Do yogis have to be vegetarians? By Jenny Park

A commonly held belief is that all yogis must practice vegetarianism in order to reap all the benefits yoga has to offer. Is this true, or can yogis eat meat if they feel compelled to do so?
The link between vegetarianism and yoga comes from the practice of Ahimsa, which means to do no harm. There is some debate as to whether or not this extends to all sentient life forms including animals or just fellow human beings. Most agree that is does encompass animals in addition to humanity. Ahimsa is an important part of yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism and other ancient religions.
Modern yoga is now practiced heavily in the West where such religions are not as influential. Christianity, the most widespread religion in the West, does not specifically ban the eating of animals though several prominent figures in the Bible clearly abstained from eating the flesh of animals. As a result, the West heavily consumes animal products of all persuasions as part of a normal diet. This creates problems for those looking to make yoga a part of their day-to-day lives. Must they give up meat in order to be a “proper” yogi?
For most individuals, it will come down to a matter of personal preference. There are a few practical benefits to eating a vegetarian diet that may have a positive impact on the quality of yoga practice in general. A vegetarian diet tends to be lighter and cleaner, leading to more energy and easier movements through the asanas. This is likely the primary benefit of eating a vegetarian diet if one is solely practicing the physical aspects of yoga. If one is looking to apply the spiritual side of yoga to their lives, vegetarianism and perhaps even veganism may be necessary as laid down by ancient yogic texts.
From a purely physical standpoint, there are several benefits to eating meat on a daily basis. Scientific studies have shown that protein plays a vital part of proper cell turnover throughout the human body, making it an important anti-aging compound. Animal protein is one of the most easily assimilated proteins available, while vegetable protein sources usually require the body to work in order to make the protein usable. With that said, most people in Western society eat entirely too much protein in one sitting, resulting in a lack of balance within their diet. Even the most carnivorous person could benefit from adding more vegetables to his or her plate.
In the end, the most definitive way to choose whether or not to practice vegetarianism may be to simply listen to the body itself. If the body responds to animal proteins with strength, vitality and endurance, it could be that animal proteins are right for you. If your body makes it clear that it’s best fueled from vegetable sources alone then honor and respect that fact.
The beauty of yoga is that it is open to all and everyone may take what they will from it. Individuals may choose to simply practice the physical art of yoga and stick with their own spiritual beliefs, or alternatively one may choose to apply the spiritual side that resonates with them as well. This is what makes yoga a timeless gift capable of withstanding centuries of time and change.
If one chooses to consume animal proteins, there are some more gentle sources of meat, such as eggs or fish, and also free range options, which honor an animal’s right to roam free and be happy during their lives up until consumption. These mindful choices make the eating of meat more congruent with the philosophical and spiritual side of yoga.

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