If You Eat Meat, Are You Really A Yogi?
Can you eat meat and be a yogi? While the short answer is “no”, it’s not as simple as a short answer is it?
From an environmental standpoint it is crystal clear that we as a people need to cut down or stop eating meat. As a very good friend of mine once said, “if you believe in humanity, you have to cut down on how much meat you eat.” Once a week each for chicken, eggs and fish seems reasonable, but fast food and a beef heavy diet are a definitive no-go.
But what about spiritually? Is it okay to spiritually eat meat, cause that’s what eating meat and doing yoga is really talking about right?
The History of Vegetarianism in Yoga
Ahimsa. It means “do no harm”, it’s the backbone of non-violence in yoga and it’s the root of vegetarianism too. Ahimsa is practiced when you look in the mirror and speak love to your image, when you practice compassion for others, and when you do not participate in killing of animals. It’s a principle of yoga from the 6th century. Buddhists, Jains and Hindus are into this concept too. That’s a couple billion people on the planet. It might be where ‘thou shalt not kill’ in the Bible came from too, although most Christians do not adhere to a vegetarian diet. It’s also worth noting that any food obtained through violence is considered a violation of Ahimsa-i.e. anything that is pre cooked, pre processed, or if an animal was harmed in the process (i.e purchased milk).
this one time I saw a cow being birthed in Nicaragua
The Bhagavad Gita (written in the 5th century BC), the almost holy scripture of yoga makes a very clear argument for vegetarianism and the practice of yoga when it breaks down the different types of foods and what they do to your body. Sattvic foods are favoured; light foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains and milk. Sattva means purity. Rajastic foods are bitter, salty, sour, and heavy like fish, coffee, and eggs; they “cause pain disease and discomfort”. Interestingly it’s also considered Rajastic to eat in a hurry or “on the run”. Finally, Tamastic foods are those that are overcooked, stale or contaminated-for modern purposes anything processed like American cheese or fast food would be Tamastic plus meat, alcohol and cigarettes. Theoretically, you are supposed to try for the most Sattvic diet possible, seriously limiting your Rajastic foods or processes and ruling out Tamastic foods (food that is literally darkness, the cause of disease) altogether.
Karma is also part of this process too. Because yoga and Hinduism are linked in their religious practice, the belief in Karma has also played a role. I.E. eating a cow puts you back 86 karmic experiences in your evolution towards a pure light being.
So what if you’re not a Hindu but you are a yogi? What if taking meat out of your diet seriously limits you because of where you live or the sate of your health?
The answer is “no” above because it’s an ideal. Yoga is not a finish line, something that is reiterated over and over and over in the practice. It’s a journey, just like life. And there will be times that you are craving meat and need a heavy grounding, and others where you only need raw fruit and veg to get by. My body finds grains and milk much heavier than fish and eggs on a consistent basis, so I limit one and eat the other. Also, there’s cultural ties in some places. Half the year I live in Latin America where cacao plays a major role in the health and well being of the people-even though chocolate is considered Rajastic in traditional yoga, it’s part of my daily life in Guatemala.
In an ideal world we would all be raw vegans, very light and so fine tuned in our practice that we could probably sit in meditation half the day, do an advanced asana practice and subsist on nothing but naturally fallen fruit. What a lovely world that would be.
But is raw vegan really the best idea if you’re living in an ego-driven environment like New York City? You might need some grounding to survive an energetic pressure cooker like a city of 10 million or more that is dedicated to the acquisition of money and status above all else.
Here are the most important things to remember when it comes to diet and yoga:
- You are not just a physical being ingesting physically nourishing food. Your being is part physical, part mental, part emotional and part spiritual and so is the food that you eat, so dig deep to find out if you are craving a burger because you are hungover and being lazy or if your body is really asking for meat, fish or eggs in order to reach optimal health?
- Ahimsa means do no harm. Do the smallest amount of harm necessary: that means to you and the world. If an egg is available over a burger, go for the egg. And so on.
- You are always changing. What works for today might not work for tomorrow. I have been a raw vegan, eaten organic only, eaten local only, eaten hand killed/hunted meat only etc. They were all great ways to eat for the times my body required them. Yoga is about tuning in, so listen to what your bodies NEEDS not what your mind BELIEVES.
- If you do want to try vegetarianism, please go slowly. Gandhiji said that it takes 4 months to make a change in your life. Take that advice when removing and replacing things from your diet. It took me ten years as a vegetarian before I stopped believing that I needed X amount of protein in every meal from a “meat substitution protein source”. Be gentle with yourself (another translation of Ahimsa)
Slayer and her best friend Chancho. That pig loved being nosed and sniffed all over