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Vegetarianism and Yoga – The Link Between the Two

A vegetarian lifestyle combined with practicing yoga is definitely something not unheard of. We are all aware of the stereotypes implying that yogis are “energy people” or that all yogis are leftists, etc. While it is not entirely a myth, the exact relationship between yoga and vegetarianism is still a mystery to some. Questions like “Can I qualify as a yogi if I eat meat?” “Is being a vegetarian necessary for practicing yoga?” etc. certainly pique the public’s interest and curiosity.

According to renowned Yoga expert Dr. Lakshmi Andiappan, the aggravation of different doshas is mainly caused by intake of non-vegetarian tamasic diet leading to an improper lifestyle (Mithya Ahar Vihar). According to yoga, these foods are to be avoided as they can cause mental dullness and physical numbness. Eating excessively, improper diet, contaminated or incompatible foods; spoiled food leads to greater imbalance of doshas.

 A good balance vegetarian will heal those suffering from ailments of the body and mind. The Link: Ahimsa

Modern-day yoga is taught in more than one way, and there are countless styles, schools and types of yoga that are offered at just about any yoga studio. However, the traditional yoga’s core system is taught in the Ashtanga tradition, an eight-limbed path to enlightenment highlighted in the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the first of which is ahimsa. Ahsima translates to non-harming or non-violence and is interpreted in numerous ways.

The most common interpretation of this concept in the yoga world is the adoption of vegetarianism, which basically equates to not harming animals.

In Jainism, ahimsa is the standard used to judge all the actions. For an ascetic observing the great vows, ahimsa calls for utmost care in preventing the ascetic from unknowingly or knowingly being the result of an injury to any living soul; therefore, ahimsa not only applies to humans and to large animals, but also to plants, insects and microbes. It is also one of the first disciplines learned by yoga students and is required to be perfect in the first eight preparatory stages that lead to perfect concentration.

Yoga teaches us that we can have whatever we may want in life if we are ready to provide it for others first. The way we treat others will be determinant of how we are treated. It is a lifestyle choice, and even though a majority of yogis opt to be vegetarians in compliance with ahimsa, every person is different and can interpret the ideology in their own way. And the ultimate answer to “are all yogis vegetarian?” will depend on the person you ask. There are numerous strict yogis that believe that one can’t be yogic without being a vegetarian while the other side believes nothing of the sort. Just like one cue for the physical practice can’t be deemed applicable for every single student, one cue in the spiritual practice can’t also be applied to every single practitioner either.

Why Yogis Stay Away From Meat?

Besides the non-harming factor, a lot of yogis do not consume meat owing to the following reasons:

  • Meat contains a high level of toxins
  • It lacks vitamins and minerals
  • Meat contains more proteins than required by the human body
  • Animal protein contains high levels of uric acid, which cannot be eliminated properly and is deposited in the joints when consumed in abundant quantities. And that can lead to stiff joints, cramps, nervousness, headaches, gout, and rheumatism
  • Meat can be infested with harmful pathogens such as intestinal worms and trichinae
  • A yogi knows that when an individual consumes meat, they are also taking in the pain and fear of the slaughtered animal. For this reason, they usually have a more difficult time taking control over their emotions

There is plenty of medical [1]evidence supporting that a balanced vegetarian diet is extremely beneficial since it supplies the body with minerals, proteins, and all the much-needed vitamins. Statistically speaking, the rate of heart attacks, kidney failure, strokes, and cancer is lower among vegetarians since their immune systems are stronger and less vulnerable to become obese as compared to meat eaters.

At the end of the day, yoga is far greater than any food choices we make and should therefore not be dictated by them.

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/becoming-a-vegetarian

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