Adopting a plant-based (vegan) diet not only makes sense for both our health and the environment, many yogis interpret Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (one of yoga’s primary texts), as indicating veganism as a practice that leads to self-realization. These yogis believe that diet is one of the primary keys to the practice of Ahimsa, one of the principles outlined in the Yoga Sutras. Ahimsa, or non-harming is the first of five yamas, or guidelines for self-restraint. To these practitioners, veganism is looked upon as Ahimsa in practice. Ahimsa is all about being kind to others (including animals and other sentient beings), to the planet, and to oneself. Veganism is not simply about restriction, it’s a way of eating and living that can generate happiness and joy.
From a yogic perspective, the purpose of foods is to assist your body to cleanse, revitalize, repair and strengthen your immune system. A traditional yoga diet consists of mainly plant-based foods which are eaten in as close to their natural state as possible and which cause the least amount of harm to the environment.
Yoga Journal’s latest “Yoga in America” survey, conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys, shows that 8.7 percent of Americans are practicing yoga (that’s 20.4 million Americans). Sadly, in spite of these impressive numbers, it is estimated that only about 1.3% of the United States population follows a vegan diet. The average American consumes a minimum of 31 animals per year, contributing to and supporting the financial success of the cruel and violent meat and dairy industries. This contrast between the percentage of yoga practitioners and vegans in America clearly reveals how many people attempt to reap the physical benefits of asana while hypocritically ignoring yoga's peaceful philosophy. Hopefully, by reviewing the important connection between yoga and veganism throughout history, meat-eating yogis will be encouraged to reflect on their ethics and give a plant-based diet a try.
Yoga is not just about losing weight and toning up. The practice of yoga is thousands of years old, originating in India. Furthermore, Patanjali is believed to have compiled the Yoga Sutras around 200 B.C. to serve as a framework for integrating Yoga into the practitioner’s daily routine while living an ethical lifestyle. Realizing the true value and benefits of Yoga practice serves as a means of attaining enlightenment.
So, the question arises, why is it that so many yoga practitioners tend to turn a blind eye to Patanjali's peaceful philosophy? Well it seems that most people dismiss veganism as a lifestyle/dietary option because they believe it will be too much of a hassle and/or because they lack the discipline to alter deep-seated eating habits. The unwillingness to adopt a vegan diet/lifestyle is a mistake that results in people missing out on the awesome philosophical and spiritual benefits of practicing yoga. When people only observe the practice of asana (physical postures); then they are not truly experiencing yoga and their practice will remain partial and incomplete.
In summary: Our yoga practice will be enhanced by selecting and eating food that promotes health, happiness and overall wellbeing for both ourselves and our environment, plus we’ll discover a better quality of life and insure the sustainability of the planet. Whenever we see that our food choices are causing suffering and disease (to ourselves and/or others), we ultimately contribute to our own demise. If this is the case, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what we are eating.
Stay tuned…Coming soon, “Athletes and Veganism”
Rae Indigo is ERYT 500