I have been asked questions about vegetarianism in relation to yoga by a few people now, so I will try, in my own words and thoughts, to explain how they are related:
But first, lets remember two things.
First, that at the end of the day, Yoga is a practice of the Mind to achieve a state of ultimate health and happiness, and second, that classical Yoga (or Ashtanga Yoga), according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, consists of eight sections, or “limbs”, with the practice of postures just being one of them. In order to achieve Yoga’s ultimate goal, all of them should be observed:
- Yamas (meaning “restraints” or “self control”):
There are 5 guidelines that, when observed at all times, will keep our relationship with the world harmonious and our mind clear of negativity. They are:
- Ahimsa (not harming any other beings, non-violence)
- Satya (being truthful, non-falsehood, being true to yourself)
- Asteya (non-stealing, non-envy)
- Brahmacharya (sexual restraint, not sexualizing ourself or others, not cheating)
- Aparigraha (not being possessive, not craving for things, non greed)
2. Niyamas (Personal restraints)
These are 5 guidelines that, when observed at all times, will keep ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually healthy. They are:
- Sauca (Purity, clean body & mind, clean living, clean eating)
- Santosa (contentment, optimism, acceptance and tolerance of others and circumstances)
- Tapas (Austerity, persistence, discipline)
- Svadhyaya (Study of the self, self reflection)
- Isvarapranidhana (contemplation of the ultimate reality, the true self/God)
The regular (ideally daily) practice of Yoga postures in order to keep the body healthy and in good shape.
4. Pranayama (Breath control)The practice of breathing techniques in order to balance the prana (vital energy) in our bodys, increase our energy and calm the nervous system.
5. Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal)
The practice of withdrawing our senses into the mind, going inward, and relaxing the mind while being fully conscious.
6. Dharana (Concentration)
The practice of focusing the mind on one particular object to achieve a one-pointed, laser like mind, creating a pre-stage of meditation, which “cuts” through the veil of our mind and allows the higher intelligence to awaken. Usually this lasts only for a short time.
7. Dyana (Meditation)
When Dharana is practiced regularly, concentration improves and the mind opens. The prolonged state of concentration is Meditation.
8. Samadhi (the final joining together of the mind to our true self)
This is the final state of “awakening”, where we feel bliss because we have found our true self. We no longer identify with our ego or emotions, but with our true self, which is continuously happy. Enlightenment.
So, back to the question…
If we read through the Yamas and Niyamas again, with the question of diet in mind….
- Ahimsa – non harming other living beings. It says it all. Really. In order to eat meat, you HAVE to harm another living being (even if it’s technically not you doing it, but you are paying someone else to do the deed for you). You could of course argue, but what about harming myself? Do I harm myself by denying myself meat? Well, that brings us to the second one:
- Satya – truthfulness. Do you really, REALLY believe you NEED meat to stay healthy? Most people would probably have to admit that they don’t, however some might have a genuine reason to believe that they do. But even if you genuinely do, ask yourself truthfully, how much is necessary? Where does this meat come from and how has the animal been treated? How else can I avoid unnecessary suffering of animals?
- Asteya – non stealing. A life that belongs to another living being. Is it really mine to take?
- Brahmacharya – sexual restraint – ok, I have no answers in relation to diet for this one – let me know if you do! 😉
- Aparigraha – non greediness. Well, that speaks for itself really.. 😉 Can we really distinguish between there being an actuall NEED (for health reasons) to eat meat, or are we just greedy and attached to very old habits? And how can we let go?
- Sauca – cleanliness in mind and body. Clean eating. What is clean food? If we wash a chicken, does it make it into clean food? We are what we eat. All food is life force and energy. If we eat an animal (or drink milk from an animal) that has suffered and was full of fear and mental health problems during it’s restricted life, we will consume this fear. We will consume all the energies that this animal has accumulated during it’s life. Can this really be nourishing to us? Is it clean?
- Santosa – Can we be content with a simple, vegetarian diet? Especially if sunday roasts or sausage fry ups were our favorite food growing up, CAN we be content without them? Being happy and content with the choices we have that are in accordance to these principals.
- Tapas – Austerity. Discipline. Even, or especially, if our senses still crave meat but we have established that we don’t need it, can we be disciplined enough to not eat it? Discipline will eventually become a habit…
- Svadhyaya – self study. To look deep into ourselves and ask ourselves all the above questions. Observe where things are difficult and why. We might uncover deeper, more hidden causes for our difficulties…
- Isvarapranidhana – contemplation of the ultimate reality/God/supreme reality. No matter if you are religous or not, or interested in philosophy or questions about the universe…it all comes down to the same thing. From a yoga perspective, we are all the same. We are all part of the same ultimate reality, a supreme self. We are all one. We share not only the planet but also the same spiritual energy. What harm we cause to someone else, we cause to ourselves.
So although, there is no prescribed formula that says “you have to be vegetarian” – it is certainly left to each individual to contemplate and find their own truth – most serious Yoga practitioners find no good reason to keep eating meat or even any animal products and revert to a vegetarian diet, which many find to be conducive to their daily practice.
Another perspective that is closely related to Yoga and based on the same ancient (Samkhya) philosophy is the oldest medicinal system in the world – Ayurveda.
Ayurveda also doesn’t prescribe any rules on weather or not meat is “allowed”, but it very clearly describes meat as unfavorable for your health, due to it’s tamasic qualities.
According to Samkhya philosophy, all of nature consists of 3 different qualities:
Rajas (the moving and transformative aspect, as in the force that makes a plant grow, or the digestive forces in the body).
Sattva (the nourishing, balancing, sustaining and illuminating aspect, as in the state of the blossoming plant – or our higher intelligence.
Tamas (the heavy, stagnant aspects, as in the decaying plant, or a state of deep sleep).
According to Ayurveda, each food gives us these qualities in different ratios.
Meat is by nature tamasic and will cause us health problems connected with an excess of this quality.
So after reading this I hope that you have a better understanding of Yoga’s point of view regarding vegetarianism…
Please comment or let me know if you have any questions…
Have a lovely day!!