I would like to put it out there that we can challenge our yoga practice in yet another way, in a way that is even more beautiful and transcendent, one that acknowledges not only our own beauty but that of others. I would like to challenge you on the first yama of the yoga practice: ahimsa.
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that means non-violence or non-harming. It is a yama, which means it is a restraint that refers to our relationship with others. The reference to others is all-inclusive. It includes all human beings and all animals and all of nature. My teacher Sharon Gannon says, and I often quote, yogis are practical people. If we want to be practical in the pursuit of ahimsa then, the logical choice in reducing our participation in violence and harm in this world is to make vegan choices. Vegan choices mean that we stop hurting and killing animals, we stop exploiting our natural resources, we stop participating in a system that perpetuates world hunger, and we stop creating jobs where killing is a necessary skill.
As yogis, we learn to become honest with our bodies and how we move these bodies within the space we share with everyone else. So let us be honest. When we put the bodies and secretions of animals in our own bodies, we create a world of fear and suffering. By doing the opposite, by going vegan, we create a different world, a world where we acknowledge that this space is shared space, that our basic desires to be happy and to be free are the same. We know how good it feels to be able to stretch our limbs and twist to the side and stand on our heads. Animals desire something similar, to have the freedom to move, the freedom to own their own lives, to live out their natural lives without a death sentence determined by taste and convenience.
We yogis understand that our practice, even as it is a work in progress, changes lives. That is why I am challenging you, if you are not yet vegan, to try veganism for the month of January. Just 31 days to give it a try. It is up to you if you want to keep this challenge a quiet one or if you would like to announce it to the world. What matters is that you commit to it and try your best.
Here are some steps I suggest to get you started:
1. They say when the WHY is clear, the HOW follows. Please watch any or all of these: Earthlings, Meet Your Meat, From Farm to Fridge, A Peaceable Kingdom and A Life Connected. Read Yoga and Vegetarianism, The Food Revolution, and Eating Animals.
2. Get information on the practical aspects of going vegan. Try the recipes at The Post Punk Kitchen, The Superfood Grocer, or take cooking classes with The Kitchen Revolution. Eating out? Check out the listings at the Happy Cow online directory.
3. Understand the other aspects of the vegan lifestyle. Listen to The Vegetarian Food for Thought podcast, connect with online or offline vegan communities, or even find a vegan mentor. Going vegan is not just about what we eat. It is a web of choices that affect how we interact with other people and how we view animals used in all other industries beyond food.
Challenges can be life-changing. In this case, you save 8 lives by going vegan for 31 days. The number is based on the very conservative estimate that a vegan spares the lives of 100 land animals a year (there is no known calculation for sea animals at the moment). Maybe 8 lives do not seem like a lot, but 8 lives that are allowed to live rather than signed off to die means a lot in the practice of ahimsa.
We are yogis who live in an economy-driven system. We can change the system if we actively participate in changing the economy. We eliminate the animal products and by-products we consume and we effectively reduce the demand. Yes, yogis are practical people indeed.
Balancing on our arms is an amazing feat, but giving animals the freedom to explore their own strength is even better. Reaching for our ankles in wheel is impressive, but seeing other beings as equal to us is a more profound practice of our flexibility. Standing on our head shifts our view of the world, but going vegan allows us to change alongside the world. This body that we have is strong and resilient and beautiful, but if we rely only on our physical body to practice yoga, it is very limiting. We can get an injury or lose a limb, and what then? But if we practice yoga with both our physical body and our sense of compassion, then our practice can only expand. No external condition can then stop the growth of our spirits. We become limitless.
Just 31 days.
You can do it.