The Classical View
The Yogic principle of Ahimsa says do no harm to others or to the self. Loosely translated, it means, no killing, no torture and no abuse. It also is the premise for why many Yogis refrain from eating animal products, and prompts the asking of the question: must Yogis go vegan? The results of this controversial question remain mixed, and the only certainty on this issue is uncertainty.
Yogi and yoga teacher Sarah Lowenstein of Denver, CO considers it her obligation. She is an outspoken advocate for animal rights and emphasizes compassion between all beings in her teachings.
“I became a vegetarian (or Pescatarian) at the age of 5 after my grandfather made the connection for me between the cow and the burger I was eating. I have now been a vegan since 2004!”
She says with enthusiasm. That’s ten years without eating any animal products. She says she’s never felt healthier.
But other stories have different conclusions. Yogi Karen Macklen went ten years as a vegetarian when she developed health problems. In a forum article, she reluctantly began to put meat back into her diet at the urging of her yoga teacher, who was also an Ayurvedic doctor. Macklen remains an active Yoga practitioner as well as a yoga topic writer whose work has appeared in journals and publications.
For years, Yoga practitioners around the world have discussed the topic again and again. The results of every deep-dive into the subject were mixed. In 2008, a popular journal article revealed that some of the world most-respected Yoga teachers couldn’t keep to a vegan diet. Among the teachers interviewed was the world-renowned yoga instructor Ana Forrest, who said the vegan diet made her sick again and again. Forrest now says she easts small amounts of meat and makes a point in her Yoga practice to honor the animals she eats.
The vegan question doesn’t seem to get a decisive answer from the yoga community. Ahimsa may prove to be a relative term when it comes to human diets, since Ahimsa also says not to harm ourselves any more than we should harm others.
Realizing ahimsa may hinge on the practice of Brahmacharyra, or moderation. All of the yogis who brought meat back to their diet eat in careful moderation indeed. And if most people ate only small amounts of meat, the abusive acts of factory farming for meat production could be eliminated and organic, naturally-fed meat could become the new norm.
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