It is said that being a vegetarian can help your yoga practice. Specifically, in the lightness you feel. The hormones in meat products create a heaviness and a tension within that is counter-productive to yoga; your body has to work twice as hard to get to a Zen state. What you put into your body is part of living the lifestyle of a yogi. The deeper you get into yoga and purification, the less your body can tolerate rich foods and alcohol. Gentle foods that are easy to digest and a plant-based diet will keep the harmony inside.
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. How does your diet play a role in this equation?
You Are What You Eat
Some would argue that at the very core of your health and happiness is the food you eat. As the saying goes, "Food is medicine." 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 body. Food literally keeps us moving, allows us to think and feel, and helps us connect to our family and friends. The things someone chooses to put directly in their body says a lot about their beliefs. Do they value the life of other creatures or do they assume that animals were put on this earth in order to be consumed by humans? Is it more important to eat what most appeals to them in the moment regardless of its global impact or do they put off immediate gratification in order to make conscious decisions about the sustainability of food?
To avoid meat or not? It's certainly an ongoing question in the yoga community. 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.; although, there's not a total agreement on exactly when. 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, which is a Sanskrit word meaning "non-violence." Obviously, killing and eating other creatures does not fit into this paradigm. 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 prevention against certain diseases. In addition, mostly plant-based diets eaten around the world, 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 thousands of helpless animals. Eating meat, a result of other creatures suffering, 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.
Easily Make More Positive Choices
Here's the good news: 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. Getting to know your body and mind's reactions to different choices - whether it's the food you eat or otherwise - gives you the most benefits because it allows you to fine-tune your lifestyle so you can focus on what is working.