Berkshire Kripalu Community finds new partnerships outside center
LENOX >> The Berkshire Kripalu Community of 650 area members isn't taking its ouster from the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health lying down.
With its 24-year affiliation with Kripalu terminated as of Sunday after negotiations for a new agreement foundered over multiple issues, BKC is partnering with local yoga centers to keep its programs going, said Peter Sibner, the organization's vice president.
The goal is to continue the BKC's "mission to provide yoga, qigong and other wellness activities to its members, along with other activities that encourage personal growth and foster a sense of community," Sibner said.
Starting this week, BKC is offering nine classes a week at Healing Rhythms in the Lenox Commons mixed-use complex at 55 Pittsfield Road (Routes 7 and 20). The classes will be led by the community organization's teachers trained at Kripalu.
Classes are open to members only, and the organization is welcoming new members, Sibner added.
Following the breakdown of talks between the BKC and Kripalu over access to the center's facilities and the Kripalu management's requirement that BKC rename the organization, the community group's board of directors met recently to explore its options. Sixty-three members attended the gathering to hear Dr. Melanie Levitan, the BKC's president, discuss the breakdown in negotiations.
"Members were overwhelmingly supportive of continuing the BKC without the benefit of the relationship with Kripalu," Sibner said.
The bitter dispute between the Kripalu Center's management and the BKC organization formed in 1992 to forge closer ties with area residents surfaced last month when Kripalu officials revealed the termination of negotiations following "a good-faith dialog with the BKC board for eight months to attempt to structure an agreement that worked."
According to Erin Peck, Kripalu's senior vice president, "It became very clear over the past eight months that the benefits BKC leadership expected were more than Kripalu can offer. We weren't able to come to a mutually beneficial agreement."
Peck contended that BKC board members and about 30 volunteers who work at the center "were being allowed by BKC unlimited, 24-hour access to Kripalu at no charge. We meet with them yearly, and we had never agreed to this."
She stated that the management learned last November that "benefits were being taken advantage of that we hadn't approved. That's when we knew we needed a new agreement."
Sibner responded with a denial that BKC board members abused benefits "in any way, shape or form." He told The Eagle that the board members had stopped accepting benefits from Kripalu last December.
Levitan, the BKC president, told the members at the board of directors meeting last month that the local organization "had responded in a timely manner to Kripalu's accusations regarding BKC's conduct, with supporting documentation, the current 2009 Agreement, and several meetings."
She also emphasized that there had always been an excellent relationship between the two organizations, through many administrations.
Levitan said that after receiving a lengthy, proposed new agreement with Kripalu, attorney Kevin Kinne of the Pittsfield firm Cohen, Kinne, Valicenti and Cook was retained to review the document and negotiate with Kripalu administrators a mutually beneficial agreement.
"Unfortunately, Kripalu was not willing to exceed their [July 31] deadline for signature and insisted on a signed agreement as is, without amendments," Levitan said.
Her summary of the board meeting stated that many members "regretted the trend that Kripalu has been steadily moving in a traditionally corporate direction, and has shown clearly over the last few years that it is not interested in cultivating a culture of cooperation within the organization, nor with the immediate community."
"There was a shared observation that Kripalu leadership is no longer walking their talk," Levitan said. "They are not applying the 'principles of yoga on and off the mat' nor exemplifying Kripalu's core values of 'creating an awakened, compassionate, and connected world.' "
According to Levitan and Sibner, the 2009 written agreement between both parties allowed board members and volunteers to attend yoga classes and obtain discounted meals at Kripalu as a benefit of the work performed by the organization to advance the yoga center's mission.
They also denied that the agreement was interpreted as granting unlimited access and that board members never intended to overuse benefits or take advantage of the facility.
The agreement also acknowledged that "the benefits provided to BKC members are determined by Kripalu management. These benefits are subject to change from time to time, depending on the needs of Kripalu. Kripalu management will communicate any benefit changes to the BKC president prior to implementation."
Peck, the Kripalu senior vice president, had said the new agreement offered to BKC would have maintained all current benefits, with some increase in offerings, but would have ruled out unlimited access.
Kinne told The Eagle that a key issue that derailed the negotiations between the two sides was a demand by Kripalu that the Berkshire Kripalu Community give up its trademarked name.
He also said the new agreement offered by Kripalu would have terminated by Dec. 31 unless an extension was negotiated.
Kripalu's current CEO, David Lipsius, has resigned for unspecified personal reasons. On Aug. 15, the day after he leaves, the new CEO, Barbara Vacaar, former president of Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., takes over.
Meanwhile, Kripalu has started a new benefits program for Berkshire area residents that designates Wednesdays as Berkshire Day, including reduced-cost day passes and various discounts exceeding 50 percent.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
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