It is safe to assume that a large number of regular yoga practitioners are often also labeled as vegetarians or vegans, but have you ever wondered why? Did every yogi wake up one morning and decide that eating meat was of no interest to them anymore? It may be hard to believe but that actually may be the case more often than not. Practicing yoga asanas or poses on a regular basis with a skilled teacher can naturally lead you to a cleaner diet and lifestyle. How is this possible? I discussed this correlation with my esteemed and beloved yoga teacher, Summer Quashie on just what makes us lean towards the leafy greens after a practice rather than a heavy steak. Here are her thoughts on the subject…
It is important to first establish that when we say ‘yogi’ we are referring to a practitioner of all the 8 limbs of yoga… Yama (universal morality) Niyama (personal discipline) Asanas (poses) Pranayama (breathwork) Pratyahara (control of the senses) Dharana (concentration) Dhyana (meditation) Samadhi (union with the divine). Summer points out that a yogi partakes in all these 8 limbs of yoga to attain an understanding of their higher or true self. A yogi in this context is not just a practitioner moving through the poses in a fitness class but also has a mindfulness connection to the practice. The Yamas are the first of the 8 limbs of yoga and are like a guide or reference on how the yogi should navigate life. The first Yama that is a necessary action is called Ahimsa which means, non-violence. As we practice we have a tendency to become more compassionate, not wanting any sentient beings to suffer. We have a consciousness of where our food came from and have the opportunity to modify our diets to abstain from animal products or to have a moment of gratitude before we eat to show our awareness and gratefulness for the nourishment. Our compassion also bleeds into the respect for preservation of the earth, nature and its ecology.
In the classic text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika it is stated that one should abstain from meat and alcohol and although it is not exactly written why, Gabriel Cousens explains in an article on vegetarianism and yoga on his website, that aside from Ahimsa, consuming animal flesh brings about negative vibrations of anger, lust and fear. The energy of this diet adds to the impurities of the mind and the nervous system. Flesh is harder to digest and creates a heavy and dull effect on the body, blocking the prana flow and clogging the channels that we work so hard to open during a yoga practice.
When you practice asanas or poses, you naturally feel lighter, more energetic and prana flows free in the body. When you physically feel light and energetic you naturally crave nourishment that will reflect and enhance that. Lighter foods that are easy on digestion are optimal to help maintain the benefits from practice. Summer says that if you are famished after a practice then you have done too much. A great sequence and practice should not leave such an extreme effect on you so maybe modifying your asanas will help you avoid such cravings. Summer also states that there are many yogis that do eat animal flesh and that it is not for any of us to judge or criticize. There are plenty of incredible farmers out there that raise their own animals and live and eat as consciously as they deem possible. Every individual has their own path of experience and their reasons for doing what they do. Unfortunately, slaughter has a universal sadness to it but vegetarianism is personal and everyone must come to their choices on their own, but hopefully there is consideration to what benefits the world at large and its inhabitants.
To conclude, the choices we all make are personal and are not for anyone to criticize. The intent of this article is to shed some light on why we naturally lean towards a vegetarian or vegan diet while practicing the beautiful and ancient study of yoga and I hope you can use some of this information to either enhance your practice or feel motivated to try a yoga class if you have never done so.
Summer Quashie is a yoga teacher and educator, a mom and a lover of food and the earth. She has been teaching in and around NYC and Brooklyn for 10 years, if you are in the New York area, I highly recommend taking a class with Summer for her scope goes well beyond the movement of yoga poses. Every one of her classes has much to be learned from, you can find her at SummerQuashie.com and YogaSukhavati.com.
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