Hippies, blue bloods, and Jerry Lewis lovers were the first to habituate the communal dining halls of the Catskills' and Berkshires' retreats. Since then, a good number of Dirty Dancing?esque destinations have replaced their bingo tables with yoga mats, finding a second incarnation as spas and retreats with a spiritual bent. Now frequented by TriBeCa Buddhists, East Village yogis, and Upper East Side vegans, the getaways have, not surprisingly, all seen a surge in business since September 11. And as 2002 begins, the city's seekers continue to head north.
New Age Health Spa, in Neversink, New York (eighteen miles from the town of Monticello), has managed to strike the perfect balance between New Age pursuits and à la carte physical pampering. The 280-acre spread feels like a souped-up summer camp, with five bed-and-breakfast-type shingled lodges at its center. Rooms are homey and unfussy and without phones or TVs. Guests pick and choose from the events on each day's schedule, which begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. with a lecture (on Vedic knowledge when we were there) and a movie (now playing: Thirteen Days). Yoga and t'ai chi classes take place in the newly built Cayuga center; ai chi (t'ai chi in water) is in the heated pool next door. There's Nordic skiing in winter, tennis in the summer, and hiking excursions May through October. For an extra charge, guests can schedule facials, massages, and Ayurvedic body treatments at New Age's no-frills but professional spa. Meals include organic produce from the three greenhouses on the property. Juice fasts are also an option. But forget about coffee -- this is a caffeine-free zone. Double-room rates from $144 to $254 per person (800-682-4348; www.newagehealthspa.com).
If certain students at Ananda Ashram seem awfully proficient at their sun salutations, it's because Ananda is where yoga teachers go to get a physical and spiritual tune-up. The ashram, which is just an hour northwest of Manhattan in the Orange County village of Monroe, was founded in 1964 by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati as the center for the Yoga Society of New York. Ananda even has a sort of exchange program with Jivamukti in Manhattan: The yoga studio sends employees to the ashram, and teachers from Ananda visit Jivamukti Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. to lead satsang ("keeping the company of like-minded individuals") meditation. Ananda's schedule includes yoga classes of all levels, Sanskrit study, meditation, even classical Indian dance. Weekend workshops concentrate on specifics: deity painting, sitar-playing, hatha yoga -- as well as more unusual pursuits such as kirtan chanting and electro-crystal homa healing (involving crystals, energy work, yadda-yadda). Clients can make appointments for Swedish and Shiatsu massage, acupressure, and foot reflexology, and then chase them with a eucalyptus sauna. Weekday rates from $45 per night for a single-sex dorm room to $60 for a semi-private room; weekend rates from $55 to $70; workshops are extra (845-782-5575; www.anandaashram.org).
Regulars of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, tell newcomers not to be put off by the minimalist décor. Once a Jesuit seminary, the center has private rooms that are smaller than suites at the Paramount; larger ones afford you the luxury of top or bottom bunk. No one comes here to lounge in bed, however, as there's a mind-boggling array of classes -- 150 in the Kripalu winter catalogue. Pick and choose from the daily schedule, adding on spa services that appeal to you. Or sign up for one of Kripalu's programs ($115?$225), which run the gamut from hiking, snowshoeing, and golf to "Conscious Riding: The Inner Path of Horsemanship." Register in advance for one of 30 "Healing Arts" sessions, from hot-stone massage to acupuncture. Meals are vegetarian (no meat, poultry, or fish) and surprisingly creative, with the main meal at noon. Rates vary. On an à la carte basis, singles will pay $86 a night (dorm room), couples (or singles wanting their own rooms) $144 to $155. If you sign up for a program, rates are slightly higher (call 800-741-7353 for specifics; www.kripalu.org).
Finally, how could we not include the Berkshires outpost of Canyon Ranch? While it's become synonymous with celebrity-grade buff and detox, the Lenox resort has developed its spiritual side in recent years. On the daily roster are Chi Gong classes, meditation walks, and multilevel yoga classes led by teachers who trained at Kripalu -- in addition to the requisite mango scrubs and rubdowns with herb-infused oil. Regulars rave about the tasty, low-calorie food, which somehow includes tirami su for dessert. Hey, if they say so. . . . For three nights, single rooms cost $1,683 per person; doubles are $1,333 per person through March 13 (800-742-9000; www.canyonranch.com).