Yoga finds its way into every corner of the Berkshires including Goat Yoga
Yoga came to the Berkshires by way of a Pennsylvania ashram in 1983. It’s everywhere now—from Kripalu’s hillside to Hancock Shaker Village’s grazing land.
Photos by Gregory Cherin
When I was a high school English teacher, stress followed me wherever I went. But Thursday was different. Moments after the students left for the day, I joined several of my colleagues—the librarian, the biology chair, the guidance counselor—in a classroom. We pushed the desks to the edge of the room, and set out our yoga mats. With the assistance of a visiting yoga teacher, we gave ourselves over to the present moment while the sounds of a soccer whistle and the custodian’s vacuum melted away. I have since taken yoga in the basement of my local library, in a meadow on a hill, in a renovated barn, and occasionally in a studio. That is where yoga is in the Berkshires.
“Yoga right now is everywhere,” says Nicole Rizzo, who divides her time teaching between Radiance Yoga in Pittsfield and North Adams Yoga. “There are a lot of doors entering the yoga world, and you take whatever you want back with you, you take what resonates.”
It’s not uncommon to see public-school kids unrolling yoga mats once a week with a visiting teacher for their P.E. class, or veterans practicing deep breathing in the quiet after-hours of a busy yoga studio. Recently, the Hancock Shaker Village (HSV) in Pittsfield even offered baby-goat yoga, taking advantage of the viral Instagram trend to raise money for its Save Our Silos campaign. (The goal of $90,000 was surpassed; goat yoga raised $3,500 of that amount.) The village will continue to offer yoga classes to the community “because it fits perfectly” with the mission, says HSV marketing and communications director Maribeth Cellana.
“Yoga is very much in keeping with the values of the Shakers,” Cellana says. “Everything they did was about perfection. Perfection in the things they made and in how they cared for themselves."
"I can tell you that the people who signed up for the goat yoga have never been to the museum before. And we had to open up another class because the original two were sold out. We want this to become a springtime ritual.” The goat yoga sessions were such a hit that Hancock Shaker Village has decided to hold more on July 1 & 15, 2017.
There are many yoga rituals across the county, some in the least likely places. Nearly every major cultural institution has offered a class/workshop that is open to the general public—a good majority of whom are trying yoga for the first time.
Take Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, which offers a weekly yoga class as part of its summer community programming. There is yoga on the lawn at Tanglewood with the sound of Mozart wafting in the wind. Even the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge has begun opening its doors to walk-ins for a Sunday-morning yoga class. Accessing yoga in the Berkshires is easier than finding a bowling alley.
Gillian Gorman is co-owner (with Scott Moraes) of Radiance Yoga in Pittsfield and Yoga Great Barrington. It’s true, she says, that most people can find their way to yoga, no problem. But it’s up to the teachers, many traveling emissaries of the practice, to keep people coming back.
“We have such a great, local population here interested in taking care of themselves,” says Gorman. “These are real people—the 20-year-old college student, a 62-year-old woman struggling through chemo, cops looking to destress. This is a very working-class community, especially in the Pittsfield studio. We don’t want to be an expensive retreat.”
In fact, Radiance has become a micro-retreat for people who have been led to yoga as a last resort at healing themselves, often at the recommendation of friends, therapists, even doctors. Gorman has taught classes specifically for veterans with PTSD, trauma victims who make their way from the Brien Center, and women at the Elizabeth Freeman Center for domestic-abuse victims.
“It’s about how to be of service in the field,” she says. “Just as a result of all of the learning that I’ve done, and the people I’ve taught, I’ve developed my own hybrid of yoga, and I think that’s true for many teachers. But it still focuses on that body/mind/spirit effect. ”
The hub of the Berkshire yoga wheel is Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge. This “central church” of yoga in the U.S. offers hundreds of classes, workshops, and retreats for novice practitioners, serious yogis, and everyone in between. Nearly 60,000 visitors come to the former Jesuit monastery every year, not a small number local residents. Some 700 Berkshire folks make their way to the Stockbridge campus, or find a Kripalu teacher–led class. And more than 300 yoga teachers who teach locally have been certified through Kripalu.
“This is not a fringe thing,” says Micah Mortali, Kripalu director of schools. “People come to yoga for different reasons—to de-stress, to grieve, to deal with major life transitions like divorce and retirement. [Kripalu] is a touchpoint for them to reflect on their journey. We are really committed to making the practice available to all.”