Last updated January 5, 2024
It’s not every day someone serenades your shoulder. But I’m jumping ahead…
My meditative massage at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health begins, as many massages do, with the instruction to “Breathe deeply, in and out.” Be mindful. Be present. Check.
Next, I’m asked to set an intention for my massage. “This is different,” I think. But I like it because I have a very specific issue that led to my booking the treatment. I hope to find relief from some of the soreness and tension in my right bicep and shoulder brought on by a fall on black ice during the winter.
As the therapist at Kripalu gently massages my upper body, she asks me to imagine the color, size and shape of my pain. And I visualize a black, horizontal exclamation point going across my bicep.
She then asks me to meditate on the exclamation point and see it losing its power—and the pain flowing out of my bicep, my shoulder and my body.
As I meditate, the therapist performs Reiki (a healing Japanese technique where the hands hover over the body to redirect the flow of energy) on the area and then begins singing.
Yes, she literally sings The Byrds’ song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” to my shoulder to help it heal. She has a lovely singing voice and could keep a tune through this difficult song. The experience is peaceful and calming—but no, it doesn’t do much for my shoulder.
All in a day’s work at Kripalu, world-renowned for its New Age, no-frills wellness programming and accommodations.
Retreat & Renewal
Not at all like the super-luxurious spa resorts you’ll find just up the road in The Berkshires of Massachusetts, the big draw isn’t indulgent amenities, but Kripalu’s many meditation, yoga, healing arts and spirituality offerings, and its spectacular property: The main building sits atop a hill, with a verdant lawn gracefully flowing from a grand staircase down toward Lake Mahkeenac.
Hiking trails rated from easy to moderate in difficulty can be found branching out in almost every direction from the main building, along with a meditation garden and labyrinth.
The Kripalu organization has gone through several incarnations since it was founded in 1983 and established its center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Berkshires property was originally owned by Jesuit monks, who built the simple concrete building, called Shadowbrook, that today houses dorms and activity rooms.
In its early days, Kripalu was an ashram, populated by spiritual followers, many of whom actually lived on the grounds. Circa 2022, it is more mainstream and known as a secular center featuring meditation, yoga, spirituality and wellness programs, and as a yoga teacher training center.
The Healing Arts Department is located on the fourth floor of the main building. It looks like most spas I’ve encountered, but without the bells and whistles. Each therapy room was once a Jesuit cell, which means it has a window (welcome, but unusual for a treatment room).
The décor, like the waiting area, is simple and plain. In addition to a variety of massages, services include facials, Ayurvedic bodywork, acupuncture, energy work and psychic readings (Tarot cards, astrology).
Three meals are served daily in a cafeteria setting. The self-serve buffet has two lines: One incorporating poultry and fish at some meals, one vegetarian. There is also a salad bar, a sandwich bar serving tuna, egg and other salads, cheese and bread, and a “Buddha Bar,” offering vegan foods.
Coffee is only served at breakfast, which is always silent. You can forget about an evening glass of wine—no alcohol is to be found. Though I imagine you can drink it in your room, if you like.
The food at Kripalu is wholesome, unprocessed, local farm-to-table fare ranging from Ayurvedic and Indian dishes to pesto pizza, Borscht, veggie burgers, guacamole and chips and butternut squash lasagna.
More Than Just Poses
A variety of yoga classes in different styles are always on the agenda: gentle yoga, Vinyasa yoga, Blissful Bedtime yoga. At noon each day, guests gather in the main hall to engage in “Yoga Dance”—a practice that has very little to do with yoga and everything to do with letting yourself go with music (which is, on occasion, live drum-playing).
Other offerings include Tai Chi and Qi Gong classes, as well as guided meditations and hikes. The latter are sometimes categorized as socially silent walks, meaning you hike as a group but don’t speak to one another.
Spiritually focused programs, ranging from one day in length to a week, run concurrently on topics such as Ayurveda self-care, sound bath immersion, mindfulness, silence as a means of reconnecting with oneself, writing as an act of transformation, strategies for bouncing back from disappointment and healing from anxiety, depression and other struggles.
At night, Kripalu is as quiet as a mouse. Programming ends around 8:30 pm and silence is encouraged until morning. There are no TVs or telephones in any of the rooms, but there is Internet access.
Rooms are either bunk-and-dorm style or shared semi-privates with shared baths in the hallways. In the annex, a newer building, singles and doubles with en-suite bathrooms are available.
While comfortable, the decor is again minimal. Concrete walls and floors in some rooms, utilitarian furniture and crisp white sheets with brightly colored Marimekko pillows and blankets as the only accent.
You can visit Kripalu for the day, as I did, come for a weekend or a week, or sign up for one of the special programs. Whatever your purpose, the experience will be tranquil and meditative.
And even if you don’t completely buy into the crunchy-granola vibe, as I do not, you can still benefit from the closeness to nature, the message of mindfulness and yes, even the singing.
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