Pose of the hypocritical excuse-itarian: yoga IS veganism »
I was halfway through writing an article on yoga as it relates to veganism when this article appeared in my inbox, courtesy of the head honchos at Vegansaurus. Suffice to say it only fueled my agni (Sanskrit for “fire”).
Sometime in the 1980s yoga took over the Western world. Suddenly everyone was in downward dog, from 20-something administrative assistants to hardcore fitness fanatics to stay-at-home moms to Wall Street suits. Yoga and its followers, myself included, have carried the practice into the 21st century and the culture continues to grow. I’m all for staying in shape, but what most folks overlook is that yoga is much, much more than a 60-minute workout. Yoga is upwards of 2,400 years old, and is deeply rooted into the spiritual world, leading true practitioners—or yogis/yoginis—to attain enlightenment.
Between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D., Patanjali, the “father of yoga,” wrote the Yoga Sutras, also referred to as The Eight Limbs of Yoga. The sutras provide yoga with a thorough and consistent philosophical base, and is considered the foundational text of Yoga.
The Yoga Sutras are (in Sanskrit and English):
- Yama (restraints or ethical disciplines), consisting of Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (sexual responsibility), and Aparigraha (non-coveting/non-greed)
- Niyama (observances), consisting of Saucha (purity), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of self/holy scriptures), and Isvara-Pranidhana (devotion to God)
- Asana (physical postures)
- Pranayama (breath or life-force control)
- Pratyahara (sense-withdrawal)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (contemplation).
Ahimsa, the first yama, means non-violence/non-harming, or more simply, peace and love. Essentially, the true yogi believes that to kill or destroy a being is to insult its creator. This is about as black-and-white as it gets: unless you are vegan, you support the idea that an animal’s life is worthless and invalid in the face of our desire for its flesh and secretions. Breaking rule number one? Check.
At the Yoga Journal Conference in 2009, Dharma Mittra, a celebrated yoga teacher and director of the Dharma Yoga Center in New York City, stated, “It is a sin to eat animals. Why? Because the ability to put oneself in other’s place is the path to enlightenment. When you eat meat, you make your stomach a graveyard.” He added, “You must take compassion more seriously.” Sounds clear to me, but after reading Briana Ronglin's article "Yogis Don’t Have to Be Vegan, According to the Masters," it seems some people are sincerely confused about rule number one. Dancing around reality with very convenient information gathered from a panel of “Yoga masters that would make any devoted Yogi tremble with awe” from 2011’s Yoga Journal Conference, Ronglin outwardly eschews the very foundation of yoga. What’s worse, these “experts” only assist with their oblivious commentary. Ana Forest and Aadil Palkhivala both boldly venture into excuse-itarian territory, claiming that a vegan diet left them feeling “ill” and “sluggish,” and complaining about weight gain. Ana actually confesses to “rearranging her beliefs to accommodate the needs of her body.” Sounds to me like these two health-conscious “masters” didn’t pay much attention to basic nutrition at all.
Another expert, Seane Corn, is vegan. However, she states that “living in judgement of other people’s choices is absurd.” In theory, I agree—except when said choices have far-reaching consequences for my planet and its other inhabitants, my future, my tax dollars, my health care, and so on. Everyone agrees, of course, that the most realistic solution must be to indulge in “non-factory farmed” meats, or just a “sliver” of chicken if it’s “what you need to feel whole.” Absurd, indeed. If it’s acceptable to ignore the very first of the Yamas and eat another being’s flesh and secretions, what does it matter how happy or well-fed that being was before slaughter? Declaring that a yogic diet is made up of “whatever works for you” is in blatant and arrogant disregard of yoga’s most basic principles and foundations. Talk about bad Karma.
[Recommended reading: Yoga and Vegetarianism: The Path to Greater Health and Happiness by Sharon Gannon. Sources: Vegan Girl Next Door, ElephantJournal.com, Wikipedia, Vegan Outreach. Image via TwiggyJane on Flickr]
Yoga, Veganism, and Complaining: I Love Them All So Much »
I’m a yogi, in the American sense: a couple times a week, I go to a class to practice Hatha yoga, mostly for strength and flexibility. I try to meditate at the appropriate time, but it’s hardly the focus of my practice. There’s a big difference between what I do and what real yogis do: they are trying to reach a pinnacle of meditative ecstasy and therefore achieve “liberation from all worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death.” I am trying to look good with my shirt off.
When I read the New York Times article about food and yoga, I thought “now I know how new vegetarians feel when they listen to grumpy old vegans talking about honey.” People really criticize each other about this stuff? Don’t they have anything better to do? What happened to the worldly suffering? But if you think about it, that’s intimately related. The first proscription of yogic teaching is ahimsa, the principle of nonviolence towards living things. How can one be liberated from suffering if one does not embrace nonviolence?
Good question! Let’s ask Sadie Nardini, who apparently started this whole shitshow by writing a somewhat schizophrenic piece about her yoga-practicing, meat-eating ways in the Huffington Post. The Times piece is about the rift in the yoga community between those who eat anything they please, and those who think yoga compels practitioners to (at least) vegetarianism. But below the surface, it’s just as much about the culture of judgment some find in the community.
Nardini’s piece is all about that judgment. Making a fairly offensive Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell comparison, she argues that meat-eaters need to “stay in the closet” to reach the good graces of top-tier yoga instructors. It’s easy to imagine that she wrote the piece to drum up publicity: “I’m risking a lot doing this, as I am moving to a larger arena in my own teaching, and could turn off the very people who are taking me there” [emphasis mine]. But motivation regardless, do yogis need to be vegan? If they’re not, do they need to hide their diet? Can yogis judge each other for this stuff?
Here’s the thing: the rules are pretty clear. Even Nardini, in her rejection of vegetarianism, makes an argument from ahimsa. It’s a spurious one: she brings up all the canards we’ve heard a thousand times before, about plants feeling pain and insects being killed with the harvest of grain and really it’s fine if you just honor the animal you’re eating and first and foremost, some people just need to eat meat or else they feel yucky and self-harm is the worst of all. Of course, we know the answers to all of these ridiculous objections. If you clear them out of the way, ahimsa is pretty straightforward: avoid doing violence.
Yoga, the real kind, is like any other discipline. There are rules you have to follow. It’s certainly not desirable for yogis to pass judgment on each other for failing to adhere to the rules; ideally, that would be an internal drive. But the thing is, if you’re not following the principles of yoga, you’re doing it wrong. No judgment need be attached to that; it’s just an evaluation of the rules. Much as with “vegetarians” who eat chicken, or “vegans” who eat eggs, it doesn’t matter if your reasons are good. And it doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person.* It just means you’re not living up to the title you claim.
You can’t make the argument from ahimsa that it’s ok to eat meat; it doesn’t hold water. Eat whatever you want, but don’t pretend that you’re living up to the ideals of a yogi. Start your own thing, be a flexiyogini or whatever, but don’t dilute a meaningful term just because you want the benefits without living up to the responsibilities. We see enough of that already.
*OK yes it does, but because you’re killing chickens, not because you’re breaking rules.