Very few, if any, men or women finish doing down dog pose at the yoga studio, roll up their mats, and that night eat the family dog for dinner. Some might have Buffalo wings, which have nothing to do with buffalos, and someone might even have a buffalo burger, which are actual buffalos made into sandwiches.
Although cats and dogs are out of bounds, many people eat an animal of some kind for dinner, mostly a bird, a pig, or a cow.
In fact, whether they practice yoga, or not, almost everyone eats animals. In the Western world 97% of everyone eats them, according to Vegetarian Times. In the birthplace of yoga, however, which is India, more than 40% of the population is vegetarian. The remainder, for the most part, eat meat only occasionally, mainly for cultural and partly for economic reasons.
Old-school yoga masters like K. Pattabhi Jois, the man who made vinyasa what it is, and B. K. S. Iyengar, the man who made alignment what it is, eschewed eating animals.
“A vegetarian diet is the most important practice for yoga,” said Pattabhi Jois. “Meat eating makes you stiff.”
“If animals died to filled my plate, my head and heart would become heavy,” said B. K. S. Iyengar. “Becoming a vegetarian is the way to live in harmony.”
Some modern yoga masters like Sharon Gannon, the founder of Jivamukti Yoga, believe a strict adherence to not only a vegetarian, but a vegan diet is a vital part of the practice. She calls it the diet of enlightenment. Ms. Gannon regards today’s flesh food choices as not only harming animals, since they end up being killed, but harming the physical health and spiritual well being of people, too. She says it also degrades the environment.
She might be right.
Eating animals raises the risk of type 2 diabetes, hardens blood vessels, is directly linked to heart disease, increases the possibility of stroke significantly, and triples the chances of colon cancer.
In short, eating them shortens life spans, theirs and yours.
There’s also the animal cruelty factor, which can be, literally, sickening. Factory farming is “by far the biggest cause of animal suffering in the world” according to Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society.
The factory farming of pigs as it is practiced in the 21st century is as wholesome as toad’s juice. No disrespect to toads is intended.
The meat business is responsible for 85% of all soil erosion in the United States and according to the EPA raising animals for food is the #1 source of water pollution. It takes 2400 gallons of water to make 1 pound of beef. Every vegetarian saves the planet hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a year.
The consequences for the climate are also freighted with an unsettling brass tack, which is that more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal husbandry, according to the Worldwatch Institute.
But, everyone’s got to eat, because everyone’s continued existence depends on food. What’s for chow might be an existential choice for some people, but eat you must.
Killing animals and eating meat have been elements of human evolution since there was human evolution. Meat was part of the diet of our closest ancestors from about 2.5 million years ago. Nobody for those several million years could be a vegan because it isn’t possible to get Vitamin B12 from anything other than meat, milk, eggs, or a supplement.
Like food itself, it is essential to life. B12 protects the nervous system. Mania is one of the nastier end results of a lack of it. Humans became human by eating meat. In other words, it was meat that fueled human brain development. The “meat-eating gene” apoE is what boosted our brains to become what they are today.
That doesn’t mean that anyone necessarily has to eat meat. There have always been vegetarians, just as there are today. Their brains and bodies have done just fine.
Many athletes are all in on plant-based foods. Hannah Teter, a two-time Olympic snowboard medalist, Bill Pearl, a five-time Mr. Universe body building champion, and dozens-of-times winning tennis star Serena Williams are all vegetarians. Walter “Killer” Kowalski, a former Canadian pro wrestler, was a vegetarian.
Today even vegans like UFC fighter Mac Danzig and Iranian strongman Patrik Baboumian succeed at their sports. In 2013, after hauling a yoke weighing 1210 pounds a distance of more than thirty feet, Mr. Baboumian roared to the crowd, “Vegan power!”
It gives the lie to the myth of animal protein.
Yoga is a growth industry everywhere. It’s been estimated up to a million Britons practice it, 20 million Americans, and as hundreds of millions of waistlines swell in China it is spreading there. At the same time that yoga is expanding worldwide global meat production has more than quadrupled in the past 65 years. More people are eating more animals than ever before.
Even though the rest of the world is trying to catch up, in the United States meat is eaten at three times the global average.
Yoga is made up of 8 parts, often called the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which range from the golden rules to breath control and postures to meditation and equilibrium. Non-violence, or ahimsa, is one of the central tenets of the practice. It means non-harming all living things
Living things include animals like birds, pigs, and cows.
At some stage many people who practice yoga think about going vegetarian, or even vegan. They usually have one-or-more reasons for changing their diet. Among them are health, ahimsa, and karma.
Since most people benefit by eating less meat, and since much of today’s yoga is about fighting stress and keeping your body toned, the healthy halo of going flexitarian, or better, dovetails with the practice.
The do-no-harm principle behind going vegetarian is stoked by the inescapable harm done to the animals we eat. We raise them in pens and cages, kill them, and chop them up into pieces for our pots and pans. Since violence is a choice, and since eating animals isn’t necessary to stave off starvation, ahimsa strongly implies vegetarianism.
Sri Swami Satchidananda, the man behind Integral Yoga, believed being vegetarian was imperative to achieving self-realization.
“Because when you eat animal food, you incur the curse of the animals,” he said.
What he meant was eating meat is bad karma. It means taking in the fear, pain, and suffering of the animals you are eating. It obviates the benefits of poses, breathwork, and meditation.
“The law of karma guarantees that what we do to others will come back to us,” said Sharon Gannon about eating animals. In other words, beware becoming stew meat yourself one day!
But, the goal of yoga is to change yourself, not specifically your eating habits. What’s turkey or tofu on the dinner plate is probably not going to burnish anybody’s yoginess. Not eating animals doesn’t make anyone a yogi in the same way that walking slow doesn’t make anyone a patient man or woman.
Besides, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali you don’t have to become a vegetarian to practice yoga fully. “Nowhere in the Vedas or in the ancient teachings is it said that you must be a strict vegetarian,” said T. K. V. Desikachar. Mr. Desikachar is a vegetarian and the son of Krishnamacharya, modern yoga’s founder.
Eating animals is in our blood, or better yet, our DNA. Other primates are mostly vegan. People have been going carnivorous for a long, long time. We are always eating our way through Noah’s Ark.
It wouldn’t hurt anyone, however, to give the birds and animals of the world a break by eating fewer of them. In 1940 the average American ate about 80 pounds of meat. Today the average American eats about 170 pounds of meat a year. Our herds would surely appreciate another day out on the range. And no one, after all, ever said a hot dog a day keeps the doctor away.