Seva and Inner Quest Intensive Cancelled After 30 Years at Kripalu Yoga Center

Last week a friend and former Kripalu volunteer informed me that the Volunteer Program at Kripalu, called Seva, had been eliminated. A search turned up nothing more than this grammatically incorrect sentence on the Kripalu website: “We recognize and honor, respect, and thank all of those who devoted their time in selfless service to Kripalu and its mission over the last 30 years.” Above which it states they are no longer accepting applications. Then I learned that the Inner Quest Intensive, Kripalu’s longest running, signature program, was also canceled. There are many reasons why I feel this change as a huge loss, not just personally, but for our community as well. Most importantly, without the opportunity to volunteer, Kripalu is now unwelcoming to those who can’t a afford a $100 day pass, let alone a program. This cuts Kripalu off from part of its community and makes it seem like just another exclusive yoga resort. I implore the Kripalu Board of Trustees to reconsider this decision.

I love Kripalu. I have referred to the place as my spiritual home and count myself lucky to live so close that I can pop over for dinner on a Wednesday with my BKC membership! Years ago I received a scholarship to attend the Inner Quest Intensive (IQI), which is, as the name suggests, really intense. It was the most challenging and useful program of self-development I have ever taken and holy wow did it change my life. Until recently, it was the longest running, most significant program Kripalu has offered. To many of us former volunteers and co-workers, ending all volunteer opportunities and the IQI as well, looks like the last of what began as an ashram has been discarded and the transformation is complete: The Kripalu campus has become a world-class yoga retreat for those who can afford such luxuries. Without Seva, which is the counterpoint to luxury, there’s no longer a community in residence dedicated to walking the talk and living the yoga. One sentiment echoed by many: Kripalu has no prana left. Shakti has left the sanctuary. This is a profound and palpable loss. I am writing this to ask the board of directors to bring these foundational programs back! And, if not, then what will they do in place of these programs, to keep Kripalu accessible to everyone?

The Volunteer Program is what made Kripalu, a non-profit, and its community unique. Seva means service. For the past 30 years anyone could apply to this free exchange program, acceptance was based on merit. Every volunteer made a commitment of time and service to Kripalu and in return received room and board and a place in the yoga centered Seva program. Seva is what made Kripalu yoga open to everyone. Folks came from all over the globe, including right here in Berkshire county, to experience the reciprocal gift of living yoga and serving their community.

So why would Kripalu end two of its longest running programs? Programs that had an incredibly profound effect on those who participated in them. Here’s what I learned when I talked with some former volunteers and Kripalu employees, past and present, about Seva: in the past few years there has been a suicide, a sexual assault and too many calls to the cops. There have been too many people joining the Seva program looking for a free ride or a way to escape. I was shocked and saddened by this. What a shame. And what place would want death, assault and the local cops associated with it?

Seva is a privilege and it seems like too many folks signed up to take advantage. Too many people came with the attitude of what can Kripalu do for me, instead of how can I serve? This kind of abuse is clearly unacceptable. Seva volunteers should be setting an example for the rest of community. There must be a way to change what wasn’t working in order to preserve the heart of this program for the rest of us. Why not invest in turning Seva into an optimal version of itself, something to be proud of again? There was a time, in the not too distant past, when the Seva program was in balance and making a contribution to the entire Kripalu community.

What kind of message does it send to eliminate something because it’s not working like it used to? Isn’t Seva the kind of program an institution like Kripalu needs to remain grounded and connected to its mission, its roots and its community? Seva is for everyone! Service is an integral part of yoga, as any student will tell you. Bring the volunteer program back so that Kripalu can continue to be a space for so many people to have life changing experiences doing Seva. Please don’t let a few troubled participants and a few poor decisions take Seva away from everyone. Kripalu has so much to offer– how can we keep it that way?

It seems the recent past has not been a bright one for the Volunteer Program. Perhaps now is the time to share our stories about how Seva and/or the Inner Quest Intensive has had a profound positive effect on our lives. Let’s share our love of these two core Kripalu programs with the members of the Kripalu Board of Trustees, asking them to reconsider. In the very least, I think the community needs an explanation of what must have been a very difficult decision. Even if we can not convince the Kripalu Board members to reinstate the Volunteer Program, at least we can give it the commemorative ending it deserves.

If you feel inclined to share your experience, please mail a separate copy to one or all of the following people at the address below:

  • David Lipsius, Chief Executive Officer
  • Denise Barack, Director of Program Development
  • Erin Peck, Senior Vice President of People, Culture, and Programs
  • Members of the Board of Trustees

c/o Kripalu Center
PO Box 309
Stockbridge, MA 01262

And share here as well!


Why Yoga?

It seems every time I open a magazine or newspaper someone is writing about yoga and meditation in connection to stress management.  It is one thing to read about this as a concept and another entirely to put it into regular practice and reap the benefits.   One root cause that many diseases and disorders have in common, that so many experts and stressed out people agree on, is stress.  As I wrote about in an earlier essay, to be alive means we are constantly experiencing varying forms of stress, and how we perceive it, as good or bad, determines how stress affects our health mental, physical and emotional.   Personally I have had many different ailments I can trace back to stress, for example, one particularly manic job I held as a house manager/tutor/nanny/personal assistant lead to chronic neck pain, digestive upset and insomnia.  I had to quit, it just wasn’t worth the big paycheck if my job was making me sick.  My symptoms slowly subsided once I’d left that crazy house, go figure.

When I was little I would do yoga with my dad, or rather he would do yoga and I would copy him.  It was many years later, as a teenager, when I worked at Kripalu Yoga Center in Lenox, that yoga came back in to my life, at least on the periphery.  In the two years I worked in the kitchen at Kripalu I never once took a yoga class.  I preferred instead to spend my break going for a long run and then relaxing in the sauna and whirlpool afterwards.  I was either at 60 or zero, I didn’t know how to do anything moderately and I thought, yoga is too slow for me, it’s boring.  In retrospect, it was just what I needed.

Warrior pose builds strength of body and mind.

This April I discovered that the Kriplau website offers 7 one hour-long yoga classes, for free.  Suddenly I no longer needed to get to a class on their schedule or be able to afford a monthly yoga class subscription, two things that had been holding me back from starting a consistent yoga practice.  I also had a spare room in my house- it now holds two yoga mats, a single extra bed for guests and that’s about it.  Yoga space plus high quality yoga classes on my laptop equals about 3 hours of yoga or more per week and the positive effects keep adding up.  Here are some things I have noticed since starting a consistent practice of at least three sessions a week:

I am sleeping better: I say this as someone who, as long as I can remember, has never been able to fall asleep quickly.  In fact, I am totally used to laying away for hours, no matter how tired I feel when I climb into bed.  Like I said, I’m usually going going going.  And yoga has helped me to find middle ground, I feel, in general, more relaxed and that has led to deeper, more restful sleep.  And sleep being the great regenerator, has led me to greater overall health and well-being.

My stress level is much lower:  The little things don’t bother me as much, I don’t feel myself getting stressed out nearly as often and it’s much easier for me to handle stressful situations.  Hours of deep, regular breathing and movement help me to remember that I can do yoga anytime, anywhere.  Doing the dishes, answering emails, working in the garden- I remember my posture, my breath and I stay more connected to my body in the moment, more often.

More strength and muscle tone:  I wasn’t expecting this since I have been an avid runner since I was 16 but my legs are stronger and more defined yoga is the perfect counter point to running, which I continue to do regularly.  I have more definition in my shoulders and can do real push ups and pull ups, whoo hoo, upper body strength!  I also feel that my inner strength is, well, stronger!  I can literally breathe through anything, up the big hills on my run, through a frustrating encounter or a challenging client call.

Yoga can help you cultivate a healthy relationship with your body: Our culture gets so hung up on how we look that we forget about the many miraculous things our bodies are constantly doing for us.  Sure, yoga can help you get into better physical shape but the effects go so much deeper than what is on the surface.  When is the last time you thanked your heart for always beating, every moment of your life?  When is the last time you did something that helps your whole body regenerate on a cellular and energetic level?  A regular yoga practice will support you in cultivating a healthy, loving relationship with your whole being, not just the superficial parts that may or may not, on any given day, look great in jeans.

Meditation is easier: at the end of an hour of yoga, breathing deeply and regularly along with the asanas (postures) my body and mind are more prepared for the 15 minutes of meditation I aim to do every day.  This means I meditate about 3-6 times a week, depending on the week.  Whether I am doing a healing energy work meditation or just focusing on my breathing and a simple mantra, yoga is a great preparation for a focused and easy, mindful meditation.  More on the do-it-yourself-energy work in a future post!

Other side effects may include: improved sense of well-being,better overall mood, increased self-awareness, clearer thinking due to increased oxygen, deepening your personal spiritual practice, relief from depression…you get the idea!

So, how do you start your own yoga practice and begin to reap the many, multifaceted benefits? 

First, remember that everything is yoga.  Are you breathing deeply and regularly?  This tells your nervous system that all is well, there’s no need for stress hormones or a stress response.  Are you in your body? Are you in the moment?  Yoga on your mat is just practice for all that we do when we are not ‘practicing yoga’.  Yoga at home works for me because I choose the time and the class- on or (a pay per month site that’s like a yoga version of Netflix) or I can check out yoga DVDs from the library.  My yoga practice is free, aside from the mat- the site is only $18 a month, about the same as you’d pay for one class!

Maybe you are a social creature and you need to be with others in order to get you motivated to move.  Either check into monthly yoga passes at your local studio, like Radiance Yoga on North Street or a Berkshire Kripalu Community membership, these are the best deals!  Or invite friends over for a regular yoga class at home.  You can also commit to one class a week at the studio and few classes at home in-between for the best of both.  Whatever you choose, try at least three sessions a week and you will soon start to see and feel the benefits of yoga, from lower stress levels to better sleep and so much more.

New Spring Salad

Dana and I literally made room for our yoga practice.

I’ve been a bit pressed for time since there are a lot of exciting changes going on right now; the garden is growing, there are houses to bid on (woah!) and we converted an extra room in our house to a yoga/meditation room.  I have been naturally waking up consistently early for the past few weeks, a change I attribute to the new season and a sign that my health continues to improve.  The combination of getting up earlier and our yoga room means I’m able to do an hour of Kripalu yoga, mediate and start my day having already accomplished two of my most important goals for the day. Or I can work in an hour of yoga later in the day.  Either way, having hour long classes, on line, that range from gentle restorative yoga to more vigorous, challenging classes, right on the Kripalu home page, makes a daily practice pretty easy to incorporate.  If you have space for a yoga mat and an internet connection, you too can incorporate yoga into your daily routine.  Give it a try!

One of 4 post cards designed to promote the market. This one is my favorite. You can see the other designs on the New Amsterdam Market Facebook page.

Dana, Brian and I are also expanding Fire Cider to a weekly market in New York City called ‘The New Amsterdam Market’ which opens next Sunday at 11 am in the Old Fulton Fish Market.  This is such an exciting next step for us and there’s a lot  to do to get ready!  So, I find I have less time that I would like to spend writing new recipes and playing in the kitchen.  In the interest of time, mine and yours, I’ve come up with a new way to write recipes so I can continue to share with you on a weekly basis…

The ingredients will be listed in the order they are added to the recipe.  Simple instructions will appear throughout the list and the meal should take about 5-15 min to assemble or cook, sound good?  Healthy meals fast, yes please!

One dish dinner with the daffodils my mom picked for us, thanks mama!

New Spring Salad

In a large bowl combine:

1 can tuna

3-4 T mayo

2 T spicy dijon mustard

2 T raw apple cider vinegar

2 T each: Kalamata olives halved and chopped oil cured olives

salt and pepper to taste

Mix well then add

Salad greens of your choosing: baby spinach and dandelion greens are especially nutritious.

1 grated carrot

Mix again and top with

grated cheese, I used some Vermont cheese from the co-op that’s part cheddar and part Romano

a small handful of toasted, salted sunflower seeds

Serve and eat!