Until now, I hadn’t really thought much about how much yoga and food had in common. Yoga is not just mind bending poses; it is about being good to your body – being good to yourself. That’s how I see food too. Eating good food is the ultimate way of showing your body the respect it deserves.

Here are some lessons learned & tips for incredible yogic cooking from my time working on a yoga retreat in Sydney, Australia.

Cook with Local Seasonal Ingredients

Seasonal food is food which has been harvested at, or close to the time of eating. Different plants grow better in different seasons.In winter it is likely that the melons on the shelves of your local supermarket or fruit an d veg store are not local. So where do they come from?

Winter in your hometown doesn’t equate to winter everywhere. It’s always summer somewhere and the shops meet the needs of our increasingly demanding appetites by shipping in foods from across the world; avocados from New Zealand, Lemons from America, Melons from Mexico.This sounds great in theory but there are drawbacks; firstly – the price: long distance tranportation is expensive and adds extra cost, another important thing to consider is that imported foods are not supporting the local community of farmers, and most importantly with regard to healthy eating is the deterioration and nutrient loss of fresh produce over time.

As soon as a vegetable is plucked from the ground, the process of deterioration begins. every day that passes brings the vegetable closer to the point of decay, nutrients and minerals are lost as the produce breaks down. If you want your food to have maximum nutritional value and to taste amazing, go to your local fruit and veg shop and ask what’s in season or see what produce is cheap (a great indication of seasonality).

Avoid Processed Foods

I am fascinated by the abundance and the popularity of processed foods. They are, in essence, foods which have been created by an industry which places an emphasis on convenience and profitability, not flavour or health. Using fresh produce eliminates the need for preservatives and other chemical nasties. Cooking your own food from scratch is the only way to ensure that you know exactly what is going into it, and that only the best ingredients are being used.

Avoid Excessive Dairy

“Never eat cheese before bed or you’ll have nightmares”  Thats what my mother always told me. An old wives tale maybe, but there is some truth in it; dairy products are hard for our bodys to digest. The U.S. Library of Medicine estimates that:

“65% of the worlds population have a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy”

Your body can’t go fully into ‘sleep mode’ if it’s still trying to digest that late night cheese board. This results in a lighter sleep and more vivid dreams or nightmares, apparently. Eating too much dairy can have a range of negative consequences; dehydration, bloating, flatulance (not ideal conditions for yoga)With my yogic cooking I try to substitute milk for almond milk or coconut cream. Another thing to note is that in aged cheese and live yoghurt, the lactose is reduced which makes them easier to digest than fresh milk. So if  you must do dairy, try using one of these instead.

Spice Up Your Life

Healthy food has a bad rep. When we think of delicious food; kale smoothies and sprouted mung beans do not spring to mind. This is because a lot of the flavours we are used to and associate with deliciousness can be pretty bad for you. There is a holy trinity; fat, salt and sugar. They’re in pretty much everything and as every chef knows, they make food taste good. So how do you make your food taste good without lacing it with salt and sugar? The answer…spices.

Wars have been fought over spices, they were among the most valuable commoditys of the ancient world and for good reason. Spices can invigorate food, they make food taste good too, only without the nasty side affects.

Cooking along side Auntie (the 70 something year old Indian woman who lives permanently at this yoga retreat) creator of the most amazing food has really taught me something about spices. She doesn’t use curry powder or any other pre bought blends, she toasts and grinds spices and fills jars with her own unique mixtures. The taste is out of this world. For now her recipes are a secret to me (or were – check out her chai blend here), but I have a new found understanding of the role that the individual flavours play in flavouring a dish and the grand variety out there.

So go a little crazy next time you cook, buy some spices you’ve never heard of and try a little at a time, maybe even make your own blend up. Next time you find yourself reaching for the salt, sugar or cream why not throw in some freshly ground cumin or mustard seeds, your taste buds and your body will thank you for it.

That’s it: 4 healthy hints for making amazing yoga retreat style food, good luck and let me know how you get on in the comments.

Peace out yogis.

the chef