If you’re interested in learning how to incorporate Ayurveda, particularly, Ayurvedic cooking, into your everyday, there's a course in the Bay Of Islands in the North Island of New Zealand that helps you do just that.
Hale Pule Ayurveda & Yoga offers a 100-hour cooking program that teaches you how to incorporate the principles of Ayurveda into your life and the lives of others around you. If you're not sure what I mean by Ayurveda and would like a quick Ayurveda 101, you can head to my blog here, or, if you want to read about the program in general, go here to discover more about it. Once you’ve had a read, come back here.
Are you all caught up?
As soon as I heard about Hale Pule, I booked my flights before my dog, Oscar, could even bark. I had previously studied Ayurvedic nutrition in Kerala, during my safari of India, so it wasn't a totally new "concept" to me; plus I've been "gradually" incorporating the main principles of this five-thousand year old medical system into my life over the past five years with positive results.
So, anyway, the next thing I knew, after a swift three-hour flight across the Tasman, I had arrived in the land of the Long White Cloud. I was picked up and greeted warmly by fellow retreat-goers at the airport and we all excitedly clambered on a bus heading to the unique and picture-postcard location. We drove for about an hour through the winding green hills of New Zealand from our original destination of Keri Keri, or, as the New Zealanders say, Kirikiri!
It's safe to say that we were all full of trepidation and expectation for what was to come.
As we chatted on the bus and got to know one another, most of us were concerned and little a anxious about the sleeping arrangements. Was it going to be dorm-style, or would we have our own rooms and bathrooms?
It was then that the driver piped in and mentioned that the last group who had been on the retreat the week before had remarked on a pair of snorers in the room. It was then that a hush descended upon the van, so much so that you could almost here a pen drop (NZ joke ;)) and then after a few seconds, someone had the magnificent idea of doing a quick ask around to see if anyone would admit to said 'known nocturnal noises'. As you do...
Once we arrived we were shown to our "room" and introduced to the spaces and the grounds. Kelsey hailing from Canada, was our lovely program manager and she quickly allocated our bunk beds in the dorm room – all the women were together and the boys were in another part of the farm. This could have posed a problem for the one married couple who had signed up, but they didn't seem to be concerned about it and were just going with the flow. They had just been to India so were very relaxed about it all.
Looking around the minimalist environment, it did feel a bit like going back to school camp! It was the first time many of us had slept in a single bunk beds since we were single digits!. It was spartan and confined and definitely an arrangement that would put hairs on your chest. The first thing to do was to leave any modicum of privacy at the sliding door, and get used to sharing!
In the room there was one bathroom to eight people, and another bathroom up the hallway which was closed out for periods of time and also being used by the staff. Luckily everyone seemed ok with it or if they weren't it wasn't evident. It was then that I thought, I need to chill out a bit! Or maybe a lot!
They are in a transitional time as they've recently relocated from Hawaii to New Zealand and so are in the process of acquiring a new property to set up their educational and healing centre, hence the temporary accommodation being a bit more rustic than they will offer in the future.
The course was made up of all ages and a cross section of people who had travelled from all over the world to be there. There is a strict interview process to do it and you need references to be accepted. By the end of the course we were so used to sharing the space with one another it was a transformative experience and we all got along really well. I know I have made some lovely lifelong friends.
The other areas of the farmhouse we studied in overlooked stunning green hills and views, and the grounds were home to pigs, horses, dogs and a even a natural swimming hole. The grounds were very rustic and authentic, allowing for fantastic ramblings in and around the property. We also had the opportunity to work on the farm and the vegetable gardens.
In the cooking sessions we used a lot of fresh produce and herbs from the garden. I've never seen cabbages this big before!
One of the things that I loved about the property were the bathtubs full of backyard herbs and vegetables. It's so neat that you can grow veggies in this unique garden bed. If you're keen to try it for yourself, all you need to do is find an old bathtub, fill it with nutrient rich soil and ensure proper drainage.
Once we were settled into our room, it was time for a full induction and a review on all of the ins and outs (in detail) about how the training was going to run.
While each day changes slightly, on the course a typical day schedule consists of:
- 4.30 a.m. Wake up and do tongue scraping and use a neti pot (nasal saline irrigation therapy)
- 5:00 – 6:15 a.m. Morning practices (fire ceremony, pranayama, meditation)
- 6:30 – 7:30 a.m. Yoga asana class with Kelsey
- 7:30 a.m. Breakfast and break
- 8:00 a.m. End of silent time
- 8:30 - 11:45 a.m. Lecture, then kitchen practicum.
- 12:00 p.m. Lunch and break
- 2:15 – 5 p.m. Lecture, then kitchen practicum
- 5:00 p.m. Dinner and break
- 6:15 p.m. Meditation (approximately 30 minutes)
- 7:55 p.m. Agnihotra (fire ceremony)
- 8:30 p.m. Exit common areas/finished with bathrooms, into bedrooms
- 9:00 p.m. Lights out and silent time
Following this, Kelsey explained the underlying philosophies of the course. We were going to be shown how to work and manage energy and use consciousness throughout the training.
If you haven't already twigged by now, this course is much more than a cooking program, in a nutshell, it's a period of time that gives you the opportunity to, on reflection, learn about yourself and how you react when placed in different situations, some of these comfortable and familiar, and others completely out of your comfort zone! The other thing is that you will also learn a heck of a lot and the quality of the information is top notch.
During the beginning stages of the course, our minds were periodically cast back to the bunk bed situation, but then collectively, we all slowly dropped our shoulders and expectations. There came a point where we realised that; we are here, we are in the moment, and we had to either embrace and stay open to it or resist it and have to deal with it internally.
Over the next couple of days, once we settled into our daily routine, our nervousness started to dissipate, and our minds started to calm down and enjoy the process.
On the first day we were introduced to Myra who is the creator of Hale Pule. As she entered the room, her passion and commitment to her style of Ayurveda and the Ayurvedic lifestyle was immediately evident. She truly believes that we all have the power within us for healing and health. Hale Pule is an extremely holistic course that Myra founded and runs. It explores looking inside for answers and cultivating your inner-most connection, and the benefit that has for yourself and others.
She also has the cutest dog who would often swing by in the afternoons and smile at us during afternoon lectures!
One of the main purposes of the course was learning how to cook with spiritual principles and how to incorporate these into your cooking. Initially Myra asked us what our intentions were and our reasons for being there in order for us to think more deeply about what this course meant to us and how we were going to apply it in the outside world.
We also learnt about how the five natural elements work together with tastes to bring about harmony and healing in the body. We learnt a lot throughout the course, with the lectures ranging from a review of the principles of Ayurveda, to food combining, food presentation, ways to connect with food through life-force, and so much more!
At its heart, the cooking course uses a holistic approach to wellness and the union of food, prana (the Ayurvedic term for energy) and thought. We were given examples throughout the course on how thought is paramount and can deeply impact how you feel, how you digest and how you assimilate what you are eating.
Cooking up an Ayurvedic Storm!
Food at its core is a part of our interaction and connection to nature, this is something impossible to ignore especially when you’re surrounded by the beautiful greenery of New Zealand. We were amongst fifty shades of green everyday and we studied to a chorus of birds tweeting, and a backdrop of clear skies and fluffy white clouds.
Each day, we were guided through a colourful meditation that focused on observation of the self. We were invited to tap into how we felt around other people and how we carried other people’s energies. Myra guided us on how to clear other’s energies too – it got very intense at times... get out your sage sticks everyone!
By now, I think I might know what you’re all thinking? "Wait, Lee, what does this have to do with cooking? I want to make curry!"
I'm getting there, I promise!
But it's important to understand that all of the energies you feel, and have ever felt, align with the cooking process.
Overthinking and gathering too much energy from other people is the same as putting too much spice in a meal, or in other words aggravating the pitta or vata dosha ;).
Dinner time was always a time when the group came together, helping each other out with chopping and prepping and spicing.
One of the other big question's on everyone's lips at lunch and dinner was, 'Who's turn is it to make the ginger appetiser?'. A great way to stimulate digestion we are told.
I've never made these kinds of appetisers before, but it's super easy to do. All you need is a thinly sliced or match stick piece of ginger drizzled with one drop of lime or lemon and a pinch of salt. And I kid you not, it’s tastier than you’d think.
We also washed it down with a buttermilk drink containing ghee, cardamom and ginger. Very tasty! And we all took it in turns to make the drink with our own variety of spices.
Finished product and enough for 12 people!
Kitchadi, one of the Ayurvedic main meals was a fun dish to create from scratch. This dish featured whole basmati rice, split mung beans, slices of zucchini and we topped it with earthy flaxseed meal.
Each night we ate around a communal table and chatted about our day and cooking adventures. We also had to guess the elements of each dish we took turns to prepare for the others. This led to some spicy dinner table conversations.
During dinner we were instructed that the conversation needed to be directed through Myra, there were no side conversations allowed and if this happened you would be met with a stern gaze. There is a reason for this - and that is to keep a sense of sattva, or peace and harmony at the dinner table.
Inevitably when a bunch of people sit down together, there can be lots of diverse conversations happening and people end up shouting over one another to get their point across, and then the space doesn't feel calm anymore. The idea is to eat peacefully so your digestion will function optimally. Plus it's nice to hear what everyone has to say.
Once Myra had finished eating we were then all allowed to leave the table and complete the task of washing and drying up and cleaning the kitchen. This was also a good way to learn how to relinquish control!
Once the cleaning had been done, it was back up to the main area and we were introduced to the practice of agnihotra (a fire ceremony), where cow dung was burned, and an offering was made.
Practiced at sunrise and sunset all over the world, agnihotra is a powerful healing ceremony for all of nature, including the human being.
It's said to harmonise and expand the consciousness of all aspects of our being and helps to promote mental calm and inner peace as well as purifying the atmosphere, thus reducing the effects of radiation and pollution, and enhancing the conditions of soil, water and air, to allow for balanced and robust plant growth.
I must admit I was shocked when Myra then laced the meals with her special ingredient - cow dung ash… it’s a lot less weird and feels more meaningful when you’re there, I promise!
Myra with her ladle!
Agnihotra is a way for us as human beings to give back to mother nature, and to honor the life giving and transformative energy of surya, the sun.
As we sat for agnihotra, we attuned to the opening of energies in the morning and closing down of energies in the evening. We attuned to nature's rhythms. The fire represents healing and protection to the body. It can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and guidance is free of charge.
The agnihotra set up
The cow dung is burned in a copper pyramid of specific dimensions with a mantra, known as a sacred sound. At the timing of agnihotra, an offering of rice and ghee is made as the mantra is chanted. All of these components together create a unique and powerful transformation in the air for the person partaking, and the substances burning in the fire. The ash from the fire is then used as "powerful medicine" for internal and external healing.
And now back to the cooking, one of the highlights was that we also made cookies which were cow dung ash-free! Here's Georgia from GV Meditation creating magic!
The next day started at 5am (no snooze alarms allowed) with another fire ceremony, breathing exercises and yoga asana which focused on foundational poses.
Kelsey from Hale Pule teaches raja yoga, which is the 'royal' path, containing all of the 8 limbs of Patanjali. This holistic approach leaves no aspect of living unaddressed.
The eight limbs of Yoga is the foundation, offering guidance on the yamas (how we behave in the world), niyamas (how we treat ourselves), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (management of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (union with the Divine).
Kelsey from Hale Pule
All of the yoga involved incorporates the principles of Ayurveda, which is known as the sister science of yoga. In terms of the asana, Hale Pule teaches sustainable yoga asana. The teaching utilizes the most balancing aspects of these various methods of practice to support a long-term yoga practice.
Two of Kelsey's poses I brought home with me were a "sit down, stand up" movement practised on a chair 25 times each morning (it's great for mobility) and also a "shoulder shimmy" which involves shimmying your shoulders for three minutes straight. Shimmies are not only for the dance floor, they're also a fun exercise for toning your waist and shoulders!
During the course we were taken through the three Ayurvedic doshas, vata, pitta and kapha, these are basically energies that circulate around your body and can highlight aspects of your constitution. Through this learning, we uncovered how these dosha’s feel when they’re in balance and out of balance.
We also took part in a series of breathing exercises (pranayama) daily and because our hands hold energetic points that relate to the elements we incorporated different hand postures or mudras into our practices.
During the course, we discussed Agni, the fire of life or the digestive fire, which is essential in Ayurveda. Keeping Agni functioning well is paramount to balanced health. Some of the things that help keep Agni functioning, are consuming the right combinations of food, not overeating and leaving four hours between meals. No wonder I love intermittent fasting.
All of the meals we created were balanced according to Hale Pule's Ayurvedic principles of 60/40 - this is a balance of 60 percent augmenting and 40 percent extractive foods eaten at each meal of lunch and dinner and also a balance of the six tastes.
Augmenting foods are those that nourish and ground your body and mind. They build tissue and replenish what is lost. These foods are generally sweeter in taste – things like rice, carrots, pumpkin and avocado. Eating augmenting foods gives us vitality and energy.
Extractive foods are those that are cleansing in nature. They ask your body to give something up in order to digest them and are essential in breaking down healthy fats. They are often bitter or astringent in taste – foods like kale, collards, legumes and nuts.
Towards the end of the course, we did a test and handed in our assignments!
It was incredible to see how much we gained, beyond the incredible cooking skills, and how much valuable information was given.
For the final cooking exam, I created an Ayurvedic meal based on a Mexican Wedding, which involves the union of the mind, body, senses and soul. Mexican 'Mole' with kale, sweet potatoes, guacomole and salsa verde with decorations from the garden.
We also had a special day when we cooked a lovely Love Loaf which was alluded to throughout the course, so we were all looking forward to it immensely.
One of my favourite components of the course was cooking in the large country kitchen. We made dishes that focused on augmenting and extracting foods to put the body back into balance.
Most of the meals were tridoshic, meaning they were suitable for all different doshas, which is great when it comes to family cooking at home. We also made a wonderful home-made stove-top bread, and chapatis.
I found this retreat such an eye opening experience and would recommend it to anyone wanting to expand their Ayurvedic knowledge. This is not a "retreat" in the traditional sense of the word, but you do get out what you put in and come away with a brand new perspective and knowledge on Ayurveda that will stay with you for life!.
The next chef training is being held from April 6th - 20th, 2020. There is also a second training which runs from November 1st -14th, 2020.
At the moment, the accommodation is transitional, but they’re hoping to be in a permanent location in November 2020.
Once you’ve completed your stay, you’ll leave with an Ayurvedic chef training certificate that you can use professionally or personally.
I'm sharing some of my favourite recipes we learnt how to cook too...
Zucchini kitchadi recipe
The most basic form of kitchadi is simply rice, split mung and ghee, with no vegetables and fewer spices for easier digestion. This is best if you are recovering from illness, injury or surgery. Try a day or two with plain kitchadi and work your way up to simple kitchadi with vegetables.
- 3/4 tsp. cumin powder
- 3/4 tsp. coriander powder
- ½ tsp. brown mustard seeds
- 1 ½ Tbs. ghee
- 3/4 cup basmati rice
- 1/3 cup split mung beans (if split is not available, use whole and cook well)
- 1 strip kombu cut into small pieces
- 6 cups water, more as needed
- 1/8 tsp. asafoetida
- ½ tsp. rock salt
- ½ Tbs. fresh grated ginger root
- ½ tsp. turmeric, fresh or powder
- 1/2 tsp. cardamom powder
Simmer the cumin, coriander, and brown mustard seeds in half of the ghee until the aroma comes up. Add rice, split mung, and kombu. Stir together for a couple of minutes. Add 4 cups water and simmer for 45 minutes in a pot on the stove. If you are using a pressure cooker, bring to pressure and cook for 18 minutes.
Put the remaining ghee in a small pan over medium heat. Add salt, ginger root, asafoetida, turmeric and cardamom. Simmer together a couple of minutes until the aroma comes up. Add to main mixture and let sit for five minutes so the tastes can become friends. Serve warm or at room temperature.
60/40 Chirashi Sushi
- 1½ cups sushi rice (augmenting)
- ½ tsp. ghee
- ½ tsp. mineral salt
- 2½ cups water
- 1 cup whole mung beans, soaked overnight (extractive)
- 2 Tbsp. ghee
- 1½ tsp. cumin seeds
- ½ tsp. coriander powder
- ¼ tsp. asafoetida powder
- 1 tsp. mineral salt
- 1 strip kombu, cut into pieces
- 4 cups water
- 3 cups carrots cut into thin strips (augmenting)
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
- ¼ cup chopped coconut meat
- 3 cups asparagus, chopped (extractive)
- 1 tsp. ghee
- 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
- 1 tsp. turmeric powder
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. sesame seeds
- 4-6 nori sushi wrappers (augmenting)
- 2 Tbsp. basil, chopped (extractive)
- 1 avocado, sliced (augmenting)
Prepare the rice by rinsing until water runs clear then soak for 30 minutes. Bring water to a boil. Add rice, mineral salt and ghee. Cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. You can also use a rice cooker.
Meanwhile, prepare the mung beans by heating ghee in a pot. Add cumin, coriander and asafoetida and cook 1-2 minutes until the aroma comes up. Add the mung beans and stir to coat. Add the water, salt and kombu and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes or until beans are soft. You can use a pressure cooker to speed up cooking to about 20 minutes.
When the rice and beans are nearly done, heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a saucepan. Add the ginger and simmer until the aroma comes up. Add the carrots and coconut and stir to coat. Add water to ¼ inch the height of the carrots, cover and cook gently until carrots are tender.
Heat 1 teaspoon ghee in a saucepan for the asparagus. Add turmeric, black pepper and sesame seeds and cook until the aroma comes up. Add chopped asparagus, then water to ¼ inch the height of the asparagus. Cook on a light simmer for 2-3 minutes or until asparagus is tender and bright green – be careful not to overcook.
Serve with sliced avocado, fresh basil and nori sheets (for softer nori, place sheets on top of the warm rice until it is wilted).