Island ladies of Kripalu

Meet some of the women who have reaped the benefits of a healthy retreat at the Stockbridge center.

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Scarlet Johnson, owner of the Yoga Barn. — Randi Baird

For those who’ve never been, Kripalu, a nonprofit educational organization, is a “center for yoga, health, wellness, and personal growth” in Stockbridge, in the Berkshires, where it established a permanent home in 1983. Island Kripalu teacher and healer Martha Abbott, owner of Spirit Moves You in Oak Bluffs, found yoga in 1996 at Kripalu at age 40, and “jumped in full-force.” Abbott even became one of their directors of yoga, teaching yoga teachers. She moved from the Vineyard, and lived at Kripalu for about a year before beginning to teach yoga and other retreats there in 1998. She also became a movement therapist while living in the Berkshires. She taught at Kripalu for nine years. Abbott admits she can’t stand living away from the Island for more than three years, having been a full-time resident since high school. She was able to return to the Island and run the Kripalu programs remotely. After that she began teaching yoga on-Island, and developed her own yoga teacher-training program. Since leaving Kripalu in 2007, Abbott began her studies with the Four Winds Society in Shamanic Energy Medicine with Dr. Alberto Villoldo. Now Abbott is an assistant online teacher for Four Winds training. After a 10-year hiatus, she and her stepsister, Sigrid Olsen, recently taught a Creative Well-Being Retreat at Kripalu. Abbott and Olsen, a former fashion designer, have led retreats together for the past decade in Tulum, Provence, Tuscany, Ojai, and Glouscester. Olsen leads the creative half, and Abbott leads the movement, meditation, and shamanic parts. You can learn more about Abbot’s offerings at spiritmovesyou.com.
But Abbott’s not the only Kripalu connection with Martha’s Vineyard. The first Women’s Week: The Revolution Within at Kripalu will be held from Nov. 10 to 15, and three Island women will be there.
Scarlet Johnson, owner of the Yoga Barn, first studied yoga with Carl Klimme, a Kripalu teacher, in New Jersey, where she was living before moving to the Vineyard. “I loved his class, and took it a lot,” Johnson says. “Not long after consistently taking his class, he asked, ‘Hey, can you sub for me? I’m going to be away.’ I told him I’m not a yoga teacher. He said, ‘Yeah, yeah you are.’ It was easy to sub for him. He told me to check out Kripalu because they offered monthlong teacher-training intensives; even if I didn’t want to teach it still had value. I went to Kripalu in the spring of 2001 or 2002, did one workshop, then went back four months later and had my first workshop with Yoganand [Michael Carroll]. I loved it. Really, really loved. Then I did my yoga teacher-training with Yoganand and Tobey Levine, though I was really hoping for Martha Abbott and Yoganand. I kept taking workshops with Yoganand for the next 17 years.”
As an idea began germinating in Johnson’s mind about “the balance of power” and yoga, she spoke with the powers that be at Kripalu, submitted a proposal, and now she is heading to Kripalu to teach her first workshop there. Johnson started with postures and pranayama, and then began meditation. I have watched Scarlet Johnson blossom as she heads into her 11th year with the Yoga Barn community she has given a home to. Learn more about her workshop at kripalu.org/presenters-programs/presenters/scarlet-johnson, or check out the many Yoga Barn offerings at mvyogabarn.com.
Roberta Kirn has been leading Island monthly Community Sings for all ages for 18 years, and conducting an annual solstice community chorus for 17 years. She began an international Song Exchange Project in 2015, and has led Singing for Every Body and Soul workshops twice in the past 12 months at Kripalu. Her mentors include Ysaye Barnwell and Bobby McFerrin, among other song leaders. In fact, she was asked to replace mentor Ysaye Barnwell in July 2019 when Barnwell had an opportunity in Ghana she couldn’t turn down. Kirn says, “My big dream is to work with the Kripalu staff from administrative to the cleaning crews, singing together. I think if people connect in workplaces everywhere, it will make the atmosphere of the entire planet better. The bigger picture is that people will recognize the value of singing in community as a way of building bridges across differences. That’s my mission.”
Kirn likes teaching there, and during the November Women’s Week, Kirn will lead Sings outside around campfires, and though she’s not scheduled to officially lead a song workshop, it may be a last-minute elective. She offers a safe place for people who are terrified to sing: “In other cultures, singing is a part of daily life. I love that singing can become an essential component of life, the workplace.”
Kirn had the opportunity to close the M.V. Hospice summer fundraising event with a song, which connected everyone on a deeper level. “It’s not about going out for drinks or having a meal together, but a way for everyone to share a song” that unites community, she says. More and more people feel disconnected, and song is a simple and heart-filled way to connect. Learn more about Roberta Kirn’s offerings, and consider bringing her to your workplace, by checking out bewellsing.com.

Nancy Slonim Aronie thinks she’s taught writing workshops at Kripalu for at least the past 15 years, maybe 18, she can’t quite remember. Aronie is an NPR “All Things Considered” commentator, offers her Chilmark Writing Workshops, and teaches writing workshops at Esalen, Harvard, the Omega Institute, the Open Center, and the Rowe Center, among others. Aronie preferred to teach at Kripalu in the winter, ideally “during a snowstorm.” She says her students there “are seekers, and the place is a holy temple.” She “love[s] the place.” Her program has never had a cap, so sometimes she has to run over the allotted time. “The constant is the safety. They always write what they came to write.” She considers herself so lucky to have been able to get to do what she’s good at and loves. This is the very first Women’s Week at Kripalu, and Aronie is one of the seven daily morning experiences highlighted in Kripalu’s fall program catalog. She said she feels a great sense of honor being included in this inaugural program, besides enjoying the hot tub between classes and the amazing food. She’s had Kripalu students who come to the Vineyard to take her workshop, and Island students who show up at Kripalu as well. Her offering will be “The Alchemy of Writing: Balancing the Shadow and the Light,” described as “write your personal narrative, find your authentic voice, and celebrate the joy of sounding just like you.” I’ve taken two of Nancy Aronie’s Chilmark Writing Workshops during the 14 years I’ve lived here, and both have deepened my comfort with uncomfortable stories from my past that I wanted or needed to tell, in a supportive and safe community that always blows my mind. Sharing stories is one of the most basic ways we can all connect. Check out Aronie’s offerings at chilmarkwritingworkshop.com.

To learn more about Women’s Week at Kripalu, see kripalu.org/womensweek.