In the modern world of yoga, there is quite a high correlation between yoga teachers and veganism. Is this a trend or does the vein run deeper?
Why are yoga teachers vegan?
It’s quite common for yoga teachers to be vegan and there is a direct link between yoga philosophy and Ayurveda and the reasons why people make the shift.
What do the Ancient Scriptures say?
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are deep and philosophical guidelines for life. Written over 3,000 years ago, they help dig right down into the nature of the human mind and how the philosophy of yoga can guide us to become our highest selves. Of course, this includes the physical practice of asana, but actually this is just one of the eight limbs of yoga.
the 8 limbs of yoga
Yoga Sutra 2.29 introduces the path to yoga for the householder, you and I, and does so with the 8 limbs of yoga.
Yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyanana samadhaya astau angani
Yama: self regulation and social observances
Niyama: personal observances
Pranayama: control of bio-energy
Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses
Although known as the 8 limbs, I like to think of them more like stepping stones. Over time and with practice and understanding, they slowly begin to integrate into your understanding and daily life. Once you have a full understanding and appreciation of one, it gives rise to the next, and the next. There’s no jumping from the first to the last or you’ll fall in and get wet!
The first four of the 8 limbs are rooted in the external or bahiranga. And by practicing these four aspects of yoga, there will be an external change in our lives. The fifth is the bridge between the external and internal self, where your mind starts to attain some kind of willpower which gives you the strength to begin to move inside, and the last two are focused on the internal self or antaranga.
The sutras go on to break down and explore each of these 8 limbs into detail, but for our purpose of study on yoga and veganism, we’ll focus on the first limb, Yama.
Yoga sutra 2.30 goes onto explain the yamas, or personal ethics, and breaks them down into 5 categories to live by. The word yama is often translated as restraint or moral discipline, and Patanjali considers these vows to be universal. They offer guidelines for us to live by, to interact with the world around us, and with ourselves.
Ahimsa satya asteya brahmacharya aparigraha yamah
What is ahimsa?
The yamas begin with non-violence, towards ourselves and others. Himsa is the Sanskrit word for ‘hurt’ and the prefix ‘a’ means ‘not.’ The first Yama, non-violence, refers to all aspects of our lives. Everything we do should encourage peace. Compassion is progressive. Start small and see big things begin to happen. Examples can include:
Being a conscious consumer and exploring what you are buying and who you are buying from
Not enforcing your opinion or knowledge on others and waiting for them to ask
Treating others as you would like to be treated and this mutual respect should extend to animals, plants, every sentient being
Considering why we may have the right to judge others while we have so much work to do on ourselves
So, does Patanjali tell us to be vegan?
Not directly, but the reference to non-harming and non-violence can be directly related to abstaining from eating meat and dairy, and becoming aware of where your meat and diary comes from. There are a lot of interesting documentaries (see Cowspiracy) available to watch which give us insight into the dark world of these industries and can help you to make informed decisions about how best to live aligned with the principles of ahimsa.
Dr Michael Gregor (see How Not To Die) also offers some very interesting insight into the health benefits of eating a plant based diet and how by consuming meat and diary we are doing harm to ourselves.
Ayurveda is often called Yoga’s ‘sister science’ and one of the key contributors to the Ancient texts was also Patanjali. Directly translated as ‘Life Science,’ it takes the concept of homeostasis and applies it to ALL areas of life. From body type, to age, to time of the day, time of the year, altitude... You name it! Ayurveda explores how everything in nature (and that includes you and me!) is in constant ebb and flow, always striving to be in balance, at one with itself and its environment.
Ayurveda speaks of the three gunas, or qualities of nature, and a simple understanding of these can shed some light on how food can influence our lives. The food we eat can be categorised into these three gunas, and here are some examples:
Sattvic food: nuts, lentils, vegetables, fruit, spices, herbs, beans
Rajasic food: meat, fish, eggs, onions, garlic, coffee, chilli, alcohol
Tamasic food: processed foods, refined sugar, oil, preservatives, additives
Ayurveda and Yoga both speak of how when we are in a Sattvik state, we are light, full of energy and vitality, able to think, communicate and are in a place of balance. When we enter a Rajasik state, often by consuming rajasik food or other external influences like violent films for example, we become agitated, angry, confused and imbalanced. Our state of awareness can be further knocked off balance if we enter a tamasik state. Here we are dull, heavy, struggle to reason, and often feel fatigued or depressed.
Now, even with this brief overview of the gunas, we can see that we would be best focusing on more Sattvic foods, and this is another argument for a vegan diet. Couple this with living a life of non-violence to ourselves and to others, we're all set on the road to plant-based living.
Couple this with living a life of non-violence to ourselves and to others, we're all set on the road to plant-based living.
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Carrie is a co-founder of The Frog Project, yoga teacher, teacher trainer, and full time stay at home mum to two smalls. When she's not playing with the kids or practicing yoga, you'll likely find her in the middle of her veg patch, trowel in hand and covered in mud. She loves the outdoors, and would camp every night given the chance. She and her partner in crime, Martin, set up The Frog Project with the aim of bringing classical yoga to all, and deliver live online classes with a group of dedicated teachers, to students of all experiences, ages, shapes, sizes, jobs, lives, you name it, from all around the world. Join them now and get 15 days of free unlimited classes. It's just yoga.