A vegetarian lifestyle combined with practicing yoga is definitely something we have all heard of. We are all aware of the stereotypes implying that yogis are “energy people” or that all yogis are leftists, etc. While it is not entirely a myth, the exact relationship between yoga and vegetarianism is still a mystery to some. Questions like “Can I qualify as a yogi if I eat meat?” “Is being a vegetarian necessary for practicing yoga?” certainly pique the public’s interest and curiosity.
Modern-day yoga is taught in more than one way. There are countless styles, schools and types of yoga that are offered at just about any yoga studio. However, Yoga’s traditional core system is taught in the Ashtanga tradition, an eight-limbed path to enlightenment highlighted in the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The first of these is ahsima. Ahsima translates to non-harming or non-violence and is interpreted in numerous ways. The most common interpretation of this concept in the yoga world is the adoption of vegetarianism, which basically equates to not harming animals.
In Jainism, ahsima is the standard used to judge all actions. For an ascetic observing the great vows, ahsima calls for utmost care in preventing the ascetic from unknowingly or being the knowingly cause of injury to any living soul; therefore, ahisma not only applies to humans and to large animals, but also to plants, insects and microbes. It is also one of the first disciplines learned by yoga students and is required to be perfected in the first eight preparatory stages that lead to perfect concentration.
Yoga teaches us that we can have whatever we want in life if we are ready to provide it for others first. The way we treat others will be determinant of how we are treated. It is a lifestyle choice, and even though a majority of yogis opt to be vegetarians in compliance with ahisma, every person is different and can interpret the ideology in their own way. And the ultimate answer to “are all yogis vegetarian?” will depend on the person you ask. There are numerous strict yogis that believe that one can’t be yogic without being a vegetarian while the other side believes nothing of the sort. Just like one cue for the physical practice can’t be deemed applicable for every single student, one cue in spiritual practice can’t be applied to every single practitioner either.
Besides the non-harming factor, a lot of yogis do not consume meat owing to the following reasons:
• Meat contains a high level of toxins
• It lacks vitamins and minerals
• Meat contains more protein than required by the human body
• Animal protein contains high levels of uric acid, which cannot be eliminated properly and is deposited in the joints when consumed in abundant quantities. That can lead to stiff joints, cramps, nervousness, headaches, gout and rheumatism
• Meat can be infested with harmful pathogens such as intestinal worms and trichinae
• A yogi knows that when an individual consumes meat, they are also taking in the pain and fear of the slaughtered animal. For this reason, they usually have a more difficult time controlling their emotions
There is plenty of medical evidence that a balanced vegetarian diet is extremely beneficial. It supplies the body with minerals, proteins, and all the much-needed vitamins. Statistically speaking, the rate of heart attacks, kidney failure, strokes and cancer is lower amongst vegetarians as their immune systems are stronger and less vulnerable compared to meat eaters.
At the end of the day, yoga is far greater than any food choices we make and should therefore not be dictated by them.