Monday, February 1, 2010

How are food and yoga related?

If you keep up with the social networking sites and you follow anyone who is in anyway involved with yoga, chances are you saw the New York Times article last week titled When Chocolate and Chakras Collide. This little article moved through the internet like a wild fire through a dry forest. Food is always a big issue when it comes to yoga, it's one thing that no one can seem to agree on. What should we eat, when should we eat, does it all even matter?

This particular article put a new spin on the whole yoga/food debate. Should yoga and food be combined? Is the mat a place to share a meal or is it just a sweaty piece of equipment, a tool of the trade? Can sharing a meal after a yoga class be a sensual experience? Should it be? These were all questions raised by the article and discussed amongst the yoga community.

The thing that struck me first about this article wasn't really about the article at all. What I first noticed was that this was posted on Facebook pages, and tweeted on Twitter innumerable times throughout the day , and everyone seemed to want to know everyone else's opinion on the subject, but no one seemed to want to give their own. Things like yoga and food are taboo, but why? Food is a part of our lives, an important part of our lives. The foods we eat, how we prepare them and how they effect us physically and energetically are as important to our yoga practice as asana. However, for many of us we are either uncomfortable with some aspect of our food intake, and therefore avoid talking about it. Or, we are too comfortable with it and don't want to be forced to look at our habits differently. Discussions about food are often seen as judgemental, sort of a “who's yogi-er than who” contest. That's simply not the case. Speaking about food, our choices and why we choose them is just another form of practicing satya with one another. If we are truthful with ourselves and others no conversations are uncomfortable.

But, I digress, back to this article........can food and yoga be mixed? And, does it matter what we eat?

Yoga and food can most definitely be mixed, in my opinion. Both food and yoga are nourishing physically and spiritually. Food that is prepared in a mindful, compassionate, and loving way fills a person with compassionate, loving energy. After all, food is energy, both physically in the form of fuel for our bodies, but also energetically in the form of Prana. Food is also a way of community building. Community is an important means of support for our spiritual growth. Growing is hard and it's best done with the support and guidance of others.

I don't really think there's much debate on whether food and yoga can be mixed. I think the real issue presented in this article is this, should food and yoga be mixed as a means to draw more people to yoga, and to essentially make money. As David Romanelli, founder of the “Yoga for Foodies” series puts it, “It’s a way of getting people in the door,” he said in an interview. “The world is a better place if people do yoga. And if they come because chocolate or wine is involved, I’m fine with it.” I don't disagree that the World would indeed be a better place if more people did yoga, but I don't believe that's the motivation here. Bringing someone to yoga under false pretenses, doesn't serve the yoga community as a whole. People will find yoga when they are ready, and they will find it for the right reasons, not because someone gave them a piece of chocolate cake and a glass of wine when they were finished. Indeed, Mr. Romanelli even admits in the article that he saw yoga as a business opportunity before a spiritual one. “The “yoga industry” now represents about $6 billion in annual spending by American consumers on classes, videos, mats and apparel like the $158 Apres Yoga jacket at the upscale chain Lululemon, according to Yoga Journal magazine”. Yoga is not an industry, you don't need special apparel, special equipment, or any other material things to follow a yogic lifestyle. This article is just another commentary on the American bastardization of what yoga really is.

This article goes on to discuss what has most definitely become a hot button issue in yoga communities. What foods should a yogi eat? Can a person practice yoga and continue to eat meat? I guess the answer to that question is both yes, and no.

I believe that a person can indeed practice yoga, and eat meat. However, I don't believe that you can fully embrace and understand the true liberation, the true freedom that yoga offers if you are yourself enslaving other beings. We must liberate others in order to experience liberation ourselves.

There are some rather “famous” yogis who openly admit to eating meat. One such yogi, Sadie Nardini is quoted in this article as saying, “Nowhere is it written that only vegetarians can do yoga,” she said in an interview. “We do not live in the time of the founding fathers of yoga, and we don’t know what they wanted us to eat.” Indeed, we don't know what foods the founding fathers of yoga prescribed. However, we know quite clearly that they prescribed ahimsa, non-violence. Ahimsa is viewed by many to be the cornerstone of the yoga practice. Given the modern methods of farming and meat production anyone would be hard pressed to say that it wasn't a violent industry. Whether someone realizes it or not, if they participate in eating meat they are contributing to and encouraging this violence. Not ahimsa by any stretch of the imagination.

This doesn't mean that I think one can't or shouldn't practice yoga if they eat meat. I think everyone should practice yoga. I do however think that one should see this for what it is and stop kidding themselves into believing it's something it's not. Excuses only hold us back from growth. Yoga after all is about refining ourselves and getting closer to god. If one isn't doing the hard work of self examination, and admitting his faults, then it seems wrong to call himself a yogi. You can't live yoga and still keep all of your old habits. Words have definitions for a reason, and we can't just change the definition of ahimsa to suit our meat eating. Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence. Slaughtering animals for unnecessary food is violent. Period.

We have no problem noticing, admitting to, and attempting to change our other faults. Take satya, truthfulness, for instance. None of us would try to change what satya means in order to keep telling non-truths. Instead, we admit that we are human, we recognize and admit that we've made mistakes, and we try our best next time to do the right thing. This doesn't seem to be the case with meat eating. This is a habit so deeply ingrained in us that we can't even detach from it enough to admit that it may not jive with our chosen path.

Speaking of satya, you could examine the meat eating habit as it relates to any number of the yamas and niyamas and see that eating meat is contrary to these important precepts that have been given to us.

Let's look. Satya, truthfulness. We are not being honest with ourselves or others when we refuse to do the self examination necessary to see our meat eating as wrong. Asteya, non-stealing. When we eat animals we not only steal from them parts of their bodies, their babies (in the case of the dairy industry), and their lives. We steal from them their very life purpose. Animals are sentient beings. They all have a life that matters to them. Bramacharya, conservation or redirection of vital energy, or moderation. Our meat eating, and indeed our eating in general, is anything but moderate. Meat is an absolutely unnecessary part of our diets. If we are eating in moderation, following bramacharya, we eat only what we need. Eating the flesh of stressed and scared animals also steals from us our prana (vital life force). Aparigraha, non-greed. If we really examine the reasons why we eat meat we will see that what it all boils down to is greed. We like the way animals taste, we like the way cheese tastes, and therefore we continue to consume them, no matter what the cost. Saucha, purity. Saucha is about purifying our bodies through mindfulness. It's an opportunity for us to consider the foods we put in our bodies. Our food should nourish and sustain us, not weigh us down and fill us with the stressed and terrified energy that we take in when we consume the meat of a slaughtered animal. Santosha, contentment. This refers to appreciating the qualities of our life without greedy desires. Again, taking us back to Aparigraha, the practice of non-greed. Tapas, self-discipline. Breaking old habits is hard. Avoiding animal products and living outside the status quo is a practice in self discipline. Swadhyaya, self study. In order to reach samadhi we must embark on a journey of self study and refinement. Examining the attachment to meat and why we are so reluctant to give it up is in itself a practice of swadhyaya.

So, yes, while we may never know exactly what the founding fathers wanted us to eat, we do know the way in which they wanted us to behave. Eating animal flesh, especially in this day and age is certainly not a behavior that aligns with the founding fathers intentions.


  1. Beautiful views. Thank you for your thoughtful insights!

  2. I couldn't have said it better myself. And I've been waiting a long time to see someone express these views. Thank you!

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