Kripalu comes 'off the hill' and onto your screen

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STOCKBRIDGE — In every crisis there is opportunity.

When the coronavirus pandemic temporarily shut down the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, it's leadership turned the closure into an opportunity to connect with its community beyond its Berkshires-based home.

To do that, the non-profit organization created Kripalu Connect, a streaming on-demand video subscription service and mobile app that recreates the center's "Rest and Retreat" programming.

"I really do believe that in all challenges there is opportunity," Kripalu CEO Barbara Vacarr said during a phone interview prior to Thursday's announcement the retreat center will remain closed until 2021 and plans to lay off 450 of its employees. "Truly, this has been a catalyst for things we've known our guests have wanted and we are giving it to them. Kripalu Connect was really catalyzed by the pandemic. It was something we had thought about and designed in our minds. We put this together through sheer creativity, entrepreneurship and grit in time of great challenge. I'm very proud of what our organization was able to do in a very short period of time."

Launched on May 6, the service — priced at $19.99 a month or $200 a year after a weeklong free trial — offers users a series of on-demand instructional videos in four categories: yoga, Ayurveda (a traditional Hindu system of healing based on diet and lifestyle adjustments), meditation and breathwork, and cooking and nutrition. Currently available via a web browser, the mobile app will become available on IOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku and AmazonFire this summer. New videos will be released monthly.

"What I love about it," Vacarr said, "is that it includes practices for every and all levels ... The ultimate goal is to create the experience of learning and development — that transformative experience that people have when they come to Kripalu — and really translate that into an online environment."

The largest yoga retreat center in North America, Kripalu's 125-acre campus welcomes guests from around the Northeast, the country and the world who come to participate in the more than 700 programs it offers each year. The center also is home to several certification and training programs in yoga, Ayurveda, integrative yoga therapy and mindful outdoor leadership.

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"We've heard from so many of our guests, who write with real sadness, about not being able to come to Kripalu. We have not seen cancellations into the summer because people are holding out hope of coming home, if you will, to Kripalu. There is such a need now for the practices that Kripalu offers during this time of such high stress, ambiguity and physical disconnection," Vacarr said.

She added, "Our guests have real connections to Kripalu and look forward to their next visit. We've recognized their need to stay connected to Kripalu. This has been a first step in bringing the Kripalu experience to people's homes. In this way, I think this has truly been an opportunity."

At the same time, Vacarr said the pandemic has allowed Kripalu to enter a time of preservation and transformation.

"We're preserving the health and well being of Kripalu, while at the same time, getting out in front of the type of transformation that needs to take place to move forward," she said. "What is the retreat going to look like? How do you serve food in a dining hall in a manner that is going to be safe? How do we invite guests back in?"

The wellness center is already tackling some of those questions, moving its 200-hour yoga teacher training certification program into an online environment, allowing students to finish and graduate from the course.

"I think being in the online environment is opening us up to the question of: 'How do we reach off the hill and bring the message in ways that may be more accessible?' We're really looking at how we serve in a world that is looking different," she said.

To learn more about Kripalu Connect, go to connect.kripalu.org.

Jennifer Huberdeau, UpCountry Magazine editor, can be reached at jhuberdeau@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter at @BE_DigitalJen or at 413-281-1866.


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