Body & Soul: Kripalu Yoga in the Berkshires

Taking ahimsa beyond the yoga mat at the largest yoga insistute in the United States.


Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

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At the Kripalu Center in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, the largest yoga institute in the United States, every yoga breath and posture embodies the practice of ahimsa, non-violence toward others, oneself, and the earth. And the practice doesn’t stop when yoga class is over.

Rick Gregg, Kripalu’s vice president of operations, tells a story indicative of how non-violence toward all life affects center operations. “The first time the front terrace was mowed after I came to Kripalu, the fumes filled my office,” he recalls. “That [gas] mower was banished forever. We now use a non-powered, reel push mower to mow all grass near the building.

“We interpret ahimsa in a very broad way,” Gregg adds, “from every facet of the operation to how we can integrate ahimsa into our lifestyles.”

The 1,500 or so guests who visit the center each year are introduced to ahimsa during their first meal. While some may grumble when they find that meals are primarily lacto-vegetarian, they soon learn that eating meat contradicts the philosophy of non-violence and, therefore, Kripalu yoga.

This commitment goes beyond what guests see in the buffet line. A recent partnership with Berkshire Grown, a coalition of local farmers, enables the center to serve mostly local foods during crop season. This initiative reduces Kripalu’s impact on the environment and puts healthy food on the table, which is very important to a yoga center where the body is perceived as a divine gift.

Kripalu yoga is based on prana , the energy and wisdom of the body. To respect prana, the center takes care of the body through a healthy, non-toxic building environment. Only non-toxic paints, varnishes, and carpets are used in the retreat center, explains Gregg. Soap dispensers are filled with a natural, fragrance-free soap that is not animal tested. In addition, Kripalu guidelines state that guests should refrain from wearing scented lotions and perfumes in respect of those with allergies.

“At Kripalu, we want to value the people, the land, the many resources—always striving not to be wasteful,” Gregg says. The center is replacing existing light fixtures and windows with more efficient models. Heat is turned down in all unoccupied program rooms; guest rooms and classrooms are not air conditioned. Food waste from the dining hall is composted, and the center now pays three times as much for compostable utensils made from cornstarch. Outside, on Kripalu’s 175 acres, the center is planting wildflower meadows and organic corn, which will go directly from field to kitchen.

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