Read: The Examiner | Yoga Retreats: Nourishing body, mind and tastebuds
An edited version of this was first published in The Examiner on 4 August 2023.
Almost twenty years ago, a friend went on a yoga retreat and came back with tales of wheatgrass shots, juice-fasting and five days without coffee. This was when wellness focused more on penance than pleasure and, although she really enjoyed the time away, it was not for the faint hearted. While I never missed my weekly yoga class, and did like the idea of a few days away to concentrate on my practice, her experiences turned me off the idea of a yoga retreat for a long time. I had no yearning to pay for the pleasure of starving myself and I’m not one for hair-shirts: if I go away for the weekend, I want to enjoy the experience, the eating as well as stretching.
Then, a few years ago, we went together to one of Jess Hatchett’s yoga weekends at the Dzogchen Beara Buddist Centre in West Cork. The yoga was alternately relaxing, challenging and enjoyable. The food – our appetites whetted by the stretching and salty sea air – was memorable for all the right reasons. The fact that chef Caitlin Ruth was in the kitchen was one of the main reasons that I signed up. I lay on my yoga mat and dreamed of the huevos rancheros that Ruth served up for breakfast, brightly coloured salads at lunch and a most memorable celeriac and buffalo ricotta lasagne. My meditations were more on trying to figure out what she was magicking up in the kitchen for our next meal than any higher spiritual ideal.
It’s not just me: food is a big focus on yoga retreats and having a chef that understands this can be a real draw. Erica Drum, who is a regular on Virgin Media’s The Six O’Clock Show, works with yoga teacher Lucybloom Webb on their Yoga Feed retreats. Drum believes that food is an intrinsic part of what they do: “the retreats are designed to release and reset. The food plays a huge role in that. It is full of local, seasonal and vegetarian produce, made from scratch with love and intention. All dishes are nutritious and delicious, designed to help nourish each guest and please them through fantastic flavour combinations and textures.”
Mealtimes have a dual role. Participants get to enjoy good food along with the opportunity to connect to others.“The meals together are genuinely the biggest bonding moments of the weekend,” says Drum. “When our guests are in the yoga classes or talking circle, they will open up individually…but it is not until they all sit in the casual and comfortable environment of our dinner table do they really begin to feel at ease, to share more and bond.” Eating together is about far more than just nourishing the body, she believes. “Food is a form of showing love, breaking bread together, sharing an experience, tasting the same dishes, and smelling the same aromas, this is all part of it. By the end of the three days, lifelong friendships are formed.”
Drum caters for buffet brunches which include homemade granola, fresh fruit salad, peanut balls, oat bars, kombucha, smoothies and a hot option, like shakshouka or fluffy pancakes, so that no one feels deprived. Main evening meals are themed, with spreads of – for example – Indian or Middle Eastern food. “There are always snacks/teas/coffee/fruit available for our guests to enjoy at whatever time they wish,” says Drum.
Along with flexing your body, Yoga Feed weekends involve you working your cooking brain as well. Part of September’s Yoga Feed Equinox Escape in Conemara’s Killary Lodge includes a hands-on cookery class with Drum, something she started offering after noticing the disconnect between what participants ate on retreat and what they dined on when they returned home.”We love to feed our guests delicious nutritious food but I felt it was important that we passed on the methods and recipes so that guests could continue to make the food they had enjoyed over the weekend. I also like to make it fun and interesting,” she says, “giving tips to find more joy and pleasure in the kitchen.“
Drum, who is an advocate for avoiding food waste and cooking sustainably, teaches participants how to make “a ferment and a quick pickle – perhaps kimchi and red onions or something like that. Then I like to do a class on something we have eaten while they are with us, like falafel or chocolate coconut tart. I send them home with a document of all the recipes I used, over the weekend including smoothies, granola etc.”
For Drum and Webb, it’s about giving people the opportunity to relax, release and eat good food at the retreat and see them leave, equipped with a selection of new tools that they have learned over the weekend, “whether that be breathing techniques, meditation, journaling guides, yoga poses or recipes.” Enjoy the retreat and bring the benefits home, no hair shirt required.
Erica Drum and Lucybloom Webb’s Yoga Feed Equinox Escape at Killary Lodge in Connemara will run from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 September 2023. More information at www.instagram.com/yogafeedretreats and email@example.com.
More food and yoga
Yoga and Paella: 18 – 21 August, Majorca
Alma Murray, known to Corkonians from her Yoga with Alma classes at the Marina Market and Soothe & Swirl wine and yoga nights, will be hosting a yoga and paella-making retreat in Cala Tuent, Majorca this August. Along with daily yoga classes and guided walks, the Es Vergeret vegetarian paella cooking demo will be at the heart of the three-day retreat. reviveyouretreats.com
Spa wellness retreat: 27 – 28 August, Northern Ireland
At Killeavy Castle Estate in County Armagh – just an hour north of Dublin Airport – it’s a point of pride that as much food as possible is sourced from the Estate’s 350-acre mixed farm and walled gardens or from local suppliers. The August spa wellness retreat includes a Taste of the Estate dining experience in the hotel restaurant alongside a mixture of vinyasa flow yoga practices under the guidance of teacher Eleanor Steane, spa treatments and the opportunity to hike Slieve Gullion and the Mourne Mountains. www.killeavycastle.com
Retreat to the Cliffs: 27 August, Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare
Yoga instructor Caroline Rouine-O’Connor, who ran her own yoga studio in New York before returning to Ireland in 2020, and wholefood chef Tanya Ranalow are a formidable team. Their retreats, according to Ranalow, combine “yoga and movement, nutritious healthy food, mindfulness and meditation and an outdoor experience,” incorporating horseriding at Clonshire Equestrian Centre, stand up paddle boarding on Kilkee Stand and walks at the Cliffs of Moher. Food is an important part of the equation and Ranalow describes her menus as “healthy, vegetarian, ever-changing, seasonal, vibrant and colourful.” Instagram: @retreatyourselfirl
Autumn Yoga Retreat with Dearbhla Glynn: 1 – 3 October, Ballymaloe Grainstore, East Cork
Dearbhla Glynn, who practices and teaches meditation, vinyasa, yin and restorative yoga, is leading a three-day Rest, Reflect & Restore retreat at Ballymaloe Grainstore in October. Meals will be served in the Ballymaloe House dining room, under the careful eye of head chef Dervilla O’Flynn, who says, that she will “be serving mostly garden produce,” including the vegetables grown on site in dishes like miso glazed aubergine, ruby beetroot fritters, Shanagarry garden minestrone and garden vegetable shawarma. www.ballymaloegrainstore.com
Jess Hatchett InFlow
Jess Hatchett runs retreats at her purpose-built, light and air-filled studio near Clonakilty, about 45 minutes from Cork City. The full retreat days incorporate a vegetarian lunch cooked by her daughter, Edie,from locally sourced ingredients. With dishes like fresh watermelon, mint and feta salad for summer retreats and warming coconut ginger and butternut squash soup in the winter, Hatchett describes the food as having “complex flavours in light and simple dishes,” ensuring that “students feel nourished and satisfied but not overly full.” yogawestcork.com