The true observance of yoga principles leads practitioners to follow a compassionate, vegan lifestyle. To the casual observer in American studios, yoga appears to be the worship of flexible bodies twisted into interesting poses while wearing tight pants. This is how our cultural appreciates (or to some, appropriates) the practice. Beneath the surface of this Western yogic appearance underlies a spiritual practice that is what yoga actually is, even when the depths are overlooked. The word “yoga” itself stems from the Sanskrit word for union. As laid out in the yoga sutra (the fundamental teachings of yoga to devoted followers) by Patanjali, yoga is a tool that a student uses to recognize the true nature of, and interconnection with, the universe.
In the sutras, yoga is comprised of eight limbs, or steps, 2 of which make a compelling case for veganism as fundamental to attainment in a disciplined yoga practice. The first is yama, which includes universal morality. Within universal morality, practitioners follow the principle of Ahimsa, roughly translated to mean non-harmfulness. In practice, Ahimsa leads us to create a world in which peace and responsibility are practiced by the yogi. A vegan way of life is the clearest demonstration of ahimsa, through protecting non-human animals, reducing world hunger, reducing carbon emissions and animal agriculture practices, and the preservation of personal health.
The second limb of yoga, or Niyama, according to Patanjali, includes having personal observances. Among these observances are tapas, the consideration of how we use our energy, which is directly tied into eating. Tapas allow us to enthusiastically engage with life through the ways in which we give our bodies energy.
- “If there were nobody who ate flesh, then there would be nobody to slay living creatures. The man who slays living creatures kills them for the sake of the person who eats flesh. If flesh were not considered as food, there would then be no destruction of living creatures. It is for the sake of the eater that the destruction of living entities is carried on in the world. Since, O you of great splendor, the period of life is shortened by persons who kill living creatures or cause them to be killed, it is clear that the person who seeks his own good should give up meat altogether. Those dreadful persons who are engaged in the destruction of living beings never find protectors when they are in need. Such persons should always be molested and punished even as beast of prey.”
We must consider the karmic chain that is created by the consumption of animal bodies. Non-cruelty and compassion are spiritually connected to creating a peaceful world. Enslaving and murdering animals is a denial of their legitimacy as beings. The pollution and ecological damage created by animal agriculture is unsustainable on a global level. And on a personal level for a yogi, ingesting the corpses of animal bodies that suffered is spiritually unclean.
In mantra yoga, a Sanskrit phrase is repeated to reinforce its effect on the conscious mind. One popular phrase is “om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.” This is roughly translated to mean, “may all beings everywhere be happy and free of suffering.” No distinction is made being human beings and non-human beings. This phrase is at the core of vegan ethics, and at the core of yogic philosophy.
The founder of Ashtanga Yoga, K. Pattabhi Jois said “The most important part of the yoga practice is eating a vegetarian diet.” If you use yoga to explore yourself and the world around you, you will thrive by adopting vegan ethics. It is burdensome to carry the burden of cognitive and spiritual dissonance by using animal products and adopting yogic philosophy. Only by living what we believe can we fully embody the potential that yoga presents us with.