If You’re A Yoga Educator, You Should Be Vegan
Yoga means a lot of things to a lot of different people. From exercise to therapy, the practice of unfurling one’s mat has the potential to shape the way that person feels not just throughout their day, but throughout their life. As the average North American studio model for teaching has shifted from just exercise to education (yay!), the practice of nonviolence is being ignored by non-vegan yoga educators.
Many yoga studios emphasize how good you can feel and look from adopting a regular yoga practice, and that couldn’t be more true. Others invite students to sit with stillness and cultivate a healthier relationship with their thoughts, also amazing. Both models, the hot body enthusiasts and the spiritualists, have adopted taking in endless numbers of yogis aspiring to go from the back row of the class to leaders. And why wouldn’t they? With the standard one hour class already wall to wall with our physical practice (asana), there often isn’t time to get into the philosophical or cultural roots of this practice. It’s often not until we take a teacher training that we’re exposed to it at all. So why is it becoming common place to learn it, and then ignore it?
One of the most commonly followed ancient texts, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, and it’s outline of the eight limbs of yoga, breaks down what we aim to do in yoga and what will happen as a result. Of these eight limbs, the very first is yamas, understood to be our social contracts or universal moralities. These five principles are set up to be studied before we ever hold downward dog. And the first of those? Ahimsa – non-violence.
It’s interpreted many ways, but ahimsa is understood to be refraining from violent words, actions, and even abstaining from violent thoughts. Image my excitement, naively thinking everyone in my 40+ class of teacher trainers were going to go vegan! Now they didn’t need Beyoncé as an excuse, they had ancient teachings. Unfortunately, as with all seemingly difficult things, people decide to only take what they like about yoga and leave the rest behind. In this case, instructors often allude to not practicing road rage or not pushing yourself too far to land a headstand, but leave out the 56 billion farm animals that are killed for human use each year. Is it fair to take on the insurmountable task of becoming a spiritual leader while breaking between classes for a lunch comprised of violence? Do we contradict our own hard work by striving for a more yogic society, while giving permission to participate in perhaps the least yoga-thing humans regularly do?
With 500 hours of yoga education under my belt, I often feel torn between the duality of sharing the whole practice, and only getting to share the parts that are marketable. It can be a fine line between encouraging veganism in the studio, and making non-vegans feel unwelcome. I often herald back to a chant or mantra that one of my wisest teachers taught me: “lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu” – May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may my thoughts and my actions somehow contribute to that freedom for all. It is impossible to devote ourselves to this feeling if we continue to participate in animal cruelty that denies so many beings that basic happiness and freedom.
I believe that all people have goodness in them and that we desire to love first and foremost. I can’t imagine a better opportunity to share the compassion that veganism stands for, then in a studio full of open minded, peace promoting, and loving people. I hope that as eternal students, yoga educators can reconsider what it means to practice ahimsa, on and off the mat.