As an omnivore (or conscious carnivore), I choose a diet that includes animal protein. As a yogi, it’s important for me to be a role model of balance. Early on, I did the vegetarian route because I thought it was what a “yogi” should do. However, it was not the healthiest choice for me. Not everyone should be a vegetarian. In fact, if you’ve ever read "Eat Right For Your Blood Type" by Dr. D’Adamo his research suggests that our blood types evolved due in part to the environment we lived in and what type of food sources were available. For example, people with blood type O seem to have migrated from very cold climates (think Alaska) that had little vegetation and more meat food sources; therefore, they tend to do better with more meat and protein in their diet. Those with blood type A do best on a plant based diet having come from very warm climates that were abundant with fruits and vegetables. Those with blood type B (like me), adapted to their mild climates with its mixture of meat and vegetation and do best on a balanced diet of both. Even Ayurvedic medicine doesn’t “prescribe” vegetarianism for everyone. However, there are certain constitutions that require it to be vital and healthy. Just like yoga, there is no one-size-fits-all. Yoga, food and lifestyle should all be adapted to the individual.
With that being said, I’m not interested in debating veganism, vegetarianism or eating meat. They each have their merits and detriments, and you should do what feels best for you. I don’t live in extremes and I’m certainly not going to tell you to take an all-or-nothing approach to anything in your life. Strict dogma is a drag anyway!
The growing demand for processed meat and cheap, fast foods at many American meals has led us to this though: an extreme imbalance in our bodies, our waistlines, our medical bills, and our environment.
When we moved to CT, we lived on a farm. I was under no illusion about what happens when a favorite cow or chicken or pig went “missing”. Unlike the killing floors of the slaughterhouse, we lived on a family farm where the animals roamed free, were treated far better, and probably for far longer than they would have fared in the wild. When necessary, they were killed quickly, and yes, compassionately with the love only a farmer can have for the livestock they raised and bottle-fed from infants. If you’re not from the country, you can’t imagine how different this environment is from the killing factories.
These are the people I want to support, and the animals I’m honored to take in as part of me to help fuel the life I lead teaching others principles of inner strength and centering. I believe every effort should be made to stop the wanton, cruel slaughter of animals.
On a regular basis, I require meat for my constitution and my sanity. For some people, meat is not a deadening energy, but a grounding one. Some of us do very well with the inclusion of different types of meat, and very poorly on an all-vegetarian or vegan diet. I know, because I never felt worse while a vegetarian. What does the Dalai Lama say about his consumption of meat? He says he would be harming himself not to eat it once in a while.
Unfortunately, there is a hardcore vegan community out there and yogi fanaticism over vegetarianism. I was in a very famous yogi’s class who was talking about a raw food diet and reincarnation. His position was that if you ate chicken (or any meat), you were likely to come back as a chicken in your next life as karmic payment for your lack of ahimsa (non-harming). Without it being said, it was clear that the meat eaters are not as enlightened as this particular yogi master. Somewhere along the way, veganism stopped being synonymous with ethical treatment of animals and people. Conscientious consumption means eating and living ethically, not religiously.
In another class at a purist Jivamukti studio, the instructor approached a student, paused and sniffed. “I can tell by the smell of your sweat that you’re not a vegetarian” she announced for the whole class to hear. Jivamukti incorporates hard-core vegan and vegetarian education into its teacher training program. Eating ethically should not be a purity pissing contest!
So, withholding information on how to live in consciousness should one choose to eat meat, and simply dismissing them, judging them or comparing them to “Nazis”, as one leader in the vegan movement says in her book, isn’t just unfortunate, it’s just plain irresponsible and un-yogic in my opinion. Yoga in its purest philosophical form (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) does not tell us what to eat. It says for each of us to choose the path that creates the least suffering based on what we feel that should be.
The pain an oyster experiences when farmed from the sea may seem indistinguishable from that of a potato when removed from the soil. Unfortunately, the seabed dredging required to harvest oysters, clams and mussels, ruins underwater ecosystems. The primary tenet of veganism is minimizing suffering. If it’s really about eating ethically, soy-based ice cream, frozen, faux-cheese pizza, and meatless buffalo wings don’t cut it. Sure, cows and chickens aren’t directly harmed in the process but what about the farm workers who are exposed to pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified crops, and exploited on a daily basis?
But where do we draw the line for “ethical eating”? Which creatures have consciousness and which do not? A fly, a spider, and all of the billions of insects killed daily to harvest the fruits and vegetables for salads and vegan meals, run away from pain and death. Enough studies have been done to prove that plants have been shown to feel pain when you cut them…or chew them to death in your salad. Just because they can’t talk doesn’t mean they don’t have consciousness or awareness. That leaves us one solution…stop eating. But then you run the risk of killing the bacteria in your gut, you heartless monster!
This is a subject that we don't like to face. That life is cruel. Any action has a reaction and what is good for one is bad for another. When a lion makes a kill it is cruel to the victim but it is healthy for the greater system. Likewise, in our diets, we run into the paradox that at some level we cannot avoid the cruelty. For myself to exist I must accept that something else cannot because there is a finite amount of organic material.
I believe that we are intimately interconnected and should be reverent towards everything that comes from the earth, and goes into our bodies. My father-in-law learned to hunt from a Native American. He taught my husband this same respect which has been passed down to our son. They hunt for food, not for sport, and they only take what they need. They pray for a painless death and do their best to make that happen. They work side-by-side from start to finish with a sense of gratitude and asking forgiveness from the animal for taking its life. And when we finally sit down, we too are grateful. I believe that this gratitude and intention plays a key part of eating.
I have a Native American Blessing that I keep near our kitchen table: Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank you for the food we eat. Bless our meat and guide our ways. Great Spirit give us grace to please. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thanks Great Spirit for everything. Thank you O Great Spirit… for food in a world where many walk in hunger; for faith in a world where many walk in fear; for friends in a world where many walk alone, we give you humble thanks.
Just as there is no yoga pose that is perfect for every body, there is no one-size-fits-all way of eating. It’s the intention and quality with which we eat that makes us yogis, not that we always or never eat this or that. In fact, I’ve seen plenty of unhealthy vegetarians…living mainly on white, sugary, processed foods. It’s up to each of us to claim what our body is asking for, and in addition, aim to be as aware of the consequences on others that ripple outward from the way we procure that food.
Our family has a vegetable garden as well as trees and bushes that provide an abundance of apples, pears, grapes and raspberries. We are lucky that we have a local farmer’s market and access to fresh food to subsidize what we cannot grow or raise. We choose good, quality meat (free range or farm raised) and other mindfully produced goodies.
This is not about eating organic as much as it is about not eating the feedlot-produced animals, or the mass-produced vegetables, fruits and grains that can be destructive to our well-being and the health of the earth. If you do buy organic, make sure you look for certification from anyone other than the USDA! I hope this leads you to re-examine the orthodoxy’s most illogical presuppositions, then strike your own balance around this issue. In this way, you will forge a personal path only you can walk towards with more clarity and personal choice…not less.
This story comes from Ana Forrest’s autobiography, Fierce Medicine, and is truly yogic:
Josquin, then a fanatical vegetarian, told a hilarious story about being in my home for the first time and finding a turkey leg, stripped surgically clean, in the trash. (He didn’t know I’d given it to Wicca, my parrot, a meticulous bone nibbler and polisher.) He’d shuddered; for him, it was like stumbling across a crime scene. Did he really want to keep company with such a rampant, committed carnivore? “I swallowed hard,” he told all of us who’d gathered in the circle, “and decided to love Ana anyway.”
Karen Pierce is a professional organizer and yoga teacher. She helps people transform their lives…inside and out.
She was introduced to meditation and yoga as a teen and has continued to deepen her practice over nearly 3 decades. Karen holds many certifications including her E-RYT 500 through Yoga Alliance, is a certified Yoga Ed instructor, a Professional Yoga Therapist, and a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists. She is dedicated to bringing the practice of therapeutic yoga to all populations in a safe format that is rooted in exercise science. Her style is based on being safe and includes many modifications and adaptations. You will learn when to push, when to surrender and when to rest. Her approach focuses on falling in love with yoga and her students love her challenging, ever-changing classes and her upbeat, relaxing style. Karen is also the author of Yoga Bear: Yoga for Youngsters - a children's book published by Northword Press (2004) and Co-Contributor to Yoga in America (2009).
A life-long student of yoga, she has been blessed to have learned from many world renowned yogi masters. Her style is based on her extensive teaching experience and her studying with multiple lineages, teachers and styles of yoga. Karen takes what is most helpful and meaningful from a vast array of different sources and styles... but her heart belongs to the teachings of Krishnamacharya and her dedication to her mentor Mark Whitwell. Mark is a gifted teacher and she is fortunate to have the experience of the true spirit of yoga and the authentic essence of how it was taught over 100 years ago by Krishnamacharya who was a true pioneer in his ability to translate ancient teachings and make them relevant in a modern context. He inspired thousands of practitioners worldwide and today his teachings are very popular through his many students including his son TKV Desikachar (Viniyoga), BKS Iyengar (Iyengar), Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga), and Srivatsa Ramaswami (Vinyasa Krama).
Karen is a master of progressive teaching (breaking poses down in a systematic way and teaching series classes that train students to master the actions and the inner attitude to progress in a logical and balanced way over time.) Karen works with movement sequencing (asana and somatics), breath work (pranayama), mudras, energy work, and the wisdom of Ayurveda (Indian Medicine) so that the yoga can be adapted to all levels of ability. Every class has an intention or sequencing (krama) that is unique to the group and follows Krishnamacharya's principle to "teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other." Yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual.
As a Yoga Therapist, Karen works one-on-one with individuals honoring ancient yoga techniques while combining modern wisdom to identify imbalances and empower the person to progress toward improved health and well-being. Through in-depth postural assessment, testing of specific joint range of motion and muscle strength, observing breathing patterns and taking into account the person's Ayurvedic constitution, a customized treatment plan is devised. Yoga therapy's greatest goal is to guide each person in his/her own deeper awareness, greater understanding, and movement to facilitate healing and wellness.