Vegetarianism has deep roots in yoga. First of course, are yoga's origins in India, which has a long-standing tradition of vegetarianism among many of its people. Several of yoga's core teachings, most notably ahimsa, or non-violence, also espouse a plant-based diet. Despite this, vegetarianism has become a bit of a controversial topic in yoga (at least in the Western world). While traditionalist yogis believe yoga's teachings point to a meatless path, others believe that meat provides their bodies with the energy and vitality that helps grow their practice.
Your yoga practice is not only about the time spent on the mat. The true purpose is to take away a sense of connection, peace and oneness. So it's worth asking: How does your diet play a role in this equation? Here are some reasons why many yogis choose to power their practice with plants.
You Are What You Eat
Some would argue that at the very core of your health and happiness is the food you eat. Yoga teaches that we are the result of body, mind and spirit uniting. The health of the body cannot be separated from the mind and, obviously, the foods we eat impact our bodies. Food literally keeps us moving, allows us to think and feel, and helps us connect to our family and friends. Plus, the things you choose to put directly into your body say a lot about your beliefs.
For some yogis who choose to avoid eating meat and other animal foods, the decision comes down to ancient wisdom. Vegetarianism began during the Vedic period some time thousands of years ago as far back as 4000 B.C.E.. Certain ancient Indian texts state that a plant-based diet was in-line with a spiritual path and cultivating a sense of oneness. Sacred texts, including the Upanishads, described the idea of rebirth and how humans could be born into the body of an animal in a future life. In the same way, the texts explained that it's also possible that humans, and even gods, were animals in the past. A meat-free diet is also supported by the idea of ahimsa; killing and eating other creatures clearly isn't non-violent. Plus, the negative energy this process creates internally has been said to disturb one's state of peace during meditation. (Learn more in Ahimsa: A Self-Practice.)
If you're on the fence about whether or not to give up animal products and join the vegetarian community, consider these benefits to your yoga practice when deciding to go plant-based:
Increased Energy and Physical Well-Being
Many choose to practice vegetarianism primarily to help improve their health, perhaps in addition to other spiritual or emotional reasons. Vegetarianism has been linked to a healthier body weight and the consumption of healthy vegetarian foods has been shown to lower the risk of a number of diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. In addition, diets based around plants, such as the Mediterranean diet, are tied to longevity and better mental health.
In yoga practice, pranayama and meditation require focus and energy. You have to show up, do the work and return day after day. That's hard to do when you're tired, weighed down and uncomfortable! (Read more in The Practice of Pranayama.) According to Ayurveda, food plays an important role in how we feel, which affects the energy we carry around, the mindset we live with and the impact we can have on the world.
Ayurveda describes the various effects of different foods on the body and mind using three qualities: sattva, rajas and tamas. Heavier foods, including meat, create tamas, which is low energy, lethargy or sluggishness. On the other hand, foods that come directly from the earth, sattvic foods, create more energy, overall positivity and lightness.
Want to feel happier, peaceful and more harmonious? Putting off self-pleasure and doing things for the greater good has important benefits for your mood. A vegetarian diet means good karma and the avoidance of guilt, pain and suffering.
Choosing to abstain from animal foods and sourcing sustainable plant-foods instead offers you numerous perks: your physical health can improve, you can gain confidence in your yoga abilities, you'll be supporting people around the world who work hard to bring you nutrient-rich foods, and you'll feel a sense of pride for sacrificing in order to spare the lives of animals. Eating meat can result in the opposite feelings: disconnection, shame or guilt over the lives that these animals had, low energy and a sense of being blocked from going deeper into your practice.
Making Better Food Choices
Food, like yoga, is just another way that you can tune in to and connect with your body. It might seem hard to change your eating habits at first, but the deeper you can go into your yoga practice, the easier it becomes as you increase your self-awareness. You'll notice more easily when your body doesn't respond well to certain foods such as processed, packaged snacks and heavy animal products. At the same time, you'll gain clarity about which situations in life make you unhappy, giving you the power to change them.