Veg out: the yoga schmoga flexible un-diet.

Via Michelle Margaret Fajkus
on Jan 18, 2011
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“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” ~Albert Einstein

Have you ever thought about giving up meat? For a day? For a month? Forever?

Since the early 90s, I have experimented with diets and “lifestyle changes” including, but not limited to, the Atkins low-carb diet, pescatarian, raw vegan, fasting, secretly eating meat and openly eating meat. After growing up in Texas eating brisket, burgers and fajitas, I rather arbitrarily decided to try vegetarianism in the fall of 2001 when I was enrolled in hatha yoga teacher training. I thought, “Hey, why not give it a whirl?” I have chosen to remain (mostly) vegetarian, because, to me, the pros outweigh the cons. Give it a try and you’ll see — the vegetarian diet is an integral part of a healthy, moral and mindful way of life.

No matter what you are eating, from pork to pancakes to plums, the absolute #1 greatest ever yoga schmoga un-diet “rule” is to eat with complete mindfulness. Meaning: chew slowly, put down your eating utensil between bites, take small bites, taste the food fully, and (perhaps most difficult of all) only eat when you eat — don’t watch TV, surf online, tinker with your phone, or even read. Just eat.

The traditional yogic diet is lacto-ovo-vegetarian, meaning milk and eggs are allowed in moderation. Drawn from the tenets of an ancient system of Indian medicine called Ayurveda, yogic nutrition values foods that are full of prana, or life force. Healthy, happy vegetarians eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes — foods as unprocessed as possible. Eating processed vegetarian food that is full of unnatural additives and preservatives is no healthier than being a die-hard meatatarian. Vegetarians and omnivores alike need to eat garlic, raw or steamed vegetables and fruit like pineapple, papaya, mango, and banana, as these foods give us essential enzymes for digestion.

Another great reason to explore vegetarianism is the yogic philosophy of ahimsa, or nonviolence. In mainstream veg vernacular, ahimsa is known as animal rights. The idea is that cows, chickens, pigs and even fish should not suffer miserable lives or torturous deaths purely for human pleasure. All animals feel pain and express aversion to it. Yes, I understand the philosophical argument for humans hunting animals for their meat. But do you kill your own animals to eat? Let’s face it: the vast majority of carne in our world is produced in giant, corporate-run factory farms that mistreat animals.

Beware: the vegetarian diet requires discipline and forethought. Our society is addicted to fast, packaged food with little to no nutritional value. As you can imagine, the food situation is even worse here in Central America than in the United States. Upon moving to Guatemala City in 2009, I gradually, lazily started to nibble on the occasional piece of meat, which was easy because 97% of restaurants put bacon, beef, or lard in everything. Then I bounced back the other way, and made a weak attempt at going vegan last year.

As long as I prepare my own meals, all is well. I no longer buy eggs or cheese at the grocery store. But when I go out, I just don’t want to try that hard to altogether avoid them. Hence, I am a vegetarian who indulges in the occasional dairy-liciousness. And if I am out volunteering in the campo and am offered chicken and rice for lunch, I’m not going to turn it down. That would be rude, and I would be very hungry after all that hard work.

If you cling to your identity as a “vegetarian” or “vegan” or whatever, you’ll probably experience unnecessary guilt and self-deprecation for eating meat or dairy, however seldom. I spent years secretly swiping turkey after Thanksgiving dinner because I hadn’t eaten it openly at the table, but I still craved the tryptophan. I go through long phases in which I have no desire for meat, but when I do feel tempted by it, I ask myself why. Do I simply need more protein? Is it comfort? (I notice the desire to eat meat crops up when I am in a self-piteous and/or self-destructive mood.) Laziness? Or a genuine desire for meat?

So, why do you eat meat? Habit? Taste? Tradition? Societal or familial pressure? Self-destruction? Mindfulness is paying attention to your motivations and intentions (and everything else too). If you’re interested in exploring the vegetarian lifestyle, a great way to start is by eliminating meat one or two days per week. See how you feel. Try it for a whole week, or maybe even assign yourself a a ten-day challenge. Remember: to be a successful vegetarian, you do need to plan ahead and prepare healthy meals for yourself.

Each one of us and our society as a whole benefits when one more person chooses better health, higher morals and mindfulness through the vegetarian lifestyle.


About Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a Gemini yogini, writer, teacher and retreat leader who founded Yoga Freedom in 2002 in Austin, Texas. Her home since 2012 is Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where she lives in a tiny eco cabin with her Colombiano partner and their adorable daughter, dog and two gatos. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has written some inspiring books, with more on the way. She leads yoga and mindfulness retreats and serves as the retreat managers for the stunningly beautiful Villa Sumaya on majestic Lago Atitlan. Her lineage is the very esoteric Yoga Schmoga, which incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma (Buddhist) teachings, pranayama (breath work), yin yoga, mindfulness practices and meditation. Join Michelle on retreat in Guatemala!


14 Responses to “Veg out: the yoga schmoga flexible un-diet.”

  1. Erin Nelson says:

    I like this piece…

    Diet is personal, intimate. I's probably the most intimate thing we do in public and share with others. It goes beyond fueling the body…. each calorie is a prayer, an assertion of love toward your body and yourself. It is a celebration that you are alive.

    What that means to you personally is a matter of perspective. Ahisma may mean eschewing animal products altogether for some, for others it falls under the natural cycle of life and death. Above all definitions, the call to not disguise our food is key. Too many eat mindlessly, even while focusing on every bite, because they don't know their food or contemplate from where it came. What is Tofurky *exactly*? Where did that pork chop live before it was wrapped in cellophane? Did those edamame contribute to more rain forest destruction in the Amazon?

    Forgiveness of yourself and others for their choices is also key. I have to admit- not eating meat is one of my sticking points and a source of disharmony when I contemplate getting more involved in yoga practice. I have thought about teaching, but have had trouble getting past the vegetarian dogma. Can I eat a happy tasting diet of all veg, non animal product food? Good tasting, yes. Nourishing for my body? No. There has always been a part of my body that craves meat. I know all the tricks, how to make vegan and even gluten free food, but my body is not itself without meat or dairy or fish. I've come to accept that this is my body, and that I shouldn't feel guilty or punish myself for feeding it as it requires. Yes I said "requires". It does mean, however, that I am now open to hunting my food, petting it before I order up the steak or chicken thighs. My ancestors were all farmers. No one took what wasn't necessary, and they raised all of their food. All that was killed, plant and animal, was eaten and every part was used to maximum capacity. To spare the vegans from distaste, I'll not go into the evolutions of a whole chicken in my kitchen, but I use everything.

    To all who want a beautiful, encompassing treatise on food and how we relate to it, I highly recommend finding the old school copy of "Laurel's Kitchen" It was sad for me that it wasn't included in the new version. But it speaks of a vegetarian diet that is balanced, that makes no pretense of meat. Above all, it speaks of the creation of meals as meditation, of prayer, as a method of creating intent for all the lives you touch.

  2. yogafreedomfoundation says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Erin. Diet is intimate, and until recently I would not have shared publicly about my "cheating" and eating meat on occasion because I didn't want to seem like a hypocrite. I have found peace with my nutritional choices by listening to my intuition and striving to eat mostly pure, unprocessed foods and I hope everyone is somewhere on that path toward wholeness and away from Twinkies.
    p.s. I know plenty of yoga teachers (and even some Buddhists) who LOVE their meat. Don't let that stop you!

  3. fraise13 says:

    When I was in a Teacher Training program, we followed the traditional yogic diet, though ingredients like garlic, onions, mushrooms and others were not eaten because they're "tamasic." Does anyone have thoughts on this? I gave up those things for about a year post training, but gradually added them back in because they're just so….tasty, and vegetarian no less :).

  4. Shep says:

    Michele – Beautiful backbend !
    A lot of what you said resonates with me, especially the part about swiping the turkey! I too abstain at the table, but will admit to eating a piece or two while carving! I try not to get all worked up about what I eat, and realize the world will not come to an end if I eat a bit of flesh.

  5. Tanya says:

    Thank you for this article Michelle. It was a pleasure to read and really down to earth. Thanks for that. I'm also a vegetarian with an occasional dairy indulgence – it's also typically when i'm eating 'out of the house'. 🙂

  6. Shep says:

    The yogic diet is Sattvic in nature, with light and easily digested foods to promote love, compassion, and forgiveness. It gives a feeling of contentment. Foods that fit this category are mango, pomegranate, coconut, figs, peaches, pears, rice, tapioca, blue corn, sweet potato, lettuce, parsley, sprouts, yellow sqaush, mung beans, yellow lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, organic milk, and yogurt. These foods have the highest Prana and life force in them.

    Foods to avoid would be Tamasic which is dull and depressing to the body, and Rajasic which are stimulating and irritating to the body and can make you angy and agitated. These include many tasty, nutritious and delicious vegetarian staples like avocado, watermelon, brown rice, mushroom and broccoli.

    When you followed a yogic diet, was your practice easier? Did meditation come easier? Were you calmer? Happier?
    As you added back the other foods, did that effect your practice? Did you become angry or short tempered? Or did you not see any difference at all?

  7. Shep says:

    It is a great practice of Ahimsa to be vegetarian. Ones diet should suit their own constitution, and what is good for one person may not be good for another. I personally would not want to give up watermelon! It was tough enough to give up meat!

  8. yogafreedomfoundation says:

    Shep, thanks for joining the conversation! I truly appreciate your additions. Namaste, Michelle

  9. yogafreedomfoundation says:

    Thanks, Tanya! It's all about going with the flow, right? Even if the flow occasionally involves CHEESE! Namaste, Michelle

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  12. yoga freedom says:

    Thank you, Vanessa! I am just now getting this comment. I'm glad you and Merv are trying out the veg way. Even a couple days a week is good. I can't wait to see you guys and have lots of delicious veg dinners in June! Your suggestions sound delicious. They don't have black eyed peas readily available in Guatemala. I'll have to hunt for them! Love ya!

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