What is Kripalu Yoga?

Tree Pose at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

Tree Pose at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

The first time I remember taking a formal Kripalu class was around five years ago. I was in the midst of a love affair with Kundalini yoga, and went to attend a workshop with one of my favorite Kundalini teachers at a time when many of the most well-known teachers were gathering at the Kripalu Center. I was, of course, excited and arrived ridiculously early to settle in, explore the building, and eventually walked into an intermediate Kripalu yoga class. 

It was packed. The energy was palpable, and it was a different type of atmosphere than I was used to. Cushions instead of bolsters. No air conditioning. A diverse array of people at varied levels of ability. A teacher elevated on a podium with a headset. I cannot now remember who the teacher was or the sequence in general, but I do remember listening to the theme of ARRIVAL. I remember a powerful centering focused on breath awareness. I remember meditative dynamic warm-ups.

I remember the beginning of class when we held bridge pose for an extended period of time and I watched flashes of impatience rise in my thoughts. The teacher asked us to pause and direct our awareness to the sensations of the posture. She asked us to imagine how we could learn to fall in love with this shape if we stayed for a long period of time. I felt the heat generating in the back of my legs, my belly stretching, the prana and energy arising in my throat, and the sensation of my feet pressing on the ground. I noticed a small ache in my low back and made a tiny adjustment, resulting in an even more expansive wave of pranic energy. 

I may not have fallen in love with bridge pose that day, but I did fall in love with Kripalu yoga. 

Kripalu yoga, as you can probably guess, is very much like traditional Hatha yoga. The poses are similar, and there are different levels of practice ranging from gentle to vinyasa. What sets Kripalu apart, in my opinion, are three primary components:

Self-Exploration: In my class example, I had the time and the space to explore my expression of bridge pose and ended up making an adjustment that took the pose to a new level. Kripalu encourages this idea of self-empowerment and exploration, so that the practitioner can really start to develop an intimate relationship with their body through the practice of yoga. It's more than just landing in a pose -- it's exploring and feeling and watching how the pose generates energy, creates sensation, and affects your unique body. Similarly, students are encouraged to listen carefully to their bodies to make the practice work best for them.

Beginning, Middle and End: After ten immersive days of Vinyasa training with Coby Kozlowski, these words have been hammered in my mind like a permanent brand. In this context, every Kripalu class and every Kripalu pose has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning of class, the student is guided into body and breath awareness to create space for the practice. This is typically followed by gentle dynamic warm-ups to prepare the muscles and joints. The middle of the class includes all poses and the sequence. The end incorporates a cooling down period, shavasana, and some sort of closure that assists students in taking their practice with them and off of their mats. Each class weaves in a theme that is carried throughout each component of the practice and assists students in self-study. Kripalu yoga aims to create an experience that enables students to continue their practice long after class is complete. 

Beyond the Physical Practice: Kripalu yoga classes are a physical practice, but they are designed to create awareness of the self beyond just the body. Pranayama or breathwork is almost always a component (of my classes anyways), because it helps to generate energy or Prana to enhance the overall sequence and theme. There is a strong focus on inner awareness and noticing how the practice affects the subtle bodies. The sequences are designed to go beyond strength/flexibility (although you will definitely achieve that), to a level that starts to generate energy in particular ways to promote healing and awakening. As Richard Faulds writes, "Regular practice stimulates an ongoing process of positive change that inspires you to realize your full potential."


I'm bringing my love of this practice to Central Mass Yoga & Wellness in two new Kripalu classes. Starting in March, join me for Kripalu Vinyasa on Tuesday mornings at 9:30 and Level 1 Kripalu on Thursday evenings at 5:30. Check out the events page for more information and a free class opportunity.

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Mandi Garrison