October 3, 2014

Do Omnivores Eat Meat at Yoga School?


I like meat.

I like meat a lot. In my experience over the past few years I know that eating a moderate protein and high-fat diet from healthy and well-raised animal products is when I feel my best.

So when I made the commitment to spend five weeks living and learning about meditation and yoga at a vegetarian-mostly-vegan retreat center in southern Mexico, I went half expecting to get more than an earful about my diet. In fact—despite knowing that I should be going into the experience expectation free—I was already fairly certain that I might disagree with my instructors on a number of issues. And as far as expectations go, they set me up for feeling like an adversary.

Have you ever gone to somewhere expecting to defend yourself only to be surrounded by accepting arms and open hearts?

It sort of made me feel like a fool.

The Fool in the tarot card is an archetypal image of beginners mindThat is what I found I had as I learned more about the Hridaya yoga philosophies. Each of the teachers had their own ideas about the many topics of morality and right living but one topic I expected to be hot was the issue of yogic diet in relation to non-violence.

To my great pleasure the conversation was complex and nuanced. Like every other lesson, presentation or discussion group, opinions were varied. Our mantra became: Try it for yourself. Come to your own decisions. Bring this into your own life and find out what works for you.

Food for Peace and Purity.

My personal food philosophy is strongly influenced by ideals for yogic life, especially non-violence and cleanliness. While I don’t always live up to my own standards I strive for peace and purity in all things. The food I put inside my body has been a primary focus for me in the past few years.

Non-violence can be seen in many lights. It can apply to humans, animals, insects, plants or microorganisms in the earth, the air, the sea, every part of the earth, perhaps even every part of the universe. How might we go about making food decisions that cause the least harm possible?

I eat meat.

But supporting industrial agriculture means that buying meat in the grocery store equates to participating in a cruelty-filled enterprise. This does harm to the bodies of people who eat it, to the animals who live in terrible conditions and to the earth that is clear-cut and mono cultured to feed them, not to mention the economy which requires the subsidizing of GMO corn and soy to keep it all going.

Of course GMO soy isn’t just for livestock these days. A dependence on grains and legumes that are covered in pesticides and killing the soil isn’t going to help much either!

What Works for Me.

I wasn’t entirely vegetarian when I lived at the yoga retreat. We went out for dinner, ate meat and fish, cheese, yogurt and ice cream. Now that I’m back home not all of my food choices have been true to my ideals. But I keep walking this path every day because I know that my decisions are doing some good for the earth.

When I buy meat it is from farmers who raise livestock in open pastures, give them access to sunlight, provide the kinds of food that are natural and healthy for the animal, keeping them away from pesticides and treating them with respect. The same goes for eggs and dairy products. Whole, raw, healthy, pastured, organic, local.

These same guidelines help me make choices about fruits and vegetables as well. Buying organic—though not necessarily certified—produce helps ensure that the farm has a low impact on the environment. Permaculture principals benefit nature! Purchasing local products that aren’t trucked in and distributed through massive warehouse operations also helps reduce the toxic footprint of fruits and veggies.

Things Change.

The most important thing I hold onto, as I move forward with my yoga practice, is that the universe is always in flux and flow. Nothing stays the same for long. I have no need to cling to strict moralities and follow lifelong rules. The way I try to eat now will be how I live for the rest of my days.

I have learned so much about the art of discernment, about tuning into my own truth, knowing what is right for my body and when. I trust in that faith. I know that the more I choose things on the right path, the more I make decisions in line with my highest ideals, the easier it will be to follow my heart in matters of morality.

And the easier it will be to remember the open hearts of others.

Part of me wonders if my conviction that yoga retreat would be filled with judgment wasn’t just my own resistance trying to keep me away. Instead I followed my heart, met an amazing group of people from all walks of life, with all different lifestyles, making all sorts of choices about food and health and how to be in the world.

All loving each other for being part of the process of going within to seek the truth.



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Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: wikimedia


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