Kripalu Weathers Change by Being Flexible and Disciplined
Change is never easy but when change comes to a beloved institution, one that has been a source of succor for tens of thousands, it can be downright dangerous. This is why cathedrals are built to last.
The brains behind Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, a “cathedral” of sorts to the 28,000 pilgrims who visit it each year, have proven to be adept at navigating the choppy waters of change. Founded in Sumneytown, PA in 1972 by Yogi Amrit Desai, Kripalu is the only yoga center in North America known to have successfully made the transition from exclusive ashram to welcoming retreat-and-education center for paying guests. It also has been a major catalyst in the change in the public’s perception of yoga over the last 37 years. Without 5,000 certified Kripalu Yoga teachers spreading the gospel worldwide, it is doubtful that anything like 20 million Americans would be practicing yoga today.
Shiva knows, Kripalu has not gotten where it is on its looks. Though set on a stunning 100-acre campus, once Andrew Carnegie’s Shadowbrook Estate, its main building, also called Shadowbrook, was constructed hastily in 1956 as a Jesuit novitiate, to replace the 100-room Carnegie mansion after it burnt to the ground. The best that can be said of Shadowbrook 2: the building is solid. The worst: it is borderline institutional grim, both uninspired and uninspiring. More to the point, many of the sleeping accommodations in it are best suited to ascetics—dormitory-style with shared baths.
Today, the health benefits of yoga are irrefutable, so all sorts of people want a room in the inn—a nice, quiet, private one with a view of the mountains and lake, and an en suite bath. Once again Kripalu has met the challenge of change without alarming its core constituency (not too much, anyhow). From the outside, the new 6-story “green” Annex, designed by the Cambridge architectural firm Peter Rose & Partners, could pass for a hip, modern Swiss ski resort, with it’s manually-operated sliding exterior shutters, cleverly engineered to filter direct gain by day and offer privacy by night, without blocking airflow or the views from within. The southern cypress from which the slats were milled was salvaged from trees felled in New Orleans by hurricane Katrina. The wood will eventually weather to a gentle gray.
But it is inside the new wing that the delicate balance between simplicity and comfort is most evident. In addition to an airy 2,800 square-foot program room (above), there are eighty double and single rooms that are at once cheerful and spartan. On the spartan side, there are no closets—just small bedside cupboards, a small bureau with a bar above just big enough to hold a few hangers, and a couple of hooks for clothes, though Kripalu is going to be adding more storage to the rooms. On the cheerful side, each room is bright and airy with a stunning view and, thanks to a large interior window separating the en suite bedroom-and-bath, guests may soak or shower by natural light, while taking in the vista. “Our guests don’t come here to watch tv and talk on the phone,” says Jennifer Webster, Kripalu’s Director of Operations, by way of explaining the absence of in-room phones and tv screens. No, but some do want a measure of comfort, quiet, and privacy, and the rooms in the Annex certainly provide that.
Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
Stockbridge, MA 413.448.458 or 800.741.7353
Private rooms and doubles in both Shadowbrook and the Annex are $294 per person per weekend night or $263 midweek. This includes 3 meals daily, yoga classes, and use of the fitness room, sauna and whirlpool. Kripalu offers literally hundreds of additional programs each year, many targeted at yoga instructors, all outlined in their catalog. The cost of programs is additional.
Kripalu for locals:
For those who wish to visit Kripalu without staying the night, there is a Kripalu Day Pass ($100 per day in season and on off-season weekends; $75 mid-week November 3 to June 1, which covers Retreat & Renewal activities, including yoga (many kinds) and other classes, hiking, kayaking, plus three meals and Kripalu at Night offerings.
To practice Kripalu yoga off-site, the Berkshire Kripalu Community has classes for members. Members of BKC may attend Kripalu at Night programs for free. For $18, a member also may have dinner there.