Ahimsa and Vegetarianism

Nutrition holds a particular interest for me.  I have always loved the idea and subscribed to the theory of “you are what you eat”.  I didn’t realize how much truth there was in this statement until the day a routine check up with my gynecologist discovered a 3cm tumor growing in my ovary.  Thankfully it was non malignant, however the 2 surgeries, numerous blood tests and scans that have followed to this day have given me a wakeup call of just how important it is to look after and care for your body.
In the aftermath of my cancer scare, I started doing research into various cancer curing and prevention diets.  I found that all of them have the same thing in common:  they were all vegetarian, with the vast majority of them being vegan.  My research continued into a holistic approach to body healing, which of course led to exercise, and the concept of yoga as a healer for the mind, body and the soul.   As yoga originates from India the vast majority of teachers have been vegetarian, giving weight to the idea that vegetarianism and yoga go hand in hand.  Some argue, even that you can’t truly practice yoga if you are eating an animal product of any kind.  And these arguments almost always lead to the same sutra: ahimsa.
Ahimsa is the first sutra of Yama, and it quite simply means non-harming or non-violence in Sanskrit.  A more detailed description can be found in Hinduism.  The scriptures state that Ahimsa is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt you.
And it’s here I find that the whole concept of ahimsa is lost in translation.  In yoga, non-harming and non-violence is specifically related to yourself.  Violence has been defined on this course as forcing your own viewpoint on someone else.  So it follows that if a vegetarian or vegan is doing exactly that, then surely their behavior is being less than ahimsa.
Another thing that is so clear to me just from practicing yoga in this course is how different our bodies are from each other.  We touched on this briefly by studying Kapha, Pitta and Vata body types.  Therefore surely something that works for one person isn’t true for another.
When it comes to diet and practicing ahimsa, there are many ways to incorporate meat while staying true to the Yoga Sutra. Perhaps the right approach is to eat meat only on certain days of the week or year. Or the way meats are farmed, in ethical ways where the animals are treated and fed well.  Personally I believe it’s really important to say a prayer of thanks to the animal that has given its life for your sustenance, nourishment, and enjoyment.
Finally, the way in which food is eaten is something that is too often overlooked.  To make a commitment to sit down, breathe deeply and give thanks for the meal is a great way of treating yourself with gentleness and kindness. This is just one way of practicing ahimsa from a place of non judgment, giving you a way of responding to any challenges from a place of understanding, on the journey to finding your true self.

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