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Take up yoga, give up meat?

I have been practicing yoga seriously for many years alongside a core group of fellow practitioners at a small neighborhood studio. I know these people's kids' names and what cars they drive.

But I couldn't begin to tell you which of them, if any, is a vegetarian.

Ours is admittedly a laid-back studio. But in some yoga circles, being vegetarian or vegan is practically a requirement. As I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, many yogis believe that the principal of "ahimsa," which means "noninjury" or doing no harm, dictates that true yogis refrain from eating meat because producing meat harms animals.

Others argue that true yogis, who through committed practice become acutely attuned to their bodies' workings, determine on their own what is best for them to eat rather than eat what someone else tells them they should. It is possible, this contingent believes, to be a non-harming person and still enjoy some (humanely farmed) meat.

To me, it's a complete non-issue. You eat what you want, and I'll eat what I want. I can hardly think of anything less yogic than expecting another person to follow your principles instead of their own. There are plenty of good reasons to follow a vegetarian diet (including, if you wish, the desire to practice ahimsa). There are no good reasons to expect anyone else to choose as you do.

As I note in my column, I'm clearly not alone in my thinking, as there are many more people practicing yoga in America than there are vegetarians.

What about you, all you yogis? Is following a vegetarian (or vegan) diet important to your practice? Please vote in today's poll and comment freely -- keeping ahimsa in mind -- below.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  May 11, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Vegetarianism , Yoga  
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Hmm, looks like I'm in the minority (I see it both ways). On the one hand, it does seem to be a central tenet. On the other hand, it seems pretty similar to other religious tenets that people follow to varying degrees, like keeping kosher in Judaism, not using birth control in Catholicism, etc. In the end, I think it's up to each of us to really scrutinize what our beliefs mean, what they demand, and whether we are living consistently with them.

Posted by: laura33 | May 11, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

How deeply in denial are you to fail to recognize that using animals for food harms them and is therefore the very opposite of principles yogis claim to espouse?

There is also no such thing as humane meat. Ranchers may be able to give the animal a good life, but does that matter when they are killed in the same slaughterhouses as conventionally raised meat. There is no way to humanely kill someone, especially not at the rate animals are killed for food in the U.S., roughly one million per hour.

Posted by: VeggieTart | May 11, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Alvin Toffler was right. In the 70's, he predicted the type of "transience" that people would move toward because they want it all, but only have time for the light version of, relationships - that's already happening, and beliefs.

This article is an excellent example of shallow treatment given to a very real, very determined philosophy.

Let me offer the Author a bone - Yoga isn't sitting in your neighbor's house sitting around and doing stressfull poses while listening to "new age" music for "tranquility" and relaxation, as you indicate.

I'll also offer the next time you start poking at yoga, realize that people these days (esp. in America) have the attention span of a newt, and it is just ooh too much work to actually dig for meaning in rituals, or rites, or fundamental religious practices of Hindi, Buddhists, and all those who respect and enjoy the full-up version of Yoga.

The full-up version is ordinarily practiced by dedicated believers in many things deeply, and the idea of "do no harm", is also one of those concepts that the real practitioners of Yoga also tend to believe.

My call - maybe off a bit - is that you're into Yoga Lite, and have not a clue as to the entire dharma of it all.

Tell ya what - for you who have no real appreciation of Hinduism, or Buddhism - you can take all the junk food, blood dripping rare meat to all the yogalite parties you want.

Call it yogalite, or Ameri-yoga, but it's actually harder - Yoga - and deeper - than your survey paints in words.

So have it rare, for all I care - you will reap what you sow, and if all you want is to relax, maybe get a big hot tub and some chicken wings with a big 40 ounce chaser. I'm sure you'll feel the effects of this "practice".

That'll also put you in that "just right" state - at least it will probably work for you.

Posted by: pgibson1 | May 11, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Vegetarianism was a much later practice in the Indian Religious Tradition.

The Vedas contain many verses verifying that the Earliest and most sacred (shruti) part of the Tradition was Not vegetarian.

Yoga is a latter (smriti) part of the tradition.

So was vegetarianism.

So, of course, vegetarianism is clearly optional according to the beliefs of the Yogi.

Posted by: epc91 | May 11, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Agree with pgibson1.....most folks here do practice yoga-lite. They do the poses, meditate (maybe) and think they are a yogini. Eating meat is not only cruel and not necessarily good for you, but the factories raising beef, chicken, pork, etc are massively detrimental to the environment with the waste, fertilizer use, methane, etc etc. Until people start seeing life here on planet earth as interconnected, we will wallow in the nasty effects of consumerism and over- indulgence. So do the yoga poses, say namaste, but if you eat meat, and are not serious about the basic traditions of yogic practice, DO NOT call yourself a yogi or a yogini.

Posted by: tootsie11 | May 11, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Reading the comments, I understand that this is a very emotional issue for vegetarians. But it's a little surprising to me that they characterize the author as being "deeply in denial" and having "not a clue." Is that ahimsa, to insult the journalist who is trying to facilitate an open and honest conversation?

I've been practicing yoga for a while, and one of the things that has always appealed to me about it is that, unlike the religion in which I was raised, there is an emphasis on being non-judgmental, and accepting that others may be on a different path.

Posted by: HTorrance | May 11, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

it's not only harmful to "the animal", also harmful to the planet and society at large.

Posted by: socomfy | May 11, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Completely agree with pgibson1. We here in America want to look good, feel good, and not bother with the details, like what we are destroying in the process. Until we really GET that life here on planet earth is interconnected, we reap the carnage produced by all the things we think we need. Ahimsa is a way of viewing life, including causing no harm to animals for any reason. If more of us practiced this, it would be a kinder, better world.

Posted by: tootsie11 | May 11, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

There really should be some non judgmental way to differentiate the level of commitment one gives to a cause. I believe the word "yogi" is thrown around too liberally. If you are like most Americans, who do the poses to get leaner muscles and peace of mind, then of course it doesn't matter whether or not you are vegetarian. it's a hobby and you pick and choose what (if any) lifestyle changes you make to go along with it. Nothing is wrong with doing so. But, if you espouse yourself as a "yogi", to me that means you are delved deep into the spiritual and lifestyle changes as well, and I would expect a very clean green lifestyle including vegetarianism. The same principle actually applies to use of the word "green." People will say they had a green house renovation using all new materials, etc. However, if you've truly embraced the green lifestyle, you would refurbish, refinish, and otherwise naturally dress up existing materials in a natural replenishing way. You can make "green choices" without "being green" and totally accepting the lifestyle. I think the same is true of yoga. Hopefully, people will not judge others who do not completely adopt a completely lifestyle and see the partial adoption as progress towards an eventual cultural transition.

Posted by: KJSA | May 11, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

agree with the majority (so far); don't claim you're "practicing yoga seriously" if you're not ready to embrace it....all the way. (and isn't "laid-back studio" and immediate contradiction to the "seriously" part?)
I've taken, and will continue to take, yoga classes - but I do it more for the deep-stretching and calming rather than "practicing yoga".
And I'm pretty sure the rest of the people in these classes wouldn't consider themselves yogis.
That's great that you've found yourself a good social network and a nice hobby, but don't equate yourself to the residents of

Posted by: robjdisc | May 11, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Practicing just one of the eight limbs of yoga (asanas; physical postures) does not make one a yogi.

If you practice all eight limbs and really become a yogi, then the question does not apply. One's desire for animal flesh, or ability to consciously eat animal flesh, will cease all by itself.

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | May 11, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Hilarious, I see a bunch of crybaby yoga nazi's typing "no yoga for you!". Who knew that the self appointed yoga police were such angry little people? Who knew there were people who thought they were actually yoga police. None of you come off as very enlightened here. Just hilarious.

Posted by: greenmansf | May 11, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: robjdisc | May 11, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Of course it is up to each individual to choose for themselves. As a yoga instructor, teaching ahimsa does not mean that I should impose my beliefs on my students. BUT, if you are a "true yogi" (whatever that means), you will inevitably delve deeper into the the realm of the eight limbs of yoga, including the yamas (wherein ahimsa lies) and niyamas. Yes you can have a practice only involving asanas (poses), and yes you are doing yoga, but asana is only one limb of yoga. There is so much more to yoga than merely the physical activity. For me yoga is a lifestyle that includes every moment of every day and the way I interact with the world. It is impossible for me to disconnect when it comes to the food on my plate. Ahimsa is nonviolence or nonharming, and to me this includes the words that I say to others, the way I treat my body, being "green" for the planet, and not harming animals for my own pleasure at mealtimes. If you want a really wonderful book to read on this subject, try Yoga and Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon (wonderful insight on this issue). The bottom line is that yoga is a journey...if you choose to remain on the surface and use it for "exercise", of course that is your choice...but you are missing yoga as a whole. It is your right to pick and choose what parts of yoga you'd like to practice. For me...there is no separation.

Posted by: Ahimsa77 | May 11, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

The operative word here is "may" not "can" and no yogas may not eat things that harm life other than plant life, boy your English gets worser and worser.


Posted by: amigojoe2 | May 11, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

pgibson1 - does "do no harm" include refraining from insults and being sarcastic and judgemental of others? Your tone is neither yoga nor yoga lite, but sarcastic and degrading.

Posted by: baseballguy | May 11, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

A vast najority of the animal products that we eat in this country are derived from animals that live absolutley horrible lives. Furthermore, the cattle we raise for food create more greenhouse gasses than all cars, trucks, busses, etc. combined. And, 70-80 percent of our agricultural land is used to raise food for the animals we eat. Finally, a veg diet reduces the risk of heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes.

Yoga is by definition the union of mind and body. If the yogi's mind knows all of the above facts, wouldn't the yogi be inclined not to expose the body to food dervied from the suffering of other creatures and the destruction of the environment?

Posted by: benshaberman | May 11, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I have been a serious practitioner of yoga for 14 years, and a yoga teacher for 12. I am not a vegetarian. The practice of yoga has changed my attitude towards my body, and deepened my respect for myself and other human beings. I believe that we are called upon to respect all forms of life -- animal and vegetable, and to respect all aspects of the planet upon which we live and depend for life. This means that I purchase and eat only as much food as I and my family can eat. It means that I make an effort to walk rather than drive, to live in only as much space as I and my family require.

To live as a true yogi (or yogini), in whatever culture we live in, requires compassion and tolerance. As someone already said, we each have our own lives to live and our own lessons to learn. It is far better to show love and understanding than to criticize and be judgmental. There is much more to walking the path to enlightenment than simply not eating meat.

One of the attractions of yoga to many of us has been that it is a very personal and individual path to deeper spirituality. The physical practice of yoga enhances our ability to be still and listen to our inner guidance, whatever form that may take. To allow ourselves to become side-tracked into arguments about what to eat, is to lose our way and to mistake yet another code for true lving.

I hope that my words are not hurtful to those whose opinions differ from mine. It is my intention only to offer anothert point of view.

Posted by: mexexpat | May 11, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

I believe all practitioners of yoga should subscribe to the practice of Jainism as described in your linked article on ahimsa, in which the practice of ahimsa requires that one not kill not only any animal life, but also not harm insects, plants, and atoms to the maximum extent possible.

Posted by: ObamasGulfResponseIsMuchWorseThanKatrina | May 11, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Clearly anyone who espouses the core values of yoga (and is not just exercising with hatha yoga) should be shunning red meat and pork, at the least.

But perhaps the question could be narrowed to -- "should a yogi eat?" Here's one yogi who bypasses the issue entirely:

Posted by: mwashington2 | May 11, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

I am a vegan who does a little yoga now and then. Why does it matter what you eat? I like what I eat and if anybody tried to tell me to eat something else, I'd be pretty pissed!

Posted by: kimk1 | May 12, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Well, hm. Yoga is basically a religious practice. If you are going to be true to the religious part of yoga, then you probably would have to be vegetarian. But I still hate it when other people try to get me to eat stuff I don't like!

Posted by: kimk1 | May 12, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I can't speak to yoga, not being a practitioner; but Buddhists also have a goal of avoiding harm; however there's also an injunction against refusing offered food, even if it's meat; the potential waste being seen as a greater wrong than eating the meat (which someone else already has had killed anyway).

I can see it either way, which is why I maintain a "you don't try to convert me, I won't try to convert you" attitude.

Posted by: heinpe | May 12, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Meats have a tendency to alter the nature of a person.Himsa doesnt apply to freshly dead healthy animal and bird and fish.A person practicing yoga has to keep his body fit mind clean and soul pure as far as poss.Fresh air OxyGen for the praanaayaama. Crystal fluids.Whole fruit nuts and fresh veg and dark green leaves, ... #All non essential foods are avoided, for whatever hot acid and cool base properties they have on the Milk,products,egg poultry,animal flesh,veg products coffee tea cocoa sugar, excess spices,palm and trans oil fats, al'kuhl brews and ferments, deep fries and roasts. In spite of all this, one MAY be tempted to occasionally steal a bit of the forbidden item.So the qn of a-himsa needs qualification.Need not be rigid.YOGA IS NOT A RELIGIOUS PRACTICE. It is to yoke the tiny creative energy in you to the boundless celestial primordeal magnificance. most manthraas are neutral non religious.AUM=OM is neutral. Sun Gaayathri is to the local visible parent divinity. Simplify x 3 said Thoreau.Let us keep Yoga for each of us as per our individual worth.Only 1 in a million attains YOGI stature.

Posted by: pradhangeorge | May 12, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I chose "other" because the arguments for not eating meat are more complex than were presented in the post.

It's true that eating an animal harms it---no doubt about that one. However, it also harms the planet as a whole.

Nearly all of the corn and soybeans raised in the US are used to feed animals that will then be slaughtered for food. The President's Cancer Panel said earlier this month that eating no meat or less meat would help to lower the overall cancer burden for the population.

"Roundup" and other chemicals used to control weeds so we can grow vast quantities of corn and soybeans, are carcinogenic and some are endocrine disruptors. These chemicals affect us all, and they affect the weeds too. The weeds have evolved so they can now resist "Roundup." Monsanto is trying to develop new, more toxic chemicals that will kill these "superweeds." Even if Monsanto develops genetically modified grain plants-- weeds, insects, microorganisms, etc. will again evolve according to the new conditions.

(Side note: it also takes vast quantities of water to produce meat.)

Even if one eats organic meat or is vegan/vegetarian these chemicals find their way into our bodies because they are released into the environment.

Eliminating meat is a way of non-harming that helps us and the planet.

I'm not for forcing people to adopt a non-meat lifestyle. I do encourage people to take a longer view, though.

Posted by: org2 | May 12, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

There are martial artists who do not have any inclination to learn Buddhist philosophy or to know about the taoist ideas intricate to their martial art. I think they are missing out on a vital area of the practice. But worse are those who try to wrap Christianity to their martial art. But who am I to judge? I guess it's the American way, to take things and adapt it to your way of life. But in the end, its not the same - it is something different.

Posted by: veggiedude | May 13, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

The longer I practice yoga regularly, the more my body tells me "no meat." I still eat fish occasionally, but I started by not eating pork four years ago and, as I have gone forward, I've found myself buying meat less often until now when I realized it's been a year since I've eaten red meat at all -- and months since I've eaten fowl.

I fully expect that over the next year or two, I will become fully vegetarian. I also expect that it will happen so gradually, I won't notice until I'm there.

I think for many of us the physical practice becomes spiritual at some point.

Posted by: Fabrisse | May 17, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

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