March 25, 2009

Non-vegetarian Yoga Instructors?

One of my jobs for this publication is to interview yoga instructors (very respectable people in my humble opinion). I’ve been shocked to find that about half of those interviewed are not strict vegetarians.

While I am not judging them, I am curious as to how carnivorous yoga teachers justify breaking the number one rule in this ancient tradition.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (basically the Raja Yoga bible) outline the path to enlightenment through yoga, step one being yama, or what not to do. Among these yama vows is ahimsa, or non-violence. Traditionally, practicing non-violence includes a vegetarian diet. Many Hindu temples in India won’t allow people in if they eat eggs, let alone cow.

To quote Pancham Sinh’s translation of The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (aka the hatha yoga bible), possibly the oldest surviving text on Hatha Yoga: “Food injurious to a yogi: bitter, sour, saltish, hot,…intoxicating liquors, fish, meat,…etc., should not be eaten.” In a later passage, the text clarifies: “Success cannot be attained by adopting a particular dress. It cannot be gained by telling tales. Practice alone is the means to success. This is true, there is no doubt.”

And here’s a quote from Stephen Sturgess, a practitioner of Kriya Yoga for 35+ years. In The Yoga Book, he writes “A vegetarian diet is essential for one who wants to follow a spiritual life. If you sincerely wish to progress and grow from the ordinary and materialistic life to a higher spiritual consciousness, then it becomes important to live on a vegetarian diet. For there are certain foods that help the mind and body to become more refined, and others that keep it down to the consciousness level of an animal.”

It should be clear to all yoga practitioners that the tradition instructs to follow a strict vegetarian diet. In this day and age, we aren’t hunter-gatherers – we choose our foods off the shelf. Yoga, on the mat or off, involves choice, intent, and restraint.

Now, I trust the yoga teachers in America to instruct me how to do a push-up, but how can we learn a sacred tradition from teachers who break the root precepts?

Please enlighten me.

Bonus, via Sharon Gannon: Yoga & Vegetarianism:

Sharon Gannon on Yoga and Vegetarianism from SwanRiverYoga on Vimeo.

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