Yoga, Yamas & Vegetarianism

"No true or lasting happiness can come from causing unhappiness to others. No true or lasting freedom can come from depriving others from their freedom. If we say we want every being to be happy and free, then we have to question everything we do - how we live, how we eat, what we buy, how we speak, even how we think." - Sharon Gannon

On a recent trip to NYC, I had the honor of meeting Sharon Gannon and David Life, Founders of Jivamukti Yoga. Not only did I get a chance to meet them, but I was taught the Jivamukti Surya Namaskar from Sharon herself! It was a truly liberating experience, to be in the presence of such a true Yoga Master, and I look forward to further exploration of the Jivamukti method.

Yet, perhaps the most exciting part of meeting Sharon Gannon was that I got the opportunity to tell her how her book, Yoga and Vegetarianism (2008), changed my life! Although I have dabbled in vegetarianism off and on for the past 18 years, it was this book that convinced me that to truly align with the principles of yoga, one must consider being an ethical vegetarian (vegan).

In yoga classes across the globe, we hear the mantra, “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu,” which translates to something akin to, “May all beings be happy and free from suffering, and may my thoughts, words and actions somehow contribute to that happiness and freedom.” This has become a prayer my family says prior to every meal. At our kitchen table, we are putting this mantra into practice.

I will outline briefly the Yamas and how they coincide with veganism, according to Sharon Gannon’s book, Yoga and Vegetarianism. For newer yogis, the Yamas outline ethical yogic restraints, as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

1. ahimsa (non harming): The obvious. The animals that humans eat are often tortured and obviously, killed. Therefore, when we eat animal meat and dairy, we are contributing to the animal’s violence and harm. As yogis, we want to create the least amount of negative karma possible, to do the least amount of harm to others as possible. Not to mention, raising animals for food creates more greenhouse gases than ALL the transportation (cars, trucks, trains, planes, ships) systems in the world! Raising animals for food causes more water pollution than any other industry. More than half the water consumed in the USA is used to raise animals for food. Forty-five percent of the total landmass of the USA is being used to raise animals for food. An acre of forest land is destroyed every eight seconds to create more farms to confine animals raised for food. In the USA, more than 80 percent of corn crops and 95 percent of oats are fed to animals that are raised for food. Most of these crops are genetically manipulated and laced with pesticides.

Through the practice of yoga, we realize the connectedness of all beings, and we strive to live in a harmonious fashion. Compassion is at work in ahimsa. Practicing non-harming is essential to create the Karma that will ensure we live a joyful life. We cannot have a joyful and happy life if we continue to contribute to the harming of others.

2. satya (truthfulness): According to Sharon Gannon, advertisements that portray animals living happily on a farm, grazing in massive green fields, etc., are lies and deception. The media convinces us that we must continue to enslave and exploit animals. “Some meat eaters say they are peaceful people and would never hurt anyone - they didn’t kill the animal. This type of thinking is just an example of how disempowered and disconnected most carnivorous members of the culture feel.”

3. asteya (non stealing): The meat and dairy industry is founded on stealing. Stealing the mother’s milk, stealing the animal’s meat, stealing skin and fur, taking what is essentially not ours to take. To confine an animal in a factory farm is stealing its life. We must remember that animals have their own purpose for living, and it’s not for human pleasures.

4. bramacharya (control of the senses, chastity, celibacy): Animals on factory farms are not allowed to develop their own sexual relationships with animals of their species. Rather, they are raped (artificial insemination of a cow requires a human to insert its arm up a cows vagina) so that the cow remains pregnant, producing milk for human consumption, and giving birth to babies that are immediately taken from the mother and used for veal. Female cows are impregnated every year for four years, after which they are slaughtered for their meat.

5. aparigraha (non hoarding, greedlessness): When we have desires for ourselves at another’s expense, we are being greedy. The Yoga Sutras speak of living a simple life, with a desire for simple things: “live simply so that others may simply live.” Do not consume more than you really need. There is an abundance of research that supports a healthy lifestyle can be attained through the absence of meat in our diets.

I encourage you all to at least consider these ethical principles, and have a greater sense of awareness in the choices you make around the food that you eat.

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed." – Mahatma Gandhi


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