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If You’re A Yoga Educator, You Should Be Vegan

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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.

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  • Rg

    If youre a yoga instructor you should listen to what your body needs

    • Dorna Moss

      Everything your body needs can be obtained from plant or plant-based sources 🙂 After all, that’s where the animals that humans eat get *their* nutrients.

      • Rg

        and yes I have tried it and went to 3 percent body fat in a month which was not healthy. If anyone looked at me at that point and said I don’t need meat they would be crazy and my mom would have a word with them. My mom saw me and said straight up said I need to eat more and I didn’t even tell her I wasn’t eating meat. it was obvious.

        • Dorna Moss

          But human beings are definitely not carnivores! We can digest meat but we don’t need it to survive, and would be healthier without it.
          75% of animals are indeed herbivores (elephants, rhinos, and gorillas are all herbivores and they’re incredibly strong!).
          Human beings can indeed thrive on plant-based/vegan diets 🙂 Many have stopped the progression of disease and even reversed disease.
          Unfortunately, doctors get *zero* nutritional training in medical school (my brother is a doctor and confirmed this). Their medical training teaches them how to *treat symptoms* once a patient is already sick, rather than how to prevent disease. I do think that’s a little sad, as I believe prevention should always be the first cure.
          It’s funny you should say people require “meat” if they want to gain “fat,” because there are indeed many sources of plant-based “fat” available. Here are just a few: avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, peanut butter, cacao nibs, and the list goes on 🙂

      • Rg

        There are humans with conditions known to need meat and their actual doctors will tell them that. Oh and there are definitely animals that need meat, carnivores, I actually think I am one. I listened to my body and no one can tell me how I felt when I was going to yoga and training and not eating meat.

  • Josie Lazo

    Yes! I agree completely with this article! I struggle with sharing the vegan message to my students but try to sneak it in as much as possible. As to previous comments, IF there are people who have health issues that REQUIRE animal products, well then they will not become vegan but that is SO few people if it is even a real thing. And only about 10% of wild animals are obligate carnivores but humans like to use them (usually lions) to justify eating meat instead of say, gorillas who are herbivores.

    • “…IF there are people who have health issues that REQUIRE animal products, well then they will not become vegan but that is SO few people if it is even a real thing…”

      Absolutely everyone can go vegan. There are no medical conditions that specifically require eating animal products. Any qualified dietitian can confirm that fact. Despite what course of treatment individual medical professionals may recommend, it is a scientific fact confirmed by all the major conservative non-vegan dietetic establishments that eating animal products is not necessary for optimal health.

      The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) states:

      “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

      The American Heart Association states:

      “Most vegetarian diets are low in or devoid of animal products. They’re also usually lower than nonvegetarian diets in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack), high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer.

      Vegetarian diets can be healthful and nutritionally sound if they’re carefully planned to include essential nutrients. However, a vegetarian diet can be unhealthy if it contains too many calories and/or saturated fat and not enough important nutrients.”

      The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom states:

      “With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.”

      The National Institutes of Health and Department of Agriculture in the U.S. state:

      “People who follow vegetarian diets can get all the nutrients they need. However, they must be careful to eat a wide variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs.”

      Dietitians of Canada state:

      “A healthy vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. It may take planning to get enough protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins D and B12 and omega-3 fats from foods or supplements. A healthy vegan diet can meet all your nutrient needs at any stage of life including when you are pregnant, breastfeeding or for older adults.”

      Even large insurance/managed care companies such as Kaiser Permanente, whose earning depends on it, state:

      “Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods. We present a case study as an example of the potential health benefits of such a diet.”

      Of course vegan diet must be well-balanced in order to provide optimal health, but the same applies to any diet.

  • Yogini Flyer

    An intelligent yoga instructor should be able to understand their biases and be respectful of the fact that not everyone practices yoga for the same reasons or interprets the traditional texts in the same way. One could say that trying to force your beliefs ideas onto others about things as that are as personal as diet, religion, behavior etc. is just as much of a violence as eating animals.

    • “One could say that trying to force your beliefs ideas onto others about things as that are as personal as diet, religion, behavior etc. is just as much of a violence as eating animals.”

      Animals are not things on an assembly line. They are sentient beings with their feelings, wants and needs who value their lives just like you and I value ours. The harm caused by paying for raising, torturing and killing someone is incomparable with the “harm” caused by “forcing my beliefs”, whatever that means (believing in Easter bunny may be a belief, the fact that the Holocaust was immoral is not). Besides, making a substantive argument for the moral imperative of abstaining from violence that animal exploitation inevitably involves, is not offensive.

  • MsMarinaBlack

    Thank you for writing this.
    I volunteer at a yoga school and am saddened by the teachers who walk in wearing fur trim and stinking of meat. I love this school and know it’s no worse than any other, it’s just so sad on many levels how Ahimsa seems to get missed time and again

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