Yoga and Vegetarianism

By Jessi Koivukoski

Lightrail Yoga 300 Hour Trainee

Vegetarian diet causes less amount of harm to the planet and all creatures


Unity of all creation -

I decided to start my essay quoting another book I recently started reading. It’s a book by Swami Visnudevananda called “Teachings on Yoga Life”. When I started writing this essay, I remembered something I came across: Swami Sivananda wrote a letter to the people of America right before Visnudevananda left to the United States in the 50’s. In the letter Swami Sivananda explains that the time was ripe to provide man with a spiritual basis for a new development; it was time to take a step beyond even the boundaries of brotherhood and awake oneself to the universal Selfhood. “Treat your neighbor, not merely as your brother, but as your own Self....Selfishness is born of ignorance of this Truth that the one Self pervades all creation. Selflessness is natural to an enlightened man....The selflessness is based on the recognition of the unity of all creation. This is the Eternal Truth.”

Now, what does “unity of all creation” actually mean and how does one recognize it? I guess different people can understand it in different ways; some as unity of different nations, nationalities or raze, but for me it’s already much more than that. It’s not an easy answer, but I want to share my personal thoughts and how emerging myself in Yoga has changed my mindset: I became vegetarian about 1.5 yrs ago which was the result of my 200 hr TT. At first, my main motivator was to feel healthier, a good way to start I guess. However, very soon other factors came to support my decision. It was no longer only about the physical body, but I started to feel more grounded and connected to others around me. I became more sensitive in general which made me realize that life was no longer only about my circle of family and friends, but so much more than that. I started to think about how my actions affect on a broader scale; whether animals, people or the Earth. And how do I notice it? E.g. if I see or witness some sort of violence, whether it’s in a movie, in the news, or somebody talking very aggressively or with bad intentions, I usually have a reaction to it; desire to change things.


- Enlightenment and Ahimsa -

In Sharon Gannon’s book about “Yoga and Vegetarianism” she writes that Yogis ultimate goal is enlightenment; only then can we understand “the unity and interconnectedness of all beings and things”. It’s funny because when I started taking Yoga classes, this of course wasn’t my goal, I don't think I even understood what this meant back then. Quoting Sharon, “Yoga serves to awaken and remind us that we do know how to live in harmony with life”. So when you start to practice asanas, you subconsciously start to connect with the Earth. Asanas will help you heal. At the beginning, many people will experience some resistance due to their previous ignorance - e.g. for many of us eating meat or even using violent words in communication was “normal” - but when you start paying attention, that’s when you start letting go. When you let go, you are closer to knowing who you really are, and automatically start realizing we are all One and united. Gradually you also stop exploiting the Earth or other creatures, like animals. But it can also be very overwhelming to think that the goal of your practice should be enlightenment, especially if you want this goal to guide you in your every day life. That’s why, since my 1st TT, I’ve tried my best to follow the principles of Ahimsa, non-violence. Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas that guide us on our behavior towards others; people, animals, environment. I’ve come to realize that applying non-violence in your daily life is very liberating! Also, I realized that as a first step in my healing process, I needed to be more compassionate with others, but also more compassionate with myself. Sharon writes how Ahimsa is an essential part of Yogi’s lifestyle and behavior. I try to take Ahimsa into action in everyday life with kindness and compassion. Whenever I see somebody smiling, I try to smile back. If I feel injustice, or whenever I don't agree with somebody’s actions, I try to be compassionate and send love to these people. This is my way to connect with others and, at the same time it helps me to deal with frustration and anger. Sharon writes “Yoga has the potential to heal the disease that we are all suffering from - the disease of disconnection”, and continues “you can only abuse and exploit others if you feel disconnected from them and have no idea about the potency inherent in your own actions”. That is why we need to practice Yoga.

- Seeing is believing -

Since I established my regular Yoga practice, I slowly started to notice changes in my mind-set. Then gradually I also began to change my behavior, which is of course a continuous learning process. The book highlights: “Through the practice of Yoga...we can realize we were main to live in harmony...We can truly become the peace we wish to see in the  world”. When we understand all five Yamas, and start behaving accordingly, we’ll start burning previous karma and create new karma of joy and happiness, free from suffering. In addition to non-violence, we all have to start speaking the truth, Satya (Yama), and stop stealing from others by Asteya (Yama). Sharon is very smart when she mentions that “seeing is believing”. Many of us don't want to see how animals are treated in farms; we prefer to ignore it because it’s easier than facing the truth. Also, we are so used to exploiting animals by stealing what’s theirs that it has become something “normal”. Cow’s milk belongs to it’s baby, not to us. “Was anyone Slaughtered or Stolen from to provide this food for me?”, asks Sharon. If the answer is yes, you know you should not eat it. We should all do our best to educate others on the benefits of vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is the only way we can obtain peaceful.

- Power that creates Life & Greedlessness -

The last two Yamas, Brahmacharaya or good sex, and Aparigraha or greedlessness, are also important to apply in order to live a peaceful life. Brahmacharaya means that all creatures should have the right to experience “the power that creates life”, quoting Sharon. Without this possibility, they can’t experience freedom, and we all know that in farms this is far from reality. Yogis should also try to live greedlessness life. When you need something to nurture your physical body - the temple of your spirit - there is nothing wrong doing that. However, when “needs” become “wants”, that’s when ignorance starts. We should always consider if our “wants” are exploiting other people, animals or the Earth. Mahatma Gandhi says: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed”. I think he says it all.

- Yogi’s desire to be free -

So, why should we stop eating animal products? Because we, as Yogis, want all beings to live in harmony and peace, and we have to do our best to cause the least amount of harm. Vegetarian diet causes the least amount of harm to the planet and all creatures. Using animals as slaves is against liberation. And ultimately, if we want to be free, free from suffering, we have to stop taking it from others. Also Sharon reminds us that “a Yogi is born with the desire to be free”. I believe this freedom lies in the Truth; in the understanding that we are all One Creation. If we stop violence and harming others, we can work on our karma which ultimately sets us free. Truth will set us free.

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