By Leslie Brefeld, 2014 Winter Intern
Photo by: Ray Angelo
People who do yoga are generally a conscious and caring group. They tend to be open to new ideas, and they are growing in number. Vegan advocates, especially those already involved in yoga in some way, would likely find a good audience in people who do or teach yoga. Advocates can bring up the ethical, health and environmental implications of a diet that includes animals raised for food, in the terms of the yogic philosophy.
Patanjali, the great yogi who was able to conceptualize and write down what yoga is, described the eight limbs of yogic practice. The limb that stands out for the issue of eating animals is Yama, or “choosing to practice moral restraint in external interactions” (p.44, The Aquarian Teacher). Yama is then broken into five subsets, which include non-hurting (ahimsa) and non-stealing (asteya). Clearly, all the horrors inflicted on animals raised for food from birth to slaughter would violate the former. Diverting milk intended for a mother’s child, and diverting that child away from his or her mother, would be considered a violation of the latter, stealing. Those who practice yoga are working their way toward being more and more compassionate. If they can see that every meal is an opportunity for a caring act of nonviolence, it may turn some minds toward veganism.
Considering health, the following is the perspective of eating meat from yogic philosophy:
“Meat is among the most acid-producing foods. It leaves a residue of uric acid in the bloodstream. Acidic blood is an ideal environment for the development of cancer. Uric acid is a toxin that makes it harder to reach the higher, clearer meditative states because it is an irritant in the bloodstream.
Meat is also among the greatest sources of cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease, hardening of the arteries, and senility. Most animals which are raised for their meat today are fed a variety of chemicals and hormones to make them grow faster and bigger.
Meat takes three days to pass through the human system. For optimum health, men need to digest food within 24 hours; women 18 hours” (p. 253 The Aquarian Teacher).
Yogis tend to be concerned with their health and would likely find all the health benefits of a plant-based diet compelling.
Refraining from eating animals also corresponds to the yogic principles of taking care of the Earth.
Andrea Kowalski wrote in a 2012 feature for VegNews magazine how the yama (moral restraint) aparigraha, or greedlessness, supports a vegan diet. Specifically, she writes about how much more land, water and energy are used to raise animals for food in comparison to how much would be needed to feed a human with a vegan diet. Also, the yama asteya, mentioned earlier as non-stealing, can also be interpreted as “right use of resources” (p 44, The Aquarian Teacher), which would support this viewpoint.
Jivamukti Yoga co-founder and vegan, Sharon Gannon, answers the question “Can someone be a meat-eating environmentalist?” on her website:
“If that someone is a human being, then in my opinion, no; it is a contradiction in terms. To be an environmentalist is to care about the environment and care about life on planet Earth. The raising of animals for food and all that it entails is the single most destructive force impacting our planet’s fragile ecosystems. Our planet simply cannot sustain the greed of billions of human beings who are eating other animals.”
Nikki in yoga pose
A great way to reach out to the yogic community is to provide them with delicious samples of vegan food. In so doing, an activist can introduce people to the vegan diet, showing how it is normal and good, and also how it connects to yogic practice. Sampling out food is a very positive way to engage people and is an excellent conversation starter–anything from where the ingredients were bought, to how it is prepared, to why people choose to be vegan.
Educational literature to reinforce the vegan food and your message is also important. A Life Connected, by NonViolence United, is a beautiful piece and would be great for placement in a yoga studio. Vegan Outreach’s Compassionate Choices emphasizes the compassionate angle, while the Eating Sustainably brochure from Compassion Over Killing illustrates the ripple effect of eating on the rest of the world. Farm Sanctuary’s Recipes for Life Booklet would likely be appreciated by healthy yogis who enjoy cooking.
If you’re thinking of reaching out to the yogic community and are in need of funding to support your outreach, be sure to check out VegFund’s Food Sampling grant program.
In sum, people who practice yoga often have a deep understanding of how everything is connected into one web of life. Helping this demographic see how veganism is in line with their beliefs can have a big impact. If the yoga community is asked to look deeply at the roots of yoga and its connection to veganism, they can create real social change and greatly reduce the amount of suffering by fellow sentient beings on the planet today.
Bhajan, Yogi. (2003). The Aquarian Teacher
Kowalski, Andrea. (2012). VegNews magazine. “Karmavores?”