You can take a private or group retreat at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, located in Berkshires.

In January, I visited Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health and the 125-acre Berkshire Mountains campus was completely covered with snow. I walked through a snowy labyrinth outside, admiring the bright white snow. Inside the buildings were hundreds of people having their own retreats, whether they were reading a book, taking part in a workshop on self-development, or dancing free-form to live drumming, while affirming one another with “You’re Amazing!”

Kripalu during winter. Teresa Bergen, Photo

The campus is alcohol-free, so you can enjoy a variety of activities. If you are interested in yoga or wellness, I recommend that you attend a retreat at Kripalu. However, it is important to have a strong tolerance for other viewpoints. I admit that my tolerance for alternative points of view was sometimes stretched. Overall, I was impressed with how this huge yoga center catered to so many navel-gazers (myself also included). It’s like a well-oiled machine.

Kripalu history

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. Andrew Carnegie owned a cottage in the late 19th century. Jesuits built a monastery on this land in 1957.

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Amrit Dasai, meanwhile, came from India to the United States in 1960 to attend the Philadelphia College of Art. Desai studied under Swami Kripalu a revered Yogi. He brought Swami Kripalu’s teachings into Philadelphia, and in 1966 co-founded The Yoga Society of Pennsylvania. Later, the name was changed to Kripalu Yoga Fellowship. In the 1970s, as Desai’s influence grew he expanded his offerings to include holistic health and self-discovery programs. In 1983, Kripalu purchased the old Jesuit property Shadowbrook. In the mid-1980s more than 350 staff members were working at the complex. They massaged guests, trained yoga teachers, gave spiritual advice, and ran the entire facility. The retreat center was not a secular one, but an ashram.

The display includes some of Swami Kripalu’s artifacts. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Desai was forced to quit after allegations of his financial and sexual impropriety (a problem that is all too common in the yoga world, with its lithe bodies, and gullible mind) in 1994. In 1999, Kripalu changed from a religious organization to an educational one. A board of trustees took over the organization in 1999, replacing a guru. This was just in time to coincide with a massive yoga boom, and seemingly endless opportunities for teacher-training.

I’m not trying to be cynical. I began practicing yoga in 1992, and have taught in studios and gyms for over thirteen years. Yoga is a life-changing practice. I’ve seen and heard many unsubstantiated statements, as well as misplaced trust. I love the American Yoga world in a very family-like way, with some appreciation and a few eye rolls.

The Campus at Kripalu Center

Kripalu is a great campus. Imagine miles of trails, and a picture-perfect lake. Because I was there during the winter, I got to see the snowy side–crunchy paths and frozen streams. The lake was only for viewing. In summer, however, many people paddleboard, kayak, and swim.

The lake in summer. Photo by Kripalu

The Jesuits named the main building Shadowbrook. An annex with more rooms is also available. Shadowbrook is large enough to accommodate guests for up to a week. It has many amenities, including a large cafeteria, classrooms, meditation rooms, sunrooms, wireless lounges (guests must keep their electronic devices in these areas or private bedrooms), a main hall with a cafe, gift shops, gyms, saunas, whirlpools and a whirlpool.

The Kripalu hangout area. Photo by Teresa Bergen

The cafe provides coffee and snacks during the hours that the dining hall is open. You can buy self-improvement and yoga books in the gift shop. If you want to get away from the usual city shopping, you can browse. It seems odd to me to spend days without finding anything to buy.

A Snowshoeing Workshop

You can attend group workshops or personal getaways. I signed up to do a 3-day yoga and snowshoeing program. The schedule was pretty simple–two hours of snowshoeing each morning, and two hours of yoga in the afternoon. We were also free to explore, do extra yoga, and attend evening events such as talks or music performances.

Our snowshoeing group. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Two guides guided our 25-person group on a walk along a snowy trail, encouraging them to be silent and mindful. We kept moving because it was only 10 degrees. We stopped occasionally for mindfulness exercises. Near the end we shared our experiences with a talking stick, which was a hemlock limb. Many people talked about gratitude and being connected to nature. Most of our group were women, many with stressful lives. One of our guides carried a woman’s water bottle on our first day. On our last, she started to cry as she thanked him for it. She was used to carrying the burden of the world on her shoulders and doing everything by herself.

Pausing to do a mindfulness practice. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Other Kripalu Center Workshops

Kripalu’s programming is divided into general themes: yoga, Ayurveda, creative expression, health, fitness and wellness, self-discovery, and spiritual practice and mediation. Most often, multiple programs take place simultaneously. Weekends can include courses such as building a stronger immune system to maintain health and vitality for lifelong, or a silent retreat. Weekend retreats can last up to two nights. However, programs like yoga therapy, teacher training and mindful outdoor guidance, which last 10 days or longer, are also available. Kripalu has also improved its online program to allow you to participate anywhere.

Expect a lot of Yoga. Photos courtesy of Kripalu

Kripalu is offering a couple of workshops for people who are interested in retreats that focus on recovery in the early part of 2023. Rolf Gates, an expert on yoga and recovery, will host his annual “Yoga, Meditation, and Recovery Conference”. It takes place in May. I’d love to attend that conference. The program Loss, Grief and Renewal by Kripalu faculty member Aruni N Futuronsky, has helped people who are in recovery. This workshop will be held at the end March.

A Personal Retreat

At Kripalu, many people choose to book private retreats. You can choose from a schedule of daily classes and experiences, or you can do whatever you want. Yoga, guided hikes and ecstatic dancing, as well as entertainment such music or storytelling, could keep you busy all day. You can also choose to be as busy as you like, by wandering around the grounds or taking part in a yoga session.

I loved to explore the labyrinth. Photo by Teresa Bergen

You’ll do it all without alcohol or smoking. Tracy Williams, Kripalu’s senior director for marketing, told me that Kripalu doesn’t have an alcohol philosophy or policy. We are a sober-campus, but it’s a great place for people who want to take a break or abstain from alcohol, thanks to our focus on self-care and mindfulness, as well as the beautiful grounds and delicious, nourishing food.

As a sober person for many years, I look for situations where alcohol has been removed.

Space and time for contemplation. Photo by Teresa Bergen

The Kripalu Center

All rooms have a minimalistic design, in keeping with the mindfulness theme. The room I was in, although a deluxe one, was pretty basic with just two twin beds and white walls. There was no artwork. One colorful touch was the pillow on each bed with large hot pink flowers. The bed was comfortable despite its simplicity. It had nice covers and an adequate reading light.

A deluxe room at Kripalu. Photo by Teresa Bergen

Accommodations range from dormitory-style rooms, to rooms with a shared bathroom to relatively deluxe accommodations. I had my own bathroom. The rates include 3 meals per day, yoga, and other programming. If you’re willing to share dorm rooms, you might be able stay for around $100 per night. You can expect to pay between $300 and $500 per night depending on your room type, whether you come midweek or at the weekend (which is cheaper).

Kripalu Center offers food

The food at Kripalu is mostly vegetarian and served in a buffet-style. They do serve some fish and poultry, but only a small amount. As a vegetarian, I enjoyed the large selection of vegetables, Indian entrees and beans, as well as a huge salad bar. It was nice to see the list of ingredients next to each dish. I thought it was a little bland at times–a meal of mung bean, whipped carrots and cabbage with couscous and chard was screaming for some hot sauce. But it was incredibly healthy. Kripalu makes vegan cookies that are sold in the cafe, not included in the buffet. I purchased at least one chocolate-chia cookie and a cup of coffee in the cafe. The cafeteria only serves coffee at breakfast.

Dinner at Kripalu. Photo by Teresa Bergen

My time at Kripalu

I was a bit reclusive during my stay at Kripalu. Kripalu has a separate silent dining room, which I loved. There’s no need to make small talk. It was amazing. It was awesome. It was great that Kripalu had space for everyone, whether they wanted to dance ecstatically with 60 other people, or prefer to wander a labyrinth in the snow alone. Wander With Wonder can help you find a wellness or spa retreat. There is also a growing collection of articles on sober traveling.