Nirvana, Unplugged: How I Recharged at the Kripalu Retreat

PHOTO: Kripalu

It's possible to get away from your screens—with a little help.

How long have you spent away from your smartphone recently? From social media? From the news? Unplugging felt inconceivable to me, a working mom of two kids younger than 4, and my childhood friend, a political reporter. But for one blissful three-day weekend, she deleted Twitter; I told my husband he was on his own–and together we did the impossible.

Salwa Jabado

We left our phones in our rooms and didn’t check them. We kayaked and took walking meditations, saluted the sun, did yoga. This is the magic of Kripalu.

The Center

It’s a beautiful place, near Tanglewood (summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), with access to the Stockbridge Bowl, also known as Lake Mahkeenac. Yoga is offered three times a day and you can choose the level you want to take–from gentle to Vinyasa—each time. You can create a packed schedule of yoga, lectures, and outdoor activities, or you can do nothing but sit and stare at the lake and mountains.

Kripalu

This cannot be overstated–where else can you be rid of your phone and also see no one else on their phone?

We went for the R&R Retreat, but there are a lot of different programs going on at the same time–including yoga teacher training, presenter-led retreats, and other health and healing workshops, that sometimes spilled out into common areas. There’s a strict no-devices policy in the dining rooms, the hallways, and the dorms, which made my friend pretty twitchy. I was asked (politely) not to text outside the dining hall and subsequently left my phone in my room. You can use devices in the Wireless Lounge and there is Wi-Fi, but after the first evening, we were really digging not being chained to our phones. This cannot be overstated–where else can you be rid of your phone and also see no one else on their phone? Pretty much nowhere.

The R&R Retreat

We arrived Friday evening and settled in with a gentle yoga class and then dinner. It was the right way to unwind after the three-hour drive from NYC. We were struck by the meditative quiet that surrounds Kripalu.

It felt like we were in an infomercial but in the best possible way.

In the evening we attended a workshop led by Lee Albert called “Secrets of the Human Machine.” It felt like we were in an infomercial but in the best possible way, with people in the audience audibly agreeing with Lee. I left with two main takeaways: do backbends and twists to help ease the short, tight muscles on the front of your body; and use a 4-4-8 breath for 10-minutes a day (breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 8) to take your body out of stressed-out mode. We tried both techniques, and they really helped.

He also suggested not reading the news to be happy–but, well, one of us writes the news, so that’s not going to happen.

Salwa Jabado

The next morning, I woke up with the sun and said an internal thank you to my husband for a morning without kids needing my attention. I was so ready for some me time. I took a short walk to the lake to watch the mist burn off the water. Nobody was around, so I went for a swim in my skivvies. The water was warmer than the air. It was delicious: just me and the geese and the mist and the lake and a couple of fishermen off in the distance. A little while later, another guest sat at a bench by the lake with her coffee and cared not at all that I was there or what I was wearing. Ah, sisterhood.

I rushed back to take the morning yoga class, but that seemed antithetical to the whole experience, right? So instead I took a long shower with Kripalu’s awesome aromatherapy EO products and met my friend for breakfast. Breakfast in the dining hall is eaten in silence. It made what would have been an otherwise frantic and loud awakening into a polite comedy of people trying to get their tea and oatmeal and frittata without audibly talking to each other. I have heard a lot about silent retreats, but this is as far as I’ve come–you can make your whole retreat at Kripalu silent by adding a sticker to your pass and eating in the silent-only dining room if you want.

The Food

Which brings me to the food: I was expecting an all-vegetarian (and possibly macrobiotic) diet, and certainly no coffee. Instead, breakfast included tasty scones, coffee, and animal protein! Of course, there were also vegetarian and macrobiotic options as well as signs with the Ayurvedic properties of the food. Overall we were shocked by how good the food was. A standout was the watermelon gazpacho and the fresh peaches–I stopped myself from running to get the last one.

The Outdoor Activities

After my first morning by the lake, I wanted to tell everyone I saw that they should take the 10-minute walk down the hill to see it up close. Later that day, we went on the guided kayaking trip. We’re veteran paddlers but the trip was easy enough to also accommodate people who had never held a paddle before. We stopped for a floating meditation among lily pads. Serenity on the lake. I felt a million miles away from the demands of being a mom and set an intention to be more loving and less frantic when I returned.

 

Salwa Jabado; Kripalu

On our last morning we had signed up for a guided hike but when we heard the stand-up paddleboarding included yoga on the paddleboards, we decided to try it. It was full, but we were told to go down to the lake 15 minutes before the scheduled time and see if people didn’t show up. And then, we were in! Woo-hoo!

Book your hiking, kayaking, and paddleboarding when you book your retreat–they fill up early!

I had never paddle boarded and was a little wary. But I got the hang of it enough to stand up and start paddling around. And then the wind came. And then the foot-high waves, lapping over the front of our boards. And we all sat down and paddled like mad back to the shore.

OK, they were really maybe five-inch waves, but I wished we hadn’t tried so hard to get on the paddle boarding trip. By the time we made it to the dock where we would do yoga on the paddleboard, the wind magically died down. We did some easy poses, like downward dog (where the lake looked like the sky–so cool!) and then lay down on our boards for Shavasana. Ahhh.

Yoga Dance

One of my favorite things about Kripalu was the yoga dance class taught by Toni Bergins. The combination of dancing, getting out of your comfort zone (you’re asked to move like a cat complete with loud meows, find a partner and tell them “You are adorable,” and generally dance like nobody’s watching), and mindful affirmations were my hippy dream of a yoga retreat realized. Not to mention the energy of the live drumming by KDZ Drummers. Afterward, I felt truly joyful and uninhibited. Hugging-strangers-joyful.

Yoga Classes

The yoga classes were very well attended (30 or more people in attendance). This was a change for me since I’m used to classes with 5 to 10 people with very hands-on adjustments. I liked that the classes focused on different things, though–the sun salutation had us rotating to all four corners, the Vinyasa class focused on relieving back pain. I wasn’t doing the same series of poses in the same way I had been doing them at home, even though I’m still largely a beginner. The actual building facilities could use a bit of an update since the concrete building has relatively small windows which shut out the amazing view.

Accommodations

INSIDER TIPBring your own pillow, eye mask, ear plugs, and shower shoes to make the dorms a little more comfortable. 

I was in a private room in the Annex while my friend was in an 8-person dorm with bunk beds. The Annex has air conditioning and en-suite bathrooms, but you pay a pretty penny for the added privacy without a whole lot of added luxury (note the firm beds!). The dorms don’t have A/C but summer nights tend to be cool (or at least bearable) without, and bathrooms are shared in the hallway. It’s a bit of roughing it, but the dorms end up being pretty economical at $376 which includes accommodations for two nights, six meals, six yoga classes (if you’re so inclined), and lectures and performances.

Kripalu Kripalu

The Transformation

By our last afternoon, we were sad to go but we took some of the peace with us. Kripalu is all about transforming your life and I think we were both more mindful when we left, slower and kinder. I can’t say it’s changed my life but it’s an experience I can’t wait to repeat. Happy mama, happy kids.