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Soul Food

Soothing mind, body and spirit—via the stomach—at the Kripalu Center

By Laura Leon

All night I had suffered theeffects of a nasty bug, in my weakened condition, I was in no mood for any discussion of lunch—or, to be honest, the company of my mother—but here I was, stuffed in the backseat of our van, with quibbling children, while my mother babbled on and on about the cold.

We had decided to take Mom to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, as a change of pace from the usual brew pub or occasional bistro to which we usually treat her. I had an amazing lunch there a year and a half ago, as part of a daylong getaway with three girlfriends, and since had been seeking a way to fit another such lunch, this time with family, between all of the soccer, baseball, hockey and drama-club commitments.

When I was growing up in Great Barrington, Mass., what is now the Kripalu Center was known as Shadowbrook, the name it was given by its original owner, Andrew Carnegie, back in the glory days of the “Berkshire cottages.” At one point, the site was considered for a prison, which was the first time the term “not in my backyard” entered my consciousness. Instead, an order of monks bought the place, and everybody relaxed, while at the same time wondering what exactly monks did in Western Massachusetts.

Some years after the Jesuit seminary left the property, it was sold to the Kripalu Center, which had been founded in the Philadelphia area by disciples of the Indian yoga master Swami Kripalu. Over time, the Center became “the” place to go for yoga, meditation and a variety of other mind body spirit activities. Unlike the Canyon Ranch bunch, who could usually be seen shopping in Lenox on weekend afternoons in their Uggs and Christy Turlington yogawear, the Kripalu devotees seemed, to our unenlightened eyes, decidedly crunchier. Of course, as I get older, I think what was meant by that was that they seemed more tuned into how spiritual well-being affects world outlook, and vice versa, as opposed to gearing up for glute boot camp.

So, here we were on a severe February noontime, walking up the winding driveway to the entrance of Kripalu. Like many blue collar Berkshirites, Mom had never set foot on the property, so she kept repeating, in between gasps of “My, it’s cold isn’t it?,” things like “So, what is this place again?” While my husband checked us in, I showed the rest of the family around; they were particularly enthralled by the group dance activity, in which scores of people from all walks of life partake in a celebration of rhythm, percussion and group energy. Last year, the girls and I had done this, at first reluctantly with an eye to the door in case a quick exit was needed. Within moments, however, we were transported into the sheer joy of movement, and I still grin when I remember it.

Many people you see at Kripalu have come from far and wide and are staying in the center’s guest rooms to partake of the various programs over two or more days. (For this reason, drop-ins looking for a meal should call ahead to check on availability; see info below.) Kripalu has a large dining room straight out of a college cafeteria, with high ceilings, broad windows and lots of rectangular tables for communal eating, all surrounding a few help-yourself stations of food. The place is a zoo, albeit a positive-energied one, as throngs of men and women, faces radiant from a challenging yoga class, fuel up for that afternoon’s hike around Stockbridge Bowl.

Executive chef Deb Howard started her first natural foods cafe when she was only 21 years old, and most recently ran the Love Dog Café, an organic restaurant in Lenox. At Kripalu, there are offerings to appeal to just about any brand of vegetarian—Saturday, for instance, featured a more traditional macaroni and cheese alongside a vegan version, both of which satisfied immensely. Roasted tomato soup was a perfect warm-up from our frosty trek. There was a medley of roasted beets, parsnips and rutabagas, sweetened ever so slightly with a bit of honey, and a crisp salad of baby spinach, to which could be added any number of fixings.

My favorite trough happens to be the Buddha Bar, where one can prepare a macrobiotic feast that leaves you feeling energized and sated all day long. On this particular day, there was brown rice, tofu sauteed with hijiki, roasted cauliflower, adzuki beans with pepper, and a variety of toppings such as toasted sesame and pickled radish. One bowl of this fulsome meal had me forgetting all about my ailment of the night before, and soon I was on a second helping.

Kripalu offers a variety of homemade, whole-grain breads, a favorite being an olive loaf. Some of us tried a hearty whole grain topped with chunky, nutty peanut butter and a sweet, violet raspberry jam. This is PB&J for the gods. Even my 5-year-old—the kid who never met a simple sugar he didn’t love—lapped it up and asked for more.

For liquid refreshment, fresh juices, organic tea, milk (both regular and soy) and water are provided.

Generally speaking, I hate buffets, particularly the all-you-can-eat mentality that seems to go alongside them. My mother, who grew up desperately poor during the Depression and has spent a life extracting every possible freebie and giveaway, would embarrass us whenever we went to places like Bonanza or anywhere that has buffets or salad bars. She’d make several treks to the feeding trough, loading her plate up each time, as if this was the last meal she was ever going to get. As if this wasn’t bad enough, she’d take zip-lock baggies out of her purse and stash foodstuffs into them, pretending that this would be Daddy’s dinner, but we knew better.

So, I was curious, to say the least, at how she would tackle the Kripalu cafeteria. Strangely enough, it was possibly the first time in many years that I saw her actually savor her meal, not just gobble it down as if somebody else were about to steal it from her. She asked me to get seconds on things like the cauliflower and the roasted root vegetables, but she didn’t overdo it, nor did she whip out the baggies.

As I mentioned, I had seconds from the Buddha Bar, and then a small third, but, like Mom, I really savored each bite. When I had lunch here with the girls last year, I remember that each of us had helped ourselves to several servings of two salads, one highlighted by slivers of hijiki and carrots, the other with pepper bits of tatsoi. Not what one normally thinks of in terms of binge food, but immensely satisfying.

After depositing our dinnerware and dregs of crumbs and leaf into the proper repositories, we wandered around the Kripalu Center for a bit, unwilling to shake that feeling of well-being and nourishment. Throughout the day, each of us felt sated, but not in that “oh, God, I ate too much” way. Rather, our energy levels were high and we didn’t have the customary urge, around 3 PM, to get ice cream.

To think, for years the Kripalu Center has been around, open to the public for meals (lunch is $15 for adults, $7.50 for kids), and I only discovered it recently. I don’t imagine Mom will take the B-bus there for lunch, but I know she won’t mind if we take her there again. And, of course, I’m still trying to get back there with my friends for a day of fine-tuning mind and body—and for another crack at the Buddha Bar.

The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health is located at 57 Interlaken Road, Stockbridge, Mass. (across from Tanglewood). Guests can come to Kripalu for a single day of Retreat and Renewal; however, availability is limited and blackout periods do apply (including most weekends during the summer). Preregistration is required. The day rate is $100 and includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner and all Retreat and Renewal activities from 7:30 AM through the evening (not including ticketed evening events). While guests may come for indivudual meals, seating is limited on busy days. For more information, call 866-200-5203 or go to

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Do you have any idea how much corn we consume? The Sanctuary for Independent Media, the Honest Weight Food Co-op, and Roots and Wisdom are sponsoring the area premiere of the film documentary King Corn at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, 3361 6th Ave., Troy, at 6 PM tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 15). Entrance is by donation: $10 is suggested or $5 for students or low-income others. King Corn examines the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation by following the experience of a group of college friends who grow and harvest (with help from genetically modified seeds and powerful herbicides) a bumper corn crop on an acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food at

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