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Kripalu CEO says yoga center will expand Berkshire resident discount program as part of 50th anniversary inclusion efforts

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Richard Gueler
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Wikimedia

This year, the Stockbridge, Massachusetts health and yoga retreat Kripalu is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Originally founded in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania in 1972, the center eventually relocated to its current Berkshire location in 1983. In 2020, under the strain of the pandemic, Kripalu closed its doors and let go of 450 staffers. With new CEO Robert Mulhall, it reopened to guests and rehired hundreds of employees in the summer of 2021. Now, Mulhall tells WAMC that Kripalu is both reimagining its mission and attempting to make the center more inclusive as it reaches the key milestone.

MULHALL: As we strategically move the organization forward to continue to meet the sort of emerging needs of the world, we're focusing on the individual healing and transformational work that we've always done through our educational programs, but also looking to see, how do we serve more fully in the world to bring about collective change that seems so dearly needed. So a big part of that is some of the initiatives that we're doing with specific targeted groups, like nonprofit leaders and activists, and where they can come to Kripalu supported by our donors to ensure that they get access to the tools and resources that help keep them resilient and strong in the world. In addition to that, and you know, Kripalu has been in the Berkshires for 40 years, and prior to that in Pennsylvania, but as we reflect on our 50 years here, we really want to make sure that we are becoming as accessible as possible as an organization. And so we're taking a few, or have already taken a few steps towards that. One of them is we have this beautiful thing called the Berkshire Day offering, so residents – now residents from within 45 miles of Kripalu center – can come on a Wednesday or Thursday at a heavily reduced rate of 40% discount, and they come for the day, enjoy a full day of yoga and our workshops, the three delicious meals from our Kripalu kitchen, and all have access to our grounds and amenities. And we historically had been doing that on Wednesdays only. We've now said, let's do that on Thursdays. And recently, we just expanded the radius from 30 to 45 miles, so now 125 new towns can access that, including Albany and Schenectady, and Hudson, etc. So we feel like that's another part of how we're leaning into our, the, how we want to move forward into our next 50 years is really becoming as accessible as possible, both to local community, but then also to folks that are traveling from further afield. And so we're looking and piloting different pricing options for people to ensure that Kripalu is as affordable as possible. We have all of our online programming now, which, you know, during the pandemic was greatly successful and continues to be now. We're reaching people in over 50 countries around the world and all states in the United States, so that allows us to grow this kind of sense of a global community, all working towards greater healing and a more beautiful world.

WAMC: You talked about the inclusion efforts and accessibility efforts- What else is the thinking as Kripalu eyes the second half of its first century?

Yeah. So, you know, we know that what we offer here, and the research backs it up, is that this is medicine for the world. And we're living in a very divided world. Even it seems like now on a weekly basis in the United States, we're becoming more and more divided at a political level, at the community level. And Kripalu is really dedicated to concentrating on how do we create more connection? How do we create more connection with ourselves? How do we connect, make create more connection within our communities? How do we create more connection to this natural world that we live in? And so our programming is very focused on bringing about more connection. And we've been launching new Kripalu programs that have been designed over the last year, and we have many more in the works that are going to be coming forward. So that will be a big part of our next chapter, is bringing more and more and more new Kripalu content forward. And that content will be about the individual's journey of transformation and their learning, but then also about how do you then take that into the world and serve? We talk about servant leadership here a lot at Kripalu and how do you how do we encourage more and more folks that are doing this individual healing journey to go out into the world and help other communities heal at the same time. So we, through, we've been doing that for years through our work with our yoga teacher training certification programs for yoga teachers go out and serve in their communities, but we want to ensure that many more folks that are doing that important work in the world are actually coming to the retreat center itself and getting that rejuvenation. I think in addition to all of that, you know, there's never been this separation between one individual's path of healing and transformation and what's happening in a community. If we're part of the community, then our healing is the community’s healing and the community suffering is our suffering. And we want to make sure that Kripalu was playing an active role in bringing about collective change. So we're, we've got our strategic goal for ourselves, which will be, we've started to lean into a little bit this year but we'll be leaning into much more next year and beyond, is how do we start to host conversations that really matter? How do we start to host conversations that are that are really important, that maybe are really divisive? And, but that If we don't figure out a way to host those conversations in a mindful and caring way, then we're never actually going to be able to find solutions that can move us forward. And so that's something that we're excited to look into. And whether that's local issues around inequality or access to food, even here in the Berkshire County, which has so much, and yet there's so many that have so little, or bigger global issues that are affecting us all, like climate change, and the growing need for more peacebuilding in the world. And those, these are some of the areas that Kriaplu wants to be leaning into in the next 50 years.

Let's talk about challenges. What are the challenges that Kripalu faces? And are you doing anything to confront that aspect of this journey in addition to the accomplishments and the new efforts around inclusion or what have you?

Yeah, I think like every organization right now we are, despite the fact that we've now fully reopened to all of our full programming seven days a week and we filled over 280 staff positions, we're still looking for more staff. So that's a challenge. So anybody that, you know, that wants to work in a great environment with a great culture, please send them our way. The other thing that I would say is, you know, there's just- We're continuously operating with an element of uncertainty like everybody is. And we've seen really strong and consistent demand for our programs, both on campus and online, and we're seeing a trajectory of that continuing into the year. But we're also, just like I said, managing with, with- Nobody really knows how to predict what's going to happen next in our world. Things seem to be happening fast. And some of those things are really big changes that are happening in our world. So we're trying to stay in a very agile place and stay in a place that's open to pivoting and changing as we need to as an organization. COVID, as it starts to sort of slow down and have less of an impact on our daily lives, you know, we're still managing our protocols very tightly, allowing for as much access as possible while ensuring that people feel really safe and comfortable to be here. So that's another challenge that we continue to navigate. And then I think the final thing is about just ensuring that all of this work that we're doing is never about sliding away from the core mission of this organization. And the core mission or purposes is really to ignite that individual and societal transformation through the wisdom and practices of yoga. We know that that yoga, as we define very broadly here, is not just about the postures on the mat, but really a way of life, and how do we show up with it with a compassionate heart to our relationships, to our work, to our parenting, to every aspect of our life. And that's, that's countercultural to a lot of what's happening in the world. And that is, you know, not everybody, not everybody wants to hear that. Some people, some people want to stay in the place of division. And that's, that's a challenge that an organization like Kripalu has faced for all of its years and will continue to face.

A lot of what Kripalu offers, you know- it's an essentially an international market for the folks who are interested in what Kripalu does, as much as it's part of the Berkshires. I'm interested in your own thoughts on sort of how Kripalu plays into Berkshire County. You know, as someone who was born and raised in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for example, it's a little hard to argue that Kripalu has ever been considered something that sort of as accessible or as part of the larger community as other less expensive or less niche oriented activities. But when you sort of think about how the center has played into the Berkshires and what role it plays now, any sort of thoughts on that relationship or that dynamic?

Yeah. My hope and the board and the team's hope is that Kripalu becomes known and seen and experienced as not just something that's in the Berkshires, but something that's truly for the Berkshires as well. And so that's part of our initiatives around expanding this very popular Berkshire Day offering for folks in the community, also ensuring that we're just open to people to drop in for healing arts treatments or to come by for lunch and do a drop-in yoga class. These are the sort of things that we're building back to as we continue to reopen. But beyond that, we've spent the last 12 months really connecting in the community and becoming sort of known, and we've shared our vision and our strategy with different business leaders, with many different organizations, nonprofits, healthcare facilities, etc. And we've sort of signaled that we're here to partner and we want to open our doors as much as we possibly can. I was getting- I remember a few years ago, when I came to the area three, three plus years ago, I was getting my hair cut, and somebody asked me, where did I work? And I said Kripalu, and they said, oh, I've never been. And I was very shocked by that, because they, just like you, they just lived in Pittsfield. And so it's about us ensuring that we're letting local folks know that this is really a place for them and not just for visiting people from out of town. And we have to make sure that we're accessible to that as well, financially and culturally. And some of the work we've been doing now is some really beautiful new collaborations with [National Alliance on Mental Illness] in Berkshire County, mental health organization, did its first youth mental health retreat here at Kripalu just the other week. We've had folks, 21 nonprofit leaders from Berkshire County and surrounding counties in Massachusetts, just here recently as well on a leadership development program, fully funded by some local funders. And we've been working with other small nonprofits and hosting them for some of their sort of team building retreats here as well. And we're just continuously trying to say, look, we're here to collaborate, we're here to partner. We have this beautiful new collaboration with Berkshire Bank that provides Kripalu programming to their clients and their employees. So as much as we can, we want to be in partnership with folks in the area, we want to be as accessible as possible to folks in the area, and as I said, not just be a big employer in the area, but something that people in the local area really say, you know, the next time I go get my hair cut, the person says, yeah, I've been to Kripalu. Actually, I go as regularly as I can, because it feels like it's a home for me.

Kripalu has been a WAMC underwriter.

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Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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