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Find your bliss
From yoga to meditation, acupuncture to massage, physical and spiritual renewal is just a weekend away

Did you hear the one about the Buddhist who asked the man selling hot dogs, "Can you make me one with everything?" That joke is lame for so many reasons. First of all, Buddhists donít eat hot dogs. And second, devout spiritual practitioners who spend a lifetime contemplating the sound of one hand clapping arenít likely to seek a shortcut to peace of mind.

But people like you and me are different. With precious little time to break away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, rest and relaxation often come in the rare stolen moment between commuting, working, and household chores. (Do the words "Calgon, take me away!" mean anything to you?) And when the opportunity finally arises for a weekend escape, weíre cruelly reminded that so many so-called rest-and-relaxation activities are neither restful nor relaxing. Skiing? Crowded and expensive. A romantic retreat to a quaint bed-and-breakfast? Ha! Too much pressure (and besides, what if youíre single?). A "family-friendly" getaway? The less said, the better.

So for your next weekend getaway, why not actually ... get away? Away from it all. Get some fresh air. Enjoy some peace and quiet. Downshift to a slower, less stressful pace. Maybe even take some classes in yoga or meditation. After all, thereís a reason why more than 10 million Americans practice some form of yoga or meditation these days. And no, itís not just because Oprah and Madonna say you should try it. (Okay, maybe that is the reason, but itís also because the stuff really does deliver as promised.)

Luckily, there are plenty of options ó both near and somewhat far ó for anyone looking to find bliss in a holistic holiday. And they often cost about half of what youíd pay for a typical weekend away.

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Lenox

The Berkshires are home not only to some of the best outlet shopping and leaf peeping this side of the Mason-Dixon Line, but also to Americaís largest facility dedicated to yoga. The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox is part ashram, part resort spa, and every bit a break from the bump and grind of fast living. While the folks at the center hesitate to call it a spa (they prefer "nonprofit education fellowship"), that couldnít stop tastemakers like Self and Yankee magazine from ranking Kripalu a top stop for the spa-parazzi. However you look at it, Kripalu offers something for anyone looking for a little peace, quiet, and fresh air.

More than 23,000 people a year make their way to the sprawling 350-acre estate, a former Jesuit monastery. "People come up to get away from day-to-day stressors and be in an environment thatís less stressful," says Kripalu spokesperson Cathy Husid. "Thereís a nice mix of weekend warriors, people who are curious about yoga, and people who are serious about spiritual development."

Kripaluís R&R (thatís "retreat and renewal") programs consist of two freely structured days and nights during which participants can choose from hikes, meditation and yoga classes, special workshops, and nightly events ranging from author readings to dance concerts. The facilities include a fitness center and menís and womenís saunas and whirlpools, along with a café and gift shop. Kripalu also offers a full suite of "healing arts" services, ranging from massage and skin care to acupuncture and reiki.

R&R weekend prices range from $120 to $273 per night per person, depending on room choice, and include lodging, vegetarian meals, and all program activities. Conditions are somewhat Spartan (the place was a monastery, after all), even for the higher-priced rooms. Summer is prime time for a Kripalu visit, because its next-door neighbor is none other than Tanglewood, whose Boston Symphony Orchestra and other programs are a perfect complement to a weekend of serenity.

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, across from Tanglewood, Lenox, (800) 741-7353; www.kripalu.org.

Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, Rhinebeck, New York

If Las Vegas is Americaís "adult playground," then the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is its "spiritual playground."

Located in the Hudson River Valley, Omega is situated on 140 acres of hills, beaches, gardens, and woodlands. Itís a bit like summer camp for the New Age set, and marquee names like John Gray and Jon Kabat-Zinn make frequent appearances at conferences. During its open season (May through October), Omega offers two-day and even five-day R&R programs. If thereís anything stressful about the place, itís choosing what to do.

The grounds have a distinctly village-like atmosphere, with a camping area, private cabins, and central facility. During a two-day R&R weekend, participants design their time freely, and can choose from classes in tai chi, meditation, or yoga, and play tennis, volleyball, or basketball, among other things. Thereís even a trapeze swing (donít get too excited: itís used only as part of a special five-day workshop). "There really is something for everybody," says spokesperson Elena Erber.

Prices for Omegaís R&R weekends vary widely, from $120 if youíre camping to $420 for a private cabin. The all-inclusive fees cover meals, use of facilities, and even a one-hour massage. The Wellness Center also offers chiropractic care, facials, and other holistic health therapies.

The New York campus is closed from November through September, during which time Omega takes its show on the road, offering workshops around the country and in exotic locations.

Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, 150 Lake Drive, Rhinebeck, New York, (800) 944-1001; www.eomega.org.

Ananda Ashram, Monroe, New York

Donít let the name fool you. Yes, the word "ashram" often conjures images of orange-robed disciples to a Svengalian guru, of tambourines and patchouli. But this ashram, nestled in the Catskill Mountains region just an hour from Manhattan, likes to think of itself as "a spiritual retreat and educational center founded on the universal principles of yoga and Vedanta and dedicated to East-West cultural exchange." Actually, Ananda does have a guru: its late founder, the neurosurgeon and endocrinologist/yogi Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati. But as spokesperson Ma Bhaskarananda says, "He is no longer in his body."

This year marks Anandaís 40th on its 85 acres of woodland, and this summer will feature anniversary activities like Sanskrit-language intensives, concerts, and a dance camp for kids. But there are also the ongoing enticements, including a swimming pool, lake, morning and evening yoga and meditation classes, and a therapy center offering massage, aromatherapy, and a eucalyptus sauna.

All-inclusive weekend rates (meals and regular daily programs) are $75 per night per person for a semiprivate room; $60 for a dorm room; and $48 for use of the camping area.

Ananda Ashram, 13 Sapphire Road, Monroe, New York, (845) 782-5575; www.anandaashram.org.

Cambridge Zen Center, Cambridge

Meditation is all about looking within. And luckily for those looking within the Greater Boston area, thereís the Cambridge Zen Center, a 30-year-old residential and retreat facility located steps outside Central Square.

Once a month, the center offers a two- or three-day meditation retreat during which a group of 20 to 25 participants refrain from talking, wake up at 4:30 a.m., and spend long days sitting, chanting, bowing, and performing household chores such as cooking and cleaning.

You might be thinking: "People pay for this?" But director Kathy Park insists that weekend retreats are "a holiday for your mind," ideal for people with a serious desire for some quiet meditation time. Which means that anyone looking for creature comforts is barking up the wrong bodhi tree. At Cambridge Zen, retreats are somewhat rigorous, and conditions are very simple. You even have to bring your own bedding.

During a retreat, each participant meets with the teacher for a "Kongan interview," a one-on-one assessment of the studentís mental clarity during meditation. Retreat costs range from $55 per person per day for non-members, down to $25 for teachers in training, and include lodging and vegetarian meals.

Cambridge Zen Center, 199 Auburn Street, Cambridge, (617) 576-3229; www.cambridgezen.com .

Brian OíNeill can be reached at brianeoneill@hotmail.com .

Issue Date: February 27 - March 4, 2004
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