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Topic du Jour: What Comes First the Chicken or the Yoga? The Great Vegetarian Debate

in Ethics, YD News

Do you prefer your yoga with a side of bacon? or is it tempeh bacon? Yes we are opening that can of curry! (should curry come in a can it is so open right now)yoga-vegetarian-question

elephant journal posted a very interesting article a few months ago extolling the virtues of a veggie-yoga lifestyle, finding the curiosity in choices of a yoga instructor and posing the everlasting question: Is Vegetarianism essential in Yoga?

Back around the same time we brought up the subject with Sharon Gannon (of Jivamukti) and her book Yoga and Vegetarianism where she promotes veggie-eating as the diner’s choice down yogi lane. Many of you exasperatingly disagreed.

The topic circled round again recently, with Sadie Nardini joining the table in her June 22 Huffington Post article where she ‘comes out’, rather tenaciously we might add, as a yogi AND a flesh-eater in defense of all the yogsters who so choose the animal route – which, clearly today is not uncommon.

And then there’s the article that came out yesterday (Science Daily) about Yoga’s link to mindful eating, which in essence means slower conscious eating and ultimately (ideally) healthier eating, digestion, perhaps healthier weight. Does ‘mindful’ have to do with being vegetarian? Well, not really. But it does have to do with choices and food, and well, being conscious somewhere in the middle of it we guess.

Well, we’ve talked lots about the morphs and mutations yoga has taken on in the West, not the least fascinating being: doga, roller-yoga, hip hop yoga. All quite Western. So here’s a morsel of pontification for you, Is the acceptability of meat-eaters in yoga something to further the Westernizing of yoga?

Of course, not all yogis are veggies and vice versa. We know a cornucopia of people doing the yog that aren’t veg, which seems exponential now that everyone’s a yoga teacher!

So, dear dorkaliciouses, what are your reasons for being veg or non-veg?

Do factors like the environment, disease and/or convenience play into your decisions these days?

Have you noticed eating more mindfully no matter if it’s animal, mineral or vegetable?

20 comments… add one
  • This will not go away, will it? 🙂

    First, what I think I find rather interesting anymore is the lack of respect for differing opinions. I feel constantly bombarded with people telling me how I should live my life: be it greener, wiser, veggier. Last I checked, we live in a wonderful country that lets us have a choice and I find myself wanting to scream every time someone says “But don’t you see, my way/this way/the highway! is better!” Kind of like missionaries who would show up in a foreign country and simply say “You’re wrong.”

    I was veggie for a very long time, many moons ago. I reverted back because, when you’re veggie, if you cheat once, that’s okay, more than once and you’re just a hypocrite. And I was cheating. A lot. So I did a diet overhaul where I eat what I want. Did this mean I held a pig roast and slaughtered a fatted calf? No. Rather, I became much more mindful of where my meat comes from and, believe it or not, I eat less. I enjoy a massive pile of pasta primavera, a gorgeous Greek salad (sans anchovies!), and my weekly soup is almost always veggie. But when I want to make meatballs or I want a nice piece of grilled chicken, I have it. And I’ve noticed that I’m eating much less meat than I was before, simply because it has way more flavor and once or twice a week is more than satisfying.

    I think, in the grand scheme of things, a private teacher has every right to set forth a set of guidelines he or she would like the class to follow. It’s their school, after all. However, we really should just all respect each other as practitioners of life, not just yoga. We are each individual in our thoughts and ideals and no one path is right for everyone, no matter how much we may disagree.

    Off my soapbox and onto a plate of mac & cheese. Yum. 🙂

  • Leslie

    Being an omnivore is something I’ve sometimes felt guilty about as a yoga practitioner, but I asked a very wise and well-known teacher about this, and specifically how non-vegetarianism squares with ahimsa, or the philosophy of nonviolence. He said that doing no harm also involves (or perhaps starts with) not harming oneself: If your physiology and health require animal protein and meat, then by denying yourself those things, you might be harming yourself (and, by extension, I inferred, putting that energy out into the world).

    Personally, I grew up eating meat and I can’t imagine not eating it. I have to watch my carb and sugar intake as it is, so eliminating a whole food group would leave me with even fewer options and perhaps drive me to poor choices. And I can’t stand hypocritical vegetarians, those who swear off eating anything with a face but stuff their own faces with crap like potato chips, pizza and ice cream on a regular basis. So it’s ok to spare animals from harm but not yourself? Duh.

  • kia

    This is the million dollar question me and my cohort coming out of teacher training wrestled with, I lead an online group and this topic has come up, and when I delve into the Niyama of Saucha there it is again.

    I was a veg for 10 years and have found myself going back there. I suppose currently I am a flexitarian since I have not 100% committed myself to a lacto-ovo existence. It isn’t necessarily for purity. My main reason is consciously spending my money where I want my values to be. I have issues with the meat industry with how they treat workers and animals. I also think my body smells better when I am not chomping down on mammals, birds, or fish. If I only notice an odor change then I am sure there are many more things happening on a smaller scale.

    I do think the acceptability of meat-eating and being a yogi is a westernized trait. However we are in the west so I don’t look down on others who do it, it is just a choice I don’t jive well with and currently and working with.

  • I am about 99% veg by choice, because I feel better. I eat fish and I OCCASIONALLY eat chicken breast or turkey (actually rarely.) And I totally get it about ahimsa, about not eating animals. Frankly, the way animals are butchered in this country, I do not want to take in that energy.

    But ahimsa starts with us, and if someone’s diet is harming them in some way, that’s not ahimsa. That is violence towards yourself. To strictly follow ANY doctrine or philosophy on blind faith without questioning it, is dogmatic, something that yoga is supposed to cure us from, i.e., being dogmatic.

    Besides, the Dalai Lama eats meat and I certainly consider him a yogi! I’ve never read anything about how Sharon Gannon and David Life feel about His Holiness being a meat-eater. Does their holier-than-thou veggie attitude extend to His Holiness? Does that make him a bad person because he eats meat? Does that make him not a “true yogi? Give me a break!

    And I got news for ya: I know more than a few Hindus in India WHO EAT BEEF! SHHHHHH…..don’t tell anyone! The very thought of that might make some westernized “real” yogis pass out into their wheatgrass smoothies…..

  • Personally, I find it impossible to eat meat after learning about how animals are treated in the meat industry. I also don’t crave meat, and feel great on a veggie diet. That said, I also believe that some people really do need meat in their diet to feel good and be healthy. Listen to your body – it doesn’t lie. But know what you are saying “yes” to when you spend your money.

  • I left a comment on the Huffington Post piece. I *used* to be veggie and still eat more veggie than meat. But it was actually my guru who convinced me to eat meat again after almost 20 years as a veggie! Something about non-duality, and perceiving no difference/showing no preference, and demonstrating a flexible mind.
    The *should’s* in any religion are just someone’s rules, not fact.

  • Jenny

    I’m vegan and in my case, it happened because of yoga. My mom, for most of my life, has been an on-again, off-again vegetarian. Many, many times as a young omnivore, I tried to switch to the vegetarian side but it just never stuck. Then, about a year ago, I started practicing yoga on a regular basis. My eating changed a great deal. I was absolutely more mindful about what I put in my body. (In the beginning, I even cut out alcoholic beverages completely.) About 6 months in, I had an a-ha moment and I realized that I was ready to switch to vegetarian and also that it would finally be a permanent change. Even when I made the switch I knew in the back of my mind that veganism was what I was really aiming for. It was a daunting task for me though, so it took another 3 months before I was able to make that jump. However, I finally did and am so happy with the state of my health and mind because of it.

    I credit yoga for all of this because my yogic journey has overwhelmingly been one of discovering compassion. First, for myself and then for other humans, and then for non-humans. Compassion is what I was lacking in my life and it is what yoga has brought to the forefront of my consciousness.

    I never changed the way I was with an effort. In other words, I never read the Yamas and Niyamas and said to myself, “Ah, yes, this text says A and B so I must do precisely what this text says.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with it if that’s the way others make decisions though.) The changes I went through came naturally. As in, I woke up and just knew it felt like the right thing to do.

    I believe that as the times have changed, so has yoga. Particularly in the west, eating meat is such a tradition in our culture, that yoga just had to get in where it fit in. (And, as it were, yoga is much more flexible than people are…) That means that meat-eating yogis and yoginis abound. While I certainly have my issues with this and I do feel as though it goes against some core yogic values, I also recognize that this is just the world we live in. It doesn’t make anyone less authentic in their yoga practice, or less committed, or mean or what have you.

    If the ancient yogis wanted meat, they weren’t going to the grocery and finding it already cleaned and neatly packaged. They’d killing it themselves. If modern yogis and yoginis had to do the same to get the meat and other animal products they love so much, I’m pretty certain vegetarian/vegan lifestyles and yoga would go hand in hand a bit more than they do now.

  • How about this:

    If you have the balls to kill it, then go ahead and eat it.


  • Carrie

    I think that somewhere along the path to samadhi a vegetarian/vegan diet is a necessity. Maybe not in this lifetime, but at some point the attachment to flesh products must be considered and abandoned. In the Yoga Sutra Patanjali tells us that there are many paths to samadhi, , but I believe that the yamas and niyamas are a natural part of any path a yogi would take to enlightenment.

    It just makes sense that in order to see your Divine Light and the Divine Light of others that the yamas and niyamas should be observed. You can relate every situation back to the yamas and niyamas.

    I see that others on here have commented about ahimsa starting with yourself, and in some regard I agree, but remember that ahimsa is a yama, and the yamas are moral restraints, having to do with how we treat others. It is impossible to practice or teach ahimsa fully, while still eating the flesh and secretions of animals. Even if you were to kill the animal yoursel, this is NOT humane or less harmful/violent. Animals are here for their own purposes, they possess the same Divine Light that each one of us possess.

    It’s also important to remember that prana is carried in our food. We take in the energy of the food we eat. I prefer not to take the fear and violence that these animals have experienced into my body. It seems entirely counterproductive, and to me does not seem like the kind of energy that you would want to bring into the vessel that is carrying your Divinity.

    Eating flesh foods also seems counter to the practice of saucha. Part of the practice of saucha is filling your body with sattvic food. Flesh foods detract from health and purity (IMO, rotting flesh hanging around in your intestines is not pure).

    So, I pass no judgement on flesh eating yogis. I understand that we are all at different places on our path. Realize that I also do not think this path is linear, I don’t think I’m any further along than a flesh eater, just at a different place. For instance, I found some previous comments offensive, and I’m asking mysel why. Why do I care? There are issues I still need to work on, it’s all part of the practice. Afterall, we call yoga practice practice for a reason…..because none of us are perfect!

  • Carrie, if you really believe that ‘flesh eating yogis’ are at ‘different places on our path’ than you because of the food you eat, then perhaps you are the one with the attachment to certain ideas and ways of living?

    There’s no higher or lower path, one is not better than the other. That you suggest every yogi *has* to be vegetarian ‘eventually’ suggests that you are in fact judging people based on what they eat.

    The yamas and niyamas *do not* specify non-meat eating. Just ahimsa. The interpretation of ahimsa, along with everything else is how we human beings get ourselves involved in fighting wars.

  • Carrie

    I think you must have misread my comment because I expressed very clearly that I don’t think that I am at a higher point on the path. As a matter of fact I said that I don’t think the path is linear.

    Anyway, it’s not something I wish to waste my time arguing about. I’m sorry you feel offended, and I’ll leave it at that.

  • I’m not offended, just pointing out the inconsistencies in what you wrote. Not only is the path (and how do we define that in a way we all agree on, anyway?) not linear, there’s also no higher and lower ‘points’. If something is not linear, then how can it have points?
    And to be clear, what I’m saying is that vegetarianism does not equal enlightenment. I’m sure the Dalai Lama would agree.
    What people have done is place certain values on what’s ‘good’ or ‘not good’. That doesn’t make it right, and as I mentioned earlier, there are yogis who very much disagree with that idea.

  • Jenny


    I think you made your point very clear and did so quite eloquently. In fact, you said precisely what I wanted to say in my first comment. Thank you for that. Your comment is appreciated!


  • AshD

    I am a Yoga teacher and I do eat meat. I tried being a veggie for about a year and a half. Didn’t work out so well. Seems that my body thinks that it has to have meat. I always ate fish so that was one thing that i haven’t given up.

    Even when i didn’t eat meat tho I would crave a steak at least once a month. I know now I just have to eat what makes my body happy. Whether it be meat or vegetable.

    I do think that mindful eating is a big part. During my YTT we went over a ‘eating mediation’. This helped my swami to loose over 100 lbs. It makes you mindful of what you eat, how it got there, and every bite you chew how it tastes feels and smells as you eat it.

    I think that this should be the awareness that people are about not so much about the slaughter or what not just every step the meal made to get to your body.


  • Yoga is a practice of observation/modification/observation. The process of changing ones eating (and consumption in general) tends to be more long-lasting when it happens slowly over time. Time gives change an opportunity to become your own. Although I am vegetarian, I advise my students to be themselves; be willing to explore and change their eating habits slowly and then observe. Satya/Ahimsa (truth/non-harm) must constantly be balanced. If we were renunciate yogis then a vegetarian diet would be required. But as yogis IN the world, consciousness and balance is required.

  • Affebtegacten

    What’s up, is there anybody else here?
    If it’s not just all bots here, let me know. I’m looking to network
    Oh, and yes I’m a real person LOL.


  • emmysydney

    I’m a meat eating yogi, and only recently had the courage to admit that!

    I suffered from an eating disorder for 6 years, and cutting out meat used to = cutting out calories for me. As part of y recovery I had to learn to accept nutrition back into my life, to feel that it is ok to give my body what it needs.

    Yoga really helped me get through the tough times. In fact, the final breakthrough moment for me that opened the door to recovery occured on my mat. I am eternally grateful to my practice for that. So for me, it saddens me that some in our community pressure others to give up meat, without questioning why they might have chosen to eat it. Surely you can give your fellow yogis the benefit of the doubt – they have probably heard about ahisima, they understand the principles of non-violence, so surely they have made their choice for reasons they don’t feel the need to broadcast?

    Anyway, I am going to keep eating meat, and keep practicing yoga. For me personally, growing as a person and learning to love myself means these two go hand in hand for now. I think everyone should be free to make this decision for themselves.


  • Just wanted to say hello all. This is my first post.

    I expect to learn some good stuff here.

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