Why are so many yoga practitioners vegetarians?
This is a multi-tiered answer. Actually, in the Yoga Sutras, vegetarianism is not discussed. This is a shock to most people. Why then, do the two seem to go hand in hand?
Well for starters, Yoga's roots began in India where the primary religion is Hinduism. Hindus believe cows are sacred animals since they are plant eating creatures whom also produce a non flesh food, milk. Most Hindus are vegetarians and since India is the birthplace of Yoga, most early Yogis were also Hindus. Thus, going vegetarian became linked with the science of Yoga very early on in history. Additionally, India's ancient system of medicine, Ayurveda, recommends a vegetarian diet to balance the elements in the body and to keep it in tune with nature.
Another, more well known reason for going veg has to do with Ahimsa, the principle of non violence and non harming. This is derived from the first limb of Yoga, the Yamas or moral observances. Ahimsa has many levels ranging from "don't kill another human being" to don't harm the environment (hence the Yoga community's desire to be green). It is silly to think that you can eat anything on this planet, especially an animal, without first harming it. Yogis also believe that you absorb the energy of what you ingest....not just from food but from your surroundings, your relationships, etc. Many sources have publicized the horrifying way animals are treated in slaughterhouses and how even non organic plant based foods are farmed with chemicals and antibiotics. The idea is not just to avoid eating the pesticides but to also avoid taking on the bad energy of irresponsible farmers and producers.
You might be wondering, "how can I integrate this into my life when I was brought up eating meat"? The beauty of Yoga is that it teaches us to be in the moment. Don't worry about radically changing your life. Instead, what can you focus on doing TODAY to change? Maybe you have eggs with bacon and toast for breakfast on Sundays. If you wake up one Sunday and don't feel like eating bacon, don't eat it! Habits do not equal awareness. Part of Ahimsa is to act in a way that produces the LEAST amount of harm possible. If you consciously need bacon on a Sunday morning, buy organic and research a farmer who allows his animals to live with respect before they become part of the food chain.
When Wholefoods stopped selling lobsters the CEO gave the reason that they didn't feel they could provide a good quality of life for the lobsters prior to selling them (I have summarized this interview but google it to read in depth). In an interview a reporter asked him, "What does it matter if they are going to die and be eaten anyway"? His response was, "You are going to die anyway at some point. Does that mean you shouldn't have the best possible life while you are here"?
If you are moved to become a vegetarian I encourage you to do it as a slow process rather than jump in at warp speed. Slow change tends to be more permanent. Here are some suggestions to help you give it a go.
- Read books like The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Three Season Diet to educate yourself first
- Start by filling your plate with veggies, grains, etc. and leaving meat as your side dish
- Start with a detox or cleanse to help get the old junk out of your system. This will prevent cravings as well.
- If you aren't in the mood for meat, don't just eat it because it is there. Be choosy!
- Eat fish and eggs more frequently as a substitute for protein when you are starting the process.
- Get a few great cookbooks like Vegan Fusion, my favorite. Vegetarian food is only boring when you don't know how to prepare it....and it isn't hard! It is just different.
- Before meals, ask yourself what you FEEL like your body needs and eat that instead of what you "planned" to eat that day.
- Google the environmental reasons for being a vegetarian. It is the greenest thing you can do. Prepare to be shocked by the facts.
- Ask a vegetarian friend plenty of questions. They will be thrilled to help.
- Give thanks before meals and bless your food. By bringing good energy to it you can alter the energy that you ingest. If you are eating a piece of salmon consciously send gratitude to that fish that gave itself up to nourish you. You will feel the difference.
- Invite your children to do all these things with you.