So you love the physical practice of yoga and the stillness that the breath work and meditation brings, and you start to look into yoga philosophy. You’ll very quickly come across the Yamas and Niyamas – the restraints and observances – the ethical principles of yoga.
The first Yama is ‘Ahimsa’ – non-violence or not causing harm.
Which leads you to the question: how to practise non-violence in your daily life? One obvious area relates to the food you eat.
Does that mean every yogi should be vegetarian? Can you truly practise Ahimsa if you eat meat and fish?
I am vegetarian and have been since I was about eight years’ old. If you challenged me to state my opinion on this, I would probably say that yes I think yogis should be vegetarian. But then I notice the ‘should’* in that sentence and it makes me stop and think …
What about dairy? Milk and eggs (and their related products) are a by-product of the meat industry, so truly to practice Ahimsa, should you be vegan?
But if you’re vegan you’re likely to be eating more soya products – what about the disputed environmental impact of soya? (See my friend’s post: Where does my soya come from? )
Then there are issues about whether to eat organic or non-organic food? What about Fairtrade? Should you try to eat locally-sourced produce? What about the environmental costs of food production and waste – which applies to veggies and non-veggies alike?
That’s a lot of questions: it’s a complex issue.
See the bigger picture
As a teenager I was a rather militant vegetarian: VERY judgmental about those I saw as lesser mortals who relied on the killing on other living beings for their sustenance. This included regularly telling people exactly how that piece of meat got onto their plate, in lots of gory detail, while they were (trying) to eat it. Nice.
But now I try to see the complexities in the issue.
To practise Ahimsa it’s not just a yes/no answer about whether you’re vegetarian or not.
It’s not just about the food you eat. What about the clothes you wear? Do you wear leather? But then what’s the glue in your shoes made out of? What’s in the medication you take? Animal by-products are used in thousands of goods, not just in food – see the Vegan Society’s Glossary of Animal Substances.
And don’t forget about the human beings involved in harvesting, producing and distributing our food – what are their working conditions? How much are they paid?
More questions! And there’s no single, easy answer.
I believe we can work towards living a life within the principle of Ahimsa by living with honest awareness and gratitude that we depend on everything the earth gives us to survive – whether that’s animals or plants or each other.
If you eat meat, then do so mindfully, acknowledging the animal that gave up its life for you.
If you think you’d find it impossible to change your eating habits, have a go at changing for a time-limited period and see how you get on.
You could try having a weekly meat-free day, or try cutting out dairy for a week if you’re vegetarian.
A friend has recently pledged to go vegan for a year from being a meat eater (Read her blog at Pledged2Veg ). I find that very humbling – I was vegan for a while, but the cheese addiction got me. What a wimp!
Be mindful of everything you purchase and eat. Try and buy as ethically as you can. If financial restrictions mean you can’t afford to buy everything organic and Fairtrade could you instead regularly swap to organic or Fairtrade for just a few goods? This is what I do.
Spread the love
Another important aspect of Ahimsa is how you treat yourself and how you relate to others.
Ahimsa could be said to start with yourself. So be kind to yourself. Don’t cause yourself harm by judging yourself or denying yourself the right to be you.
Living a life in accordance with Ahimsa is challenging. There’s a lot take into consideration, but also lots you can do. Make a few small changes and see the difference you can make.
Do you try to bring the practice of non-violence into your life? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this…
* In my (humble) opinion the word ‘should’ is the meanest word in the English language. It has an implied wagging finger behind it; a judgmental meanness; a lack of compassion… So if I hear or read myself saying ‘should’ I try and stop and re-evaluate what I’m saying.
Stella Tomlinson teaches Dru yoga in Southampton, UK. Dru yoga is a flowing and therapeutic style of yoga, characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.