Yoga, Yoga Practice, Yoga Q & A

Do I have to be VEGETARIAN or VEGAN to practice YOGA?

Is there a proper diet for yoga students and teachers? Are yogis supposed to be vegetarians or vegans? Is it OK to consume meat and dairy products?

This is probably one of the most controversial and divisive topics in the yoga world. On one end of the spectrum, there are yoga practitioners who insist that you must be vegan if you are to call yourself a true yogi.  The other camp believes that it is not necessary to avoid animal products when you practice yoga.

In another blog post and Q & A video, I will share with you my own journey through different ways of eating. For now, I will dive into some yoga philosophy and its different interpretations when it comes to a so-called “yogic diet.” (Note: Scroll below to watch my 6-minute Q & A video on this topic.)

In yoga, there is an ethical principle called AHIMSA. It is a Sanskrit term that is often translated as non-violence or non-harming. In his book The Path of the Yoga Sutras, author and Sanskrit teacher Nicolai Bachman writes, Ahimsa, which is the first of the five yamas, is the ethical practice of nonhurtfulness toward others and ourselves. It involves abstaining from intentionally inflicting pain on or killing other creatures in thought, word, or deed…..Ahimsa also implies an attitude that strives to reduce harm.”

Vegans and vegetarians often cite ahimsa as the basis for their commitment to refrain from eating meat or using any animal-derived products. They believe that we must not kill or harm ALL creatures – both human and animal. Jivamukti Yoga, a style/brand of yoga founded by David Life and Sharon Gannon in New York, promotes veganism to its students. Teachers of this style often include discussion of the vegan lifestyle in their asana classes. Many yogis from different traditions also make changes in their diet as they deepen their practice and explore yoga philosophy. Others feel that a vegetarian or vegan diet actually supports their physical practice and optimizes its benefits.

On the other hand, other yogis do not agree that one must abstain from meat in order to practice yoga. They do not think a vegetarian/vegan diet and lifestyle is right for everyone. Some people do not thrive when they adopt this way of eating. For these yogis, insisting on a vegan diet at the expense of your own health is not ahimsa either because you are harming yourself. True, we must do our best to reduce the harm caused by our actions; but we must also nurture ourselves and do what is right for our well-being.

This is a rather complex issue because it involves the intersection of many areas – health and nutrition, yoga philosophy and ethics, environmental impact of food production, animal rights vs. personal choice and freedom, etc. What I hope to accomplish with this post is to start a conversation about yoga and diet. I have gone through many radical changes in lifestyle and way of eating. I have changed my mind about certain things, after thorough research and investigation of the different perspectives. In the next posts and videos, I will be sharing my personal journey and how I’ve arrived at my current eating plan.

What do you think, yogis? What diet do you follow? Does your yoga practice affect your lifestyle choices?