Some people see yoga as merely exercise. Or a way to ease their back pain. Or perhaps relax a little. But for others yoga is much more. It is a lifestyle, both on and off the mat.
Usually it does not start out this way– at least it didn’t for me. I was initially turned on to yoga because it cleared my ever-racing mind. It also helped me to find strength within myself that I had never previously known.
I knew that there was more to yoga than fitness, but it was not until much later that I made the decision to delve further. My interest was initially sparked after reading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The book describes in detail the eight limbs of yoga- a.k.a. the eight principles that one should follow.
As an already spiritual person, I quickly found that most of these principles resonated with me. The very first limb, yama, was especially familiar to me. It contained all of the ethical ideals that I had grown up being told. “Do not lie. Do not steal. Be grateful for what you have.” And of course, “practice non-violence” (otherwise known as ahimsa.)
In the world of Hinduism, ahimsa does not only apply to peer-to-peer relationships. It applies to your relationships with all sentient beings, as well as the earth. A truly yogic lifestyle is one that has the least amount of negative impact possible on the environment around you.
This aspect of yama is why many yogis are also vegan. Sure, there are some who turn to veganism for health reasons. And I bet there is a handful who embrace the diet because it’s the “cool” thing to do within the yoga community. As for most others, though, yoga’s spiritual guidelines are what led them to the decision to go meat-, egg-, and dairy-free.
Veganism applies to ahimsa in multiple ways. First, by establishing a vegan diet, you are renouncing the confinement, abuse, and killing of animals. This is a direct way to disengage yourself from one of the most common (but overlooked) forms of violence.
A whole-foods plant-based diet is also an act of non-violence towards the earth. Meat production uses natural resources at a much higher and faster rate than production of produce. If you cross meat off the grocery list, you are contributing to a healthier and more abundant planet.
Lastly, I consider my vegan diet to be a form of non-violence towards myself. I know what foods will make me be sorry if I eat them and I know what foods make me thrive. 99% of the time, I go for the latter. That is not to say that a vegan diet will always equate to a glowing, vibrant person. After all, it is possible to be vegan and eat junk food all the time.
But one thing that remains constant is that I do not feel well (physically, mentally, or spiritually) when eating animal products. Choosing to consume unprocessed vegan foods is one of the greatest ways I can express ahimsa towards myself.
It intuitively made sense to me that yoga and veganism go hand in hand. I also found a myriad of benefits in my practice once I linked the two. I have the vitality to keep me going through an intense sequence (which I attribute to being vegan). But even more importantly, I have a clear conscience. I know that I am doing everything within my power to reduce the amount of violence in my life. Because of this, I go through my day more confidently. I am able to feel a sense of peace within myself that was previously difficult to achieve.
Whether you are vegan or not, I challenge you to meditate on this idea. See how you can continue to reduce any violence still present in your life. In the words of Sharon Gannon, “If our food choices cause suffering and disease to others and contribute to the destruction of the environment and ultimately to our own demise, then perhaps it is time to question what we are eating.”
Also by Quincy: Organic vs. Local – Why is Top Priority?
Photo: Clement Jeunet via Flickr