Sunday, April 29, 2007

Rest and Relaxation

I did something unusual for myself this weekend. Sometimes you know in advance that a certain date or time is going to be difficult--it could be because of a difficult memory, or the anniversary of the dealth or loss of a loved one, or for any other number of reasons. Because this was the case with me this weekend, I took myself to a retreat center for one night. The Kripalu Center offers a come-as-you please assortment of yoga, dancing, chanting, drumming, meditation, nature walks, mini workshops in various health and wellness subjects, massages and body work, and natural healthful vegetarian food. I arrived at 3 pm on Saturday and left at 1 PM on Sunday.

Kripalu is located in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. The building used to be home to the Jesuits, but is now a nationally established Yoga and Healing Arts Center. Many people are there attending a weekend or week-long workshop, but I paid my $ 142.00 and went for some unstructured--and quite anonymous--time for myself. I'm not accustomed to going away by myself and I don't think I've ever before gone 24 hours without talking to another person, but that is what I did. I spent my time writing, thinking, resting, thinking some more, dancing, stretching and breathing. I had a massage. It was all good for me. In the process I achieved and affirmed the acceptance I was seeking.

The Kripalu dining room seats about 300 people. Food is served through a buffet line and is remarkably delicious, especially since it is totally vegetarian. Even the scrambled eggs weren't made from eggs, but they tasted just fine. Everyone is asked to eat breakfast in monk-like silence, a practice I find "sacred" and comforting for some reason. I mixed yogurt with walnuts and raisins and fresh fruit, spread real peanut butter on sesame seed toast, feasted on roasted yams and fish chowder and brown rice with tomato salad, and finished off two pieces of carob chocolate cake with frosting. I went back for seconds and sat in silence, eating slowly and taking it in consciously.

You get your choice of rooms at Kripalu: you can stay on one of 3 floors in a 12-30 bed dormitory or you can pay more and get a small room with two flat surface/thin matress beds. Either way, there are no locks on any of the doors. Each bed comes with a sheet, blanket, pillow, two towels, a small alarm clock, and a goose neck lamp. That's it. I was VERY fortunate to get a lower bunk in a room that had only one other person there. The bed was hard and small. I slept in a nest, felt monk-like, and I didn't mind.

The bathrooms and showers are down the hall. Normally I would hate that, but they were clean and part of the deal. Acceptance. It was good for me.

Throughout the building there are spaces to sit, meditate, relax, think, write. Coffee is available but only begrudgingly--often you have to pay for it in the gift store, walk across the hall to get it and drink it, and the coffee pots are whisked away altogether by late afternoon.

Every floor has meditation, sunrooms and small sitting spaces, most overlooking the lake and the mountains behind it. Voices are low and footsteps are slow. This is a quiet place where you are much more aware of your breathing and movements.

Kripalu has scheduled yoga and meditation classes and times throughout the day. This is one of the main halls. On Saturday night I went to drumming there and danced/moved to my heart's content without concern that someone might be watching (or even worse, judging!) me. On Sunday morning at 6:30 am I went to 90 minutes of baby yoga. It is really called Gentle Yoga--the least demanding of 3 levels offered--but i like the term 'baby yoga'. It's somewhat misleading though: for me it was a workout--I sweated.

I thought I saw my friend Willa several times during my stay. Willa died two years ago, but Kripalu was her kind of place. Among other things, she taught "Opening the Heart" workshops and liked nothing better than this kind of environment. A couple of times I really thought it was her. Even though I have dealt with the tremendous void in losing her, for a few seconds I still thought it was her. Damn. I'd like nothing better than to have her back, even for a hour.

The grounds are spacious. People hike and stroll and take workshops geared to the great outdoors. I however don't. The few times that I've been at Kripalu I stay inside, proud of myself for falling asleep at 9:30 pm and even prouder for getting up with the sun and making it to baby yoga. Someday I will graduate from sitting in a lawn chair to walking the paths, but not this time.

I can't exactly say why spending my weekend this way was such a kind and smart thing for me to do. It was quite uncharacteristic of me. But here are some guesses why I am in a good place:

I was alone but not lonely. I gave myself time to think and feel. I moved. I put myself somewhere where healing and being present are valued and encouraged. I wrote a letter. I wrote a story. I ate healthy food. I prayed. I took breaks. I had a massage. I was anonymous. I had nothing to prove and nowhere to go. I came home relaxed and calm. I made sure I was not stuck or disappointed. I recognized and honored all the love and appreciation and reasons I have to be grateful and content. I'm kind of proud of myself.....


  1. I just read your Thursday 13 rant. I'm glad you were able to get it out of your system. I usually rant to my hubby and then feel much much better afterwards.

    moving on to this post -- I must admit i'm envious. i would love to stay in such a place even just for a weekend. my husband used to attend those silent retreats but i think they are very structured and focused on religion. i much prefer the kind of activities available in the place you went to. i can feel the need for me to go somewhere by myself then i imagine the guilty feeling -- my mother telling me the kids need me during the weekend as I work during the week, all the things that need to be done at i just forget about it.

  2. KJ, this sounds and looks like a perfect weekend for you. I read Menchie's comment and I sympathize with her. I think I know exactly what she feels. it's amazing how our cultural upbringing reset our priorities. If I have to go to a retreat like this or any retreat for personal benefit, I would have to shed my guilt first.

  3. This is something I would love to do.
    I cannot remember the last time I have done something for myself, by myself and really got something meaningful out of it.

  4. Sounds so peaceful. Great post...I felt like I was there.

    I also like the term "baby yoga."


  5. Good for you KJ! I went to the bookstore-retreat this weekend. hee-hee!
    I bought a book on happiness - a blank journal and a fru-fru coffee drink... it was heaven!

  6. kj, i can't even tell you how wonderful i think that all of this sounds. it reminds me of a vipassana experience i had in india (10 days of silent meditation). i have always wanted to do something like that here in the states. we are such a rush-rush culture. i would love to find a place that was created especially for finding peace.

    i'm glad you found some. ;)

    i'm sending you love!

  7. menchie, taking one weekend a year to replenish yourself? i say do it--you'll come back a rested and happier parent. i see the difference between my friends who still have small children or teenagers: those who give themselves even a little self indulgence seem less frantic and more at peace. i know cultures are different, and i hope i don't sound selfish, but taking for yourself is also caring for others.

    ces, my dearest friend: see above

    cream, find it and do it.

    bearette, so nice to hear from you! i knew you'd like this. i'm sure you give people this kind of space and peace in your yoga practice.

    joy, how nice to hear from you too! i am so glad your blog is back. i was sad when you deleted it. i too look to bookstores for a retreat. and i have about 3 dozen books on happiness, including my own first draft of a self-help book!!

    jessie!love to you too. i would guess there is a place like kripalu somewhere near you? btw, this morning has been a hectic mess. isn't that just the way sometimes? i am trying to stay centered....


  8. Giving yourself time to think, and to feel?
    Thanks. I guess I need some of that.
    Shame the place is just a bit far for me.

  9. Ah, Kripalu! I was just on their website this week, looking up meditation. Kripalu actually started at an ashram (long gone) about four seconds from our house! A friend of ours grew up in the ashram and his folks moved to Pittsfield to be near the center.

  10. p.s. bravo for doing this for YOU!! You inspire me! :)

  11. Awesome. Glad you had such a good weekend.

  12. gosh, i'm proud of you too! It is brave to do something like that for yourself. I think that is awesome! I have attended these kinds of retreat like places. In fact Topanga has had these types of repast for the soul throughout the years. But what a wonderful gift you have given to yourself and Thank You for sharing it!!!

  13. wow kj!!! what an incredible gift to give yoursel! i am inspired by you and so happy that you had such a personal and meaningful time there...

  14. Karen, this sounds so wonderful. You really allowed yourself freedom and gave yourself a gift by letting go of expectations and worrying about judgments (from yourself and others), and finding courage to step outside your comfort zone to spend time alone. The part about being anonymous sounds the best...being quiet, dancing, following the moment without worry. I have always been intrested in the Kripalu Institute, and now I feel even more interested. It sounds like your retreat nourished you with healing and peace. (The vegetarian food sounds good, too...)

  15. sounds so very nice...looking at the pics, i'm afraid I would stay outsdie until someone made me come in ;)
    There is a huge difference between being alone & being lonely. All too often they get confused. Glad to see you realize the beauty of the difference

  16. I love a good retreat. And your approach remiends me of two things I heard on different retreats - One is that Thich Nhat Hahn said the emphasis in "retreat" should be on the "treat" and another zen teacher who said, "Don't be a slave to Zen!" So, you relaxed, enjoyed and healed - that's just teh way to do it.

  17. " for a few seconds I still thought it was her. Damn"
    Maybe it was. Sounds like the gift of peace was yours and so maybe, just maybe, it was.....

  18. Sounds just like the few days that I went to Bois-le-Comte, remember ? To take such a period of contemplation, a retraite is very energizing and resourcing as you experienced, isn't it ?

  19. You absolutely did the right thing - how wise. I am so glad it was a beautiful experience for you - feast off it in the days ahead!
    I love the way you've written it up and the photos so that we can share a little in your experience - thanks so much for that.

  20. We should all do this kind of thing more often. Human beings need time to reflect, slow down in this fast moving world.

  21. Sounds very cool, sooo relaxing, and a great way to honor the spirit of your friend. I think that it is very important to evaluate and recondition our mental health.
    Every now and then we need to dislodge some of the psychological baggage that we lug around and dilute the toxins that we unwillingly create and voluntarily ingest.

    But then again I'm not really a psychologist, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night!

  22. Sounds wonderful. I love the pictures.

  23. pieterbie, it was just what i needed. there were an equal number of men and women there.

    melissa, interesting. kripalu is quite extensive at this point--leaders in yoga training for sure...

    liz and val and ruby, thanks. i had to push but i was happy i did this for myself.

    carla, i'd encourage you to take a workshop there or go to the r and r program. i think you'd like it as i did.

    skinny, i like you.

    cs, i never thought about the word 'treat' being in 'retreat'. thanks!

    singleton, you picked up on something so important and close to my heart. thank you for that. i like you too, btw. you two are very cool...

    hildegarde, you are someone i would like to do this with....

    thanks, chief. i enjoy your writeups and photos equally.

    sidney, amen. you are so right.

    he, i wonder if you would enjoy this environment. there are lots of guys there, that's for sure.

    thanks marie. i think spending time like this is good for us writers.