At Sruti, Strength Training for Body and Serenity for Mind
Between eggnog-fueled family feuds, latke hangovers, and strangely competitive Secret Santa exchanges, peace of body and soul can be in short supply during the holiday season. But take heart, weary reindeer. Chances are that Sruti Berkshire Yoga Center in Great Barrington—part fitness mecca, part spiritual hub, part community center—has a class to treat whatever seasonal symptom ails you.
Need practice keeping your cool at tense holiday dinners? Sruti’s Ashtanga and Kundalini yoga courses, which emphasize quiet discipline, can help practitioners learn to avoid spats: just take a deep breath and say “om.” Spiritual types outside the Judeo-Christian tradition can swap out holly and carols for cedar smudging ceremonies and energy-clearing songs at a medicine wheel meditation and prayer circle each Tuesday. And this winter, those looking to burn off fruitcakes and fudge can wiggle their hips to pop-Latin beats at Zumba classes led by Ilana Siegal—though the booty-shaking dance workout is so distractingly exuberant, they’re likely to forget they’re exercising at all.
Founded in 2010 by yoga teacher and healer Amy Webb, Sruti is an experiential learning center that functions as a Swiss army knife for mind-body restoration. Webb, a native of Rochester, NY, says the studio’s varied courses provide healthy, engaging alternatives to more sedentary activities. “I wanted to offer many different classes,” Webb says, “so that people could find something to do that wasn’t dependent on going out for a drink or sitting in a theater.”
The studio’s downtown location helps Sruti members integrate the center’s warm, accepting atmosphere into the outside world. “With yoga,” Webb explains, “it’s really important for you to practice off the mat.” Classmates transition seamlessly from the bustling shops of Railroad Street to Sruti’s recently expanded second-floor studio, which encompasses two spacious, sunny rooms with hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, and the lingering scent of burning sage. After class, members trot across the street to grab a bite at farm-to-table restaurants like Allium and Fiori—or, if it’s the first Friday of the month, stick around for a tea house with live jazz music. Hepcats need only bring their own mugs.
Some classes at Sruti double as forms of group therapy. Spirit of Recovery-Spirit of Community, a weekly Friday night course led by coach Tim Walsh and a rotating series of co-teachers, aims to help people along the road to personal healing with movement, meditation, and a sharing circle—all accented with rain sticks and wooden flutes. Walsh says the course, which is open to all, was designed with people recovering from addiction in mind. “Twelve-step programs are great,” he says, “but this helps get people out of church basements and into the community.”
The class banishes self-consciousness by mixing sincere heart-to-hearts with straight-up silliness. On a recent evening, Webb and Walsh had the whole class naming their favorite superheroes and bouncing like jumping beans across the room before joining together in silent meditation.
Other courses emphasize the benefits of more regimented practices. Webb’s advanced Ashtanga class, which uses the Mysore method created by Shri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India, features a sequence of poses and breaths that takes years to master. “It’s about working out misalignments and striving for symmetry,” Webb says. Each day, practiced yogis pretzel themselves into Gumby-like contortions while following a smooth flow of asanas. For those just starting out on the path, no experience is required to join the Mysore sessions, and beginner classes are also available each week.
Among Mysore’s devotees is Steven Macleay, a general contractor who began practicing at Sruti about two years ago. At the time, he’d been coping with asthma for more than 20 years. “After a few weeks,” Macleay says, “I noticed that my breathing was getting better.” As an experiment, he decided to try going off his asthma medication. He says he hasn’t needed it since.
Rounding out Sruti’s offerings are Webb’s private healing sessions. She uses rattles, stones, and feathers to create gentle, therapeutic cleansing experiences drawn from Peruvian shamanistic traditions. Webb is particularly passionate about helping people move through the last stages of their lives by providing passing rights. “It’s about what would help them feel clear and ready and at peace with that transition,” she says. “I had an experience with my own grandfather that was phenomenal and beautiful.”
Since Webb expanded Sruti’s physical space back in August, she’s gearing up to add even more courses to the studio’s brimming roster. Last week, visiting teacher Petri Raisanen (seen at right, photo by Tom Rosenthal from “Sacred Space” series) hosted an intensive ashtanga weekend workshop. Down the line, Webb hopes to add a Spirit of Adventure class to complement Walsh’s current Friday night course. She worked as a wilderness guide for more than a decade before striking out on her own as a yoga teacher and small business entrepreneur, and she’s eager to expand Sruti’s reach with day trips and overnights into the Berkshires’ storybook mountains and forests.
“Sruti has all the experiential aspects of a wilderness trip,” Webb says. Both are about stripping away distractions to focus on building self-knowledge and a sense of community. “In a group, you lose your identity in a good way,” she says. “You become part of a circle, a tribe — a team.” —Sarah Todd
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