Yoga and the connection to a plant-based diet by Elisa Hagen

In practicing yoga, one might encounter more vegans and vegetarians than perhaps one might encounter practicing other forms of fitness and/or spirituality.  If you’ve practiced yoga for a long time or are new to yoga, you have probably heard teachers and students alike discuss and even preach (#guilty) about their passion for their dietary choices.  Entire books could be written on the common connection between practicing yoga and following a plant-based diet but often the explanation falls into one of three categories.

1.     Self-Awareness

The practice of yoga creates self-awareness.  Much of the practice of yoga is cultivating self-awareness.  As we practice and begin to dive deeper into yoga, we begin to become more aware of our relationships with ourselves and others.  As that awareness radiates outwards, the clouds part and we clearly see and feel our interactions with the world around us.  Suddenly a sandwich isn’t just a sandwich.  It’s a direct exchange between ourselves and our earth and all that lives and grows on it.  If a dietary choice causes harm to another being or the environment we reside in, it may not feel or be worth it. Our relationships with everything that surrounds us may become more meaningful and small choices might have farther reaching consequences.  Because of a heightened sense of awareness, many yogis start to see and feel more deeply the farther-reaching impact of even seemingly small choices (like what to have for lunch).

2.     Non-Harm (Ahisma)

According to Patanjali, as described in the Yoga Sutras, there are eight limbs of yoga, one being the physical practice known as Asana.  The first of those limbs is the Yamas and Niyamas.  These are personal practices and ethical principles of how we treat ourselves and the world around us.  There are five Yamas (restraints) that are to be included in the practice of yoga.  The foremost of those being Ahisma, which, translated from Sanskirt means ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harm.’  This Yama encourages us to live in such a way that we cause no harm in thought, speech, or action to any living being, including ourselves.  For many yogis, a simple way to practice non harm is to make sure that as you move through your daily life, nothing is harmed.  Drink a smoothie for breakfast, nothing is harmed, life is tasty and cruelty free!

3.     Health

An initial attraction to yoga for most lies in the physical practice.  Asana feels good, it makes you strong and fit, yet flexible, improves performance in other physical endeavors, reduces stress, rehabilitates injuries, improves oxygen efficiency; the list is as large as the number of people who practice.   In short, yoga is a healthy choice.  Eating a plant-based diet is also a healthy choice so very often the two go hand in hand.  There is a vast amount of literature, supported by scientific research, that correlates physical and metal heath improvements directly linked to a plant-based diet.  

Are you still a yogi if you eat meat?  Absolutely.  Could you perhaps deepen your connection to yourself and the world around you by exploring a plant-based diet?  Absolutely!  

If you are interested in exploring vegetarianism or veganism, educate yourself first.  Prepare yourself with the knowledge and inspiration to eat a nutritionally sound diet and be passionate about your reasons.  Make slow changes.  Many abrupt lifestyle changes aren’t lasting ones because they are too drastic, so take your time and make it work for you.  Lastly, reach out!  There are more people choosing a plant-based diet and more options and educational resources available every day.   Seek and you shall find!  Here are a few of my suggestions.  

Reading List: 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

The Path of the Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman

Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé

Conscious Eating, Gabriel Cousens

The China Study, T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell

Diet for a New America, John Robbins

How Not to Die, Michael Greger and Gene Stone

Forks Over Knives, Edited by Gene Stone

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan

Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran

Becoming Vegan, Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina

Gristle, Moby and Miyun Park