Dear Yogi Marlon,
If I want to pursue yoga as my spiritual path, do I have to be vegetarian? I really like eating meat. Are most yogis vegetarian?
A. Dear Melissa,
People can be very quite polarized on that issue. Let me clarify a few basic concepts and schools of thought.
When beginning a spiritual practice, I believe it really helps to detoxify the body first. Toxins are held not only in the physical tissue of the body, but in our more mental and emotional subtle bodies, in the form of samskaras. Because meat is much more difficult for the body to process, it slows the detoxification process on both levels. When free of the overly demanding digestive needs of being a carnivore, there is naturally an energetic lightness to the system. This freedom promotes initial access to the upper chakras, or energy centers, where more ethereal, spiritual energy resides.
After a period of overall detoxification, eating some meat may be is beneficial. Simply put, it’s protein content promotes muscle mass. One yogi pal of mine observed that strict vegetarians “do not age as well”. This is the point where many vegetarians would vehemently disagree. They believe that the physical need for protein is over-rated. They may also believe that eating meat is killing. Still others, like myself, believe that all things, animate or inanimate are equal expressions of God. Here, munching on a carrot is no more offensive than chicken soup, provided you truly honor the life given to sustain your own.
One popular nutritionist suggests one’s ideal diet be determined by blood type. Others believe ethnic history, or protein vs. carbohydrate ratio are determinates. My personal experience has leaded me to very carefully tune into how my life changes when I eat meat and when I do not. Generally, if I feel the need to move through the world in a more assertive way, or to be physically more powerful in a masculine way, I will deliberately eat some meat a few times a week. If I am called to go inward deeply, I eat very little meat, and substantially less overall. Most of the time, I include fish in my diet because it is not as dense as mammal or fowl, but has lots of the protein, plus omega 3 oils that help reduce "bad cholesterol". Fat also assists brain functioning.
What concerns me more, is what is in the meat and fowl you may eat. I’ll go out on a limb here, Melissa, by saying that I think it is entirely possible that the aggression eating a lot of meat can promote, is actually absorbed from the hostile (adrenaline producing) and toxic way livestock are raised and processed. There is no doubt, commercial livestock are treated with a strictly yang approach, unless free range and organically grown. I buy free range and organic whenever they are available, no matter what the price differential.
Whether you decide to be vegetarian or not, you need to carefully make your own choice based on your own experience with both lifestyles. Developing that awareness is a spiritual practice itself. Finally, I do not believe that carnivores or herbivores are embraced any differently by the loving grace of God.
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