Carnivorous Yogini. Can We Practice Yoga & Eat Meat?

Via on Nov 21, 2011

Kate Leinweber, B.Sc R.H.N

I am a yogini and I eat meat.

Balance with Strength

Referring to myself as a carnivore is a bit dramatic. Although I’ve tried the new trend of Palaeolithic diets, my body really needs a variety of grains, fruits and vegetables to find balanced health. I eat a plant-based diet, but not a plant-only diet. I call myself a conscious omnivore. I eat whatever my body wants and needs to have the strength and energy to succeed in the present moment.

When I first started practicing yoga intensely, of course, I followed the trend and became a vegetarian like everyone else, then a vegan, and then a vegan raw foodist. As I restricted and restricted my diet, I got hungrier and hungrier. Every day on my mat as I sought to connect to my body and dig deep into my emotional baggage I found it harder and harder.

Physically I found my strength and energy levels were all over the place and sometimes even had a hard time holding downward dog.

Emotionally I would collapse into crying spells about once a month which of course was blamed on being a woman blessed with menstruation. It sure didn’t feel like a blessing to lie in bed with a hot water bottle and pop Advil like candy for one day every month. Even on a daily basis, there was the potential for me to feel completely overwhelmed by a simple situation and have to go home and lie down.

It was a very challenging time of my life, and also extremely confusing, because I thought I was following the path of healing and ease. I felt more dis-ease than ease. My restriction of fat and protein had led to a constant state of hypoglycemia, which explained the constant energy crashes, hunger, sweet cravings and emotional break-downs. I wasn’t supporting my physical body enough for it to be able to work on my emotional issues. In fact, I was exacerbating emotional imbalances by not giving my body the nutrients it needed to survive, let alone thrive.

I started to stray from the raw food diet and rediscovered my enthusiasm for cooking. I experienced immediate muscular strength. Then I started eating raw dairy products, and I had more energy. I then tried some organic meat, and I returned to the ground. My hypoglycemia disappeared; the crying spells, the instability and the insecurity were suddenly absent. As my physical body grew stronger, it was able to support my capacity to hold emotion. I was able to practice asana more, to sit longer, and finally, still my mind.

I was practicing yoga.

I know this is a very controversial subject in the yoga world: this is just my story. I take the practice of Ahimsa seriously, but first I must apply it to myself before my kindness can spread and affect others. By not practicing Ahimsa towards myself I was in a constant state of collapse and under-nourishment, and unable to help those around me.

Do we all need to eat meat? Of course not! We all have different genetic histories and physical and emotional struggles. Some bodies heal and thrive on a meat-only diet, and others on a plant-only diet. We do have a choice, and that choice has ramifications on the body. If you pay enough attention, your body will tell you what it needs.

Ready for the science behind all of this?

What is a Protein?

Proteins are the building blocks of our muscles, enzymes, organs, nerves and skin.

Proteins are made of 22 standard amino acids. Only eight of these amino acids are required in the diet (essential), and the others can be made by our body provided it is in optimal health. It is important to remember that not everyone can produce all the non-essential amino acids (especially children). It depends on the quality of digestion, absorption, hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, and abundance of protease enzymes. If one essential amino acid is low or missing a protein deficiency can exist.

What do Proteins do?

Protein supports normal growth, hormonal production, blood clotting, formation of milk during lactation, regulates acid-alkaline balance and executes every metabolic reaction in the body!

Protein Sources.

There are many protein sources both plant and animal.

Tempeh is a great source of Plant Based Protein

If following a plant-only diet it is necessary to practice protein combining. Plant sources of protein are limiting or low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Protein combining involves eating a variety of beans, legumes and grains, and rotating them through the diet. So if rice is low in one amino acid, then a lentil will have it in a higher amount. These foods do not need to be combined at every meal. Eating them over the course of two days is fine. If digestion is at all compromised, someone on a vegetarian diet may not be absorbing protein efficiently, and could exhibit weakness and fatigue.

Grass feeding ruminant animals like cows, sheep and goats, take the protein in plants and digest it in their four stomachs. This process is very efficient at extracting protein and other nutrients from plants and is assimilated into the muscles of the animal. Our digestive system is not set up to feed on grass nor is it as efficient at extracting nutrients from plants. Since meat is digested protein from plants, this makes it the most abundant and bioavailable (easily digested & utilized) source of protein. In fact, animal products are the only complete source of protein, which means they have all the essential amino acids.

The sulphur-containing amino acids, which are very important to brain and nervous system function, are found most plentifully in meats and eggs. Some non-essential amino acids related to energy levels, such as taurine, are only found in red meats.

Sardines - Source of Omega 3 fats and low in toxins

I cannot stress enough the importance of taking great care in purchasing animal products. Only organic, fresh, and preferably local, pasture-fed animals should be consumed. Your body deserves the highest quality. Processed meats are high in nitrites and nitrates; potent carcinogens. Conventional meats commonly contain steroids and antibiotics.

Fish should be included in the diet at least once a week. This is recommended as they are high in essential poly-unsaturated fats. Choose deep water fish for a higher content of oils (rock cod, salmon). Concerned about toxins? Choose smaller fish that have shorter lives and not as long to absorb toxins like mercury and PCBs (mackerel, sardines, anchovies). Concerned about ethical fishing? Purchase your fish from local farmers markets. Talk to the vendors about their fishing techniques.

How much protein do I need? 

This depends on genetics and constitution. Too much protein in the diet will lead to cravings for sweet refined foods like breads, sugar, white pasta, white rice, etc. Too little protein will result in muscle wasting and is also exhibited by craving the sweet flavor. Ideally protein from meat is regarded as a supplement added to a diet already rich in a variety of plant-foods. Recommended consumption for a balanced individual should not exceed 2-3times per week with the portion size being ½ the size of one’s palm. Factors such as personal constitution, health issues, season and climate will change the amount needed by the body.

About Kate Leinweber

I am a Microbiologist and Registered Holistic Nutritionist. I have been in the health industry for close to a decade, starting on the allopathic medical end of the spectrum and now in the holistic realm. I am obsessed with food and its healing abilities! I’ve been a vegetarian, vegan, and even a raw foodist…and I felt crappy and unhappy! I formally studied Holistic Nutrition and discovered individualized balanced nutrition. Currently I help plant-based foodies who have energy crashes and digestive distresses to feel amazing by re-programming their food choices. My practice as Holistic Nutritionist extends around the world and focuses on the ancient knowledge of Chinese Medicine, Medical Intuition and Traditional Food Practices. My holistic model empowers each client with knowledge of how whole foods can sustain a healthy and whole body. Visit me on Facebook.

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39 Responses to “Carnivorous Yogini. Can We Practice Yoga & Eat Meat?”

  1. Jason Freeman says:

    Great Post. I'm Lisa Freeman's brother and I work with organic farmers. Another reason to eat meat is a farming reason. The manure (created by livestock on organic farms) is crucial for soil fertility/nutrient recycling. So even if you are vegan you are benefiting from the manure. As the composted manure (brand new soil) is spread on the fields to fertilize the organic crops that vegan's eat. I could elaborate…on the connection between manure and sustainable agriculture if you would like but the point is that the manure is crucial to growing healthy, nutrient packed food.

  2. __MikeG__ says:

    Here we go again, the protein combining myth rears its ugly head. The source of this myth is a book written in 1971 called Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappe. Ms. Lappe is a sociologist, yes a sociologist, who first made the erroneous claims of incomplete proteins and protein combination. Ms. Lappe herself admitted her her mistake and retracted her protein combining claims.

    Better sources for the the health implications of vegan/vegetarian diets comes from scientific organizations who make recommendations based on multiple studies published in peer reviewed journals. Organizations such as the ADA and the Mayo Clinic are both two good sources. The peer reviewed research shows that vegetarian diets provide all the necessary, except maybe b12, nutrients and protein required for good health.

    • Thanks for the comment MikeG. Remember that even if the food has all the necessary nutrients required for health doesn't mean our body is actually able to absorb them at 100% efficiency. The digestive system plays a big role in actually integrating nutrition into our bodies.

  3. Kristen says:

    Actually Quinoa, hemp, Chlorella, Spirulina, and a few other plant sources are "complete" proteins.

    Some foods contain all the essential amino acids on their own in a sufficient amount to qualify as a "complete protein". Complete protein foods that also obtain the highest possible PDCAAS score of 1.0 are certain dairy products (including whey), egg whites, and soy protein isolate. Other foods, such as amaranth, buckwheat, hempseed, meat, poultry, Salvia hispanica, soybeans, quinoa, seafood, and spirulina also are complete protein foods, but may not obtain a PDCAAS score of 1.0

    (notice that meat and poultry don't even obtain a PDCAAS score of 1.0, so technically not "complete".)

    • Kristen says:

      I would also have to disagree with you on the fact that meat is more digestible than plant sources, especially since eating too much animal protein is linked to inflammation of the digestive system which reduces its ability to absorb nutrients. So someone who eats a balanced, alkaline, plant-based diet with a healthy digestive system will and usually does do better on plant sources of protein, it is those people whose digestive systems are so messed up that meat and milk are necessary to get that person the nutrients they need to heal asap…once healed these foods can be "weaned" from the diet. Now I'm not telling anyone they should or should not be vegetarian or vegan, but I will say that if you do choose to give up animal foods that you do have to be more diligent with the foods you eat to make sure you are getting the nutrients you need since a person needs to eat more (quantity wise). And I personally think that while eating raw foods is good, I have seen way too many people end up deficient on a raw diet, and those people tend to go back to eating meat.

      I appreciate your article, every person is different, I just wanted to make that clarification.

      • Thanks Kristen! There are plant foods that are also linked to causing inflammation of the digestive system. Like phytic acid that is on the outside of grains. If they are not properly prepared can cause damage to the intestines and also reduce absorption of other nutrients.

        As you said, every person is different, and what I try to encourage is that everyone identify what that is for themselves. What actually makes them as an individual feel better. Not necessarily what makes my body feel great, or what is written in a book, or even found in a scientific study. I hope my articles spark a little bit of intuitive seeking in each individual.

  4. Renee Fidz says:

    protein-combining is an already debunked myth. the science here needs to be double-checked.

  5. annette says:

    Kate is 100 % correct in saying that being omnivores is OKAY. look in your texts and Ahimsa means not harming, non violence, non injury, not non meat eating. Look at the animal world, some are herbivores, some are carnivores and some are omnivores..

    • Ken says:

      It's difficult to obtain animal flesh without harming or injuring the animal. Despite what other animals do, Ahimsa proscribes meat eating.

    • yogi says:

      the beauty of being human is that we are not animal. being human comes with extra responsibility. think of the energy of a ravaging tiger that kills mother deer for food compaired to a peaceful vegetarian cow…which do you aspire to be like? which do you choose on this planet? either choice works and will sustain your body, but to actually be a YOGINI requires a certain discipline and honor. yoga is an ancient tradition that comes with certain base requirements such as a vegetarian diet. if you choose to be a yogi, you don't make up your own rules. :) just a little food for thought.

      • Carolina says:

        One very valuable thing has Yoga taught me is that God is inside you and it´'s inside you all the wisdom of the universe, then I practice Yoga and I fell I am becoming a much better human being.
        Eating meat it´s the same as eating plants, when we eat plants we are violent to plants.

  6. elephantjournal says:

    #
    Craig Holliday you can do what ever you want, president obama endorses cluster bombs and won the noble peace prize, the dali lama eats meat, i don't because i don't want to kill animals… peace

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    Julia Kohli ‎"Carnivorous" means eating only meat. Sorry to be nitpicky, but I keep seeing that word being used in reference to all meat eaters…

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    Justin Thind Oh sure…Engage in a spiritual practice which emphasizes nonviolence and inner peace, then go grab a hamburger afterwards. What horse shit. This is why I refuse to listen to anyone "spiritual" who eats animals.

    #
    Amy Orrell-Branco Great article! Thank you~

    • elephantjournal says:

      #
      The Dalai Lama doesn't eat meat, actually…Tibetans do culturally (not a lot to eat up high in the Himalayas) so his break from eating meat many years ago was a big deal, and he urged fellow Tibetan expatriates and Buddhists to join him. Unless I'm quite mistaken.
      #
      Justin, from a Buddhist point of view, aggression is the problem…and you seem to have some inside of you. So from that point of view, you're a carnivore buddy!

      ~ Waylon

      • mimi says:

        Actually the Dalai Lama does eat meat……recheck your source. My yoga teacher had the honor and privilege of speaking to the Dalai Lama's personal chef and she asked did he eat meat and he eats it. Yak. I was floored when I found out but that has nothing to do with me and my not wanting to eat dead flesh. IJS

    • mimi says:

      Michael Bernard Beckwith is vegan and he is the one that turned me on to it. I find it hard to listen to folks that eat meat as well which I know is something that I must work on. I think Bikram eats meat and he is my exception. It's hard when your guru eats prime rib! Namaste and we don't judge by appearances.

  7. elephantjournal says:

    #
    Great article. Yoga is about listening to what it is that keeps you in balance.
    LikeUnlike · · 3 minutes ago ·

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    Amy Orrell-Branco via elephantjournal.com
    Great article. For me I used to feel like I needed to be vegan until I noticed myself getting sicker. Yoga is about knowing yourself and what you need to stay balanced. That being said always look for places that let believe in sustainability. One amazing farm in New Jersey is Cherry Grove Farm in
    Lambertiville, NJ. This is how it should be not the commercial farms. Respect our connection with all living organisims, including the earth we live on.
    LikeUnlike · · 4 minutes ago ·

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    Adaliz De Sedas via elephantjournal.com
    guau!

  8. mimi says:

    To each his own. I just can't eat meat right now from Whole Foods a little too pricey for something dead on arrival so I just go without. Plus I have enough accumulated Karma from past lives and past stuff and don't need anymore so I choose to let the turkeys gooble gooble freely. In addition to that, as if the above was Not enough diabetes runs in my family so I have to watch out!

  9. Lara says:

    being an anthropologist, hearing about "palaeolithic diet" makes me want to scream (in rage) every time. forget about this pseudo-science diet.
    being a vegetarian: yes, if you feel you need meat, eat it! just know where it comes from and how the meat is produced. consume meat that has been killed ethically, not from mass production.

  10. Jessica says:

    Everyone is different. When ate meat, I was chronically constipated. I would never go back to that. I have enjoyed optimal health on a veg diet for the last 10 years and two babies. I question what people eat when they have such problems.

  11. Anya says:

    Thanks Kate, for sharing your story with us.
    I agree with you, that your first responsibility is to yourself.
    So if cutting out meat completely from your diet creates dis-ease, you are cultivating harm to yourself and goes against the belief of ahimsa.
    And aren't plants living creatures too? They need sunlight and water to survive, just like any living creature.
    I say, eat consciously and in moderation, and you will stay healthy and be the best for yourself and others. Choose organic and humane certified meat if you include it in your diet. Shop at local farmers markets for fresh produce that hasn't been mass produced and sprayed with pesticides or herbicides whenever possible.
    Incorporating ahimsa into your way of life has a lot more layers than cutting out meat from your diet.

    • Carolina says:

      I do agree with you Kate and Anya, I try to eat meat from animals that live free. And sure plants are living creatures too.

  12. jaimie says:

    well, this is a very important discussion, so thanks, kate, for keeping it rolling. yes, we each need to make our own individual choices about what we eat & why, about how much responsibility — through thoughts, words & actions — we take for the world around us, for how deeply we want to connect to everyone & everything in it. so if you decide that eating meat is "right" for you, then so be it. but to suggest that it is an ahimsic act, justified b/c you are thus not harming yourself, is a specious argument. the yamas are guidelines for the way we interact with the world, not with ourselves. if patanjali meant we should be thinking first about ourselves, he would have made ahimsa a niyama, or put the niyamas as the first limb rather than the second. that the yamas come first is a HUGE indication that we are meant to think of others first, not to do harm to ourselves but because when we think of others first we are less likely to be overly concerned & consumed with our own petty issues. that is not to say that you should be unhealthy! but surely for most people food has evolved to the point where we do not need to kill animals to sustain ourselves, & we certainly don't need to subject animals to cruel & inhumane conditions before doing so. … lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu!

  13. Susan Simon Susan says:

    Just posted this on Elephant Food on FB. Great post!

  14. jenifer says:

    I think that people forget how diverse the vedic culture is, the vedic dietary practices, and also the practice of yoga. I think it’s safe to say, for example, that across the veridic culture, yoga is practiced (it may not include asana). And across that culture, diets vary from very strict vegetarian/vegan to omnivorous diets.

    So, just looking to the tradition *tells* us that Yes, one can be omnivorous and practice Yoga.

    A note on “paleo” diets, just because. It is true that “paleo” is not anthropologically correct or accurate. true Paleo diets were diverse and based on the individual region/climate.

    The modern “paleo” diets are not meant to be reenactments, but rather a catchy term to describe certain food groups that existed in one era vs another era (pre agricultural/hunter-gatherer).

    There is science behind it — nutritional science. It’s quite easy to find this evidence, just as nearly every vegetarian nutrition book has studies to back up claims, so also do paleo books. But it’s nutritional science, not anthropology.

    We have been following the “primal” diet for a year now, and it has done a lot to help us out (i’ve also been vegan/vegetarian, as well as following the weston a price foundation’s information about traditional foods). When my husband started having huge reactions to wheat, our naturopath recommended that we cut all grains. We did, and the results have been amazing.

    But, this is not about convincing anyone to be “paleo” — just pointing out that there is science on it, there is n-1 (or 3 since we are a family of 3) in our own success with it, and finally, that it’s up to the individual to study and figure out what is right for them.

  15. yogamamba says:

    @ Jason Freeman – So in order to get manure we have to eat the animals? Qé? I make manure all the time but I certainly don’t get eaten for it. There are far better alternatives than meat for protein. Why not eat pure protein? Why get it second hand from a poor innocent cow? As a yogi its not about the killing of animals. The Tibetans eat Yaks. Its about trying to manage thoughts which becomes difficult when you eat stimulants. Meat is a stimulant. If I can manage my thoughts and still eat meat no problem. On the other hand as conscious human beings who understands themselves as inseparably part of a much bigger picture – you can’t stand for one second to witness the pain of another animal.

  16. Anna Sheinman SOFLY_Anna says:

    Great article! I've been a vegetarian for over 7 years and nearly vegan for the last 2. I find lots of sources of non-animal protein to name a few: raw hemp for breakfast in my smoothies, moong beans, quinva, beans, etc. I have a full-time job with 3 hour commute, I practiced yoga daily and teach. My diet gives me all the energy I ever need.
    I stopped eating animal products because firstly, I was too lazy to make it and secondly, I always felt lethargic after eating meet and allergic eating fish. On the cross-country trip I saw how the animals are treated – and that was the end of it. There was no effort of not eating something not so appetizing like flesh…
    I am not a yogi, but consider myself a dedicated and a serious yoga student. According to some of my teachers – Ahimsa – means not eating meat and to others – have nothing to do with vegetarianism.
    I think a person should eat according to constitution (pitta, vatta, kapha), envelopment and likes. I love the scriptures and research. But I don't think we should take it as ultimate truth. It should be tested through the daily practice, experience and self-study.

  17. Michelle says:

    I loved this article & even more that the commentary has all been of a peaceful, informative & understanding manner! Like the author I too was vegeterian for many years (10), then vegan & raw foodist. I felt awful & weak & cried all the time. My diet now has evolved into what youve called “conscious omnivore”. I dont believe in huge agri-destructo-business. There is horror in that, ick! But I feel better suited to affect positive change in the world & in myself when i eat pasture raised & kindly treated animals…or wild animals (deer). Everyone has their own path to pursue health & spirituality :-)

  18. [...] Carnivorous Yogini. Can We Practice Yoga & Eat Meat? [...]

  19. [...] are fat soluble which means they build up in meats and dairy products. So buy your meat and dairy Organic. Conventional produce can be peeled or washed in some soapy water or apple cider [...]

  20. lisa says:

    I have struggled with my conscience on the subject of diet as well going from vegan to vegetarian back to a mostly plant based diet sans red meat. I have read "Fit For Life", "A Diet For a New America", "The China Study", "The Omnivore's Dilemma" et al. It is true, no matter which side of the food debate you are on someone can point to a study done to back up the counter claim. So on the subject of nutrition and what's best for your body, I agree with the author that it varies and is an intuitive knowing.

    I personally believe that you are doing more for the betterment of society by buying locally raised, free range and organic food than you do by being a vegetarian. Why? Because money talks in this culture. And shifting the market demand is the only way to get large corporations to listen. Abstaining from animal products altogether is the utopia… but when I see the mounds of Styrofoam and plastic wrapped meat at the grocery store, I realize what a long way off we are from that. If people are going to eat meat anyway, let them eat an animal that lived a life. (Like Bessie the cow in the backyard). Not one that was raised unnaturally in inhumane conditions. And if you think you are practicing ahimsa by eating quinoa, well, maybe not so much. Turns out it is a staple for the indigenous people of the Andes and our demand is pricing it out of their reach. Not only that but it had to travel miles and miles to reach your plate which is a strain on the environment.

    Also, for those who have made the "plants are also living creatures" argument. I had to listen to that comment ad nauseam when I was a strict vegetarian. It was always the meat eater quizzing me on the lack of flesh on my plate and then seeming defensive when I listed the reasons. My retort to that is "Which site would you rather tour? A wheat harvesting plant or a slaughterhouse?" That would generally end the conversation.

    But the general idea of ahimsa, in my opinion, is to be non harming to others. Sometimes refusing your Mom's mashed potatoes because they are made with milk is just as harming in other ways. Yoga is a philosophy not dogma. And it is very personal. Follow your conscience and intend to be non harming as best you can. Because one thing is for sure. We will always be the cause of harm to someone or something whether we do it intentionally or not.

  21. Lizzie says:

    It’s a shame that “yogis” judge others just by what they decide to eat. Since when did yoga become about food? This is another subject surrounding yoga that we feel we can have an opinion on an individual’s choice. Just because a yoga teacher chooses to eat meat does not make him/her a bad person, does not give anyone the right to judge them on their spirituality and decide how far along the “path” they are. Ahimsa should also relate to non judgemental thoughts and actions toward ourselves and others. My practice comes from my heart and soul, my actions & thoughts…not from my plate.

  22. tall girl says:

    Going from raw foodist to meat eater again is a huge difference in diet. Why not switch from raw foodist to vegan then vegan to vegetarian then vegetarian to pescatarian if it comes down to it.
    1 billion people in India alone are vegetarian and healthy despite the fact they do not eat meat. You can do it, you just have to learn to eat right (quinoa, hemp, nuts, etc) to get the protein you need.
    You are not practising ahimsa when you eat meat. You are still involved in the act of killing an animal. It is not necessary. Unless you are someone living off the land in Nunavut or antarctica, you do not need meat. Globalization has made it possible for us to go the store and buy a huge variety of grains and other foods from around the world to have a balanced diet without meat. It is total ignorance to eat meat and justify it by the fact that 'you didn't kill the animal.'
    Im not convinced that the author of this article gave a fair enough shot of creating a balanced diet.

  23. Theresa says:

    Just curious why no one is really touching on the meaning of Ahisma?? It was only very briefly mentioned in the article but a very important limb in the eight limbs of yoga of the yoga sutras. I get yoga is just a physical practice and a workout for many, but for yogis who know the sutras and try to follow the eight limbs of yoga, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the meaning of Ahisma and how it’s incorporated in your daily lives. Thanks!!

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