By Jenny Park
One question brings debate among yoga practitioners more than most. The question is: Do yogis have to be vegetarians? A commonly held belief is that all yogis must practice vegetarianism in order to reap all the benefits yoga has to offer. Is this true, or can yogis eat meat if they feel compelled to do so?
The link between vegetarianism and yoga comes from the practice of Ahimsa, which means to do no harm. Firstly, there is some debate as to whether or not this extends to all sentient life forms. Secondly, there is are conflicting opinions about the difference in treatment of animals and fellow human beings. Furthermore, most of us agree that Ahimsa does encompass animals in addition to humanity. Ahimsa is an important part of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Modern Yoga and Traditional Guidelines
Modern yoga is now practiced heavily around the world where the connection to the Yoga Sutra is not as influential. The connection to traditional teachings may be part of some yoga teacher training courses. Yet, most students don’t know anything about Patanjali or the Eight Limbs of Yoga. As a result, the entire world heavily consumes animal products of all persuasions as part of a normal diet. This creates problems for those looking to make yoga a part of their day-to-day lives. Must they give up meat in order to be a “proper” yogi?
Primary Benefits of Vegetarianism
For most individuals, it will come down to a matter of personal preference. There are a few practical benefits to eating a vegetarian diet that may have a positive impact on the quality of yoga practice in general. A vegetarian diet tends to be lighter and cleaner, leading to more energy and easier movements through the asanas. This is likely the primary benefit of eating a vegetarian diet if one is solely practicing the physical aspects of yoga. If one is looking to apply the spiritual side of yoga to their lives, diet is a factor. In fact, vegetarianism and perhaps even becoming a vegan may be necessary as laid down by ancient yogic texts.
Diet and Aging
From a purely physical standpoint, why do yogis have to be vegetarians? There are several benefits to eating meat on a daily basis. Scientific studies have shown that protein plays a vital part in proper cell turnover throughout the human body, making it an important anti-aging compound. Red meat is one of the hardest foods to digest. With that said, most people eat entirely too much meat in one sitting, resulting in a lack of balance within their diet. Even the most carnivorous person could benefit from adding more vegetables to his or her plate.
In the end, the most definitive way to choose whether or not to practice vegetarianism may be to simply listen to the body itself. If the body responds to animal proteins with strength, vitality and endurance, it could be that animal proteins are right for you. If your body makes it clear that it’s best fueled from vegetable sources alone then honor and respect that fact.
Choices and Spiritual Beliefs
The beauty of yoga is that it is open to all and everyone may take what they will from it. Individuals may choose to simply practice the physical art of yoga and stick with their own spiritual beliefs, or alternatively one may choose to apply the spiritual side that resonates with them as well. This is what makes yoga a timeless gift capable of withstanding centuries of time and change.
If one chooses to consume animal proteins, there are some more gentle sources of meat, such as eggs or fish, and also free range options, which honor an animal’s right to roam free and be happy during their lives up until consumption. These mindful choices make the eating of meat more congruent with the philosophical and spiritual side of yoga.
What About Goats?
I’ve heard students say, “Wait a minute, I have Indian friends who eat goats and lamb! Why do yogis have to be vegetarians?” Firstly, not all Indians practice yoga. Additionally, reading Yogic philosophy is something yoga practitioners do. This is not an issue for us to keep score or make judgements about others. If you don’t like your diet, everyone around you will suffer. Eat what you are comfortable with. Some of the most unpleasant people in the world are frustrated by their diets.
Why do yogis have to be vegetarians, if their doctor says they must eat meat? Talk with your doctor and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. A lot of people are vegetarians, which means they usually don’t eat meat because it is unethical. Some people believe that eating meat isn’t healthy for you at all. The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to eat meat is what kind of vegetarian diet you’re following.
If you’re a vegan, then your diet includes a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables already so adding nuts, seeds, and beans for protein from time to time helps to balance your diet. However, if you’re following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, then your diet also includes lots of vegetables and fruit. Additionally, you also eat or drink dairy products and/or eggs as protein supplements.
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