classes. Kripalu's a great retreat, but always felt kind of spartan compared to Omega. Sounds like they're more comparable now.

Posted by: csb | July 28, 2006 01:42 PM

I'd been going to Kripalu for several years for three-day weekends. Then last New Year's I found myself w/o plans, and all my friends were away or attached. I decided, at the last minute, to sign up for the dance program at Kripalu.
It was amazing. Dancing for six hours a day was exhausting, but exhilarating. The 24-hour spiritual meditative space was beautiful and walking in the woods in the snow? I could be with people if I wanted and didn't feel a twinge of sad for being without a kiss at midnight. I've already signed up for this year.

I will say one thing - it used to be such a hippie place that I feel a little weird seeing someone wearing fur walk through the lobby and turn their nose up at the food. I know that Kripalu wants to expand but I still hope it stays simple, and more commune than spa...

Posted by: YogaGrrl | July 28, 2006 10:40 PM

Your post was such a bummer! I spent a few days at Kripalu in '81 when they were still in Pennsylvania, and it was just a wonderful experience, similar to the week I spent at an Episcopalian convent two years earlier, albeit with massages available. I'm really disappointed that they've decided to become a resort rather than a retreat.

Posted by: Susan | July 31, 2006 07:04 PM

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