One of the questions I get from many yoga teachers is this: Should I become a vegetarian when I start teaching yoga? My simple and short answer to this question is NO. However, if you want to know why I have this opinion, then check out my story below.
In this article, you can find some important questions that you can ask to yourself + some tips based on my own experience/knowledge.
This article was written originally around 2015 and I have tried to actualize it without making it lose it’s essence.
A bit of my story and my view as an ex-vegetarian who was keen to give up meat when I did decided to start practicing yoga.
Diet and healthy foods are topics that I consider very important. I believe that our health and the well-being of the environment we live in, are things that concern all humans.
What is the impact of giving up/reducing meat consumption? Is it healthy to live on a vegetarian diet? If you are interested in yoga, healthy foods, animal rights or maintaining a diet that is more likely to sustain our planet, you might have had this question before. In my case, I deal a lot with this kind of questions specially in the past.
Why do I have something to say?
I have personally studied the effects of a vegetarian diet in my own body for about six years, abstaining myself from eating meat. All I can say is that this was my first step into a long personal journey. I try keeping an open mind, always learning and investigating. Indeed, the more I research about healthy and sustainable foods and diet, the less I dare come to any radical conclusions or take anything for granted.
I am not vegetarian any more for years now. What you are about to read is based on my own personal journey as a yoga and fitness practitioner/instructor and an ex-vegetarian cook. I thrived on a vegetarian diet and cooked vegetarian meals for others. My experience is probably quite different from yours and it is not my intention to convince you of what is right or what is wrong for your diet. I think you are the only person who can really figure things out. I do hope however, that you will find some inspiration in this writing. Specially is your main question is: Should I become a vegetarian when I start practicing yoga?
The beginning as a vegetarian practicing yoga.
For me, my journey into vegetarianism began when I came to realize that yoga is related to vegetarian and vegan diets. Some modern yoga teachers claim that in order to achieve the “state of yoga” one must live on a vegetarian or vegan diet. In the “yoga world” it is common to hear that in order to respect the first yama (yamas are the first limb of Patanjali’s 8 limbs), which is called “ahimsa” and translates as “nonviolence,” we yogis and yoginis should aim to practice vegetarianism.
I was not a vegetarian when I decide to start practicing yoga in 2007. I became a vegetarian in 2008, when I began to deepen my research into Ashtanga yoga. Back then I was still eating fish, seafood and meat. I had a non-vegetarian yoga teacher and he was never a proponent of strictness on diet. However, as I was learning about the truths behind industrial farming, I lost my appetite for pork and beef. As my research and experiments about food and diet went on, I asked myself: Should I become vegetarian now that I’ve started deepening into the practice of yoga? My answer then became a yes. So, I decided to quit meat and sometime later, I stopped eating fish too.
I liked so much the idealized theory of human beings not having to destroy the planet for food, not realizing that in practice, the reality was very complex. Meat, dairy and fish industries have a huge negative impact on the environment but I wasn’t so aware that the agriculture industry had the biggest ecological impact in our planet since the beginning of the “agricultural revolution” which started about 12.000 years ago . . . My vegetarian friend…I know this fact was very hard to digest.
Changing things around…Intuitive eating shows up!
Towards the end of 2014, for some different reasons, I started including fish and seafood in my diet again. I had a feeling that something was missing from my life but I couldn’t tell what it was. I had felt very healthy for the whole time I was eating vegetarian but at some point, I noticed it was very difficult for me to gain body mass and my immune system was often weak and compromised. My feelings about being vegetarian where starting to change now from when I did start practicing yoga.
Whatever was working at so many levels for a long time, didn’t work any longer. One morning, during a yoga class I was teaching, I was fantasizing about smoked salmon while I had my students in shavasana (yes, I know this sounds hilarious!). I felt a strong need to eating animal protein again and I went for it. My smoked salmon with cream cheese (I had it after class) tasted and felt awesome. I was very interested to see the physical effects of including fish to my diet again.
I was questioning many things, including some “unquestionable truths” and I was willing to pay attention to my own body needs. My previous inquiry…»Should I become a vegetarian when I start or continue to practicing yoga?» was starting to shift more and more…
Food as medicine.
When I moved to Asia around the beginning of 2015, I remember I was suffering from a “bad cold” and I felt like I wanted to have something that could warm me up inside-out. I know there was something emotional about leaving my country and being away from my family and I believe that this could have triggered and weaken my immune system. I knew about one place that served home-made chicken soup close to my home.
The thought of having a chicken soup felt somehow emotionally attractive as this is the food my mum would cook for me as a kid when I was sick. I was feeling this call from my gut and so I did it. My first chicken soup and chicken breast after six years refraining from it tasted great and I loved it. Every cell in my body loved it so much. However, I remember feeling guilty afterwards.
I “knew” eating meat wasn’t sustainable for the planet and as a yoga teacher, I thought I was being “politically incorrect”. However, my will to see things from a more open-minded perspective was more valuable. I was also looking for connecting more with my own body intelligence and my gut intuition…so I kept eating meat.
Facts and research about vegetarian diets.
Later on, in my research, I came across the works of Weston A. Price, Author of Nutrition and physical degeneration, Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, and Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth. I found so much valuable and thought-provoking information in their writings. These books were very eye-opening for me.
For instances, when I used to eat only vegetarian foods I felt good about choosing tofu instead of local meat. I “knew” tofu had less impact in the environment than meat. I thought that by eating tofu I was “saving” the planet and avoiding to contribute to the suffering and slaughter of any animals. Then, I realized that the tofu I was consuming in Europe, actually came a deforested jungle in Asia.
Did I know that deforestation causes suffering and extinction of many plants and animals? Yes I did, but it was an uncomfortable truth. Did I know that the soya for my tofu had to be shipped from Asia relying on petrol? Yes I did, but I wasn’t sure about how big that impact was and I had to eat food anyways.
In the end, by eating my “cruelty free” tofu, I also was unconsciously contributing to the destruction of the planet. I was doing so even more than my neighbor, who was eating a locally sourced meat product. And that was just for one of the ingredients on my plate!
Some common arguments.
It is very common to hear the argument that «if every human had a vegetarian/vegan diet, that would be enough to save the planet from starvation». One of the points supporting that statement is that in order to “produce” 1 kilogram of meat, many kilograms of corn or soya are necessary. Some said that those grains could feed hungry people instead and this is in only partially true. This argument doesn’t make any sense if we consider that the natural food for cows is fresh grass.
For this reason, the soya-corn/meat equation is not a fair and logical one. In the past, cows were eating grass and by doing so, they contributed creating a fertile soil. Today, due to the industrial farming models, we are feeding cows with grains and soya, and that is not healthy for the cows, for the milk/meat consumers and for the planet. Who should we blame here? Meat eaters or big food industries, corporations and politicians? I find sometimes that the vegetarian, vegan, meat-eater argument is bringing so much misinformation, hatred and separation amongst people.
Daily choices matter.
Most of us are aware of how our daily choices concerning diet can have a big impact on our health, energy levels and even the world around us. It seems that the food industry doesn’t concern much with the quality or sustainability of the food sources, so much as it does about market and sales.
In developed countries, meat consumption has made large scale increases in the last 30-50 years, which drives the demand for meat up and keeps it high. Industrialized meat production is high in ecological cost. we know that the conditions in which livestock is raised and kept are deplorable. Concerning fish or seafood there are also huge demands and we know that the fish industry is devastating the oceans.
The current agricultural model has a huge impact in the planet and if we all humans were to live on a vegetarian diet, there wouldn’t be a sustainable way to feed all of us. Here the big question arises …What do we eat then?
What I have learned.
I personally believe that it is not important whether you are vegetarian or not, whether you practice yoga or not. However it is important to be aware of facts and therefore base your own decisions on your goals for your own health and the health of your family.
As I said before, you are the only person who can really notice what feels right or wrong in your body. It can be tricky sometimes. When I became aware of what was involved in producing my food, it was hard not to overthink. In my journey, I learnt to be more open and flexible, avoiding getting too obsessed or becoming too strict.
I found that I am healthier and stronger since I started eating animal products again. It is getting trendy to eat vegan/vegetarian and they aren’t necessarily always healthier options. The idea that vegetarian/vegan is healthier can be misleading. As an ex-vegetarian cook, I saw so many people living on a vegan diet with food allergies/ intolerances.
It is true that food has less nutritional value nowadays than it used to have. Hence, I do believe we should try to eat as healthy as possible, nourishing our immune system with variety so that we will be protected from allergies, etc. If animal products (from good/local sources) can help, then why not to use them? I learned to fuel my body mostly with healthy/unprocessed foods and to ask myself some questions before, during and after my meal.
These are some questions that can be helpful when you change your diet (they would have been very helpful for me before becoming vegetarian, when I did start practicing yoga).
As an ex-vegetarian, who had some troubles with my diet when I did decided to start practicing yoga, I invite you to ask yourself the following questions. Please do it before, during and after your meal. Ask yourself:
How do I feel when I see/smell my food?
Does my food taste good?
Do I feel light and balanced after a meal?
Am I feeling emotionally grounded?
Do I have a steady energy level during the day?
How is my digestion?
Do I evacuate two or three times a day?
Does my stool have a healthy appearance?
What about my sleep? Is it good?
Is my body look healthy and strong?
I think it is important to be mindful of your choices and to respect other people’s choices about diet. If we are searching for health and happiness then taking any radical or idealistic position doesn’t help.
I believe we should appreciate and honor whatever we eat as that can be a way to connect to and even transform our food on an energetic level. We know that in a capitalist society choices are important. We shouldn’t underestimate our power as consumers because the reality is that we will give our “vote” wherever we invest our money.
Future generations have the right to enjoy healthy foods too. I believe there is nothing wrong with having a good quality meat in our diets. Perhaps we should look at the source and choose a sustainable. As consumers, we are taking part in all this. All of us are. The food industry is something to be wary of. They have been telling us what is best to eat for the last 50 years, but obviously they have advised us very badly as now we have numerous health issues related to food.
Some tips that can be useful (and that I wish someone told me when I did start practicing yoga). Whether you are vegetarian or not, these can be helpful.
Whether you decided to become a vegetarian or not, I would ask you do consider these tips. They were useful at any point in life, including when you decide to start practicing yoga. For me, when it comes about choosing what to eat, in general I like to look for the following qualities:
Ask yourself, what grows where I live? Consuming local products and visiting farmers markets, we can contribute to the economy of country we live in. We can empower small businesses and cooperatives that generally work in a more sustainable way. We also help save energy as we are reducing the consumption of items that come from the other side of the world.
Grow/raise your own food:
This is one of the best things you can do for your health and for the health of the planet. It is not always available having a space to grow food but you can always check out local communities. Also, it is possible to grow some vegetables in your garden, no matter how small it is.
Free range and grass feed:
If you can trust the source it makes more sense. Unfortunately, nowadays here is a lot of lies about this and even buying organic products, doesn’t guarantee its real quality. Unfortunately, the “organic” business has also become corrupted.
Identify what you are eating. The closest the food is to its source (nature), the healthier it will be. The less “elaborated” the ingredient is, the higher the nutritional value will be and the less energy spent in producing it. Reducing refined food consumption is important, especially white sugars and flours. They are empty of nutrients and the body needs calcium (from our bones) in order to digest them.
Add them to your diet. Fermented foods are full of probiotics that makes our immune system stronger! Try adding sauerkraut, kombucha, kimichi, miso paste, yogurt, keffir, pickles, just to name a few.
These are what nature provides for that time of the year, and they tend to be cheaper too!
Cooking at home:
This is a great idea! Cooking your own food is firstly a healthy way to be creative. Secondly, it is also the ultimate act of freedom. You are choosing and deciding what you and your loved ones will be fueling your bodies with. Learn to cook traditional foods. Think about your grandparents food. What did they eat? Their food was tested over generations!
Trust your gut:
She knows what is good or bad for you. One person’s medicine can be another person’s poison! Try not to get too strict or extreme. Sometimes it is fun and healthy to have a “not so healthy meal” in good company. Who doesn’t love to have pizza, chocolate or ice-cream sometimes? Find your middle way, keep an open mind and always enjoy your meal!
Avoid over-eating or wasting your food:
For your health and the health of the planet.
I hope this was helpful for you, if your question was: Should I become a vegetarian when I start practicing yoga?
Above all, enjoy your food!