“As you eat, you produce your mind accordingly” – Rajasthan saying.
At the start of an Ayurvedic wellness appointment this week my feet were soaked in warm water with rose petals. This represents the first time during my long life the words “my feet” and “rose petals” have ever been together in the same sentence.
In addition to massage and a steam bath for wellness there was also an hour long Shirodhara, an ancient Ayurvedic therapy where warm oil streamed continuously over my forehead – or Ajna Marma – an area where nerves are highly concentrated. The gentle pressure, massage and soothing heat from the oil allows one to experience a deep state of rest…but more on my Shirodhara at the end of this blog post. Many of you I know are interested in the food here. Okay, let’s talk about that because what we eat stands out as extremely important in Ayurvedic medicine. The photo above shows a night out at a local home where our Asan work team was invited for dinner..all vegetarian. For all meals everyone sits like this, cross-legged with a small wood platform holding stainless steel pans and cups.
I’m presently in the middle of a ten-day Yoga Lifestyle Workshop at Shri Jasnath Asan (ashram) located in Panchla Siddha (means “Place of Deep Meditation”), Rajasthan, India. I certainly enjoy a wellness spa appointment as anyone would, yet what I’ve learned so far in this workshop comprises much more. Ayurvedic healing science brings us these relaxing wellness therapies for sure, but also proper diet and the right lifestyle are taught to balance to the mind, body and spirit, restoring health and preventing future illness. And Ayurvedic science has been doing this successfully for over 5,000 years. Not a bad track record.
Our meals at Shri Jasnath Asan are vegetarian, and much of it comes from the organic garden on site (above). This week I’ve enjoyed during the morning after yoga (6:30 a.m. everyday) and breakfast heading to the garden to pick produce we then have at noon with lunch. The photo in this blog post before the garden image features a typical lunch – the garden’s raw vegetables, two cooked entrees rich with an array of vegetables, Sogra Roti (millet flat bread) with warm ghee (clarified butter full of fat soluble vitamins and health fatty acids) dripped on top and curd, a plain type of unpasteurized yogurt from the Asan’s own cows.
Asan staff bakes Sogra Roti right over a wood fire behind the Bhojan Shala (kitchen) so it can instantly be served warm. Over 200 Sogra Roti or other flat breads (such as Chapati with wheat flour reminding me of a warm tortilla, or Missi Roti created out of chickpea flour and spices) are baked daily. The ingredients of Sogra Roti are only milled millet berries, salt and water. That’s it!
The above photo depicts a typical breakfast at Shri Jasnath Asan. There’s fruit (in this case, papaya) and Masala chai tea featuring ginger, cardamon, cloves and peppercorns. In the upper right corner sits my favorite – Poha. A perfect breakfast allowing for use of whatever you have on hand, Poha often consists of flattened rice, ghee (or, I imagine, butter or olive oil would work), lemon juice, spices (turmeric, mustard seeds or more such as curry and/or chili powder to taste), herbs (parsley and/or cilantro, for example) plus nuts, veggies chopped into small pieces and fruit.
Today the main cook in our Bhojan Shala showed how to make a dinner version of Poha. After all the ingredients were prepped he had it ready to serve in under five minutes. In hot peanut oil he dropped first mustard seeds and cumin seeds followed quickly by chopped onions, tomatoes, potatoes, fresh peas, peanuts and the juice of one lemon – quick stir here – and then salt, turmeric and chili powder. Flattened rice was poured in and after a minute or so of stiring voila! I was quickly sampling it. Magnifico!
In India, gardens, shops and certainly markets offer the ingredients needed for an Ayurvedic diet. On a drive toward Jodphur I saw stacks of produce taller than any farmer’s market I’ve ever been at. I just had to get out of the car and take some photos. In the two pics above and below the sellers said yes to my photo requests as long as they could be in it. Of course, I replied. Garlic and chilies, anyone?
This tent full of chiles (above) was so immense and pungent I could not only smell it from twenty yards away but feel it in my eyes and on my bare arms as well. Also, look at the red stains the chilies created on the tent canvas hovering above them.
Many of the recipes for the meals provided at Shri Jasnath Asan are now available in a beautiful cookbook that actually just came out this past week. The book features wonderful photos and stories about the food and life at the Asan as well. The ingredients we can also find in the USA and other western locations so no worries wherever you live. For more information on the cookbook go to Shri Jasnath Asan’s website.
A recipe for Narayil Barfi (coconut bars) can also be found in the new cookbook. We made a large batch the other day. The recipe starts by slowly stirring milk (in this case, rich full cream milk from our own cows) for 75 minutes when it becomes thick and slightly darker…or when my Wisconsin brand of humor runs out. Either one, or both. Grated coconut, cardamom and sugar are added. Dark chocolate and chopped almonds spread on top really make for a nice dessert.
Shri Jasnath Asan also owns a large organic tree farm (above) located just a few kilometers outside Jodhpur. We visited it this past week, sleeping over in an open door grass hut. It was pleasantly sunny and 70’s during the day as I hiked among the farm’s several hundred lemon, date, and pomegranate trees. At night, after a huge sunset in the desert darkness it became a little chilly, but the stars above the isolated tree farm were amazing.
So what have we learned so far in our Yoga Lifestyle Workshop at Shri Jasnath Asan? That focusing on proper diet, exercise, breathing, relaxation and meditation with an abiding connection to nature provides many benefits…and we still have four more days remaining in the workshop. I’ll write more on that subject matter in the next blog post.
Okay, back to Shirodhara! From the Sanskrit words “shiras” (head) and “dhara” (flow), Shirodhara provides the soft, consistent application of warm sesame oil on the third eye or chakra point just above and between the eyebrows. Although blindfolded during Shirodhara, I could feel the health practitioner in charge checking my pulse at ankle, wrist and neck while the warm oil flowed gently onto my forehead. I was “as mellow as a cello” (it lasted about fifty minutes, but who’s counting?). In Ayurvedic medicine a pulse diagnosis tells a great deal about a person’s overall health. I asked him afterwards, “How was my pulse?” He responded with a big, happy smile, “Good!” and then vigorously massaged my head. That works!
Love and Peace,
5 thoughts on “Food, Nature & Ayurvedic Learning in India”
Thank you for this post. The red of those peppers is amazing, and I can imagine the smell of those roasting spices. Beautifully simple food. Need to check out that cookbook. And, I am so good with floor sitting 🙂 Best to you!
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Thank you for your very kind words. The peppers were something else, that’s for sure. They are good whether sitting on the floor or in a chair 🙂 All my best to you, too!
I take turmeric capsule everyday helps with arthritis, etc.
Dave, You are in such a timeless place right now. Enjoy & learn from the swami’s. Such a great life experience.
Hey Brenda! Thank you so very much. So great to hear from you. Hope everything is going well, especially with all that snow you’re getting!