Recently, I’ve found that while my metabolism is crawling, my mind has been racing. I’m constantly checking my phone -- feeling busy all the time and yet like I never accomplish anything. It’s been exhausting.
I needed, I decided, a way to reset both mind and body that could reboot my metabolism and refocus my energy. So I booked a stay at a yoga retreat.
The Yoga Solution
I had heard about Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires from friends. A nonprofit, it’s the oldest, and largest, yoga retreat in the country. I liked that they focused on overall wellness and “mindfulness,” which seemed like the right way to try to reset my busy mind and slow body. So I decided to try a three-day stay (note that this was a sponsored trip, although all opinions are my own).
Of course, as soon as I committed, I started to get nervous. It wasn’t just the multiple yoga classes I’d have to navigate while not being in optimal shape. I also started to worry about smaller details: First, there’s no alcohol at Kripalu (I know this sounds petty, but when was the last time you went on vacay without a glass of wine?). I had also heard rumors from friends that there would be no coffee (!) and no dessert, and also, no-talking rules, which for me, seemed impossible.
I’m not going to lie, I packed some emergency wine and chocolate along with my yoga pants before I headed out the door.
Kripalu occupies an old Jesuit monastery, an incredibly peaceful and scenic spot in the heart of the Massachusetts Berkshire Mountains. The gorgeous setting was helpful in quelling my initial fears, and so was check-in, which felt a bit like a college advisor’s office, with a wall of classes and lectures posted for the day and the week.
Yes, there were rules: 1) No cell phone use in public areas, including and especially the dining hall, and 2) No talking, but just at breakfast. But there is coffee at breakfast as well as a cafe, with both caffeine and cookies for sale, which made me breathe a little easier.
The easy breathing continued during my first experience: a guided hike led by a teacher who has been studying yoga for 40 years. We started our walk by … sitting down. Actually sitting on a bench with our eyes closed as our guide, Vandita, led us through a meditation. Close your eyes, breathe deep, feel the earth under your feet, breathe in, smell the crisp fall air, breathe out, feel the breeze on your face. I instantly felt relaxed. And then came the first challenge: continuing silently for the next part of our walk. Honestly, it was refreshing to not have to make small talk, and I found myself focusing on, and enjoying, nature, which was especially easy with the crimson, gold, and pumpkin-colored leaves decorating the trees all around.
Next up: gentle yoga in the afternoon (there were also intermediate and vinyasa options, but I wanted to start slow). Vandita was actually the teacher for this class, too, and her gentle voice and “yum, yoga” breathing refrain helped me sink into my mat. The reminder that “This is your practice, not mine; do what feels best” was also my first hint of how non-judgmental it was here.
Food For Thought
Every meal at Kripalu is served buffet-style and defined by healthy alternatives to my usual fat-laden comfort foods, which gave me ample opportunity to try dishes that I wouldn’t normally be exposed to. The most surprising of the bunch was cream of millet (right, who knew?). I also picked up a recipe for vegan butternut squash soup at a cooking demo that was a highlight of my trip (the lesson -- not the soup -- although that was delicious, too).
An Ayurveda lecture was also a revelation: Instead of dieting, it’s realistic advice based on 5,000 years of history. For example, when the weather gets cold, eat warm foods such as stew and soup; stay hydrated with warm liquids, including lots of water in the morning; add healthy oils to your foods to keep your body lubricated; and eat seasonally.
Even though I’m definitely not a morning person, I was inspired enough by my first class to wake up at 6 a.m. for early yoga (plus, it’s early to bed, early to rise in a place without any nightlife). It felt good to get up and stretch, and I was able to watch the sun rise over the Berkshires ,which was a reward in itself.
During the day, I worked more on slowing down and paying attention to my surroundings, taking silent trips around both the meditation garden and the labyrinth before hiking to the nearby lake, then taking another afternoon yoga session (and, honestly, a sweet stop for a cookie and coffee in the afternoon -- a treat that I didn’t have to feel guilty about after so much exercise).
Waking early again on my last day for a more advanced class, I realized I had left my phone in my room for the last day, and honestly didn't miss it. At breakfast, I looked out the window and enjoyed the view while slowly eating.
Finding My Inner Yogi
Just 48 hour afters I checked in, I felt noticeably more settled. I’m wasn’t craving constant stimulation, or missing an evening glass of wine with dinner. Since checking out, I’ve walked away from my phone, while also walking more mindfully, eating more healthfully without counting calories, and in general slowing down my once-constant feeling stream of self-doubt.
Back at home, I’m trying to apply some of what I’ve learned (which anyone can follow), taking quiet walks, meditating for a few minutes each day, roasting winter veggies, even whipping up a batch of Kripalu granola from their super-easy cookbook. I can easily say that although this was my first yoga getaway, it won’t be my last.
Want to plan a yoga-inspired getaway of your own, or find the perfect place to reconnect with nature? Read up on these 10 relaxing wellness retreats for women, held in stunning locations all over North and Central America.