Am I a bad yogi because I want to eat steak?

Last week I received a comment from a reader prompted by the article they’d been reading, Will yoga give me a great body?

I have recently started yoga, been almost a month & I love it. I have been doing “The Paleo Diet” – Lean Meats, Fruits, Vegs, No breads or Grains, Beans etc. I am eating more of what a cave man would/could eat and with that & yoga I am losing weight.

I have to be honest with you, I kinda feel bad. I feel that I can’t love yoga & be a yogi if I eat meat, which I want to do.

Do you eat meat? Are you vegan?

Osho's depiction of "Zorba the Buddha"

Osho's depiction of "Zorba the Buddha"

No, I’m no vegan. And yes, I do eat meat. And I’ve also gone through stages where I’ve felt conflicted about what it means to be a yogi, what I feel like I should be eating, or behaving like, and what feels right to me.

From my perspective, the whole point of yoga is to connect us with our internal guidance – call it Prana if you will, or intuition, or the Higher Self, or even God. It’s not about listening to external authorities on what is right for you. So I can’t tell anyone what they should do, because I don’t know. All I can do it share my experience of how I figured out what I need to do.

In becoming aware of our internal guidance, we are also becoming conscious. Completely conscious. This means we notice our thoughts, we notice our feelings, we notice physical sensations in the body, we notice energetic sensations in the body. Yet in noticing what is, we also step into a place where we realise we have a choice as to how we are going to respond or react to that thought, that feeling, that sensation. We step into our divinity as conscious creators. In this way, we may be conscious of the anger we feel, but no longer does it mean we scream at our kids or our partner in reaction. Instead we watch the anger, breathing into it, allowing it to surface and release.

Stepping into consciousness is a moment by moment practice. Sometimes we forget, and we get sucked back down into the dream – into simply reacting to situations and feelings and thoughts according to our “programming”. And then we’ll maybe go to a yoga class, or do our home practice, or just take some time out to breath and we come back into conscious presence and notice that we were living reactively.

These two tools – knowing one’s internal guidance and being conscious in the moment – are all one needs to navigate through life. Then each moment becomes obvious. Choices are made based on what feels right in that moment to create the results we want to generate. What is “wanted” or “not wanted” becomes irrelevant. In fact, you could almost call it the choiceless choice. Becoming conscious means we choose to create our lives, yet the choice is so obvious that it’s almost not a choice at all but the only course of action.

Let’s say you’ve connected to your internal guidance – you can feel what you need to do in each moment. You’re starting to experience more and more moments of consciousness where you make choices according to what you want to create, rather than choices based reactively on past programming. You’re practicing yoga and you want to eat vegan, yet every time you go out to dinner all you feel like eating is steak.

What to do, what to do?

First, examine your thoughts and beliefs around this choice. Why do you “want” to eat vegan? Where does this desire come from? Is it because you think you “should”? Is it because you want to save the planet? Is it because it’s the “right” thing to do? Is it because that’s what yogis do? Is is because eating vegan makes your body and mind feel incredible?

Second, know that there is no right answer. There are only choices that generate results. If you eat the steak, what is the result for you? If you eat the vegetarian option, what is the result for you? Which option provides balance for you and makes you feel more alive? If, like me, you have a tendency to become ungrounded and have too much Vatta, eating steak might be right to balance you out in that moment.

Make your choice according to what feels right – not according to what you think you should do. Thinking is over rated :).

And once you’ve made your choice, be conscious as you eat. Be conscious after you eat. Collect data about the choice so that next time, you will also do what feels right – knowing that the choice may be completely different because the next moment is completely different. Steak might be the right choice today, but you might never ever feel like another steak. There are no hard and fast rules.

Plus, let’s say you really, really, really enjoy coffee. But you think you shouldn’t drink it because it’s bad. So you don’t. You deny yourself. Yet in denying yourself coffee, you find yourself thinking about it every day. You wistfully watch others drink it. You don’t even go into cafes because you can’t bear smelling something you can’t have.

Well you know what?

You don’t have to deny yourself coffee because you think it’s bad for you. Life is short. We’re here to experience material existence, and that includes coffee. So if you love it, drink it. Drink it consciously. Observe it’s affects on your body. Know the difference between savouring one coffee a day and compulsively knocking back six to give you energy to get through your day. You will find a balance point where your enjoyment of coffee is over-ridden by the effects it has on your body and mind and so you stop drinking it. Or you may decide that you are fine with those effects and you enjoy it fully conscious of what happens when you drink it.

This concept of being completely conscious of our actions, and savouring what we choose to do extends to every thing. Once upon a time, tobacco was smoked in a ceremonial pipe passed from person to person to share in a particular experience. There was a sacredness within the experience. Now as a yogi, there are moments where I may – gasp – share a cigarette with a friend. Why? Because the moment calls for it. Because I do it consciously. Because I marvel at the effect of the cigarette on my body. Because it is a choice. Because I choose to enjoy that experience in that moment with full awareness of what it entails.

And then I won’t have a cigarette for months, or even years.

Osho says:

Half of humanity has been accepting the inner world but denying the outer world. The other half of humanity has been accepting the material world and denying the inner world. Both are half, and no man who is half can be contented. You have to be whole: rich in the body, rich in science; rich in meditation, rich in consciousness. Only a whole person is a holy person, according to me.

The very picture of a whole man, is a “Zorba the Buddha” who can drink wine, dance on the beach and sing in the rain, and at the same time enjoy the depths of understanding and wisdom that belong to the sage.

The sage understands that nothing is bad and nothing is good, it is only thinking that makes it so. The sage understands that every action has results, and takes full responsibility for the results of his actions. The sage understands that work works for her may or may not work for anyone else, and doesn’t proscribe a set way to live.

So if you’re agonising over the right way to eat, drink, and behave as a yogi… if you feel guilty about the choices you’re making… let it all go. Know that there are no right and wrong choices. Know that there are only choice that generate results. Be honest and conscious about what you want to create in your life. Be honest and conscious about what the results of your choices are. Then choose with awareness. Choose with joy. And enjoy whatever it is that you choose to do.

In making these choices, be aware if you are lying to yourself. Be aware if you are denying the truth in order to feed a craving, or an addiction. Only you know what your inner truth is telling you. And you do know, you can feel it within. It is impossible to lie to yourself and feel good about what it is you’re doing – and you want to feel good right? You want to enjoy every moment right?

If you do feel guilty about the choices you are making, examine closely the belief that is generating the guilt. Where does the belief come from? Is it true? Does it still serve you?

For example, if you believe that “yogis don’t eat meat”, and you know yoga is a calling for you, you’ll feel guilty when you eat meat. The solution is not to stop eating meat – necessarily. The solution is to get rid of the belief “yogis don’t eat meat”. Then whether you eat meat or don’t eat meat is a conscious choice in the moment based on what is right for you.

And that’s the one way to live.

Simple.

Conscious.

Choices.

In every moment.

This article has been included in the Bodybuilding and Fitness blog’s Weight Loss Carnival.

It’s also been included in Anmol Mehta’s Huge Carnival of Yoga, Meditation and Zen.

And in the 40th Weight Management and Fitness Forum.

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Comments

  1. Tash says

    I am vegetarian, but it has nothing to do with me doing yoga.( I became vegetarian long before I started doing yoga.) I’m vegetarian because it’s what I believe is the right thing to do. I think people should not become vegetarian when they only do it to be fashionable or because they believe that’s what they have to do in order to be a yogi.
    Good article!
    Peace
    Tash

  2. Kara-Leah Grant says

    Hey Tash,

    Thanks for the feedback – always great to hear other people’s experiences and what works for them.

    Blessings,
    KL

  3. taisuke says

    another great article, kara-leah!

    in thinking about vegetarianism and yoga, its also worth mentioning the concept of ahimsa (non-violence), which is one of the five yamas (restraints) that are at the core of yogic philosophy. while ahimsa does not imply vegetarianism per se, when you take into account the larger consequences of eating animals (karmic or otherwise), its easy to see why a lot of yogis gravitate toward a meat-free diet.

    there is a book called “yoga and vegetarianism” by shannon gannon that has been recommended to me by a couple of people. i haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but apparently she discusses the topic in considerable depth. here’s a blurb about it: http://www.charleston.net/news/2009/feb/16/yh_cover71734/
    :)

  4. Kara-Leah Grant says

    oh… I hadn’t even considered ahimsa. Great point!

    And yes, I totally get why yogis in general tend toward vegetarianism. I think that’s probably worthy of an article in it’s own right, only it would have to be written by a vegetarian yogi.

    Great link too to a very thought provoking article. Enjoyed reading it.

    Smiles,
    KL

  5. David Scott Lynn says

    HI! … First time to this site!

    For me, the question is, do you want to be healthy, or do you want to follow someone else’s rules about what THEY believe? Sometimes the two correlate, often they do not.

    And much of the so-called spiritual justifications for being vegetarian are really politically driven anyway. With too many people and not much food, the political classes in ancient India figured that if they could keep people from killing the cows, at least they would have the cow’s milk on a more regular and on-going basis. But if they ate meat, the cows would soon all be gone. Therefore the mythical/religious stories about Arjuna, while hanging out as a rabbit, got eaten by a cow — so don’t eat any cows just in case it’s Arjuna in there! That kept most of the peasants from killing all the cows for food. (That was told to me by a professor from India whom Swami Rama had at the Himalayan Institute when it was still in Illinois, back in the mid-seventies.)

    We can argue that might have been a good thing for the people in general, but as the Bible said, Jesus spoke in parables because the peasants could not understand the more complicated Truths. Presumably, we Later-Day-Peasants can now handle the Truths — I hope!

    I was a vegetarian for a little over 20 years. The health science aspects sounded really good to me. (The so-called yogic spiritual reasoning never impressed me much at all. And as Joel Kramer, the man Yoga Journal calls the Father of American Yoga, says: killing a carrot or a cow is still killing.) I was even a semi-professional macrobiotic cook for some of my yoga/bodywork private clients. It was great for a few years until I got the 2nd worse case of hypoglycemia my doctor ever saw, and he was the president of the largest association of alternative/nutritional medical/osteopathic physicians in the United States. And it was HORRIBLE! Several hours a day I was barely functional. The rest of the time I was only exhausted. The doctors at the chiropractic college in Lombard, Illinois wanted to put me in the hospital for burnout!

    With all the brown rice, whole grain breads, fruits, veggies like carrots, potatoes and beets — I was overloaded with sugar, even though I VERY seldom used sugar per se. I did eat eggs, lots of nuts and seeds, etc., but no fish or meat of any kind. (I also loved brown rice Amazake!)

    So my doctor put me on a low-carb diet that helped a lot, but I was not eating meat or fish, and was still VERY tired ALL the time. Then I discovered that many nutritional and oriental doctors were pulling back away from vegetarianism, realizing that a lot of their patients were not doing well with it — AT ALL. Then I read Eat Right 4 Your Type, discovered that blood type *O* — that’s ME — was for the most part designed to be a carnivore, and within weeks of starting to eat very lean filet mignon, I had a MAJOR turn around in my energy levels, as well as many other health issues. (I had for almost a year been eating salmon a few times a week but though that was helpful, it did not help my energy levels at all.) So at 54, I now feel WAY better than I did when I was 30.

    Red wine (the reservatol, I bet) cleared up a lot of other stuff, too. So I eat as close to a natural foods diet as possible with salmon and been, free-range, grass-fed when I can get it. And yes, I drink a couple of cups of coffee every day, organic when I can get it.

    I recommend that people check out Wise Traditons & westonaprice.org website, mercola.com, and dadamo.com to get the Other Side of the Story.

    Take Care,
    David Scott Lynn

  6. Kara-Leah Grant says

    Hey David,

    Welcome!

    And thank you for a fascinating story. It’s great to hear a full perspective like that, and I’m sure many of my readers will be able to relate to your story.

    Sometimes what we think is the “right” thing to do may not work for us.

    Great point too about “killing” a cow or “killing” a carrot. I wonder if killing to eat and violence are two different things anyway. After all, many animals eat other animals and I don’t know if you’d call them violent necessarily.

    If all is One, and consciousness survives beyond material death, then eating animals is simply the transformation of material and the spirit lives on.

    Blessings,
    KL

  7. Gina says

    Love it! Love it! Love it!

    I’m so much about this… making choices from a place of consciousness, not from a story about what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do. (To me, any statement that contains a ‘should’, real or implied should be immediately questioned! Oops! Now I just did it!)

    Reminds me of the late Masanobu Fukuoka… who believed that one’s eating habits should come full circle… past the judgments made on ethics, sentimentality, health, etc… back to eating from pure joy. To be so aware of what you put into your mouth that you will always choose exactly what’s appropriate, and love every bite. How much healthier or holy could you get?

  8. Kara-Leah Grant says

    Hey Gina,

    You sum it up beautifully – eating from a place of pure joy. Love that!

    Thanks for stopping by :)
    KL

  9. Gehenna says

    I’m a vegetarian cause I just plain don’t like the taste or texture of meat, no moral or health reasons. I buy meat for my boyfriend and cook it for him too, and then the morality kicks in and I buy free range/organic products. I do believe we should respect our food because it goes into our bodies, and for me that means giving the animal a good life.
    Otherwise I find no spirtual value in doing things because we feel guilted into it or whatever.
    If you like and enjoy junk food, blue steak or fried cheese then eat and enjoy.
    If the desire for slimness, or healthiness outweighs the pleasure you get from food, well then diet and deny.
    Ultimately Id say we all have our own path; and that is the one which makes us happiest.. While one yogi might be a dyed-in-the-wool raw foodist and thrive for it, another might be at their most joyful right after the lotus position and a big dripping meat pie :D

  10. Kara-Leah Grant says

    Hey Gehenna,

    Great to hear your perspective.

    Meat pies have always been big in New Zealand… ;)

    Blessings,
    KL

  11. em says

    firstly, KL, i admire your honesty, so i feel i must also be honest, myself….i do not believe it is “right” to eat dead animal flesh. “killing” a carrot and “killing” a cow are HARDLY comparable, and people who would like to argue this point are doing so only to pacify their inner guilty conscious by an extreme form of rationalization. quite obviously, carrots don’t rome the earth with brains and bones and blood and flesh and a CNS.

    how can one NOT consider ahimsa as a self-proclaimed yogi? i’m sorry to be blunt, and again, i really respect your honesty, but please at least recognize the immoral needlessness that the consumption of flesh carries with it. i think there IS absolutely a reason that these people might feel “guilt” for eating meat. when the conscious is heavy and knows that something ‘aint right, there are feelings of guilt. they feel bad because they are wrong for eating meat, and they DO know it on some level in their being. don’t be afraid of guilt!!! recognize it as such, identify the source, and then change your actions!! tweak your personal choices until the guilt dissipates! honestly, i believe that if you were as in touch with nature and with the universe as you claim; if you truly were “aware” then you would not eat meat. as far as the “sage says” there isn’t a right or wrong, i am a very grey area thinker on morality, but if there is one thing i feel strongly in my gut, it’s that torture and murder is just sick and wrong.

    on animals eating other animals: this is true, they do. and those wild animals in nature who eat other animals to survive also do not factory farm each other, grocery shop for their animal-food and then take it home to cook it, have not developed a currency system, an automobile, and don’t wear clothes. it’s called evolution.

    and as far as “feeling weak” from not eating meat? (ok, i realize that the poster who claimed this also quoted the Bible; demonstrating right there how to draw facts from odd sources), but sorry, but there is NO dietary supplement you need to take as a healthy veggie with a well-rounded diet. being a vegetarian does NOT make you weak! ok, veganism is different entirely, but here we are speaking of vegetarianism, right? please don’t feed myths that our bodies need to gnaw on dead animal flesh to live healthfully! in fact, the exact opposite is the truth! and it is a complete false statement to say that doctors are veering away from vegetarianism!!!! more docs than ever in history condone vegetarianism globally!

    lastly…to the steak-eating yogi: really? trying to eat like a caveman? would you also say you try and think like a caveman? stop trying to push your guilt away. embrace it, educate yourself on your own guilt, and then let yourself perpetuate the evolution of a better humankind by becoming a veggie, and yes, a better yogi.

  12. Tash says

    I agree with em!

    Gandhi once said “To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.” And i totally agree with that!

    It’s not just the meat itself I don’t like, It’s the horrible conditions, the cruelty and the murdering of animals. Some of these animals have less rights then muderers and criminals in jail. Take Kfc for example:
    “KFC suppliers cram birds into huge waste-filled factories, breed and drug them to grow so large that they can’t even walk, and often break their wings and legs. At slaughter, the birds’ throats are slit and they are dropped into tanks of scalding-hot water—often while they are still conscious. It would be illegal for KFC to abuse dogs, cats, pigs, or cows in these ways.”(kentuckyfriedcruelty.com)

    Peace
    Tash

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Tash,

      It’s not really conducive to a peaceful, loving existence is it? And all in the name of serving up fast food with the greatest profit margin.

      Thanks for stopping by,
      KL

  13. Bruce says

    Before I say anything else, I have to congratulate everyone responsible for the creation of this website!

    I would like to keep my opinion on this subject as simple and generic as possible, though I’m not entirely sure how successful I’ll be, this is a complex subject and I do realise my view point is a little controversial. Please accept that I am being sincere.

    I honestly believe that “before” a specific discussion regarding the pros/cons of being a Vegetarian (on both health and moral issues) is brought to the table (excuse the pun) we have to first examine the “human condition” of moral judgement. I feel it is an artificial system that distorts natural fact.

    Unlike other species on this planet our social and cultural evolution has lead to very specific, and often quite contrasting (depending on what country or village you were brought up in) moral guidelines.

    Taking an example from a previous post, someone stated (with absolute integrity and conviction of belief I might add) that to kill a cow is not comparable to killing a carrot. While most people would see this as an obvious truth, is it really?

    If you take a look at the animal kingdom, it is rationally incontestable that certain animals (such as apex predators like Killer Wales) must eat meat because their biological systems are designed to function that way. Try feeding Killer Wales a vegetarian diet (for example because it appeases a specific moral viewpoint) and watch the entire ocean eco-system collapse because these wales are critical to retaining balance in the oceanic food chain.

    So lets assume humans decided that Wales could be dubbed Yogi’s, but only if they eat Krill (which based on a human moral system, is a lot closer to a Carrot than a big fat juicy Seal). This is obviously unfair, because only some Wales evolved to eat Krill. The others, in order to become Yogi’s, must starve.

    I’m playing devils advocate, because I obviously understand that the vegetarian “rule” is specific to humans, and does not apply to “beasts”. Yet such a rule I find personally insulting to animals (even Carrots) because it implies we have alleviated ourselves above other species on this planet. Does a superior intellect and ability to develop artificial moral codes mean we are no longer creatures of this earth? My personal view is that of “oneness”. We are not separate from, but part of a complete system. Putting aside intangible discussions of the soul (ie. do we have one and if so what happens to it -Enter religion and theology) our bodies return to the earth as dust and nutrients. These nutrients feed the Carrots, the Carrots feed the Rabbits (and I have a pet Rabbit named Bobby) and these Rabbits (except Bobby) feed the Meat-eaters, who then return to the earth and feed the Carrots again.

    If you take a look at the science of the human digestive system, it’s pretty obvious we fall into the classification of omnivore, which is the “opportunist”. We are able to survive on both meat and vegetable, and science (devoid of a moral viewpoint) supports a “balanced” diet of meat and vege. At this point you may be wondering if I care for the suffering of animals. The answer is yes. Very much.

    So who has watched a nature program where a small furry animal is hunted down and killed by a pack of Lions? Most people are rooting for the small fury animal because we identify with the fear and pain it is suffering in those last moments of it’s “life”. Yet at the same time, we could watch baby lion cubs starve to death because the mother has fallen lame and is unable to hunt in order to feed her cubs. Now we feel sadness for the cute little cubs, especially as they get picked off by Vultures. I’m only pointing out the fickle nature of humans. Just because we feel an emotion honestly, does not make the emotion a suitable guideline for an “enlightened” moral decision.

    So my view? Eat small/moderate amounts of meat (I eat Chicken and Fish only) and a balanced selection of fruits; vegetables and grains. Within those basic guidelines, listen to your body, and discover the right diet for you. This could mean removing some of the items listed above, or eating more meat or less -no one can say it’s wrong if it is what makes you the healthiest person you can be (physically and emotionally).

    I will say that we, as a species, do have an obligation to be “humane” and “self-sustaining” in our practice of harvesting the earth, both animal and vegetable.

    Those who feel a moral superiority simply because they don’t eat meat have not thought the issue through properly. Crops require land. Vast amounts of land actually. That land needs to be protected and removed of other animals (ie non human) that might either graze the crops or claim the land for their own use. This is often achieved through poisoning; trapping and shooting trespassing beasts. The massive and wholesale transformation of land into specialised paddocks for human produce has destroyed natural habitats, even leading to the complete extinction of some species.

    The basic point is, regardless of whether you eat meat or not, we are part of a system, and generally speaking, the system is very much out of balance, both in how we farm animals and crops. I honestly believe most people have no real clue or concept of the magnitude of the machine that sustains the billions of people that live on this earth.

    Nature kills animals in order to survive. I have no problem with humans killing animals (in a sustainable way) in order to do the same, because I believe we are a part of nature. What I do have a problem with is the abuse of those animals. ie. how they “live” before we slaughter them. Or how we steal their natural habitat and transform it for our own crops, leaving them an ever decreasing patch of earth with which to sustain their own lives. Even worse, hunting animals for the pure sport of it is shameful behaviour, in my opinion. I will say that the reason people hunt probably has a lot to do with our past, when we hunted because we actually needed to. It’s an evolutionary throwback and when people hunt, they are devolving to their base instinct. It is in all of us, especially males.

    Bottom line is, the earth is vastly over-populated with humans, vegetarian or not, and by share weight of numbers we are all implicated and no one is innocent.

    All we can do is become educated first, before we become outraged by a misguided and simplistic moral compass.

    One last thing, because I’ve always thought it ironic. We fear Sharks and call them “man-killers” yet we kill approx 100 million sharks per year, and about 70 million of them are killed only for their fins.

    • Joanne says

      Hi Bruce, thanks for sharing your thoughts! Taking right back to personal responsibility, and ultimately, our connection to all else within the living system without becoming moralistic really resonates with me. I enjoyed reading what you had to say.
      Blessings,
      Joanne

      • Bruce says

        Thankyou Joanne, it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done. Presenting an argument like that on a forum like this was always going to generate friction and it’s always nice to know someone else is connecting with what you say.

        I wrote this quite some time ago and it was actually an interesting ride re-reading what I had written. I’m nothing if not an independent thinker, though at times I wonder if it does me much good (but perhaps that is beside the point anyway).

        Anyway, in reviewing what I wrote, I pretty much stand by all of it, but there has been a subtle change in the balance. In fact a few months ago I went full veg. The reason why is really just a further extension of my original opinion. I mean, I didn’t do it because of a Yogic scripture. I did it as a direct response to the very contemporary issues of factory farming, and even more importantly, the unsustainable fishing of our oceans. There are two things that came to the surface for me: The mass production of animals (Chicken; Pigs; Cattle; Sheep) and the conditions they live in I feel is simply unacceptable. The best way I can signify that is to no longer support the meat industry by not spending any money on it. With Fish it is even more fundamental. Forget the issue of unnecessary suffering; we are talking about the very extinction of entire species of fish in our oceans, turning it into a barren wasteland almost devoid of life. It’s real, and it’s happening right now. I will never eat fish again (not that I was ever that much of a fan anyway).

        The point is though, it’s not because I think eating meat is bad or wrong for humans, nor do I think it is morally wrong for humans to kill animals for the purposes of their own health, as long as it’s done in balance with the natural world around us. But we have to get real here, there is nothing natural about what humans have been doing to the planet over the last century. Since I find that for me personally I can live a perfectly healthy life on a vegetarian diet the only other option to eat meat would be to source that meat from organic farming practices only. I could do that, but I’m too lazy and it was just easier to roll with being a veg. I do believe some people would find their health potentially compromised on a vegetarian only diet, I think this is heavily dependent on your particular body type and digestive system. I don’t judge others for their choice; for me it’s more a question of why. Along those lines I just know I’ve made the right choice for me.

        • Joanne says

          Hi Bruce,
          Being an independent thinker is not always the easiest choice, but perhaps it is the most authentic, and therefore serves you in the long run! I myself base my food choices on what is happening with my body. It is the end of summer here in British Columbia and I have been doing a lot of hiking, so occasionally if I am unable to get sufficient protein through veg. sources, my body lets me know! Usually it is when I am busy and loose track of balancing my foods. At those times, if I eat some salmon (or very rarely, chicken), instead of beating myself up about it, I practice gratitude. I happen to be very blessed in that I have access to wild salmon caught by native fishermen.
          If you don’t already know of this book, you might find it interesting… The Yoga of Eating: Transcending Diets and Dogma to Nourish the Natural Self, by Eisenstein. When I did my yoga teacher training (through a Kripalu affiliated studio) this book was one of our required readings. It is a couple of years since I read it, so feel cautious about misrepresenting what it says, but suffice to say that it has a large emphasis on eating being a personal choice, and how one might bring a higher level of consciousness to that choice.

          • Bruce says

            Wow, that was awesome Joanne. The book sounds very interesting, I will look into it.
            You know, even within the world of vegetarianism there is a huge range of approaches. As you seem to imply, it needs to be a context sensitive choice based on many factors influencing the individaul making that choice. I guess similar to my approach in teaching, I’m not comfortable telling anyone what they should or should not eat, but rather just wanting them to cultivate their own awakening so they can make the right choice for them
            Namaste!

        • Michelle says

          Interesting posts Bruce, as I am also a vegetarian more for “environmental” reasons than any other. It’s amazing how many “vegetarians” eat fish, but given that i decided not to eat meat because of the cost to the planet, i just couldn’t in good conscience continue to eat fish either!.
          Namaste

  14. Kara-Leah Grant says

    Hey Bruce,

    I love how you take things right back to our most basic assumptions. Great contribution… long contribution!

    And thanks too for the compliment about the website – it’s a great passion of mine, supported by the extended yoga community here in Wellington.

    Blessings,
    KL

  15. Caity says

    All I can say is that anyone who takes Yoga seriously as a spiritual practice not just an exercise routine, needs to look at all the Yogic texts, I’m pretty sure none of them say ahimsa doesn’t matter if you have a craving…and I’m also pretty sure that addicts use the same rationale for their substance of choice…protein is “I”-ness manifested in the body and a craving for protein is a craving for “I”-ness. Try getting it from within rather than from a creature that has the misfortune not to talk and so not to tell us how much suffering we humans inflict for our needs. Justifications are a sure sign that the mind is in control…

  16. Kara-Leah Grant says

    Hey Caity,

    Fantastic points. You bring up some pertinent reminders.

    What is the desire? Where does it come from? How can it best be addressed?

    Is the killing of an animal done in a sacred manner ok? Does an animal killed in such a way suffer? Bearing in mind too that probably none of the meat that we source is killed in a sacred way.

    How can we tell the difference between the intuiting of correct action to balance us in the moment, and the mind’s justification of desiring something in particular because we enjoy it or are attached to it?

    Hmmm… in each moment, connecting to the breath, building awareness, releasing all judgment.

    Blessings and joy,
    Kara-Leah

  17. Bruce says

    All Living things die. A “natural” death, more often than not, will involve pain and suffering. That long moment between life and death, will also offer pain, but it will also offer joy. It is the way of life, and it is a price I gladly pay. It is interesting to think that in 150 years every single human alive today will be gone. But we will be amply replaced, that is, unless the planet itself becomes unable to sustain our existence anymore. If everyone suddenly became vegetarian, that would not save the planet, it would actually accelerate it’s destruction. There are far too many of us to feed in only that way, and the limitations of our digestive tract preclude the sort of food that “true vegetarians” can actually eat, like Grass and Leaves.

    Harvested animals, when treated humanely, are given a quick and painless death. Much more important than how they died (which all things do!) is how they lived. I am not offended by meat eaters, I am offended by farming practices that bring the meat to our tables.

    Caity, people such as yourself, in my eyes, posses a heart that is as beautiful as it is naive.

    I think it would be great if you would respond with another post, but one that actually makes the effort to refer to (or against) the rationalizations I’ve provided in this and my previous post. Your comment about “Yogic Texts” is a throw-away line used all too often by religious zealots who believe they quote from a scripture that offers the one true way. You can do better than that.

    Your comment about “craving” is a reflection on you, no one else. What we all feel is hunger, and you cunningly re-characterize it as “craving” to signify your disapproval that someones hunger might be satisfied by eating “meat”. I think what “you feel” is craving and that you deny it, which is why the phrase makes sense to you. Could it be that your body is simply trying to tell you something? Your body will never understand your moral position (like for example someone who was brought up a strict Christian but has homosexual feelings) and as much as the feeling might disgust you, it will never go away.

    Now having said all that, I believe quite firmly that everyone must determine the best diet “for them” I do not rule out the possibility that for some people this might mean going fully vegetarian, but I make the assessment on biological needs, not (naive) moral ones. I can say that in my case I cannot eat Dairy due to lactose intolerance. Milk and Cheese is a big no-no, which is a shame, because I loved Macaroni Cheese!!

  18. Kara-Leah Grant says

    Hey Bruce,

    Thanks for jumping back into the conversation. It’s great to get all these different perspectives.

    What started out as such a simple question has widened to include all kinds of different elements – and it might be something I need to address in a further post.

    I’m always open to guest posts too :)

    Blessings,
    KL

  19. Caity says

    I’m not interested in a debate on rationalising vegetarianism as a natural human diet, nor am I interest in engaging in personal attacks, although I’m certainly not going to defend the way people choose to engage with the animals they eat – how many people justifying meat choose humanely raised and killed animals where suffering has been inflicted by others for their gain? How is any animal rearing or fishing truly environmentally sustainable even?
    The original post was about the relationship between vegetarianism and yoga, and this appears to have been lost in some of the responses. In relation to yoga, ahimsa, which includes diet/food choices is a key part of an integral practice – read Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Yoga Sutras, Vasistha Samhita, Gheeranda Samhita etc. You will not find one text that promotes meat as part of a sattvic lifestyle. Kara-Leah has indicated she practices some Kundalini Yoga kriyas, it is a really strong guideline for these that a sattvic diet, which does not include meat, is followed.
    In relation to craving, that word is obviously a word that pushes some buttons. Our physical bodies only need the building blocks of amino acids, glucose and fatty acids. We could eat kichari every day and have everything we need to physically survive. But we don’t, and it is the desire for something more than that which is a craving. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Vasistha Samhita talk about mitahara which is mindful eating which includes what you eat and how you eat it. Part of this is about a yogi only needing what is necessary to survive and not indulging mental cravings which are a distraction from the consciousness.
    I am not a zealot, but I do take issue with “yogis” picking and choosing what elements to follow of the very ancient and very practical path of yoga and leaving the very essence of its values behind – how is it any less hypocritical than a catholic who does whatever they want so long as they can confess? We do what we want so long as we believe we are consciously aware of it? Curious rationalisation.

  20. Kara-Leah Grant says

    Ok, somewhere in all this… my original point has been lost. Buried underneath a mountain of comments.

    This point is that, from my perspective, the yogic path is not a moral absolute dictated from outside of our self.

    It is a place one arrives at from within as one learns to be conscious of what lies beneath the urges that pull us back and forth.

    Is a place one arrives at when one feels connection to all of Life.

    It’s simply there, when we let go of all knowledge, all thoughts of what is right and what is wrong.

    It’s there when we no longer subscribe to the concept that there is a perfect way to behave and if we can just figure out what it is and then live by it, then all will be perfect. (Assuming everyone else agrees with us and also wants to live in that perfect way.)

    There are no answers, simply because there are no questions. There is only life.

    When I feel the anger in your comment, it feels like it’s attacking me and I notice my inclination – my reaction – to want to defend.

    But there is nothing to defend because your feelings are not attacking me.

    I am merely feeling what you felt when you wrote (forgive my assumption of your anger – perhaps that too is only my perception and you were not angry at all).

    So instead I open myself up to welcome and to hear the words you have to say.

    And as I do that, I notice the next layer of reaction.

    Fear.

    It seeps through my bones and up my spine as I wonder in listening to your perspective if I am therefore “wrong” and I am not doing the right thing.

    And I catch myself engaging in this behaviour – and I laugh.

    I’m taking myself all too seriously.

    It was a tongue in check headline. It’s generated some great discussion.

    So does a bad yogi eat steak?

    Only when we see with the eyes of duality.

    And it is through the heart of oneness that I can hear your comment and listen to what you have to say and agree with you while also holding within me my own perspective.

    For together we are the world.

    Love,
    Kara-Leah

  21. Caity says

    No, definitely not angry and definitely not attacking you, its brave to even bring the topic up as it is as emotive as politics, religion and sexuality for some. I spent many years studying vedic and yogic texts in India, and have taught yoga around the world, and its only in the West does this issue really come up. I acknowledge that my own button was pushed by the term yogi – attending regular yoga classes doesn’t necessarily make one a yogi nor does teaching asana, I have met lots who knew the information, had strong physical practices and could talk the talk but when it comes to living the values every day, well…it can be challenging to the world around us when we live out of the box.
    Have you heard of the bogi-rogi-yogi continuum? A bogi is someone who indulges in the material world with no restriction (more, more, more!), a rogi enjoys the sensual (as in from the sense organs) pleasures in life but has some awareness of their consequences, and a yogi aspires to the truth of all consciousness, not just their own. There are various shades of grey in all this but the essence is that a yogi cares for the welfare of all and a rogi still has their own needs as paramount. I acknowledge we all have to find our own path but does it have to be at the cost of another sentient beings life? If you have ever been to an abattoir or seen the inside of a chicken farm or heard cows in pain from mastitis, I doubt you would feel quite so ok about your need.
    There is no duality, there is only oneness, which is why ahimsa is so important – their suffering becomes our suffering.
    Btw, to create sattvic va.ta, consistent routine especially around meal times and quantities and sleeping habits, and reducing information overload, is much better for you than eating meat, which actually just produces a tamasic vata not a grounded vata.

  22. Tash says

    Hello…again. lol :)
    Well, this is pretty controversial, some people are pretty passionate about this topic! I mean, the comments that people have left have really made me think about things i haven’t though about before.

    I think these sites are worth a read( ive added some quotes from them):

    http://www.hathayogalesson.com/vegetarianism.htm

    “One of the most important aspects of Yoga is non-judgment, so you are free to choose whatever types of food you want to eat. ”
    “If your Yoga practice has spilled over into the spiritual aspect, however, then you may seriously be having second thoughts about eating meat.”

    http://www.allspiritfitness.com/library/features/aa120400b.shtml

    “This statement is true because animals are innocent, they are driven by a natural instinct to kill one another for food. The bushman is also not cruel when he kills and eats his enemy, for him this is normal behavior and completely within the bounds of his moral code.”

    “This evolution of feeling will profoundly effect our behavior towards the animals and towards all the other creatures who share our world. If you have natural empathy for animals and if you can not bear eat their flesh, then you must have the courage of your convictions and lead this moral evolution by proudly displaying your feelings and empathy for the animals. ”

    “Choosing to be a vegetarian can come from a moral desision that holds the animals in such high regard that you can find it immpossible to eat them”

    Great article btw, well worth the read! keep them coming!

  23. Bruce says

    Hi Caity
     
    My exploration of Yoga is, and always has been, an emotional, physical, non-judgmental process. There is not another person on this planet who could tell me the way I have come to know “Yoga” is invalid or flawed because I eat meat, and have even the slightest clue what they are talking about. I mean that as no personal insult, it is a general statement based on a philosophical point of view about how I interpret Yoga within my own life. I am not about to mess with your Truth, I’d only ask you to consider if that truth makes you a better person, or a more angry person. I am not even talking about your views on vegetarianism -I am talking about how you feel that others don’t necessarily share that view, because my insight into your posts indicates it is an emotive subject for you -and actually I respect that, because I know it comes from a good place, and that you are actually motivated by Love.
     
    As a teacher I assume nothing about my students and I seek not to offer them a moral compass (though perhaps sometimes philosophical). Some might call that a cop-out, but I call it a conscious decision made from the compassion I found within in my own heart. At the most basic level, I work on the belief system that I am not here to try and control the world, or to impinge my reality on another person. I am here to seek relative truth from within. I see Yoga as an open system available to “anyone” who wishes to seek self-knowledge. I teach it as an experiential flow of breath and movement, with a connection to a growing emotional intelligence that comes from looking inwards into ones own heart. I trust the “process” will tell the practitioner exactly what they need to hear at that point in time, far better than I ever could.

    I have been doing Yoga long enough (as an experiential practice rather than an academic one) to “know” right to the bottom of my heart that the path I have chosen is 100% valid for me. Furthermore, I believe I honor the spirit of Yoga in the Love and Joy I share with those who come to my classes. Some of those people are vegetarians, some are meat-eaters, some are straight, some are gay. Some are religious, some are spiritual, some are pure atheist. What is so beautiful about the flavor of “Yoga” (It’s just a word!) I teach is that none of this matters even the smallest bit. All these people are connecting to the source within themselves, which may or may not in fact be the same source we all drink from. I don’t even need to know that, I only know it is there, and it is a place of pure Love.

    The bottom line is we cannot reasonably debate the pro’s and cons of vegetarianism because we have a different set of value-systems. I absolutely accept the thousands of year old texts that you connect so strongly to are quite unambiguous regarding the issue of eating meat.

    All I can say is that when those things were written, science was still a baby, and an understanding of the human biological system was not as well understood as it is today. I am absolutely the sworn enemy of dogma, and I am indiscriminate as to where it comes from. If you asked me, Westerners eat too much meat (as a society) but I find the rationalization for excluding all meat from ones diet to be weak; dogmatic, and based on a flawed moral principle.

    I think this web link provides a very balanced discussion on the subject, but I also accept it is not a Yogic text:

    http://www.vanguardonline.f9.co.uk/00509.htm

    I also thankyou for your courage in engaging on this subject, it brings further light to me, no doubt about that!

    Om Shanti
    Bruce

  24. em says

    Caity-

    i have been following the responses but have not posted another comment since my original. i just would like to publicly say that i agree with you completely and have found your comments to be spot on and in alignment with my own thoughts. such a subject will inevitably bring debate.

    am i a bad yogi if i want to eat steak? maybe the question SHOULD be: am i even a “yogi” at all if i want to eat steak?

    sat nam,
    em

  25. Kara-Leah Grant says

    Welcome all!

    Wow! I’m beginning to feel like we’re all sitting around a table drinking cups of tea having this discussion. It’s awesome.

    Caity – you mention your button was pushed with the word “yogi” in the headline. You make a great point. The “yogi” in mind was the reader who wrote in and said they’d been practicing yoga for a month and still felt like eating steak… as you say, is such a person a “yogi”. Maybe not yet. But perhaps they are on the path.

    I haven’t heard of bogi-rogi-yogi… and it’s got me giggling. Love it!

    Great point too about balancing vatta… and perhaps I was being flippant to suggest in the moment that a steak would provide the necessary balance. In truth, when I feel like that, it’s root vegetables I turn to. My inclination in the article was not to scare the fledging yogi off with strict rules about how to behave, but to allow them to find the space to get there in their own time.

    Tash – great links, adding further to the article.

    Bruce – I love hearing what you have to say too. Thank you for the link. Much appreciated.

    Em – Another great point…

    And at this point in time, 27 comments in… maybe it’s time everyone took a collective breath and agreed to “disagree”. I have loved the discussion, and it’s certainly made me question myself and my assumptions.

    Many blessings to all,
    Kara-Leah

  26. b says

    Eating meat is some deep karma. It also does not promote a sattvic mind. It is not recomended by real yogis for real reasons. I see no problem with eating meat and yes it is used in Ayurveda ( but there are MANY other ways to calm Vata if you don’t want to kill animals), but Ayurveda is not yoga. So stop trying to justify meat eating with calling yourself a yogi. It doesn’t make any sense. Why pretend?

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey B,

      Great point – Ayurveda is not Yoga. I hadn’t considered that. I wrote this article a few years ago now and it would be interesting to go back and look at it again, exploring the issue of eating meat from a yogic perspective. Do I eat meat now? When it’s served to me. Mostly I choose vegetarian. However I still haven’t made a conscious decision to eat no meat at all, regardless, and I wonder why (not)?

    • Bruce says

      Wow, sure am glad “b” is here to tell us all what is and isn’t yoga!!!

      Bit of a pity for all those animals who have carnivorous digestive systems, guess they are inherently unyogic, less evolved and lacking enlightenment because Darwin still needs a few more billion years to work on them, but then again maybe Darwinian theory isn’t Yogic either.

      • b says

        Funny thing, I was just reading about current theories of biological evolution and Darwin’s theories are quite implausible since random rearrangements within genomes are entirely unlikely to produce viable species. The space for possible genetic rearrangements within the genome is so enormous that random processes are likely to take longer to produce new species than the time that was available for evolution on this planet. This is further complicated by the fact that many organisms are irreducibly complex and the level of constant precision could not be achieved by random modifications in the genetic pool.
        What does this suggest about yoga and Darwin? Nothing, really, and I am not sure why you brought it up past trying to make your comment sound more scientific than it really is or pretending like you know something. If anything, it suggest that there is some underlying intelligence guiding evolution and Darwin was way off the mark.
        My original comment had to do with clarifying the facts and history about what yoga teaches. In the west the commercialism of yoga has brought a slew of website s like this one that are branding whatever they want as yoga, and people calling themselves “yogis” without any real knowledge. Now I am not claiming myself to be a yogi ,mind you, nor judging anyone who eats meat, but yoga is a science and I respect it as such. There are rules at play when trying to alter your mind function and unite with the ground of existence, it’s not just a “Do what feels right” attitude. And yes part of it is transcending normal biological functions ( i.e. the carnivorous digestive system as you claim) in order to enter into the spirit more. Your welcome.

        • Kara-Leah Grant says

          Hey B & Bruce,

          A big part of this website is respecting and listening to each other with the understanding that we’re all sharing our current perspectives. There is no need to defend, nor attempt to convert another. It is simply a place to share what we know and understand so we can learn from each other.

          Thank you to both of you for the perspective and understanding you bring.

          Many blessings,
          KL

  27. Bruce says

    I’m so over simplistic artificial morality codes that are disconnected with nature when observed with a non judgemental eye. There is nothing wrong with being a human vegetarian, I am one myself. It is a personal choice made for many strong health and ethical reasons, but Yogi’s who become self-righteously evangelical about the issue serve only to marginalise their own cause. Evolutionary scientific fact shows that we evolved as omnivores with teeth and a digestive tract capable of consuming meat as well as vegetable. Historically, we were known as “opportunists” when it came to food gathering. Unlike the true Vegetarians of this world we cannot survive on Grass and Leaves (like my Rabbits for example). How do they extract nutrition from such a low value food source?!? They eat their food twice!! Their digestive tract is very different from ours.

    I don’t hold my rabbits to be on a higher plane of existence than an Orca Whale just because an Orca’s diet is 100% meat. The real problem with human consumption of meat is our failure to do it in a way that is in tune with the earth. We are neither sustainable nor humane in the way we farm animals and it is for these reasons I will not eat another meat product for the rest of my life. Of course what we do on land is not as bad as what we are doing to the ocean. Many vegetarians still eat fish yet this is where the problem is deepest. We are systematically killing all life in the ocean and anyone choosing vegetarianism for ethical reasons should start by removing fish from their diet.

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we were less greedy, if we were willing to respect the our own home called earth, we would practice sustainable fishing techniques and most people agree a certain amount of fish in their diet is actually healthy for them. There is strong statistical evidence to support this assertion. Sadly, we can’t even get that right, species need to be on the edge of extinction before protection laws are even brought to the political table, and even then, our leaders spend time arguing about it until it is too late. New Zealand is no exception, we refused to sign an agreement to protect the Hector Dolphin because our government saw protecting our fishing industry as more important. Clearly when push comes to shove Economy > Conservation. Of course when the oceans run dry of life, we will see how short sighted we were.

    These real issues of our times will not be solved by Vegans who argue their case as if it were a religious issue based around sacred texts that indicate whether you are a so-called true yogi or not. The disconnect between their position and the way the rest of the world actually functions is too great. For the majority of the world, poverty is the main issue that drives their dietary choices. They don’t actually have the luxury to choose their food, they buy and eat what is available and what they can afford and it is an issue of simple survival. People looking to be truly Yogic, in my opinion, start with compassion and compromise. They get down in the mud and the filth and they try to do their best to make real change in the world.

    Peace!

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