Veganism,yoga & mindfulness are indissolubly connected
When I was a teenager learning how to drive, my mother would take me to a big empty parking lot and teach me how to parallel park, and make three-point turns. We’d practice and practice driving in and over the painted white divider lines until sunset. After awhile, I finally felt ready to take the car onto the back roads and eventually onto the highway.
That memory reminds me of what my yoga teacher said during class one day. She said that when we practice on the mat, it is not to find strength, flexibility and peace on our mats during class, it is so we can bring those things out with us into our lives. Inner strength when faced with adversity, flexibility so we’re not so rigid in our thoughts, and the ability to find peace amid chaos.
I wasn’t driving in that empty parking lot to become proficient in driving around a parking lot. I was practicing in that safe, guided space, so that I could take what I learned on the road to my ultimate destination.
When I first discovered yoga and meditation, I was immediately drawn to the satsang — the grouping of like-minded people who were seekers, like me. I loved the philosophy, the history, the physical movement, the stillness, the peace. I studied the eight limbs of yoga, which is a definable blueprint for living a meaningful, enlightened life. I studied the tenet of Ahimsa, which advocates non-violence and non-harming. I felt satisfied that I was living my life following the tenet of Ahimsa. I was a peaceful person. I was a mindful person. I didn’t think I was harming anything. I immersed myself into a wonderful yearlong teacher training and started teaching yoga and meditation, confident that I was taking what I had learned in that safe space - out into the world. But I was not practicing what I was teaching and part of me wasn’t even aware of it.
And then I discovered veganism. As best-selling author, TED Talk presenter and research professor Brené Brown would say, I “dared greatly” by watching some of the videos that thrust me into the truth about animals as food, clothing, entertainment and experimentation. I was overwhelmed by the reality. But I was also quickly propelled to a new and higher level of consciousness. I believe it was my ultimate wake-up call. It was suddenly very important to me to conduct my life according to my deepest values of compassion, mercy and love — to respect the health of my body and of the earth, and all living beings. The more I learned about the treatment of animals, the degradation of the earth and disease run rampant, the more I knew I was ready to change. The Bhagavad Gita tells us that when you feel the suffering of every living thing in your own heart, that is consciousness. I was finally awake. I was practicing yoga. I was mindful.
Jivamukti yoga is a style of yoga that connects veganism and the practice of yoga. Sharon Gannon, Jivamukti’s co-founder, shares her view of this connection when she tells us that, “Through the practice of yoga and veganism, we can realize that we were meant to live in harmony with all the other animals and all of life. We come to know that our physical bodies function better without having to instill fear into others and to kill them, and that there is no nutrient that we need that we can’t get directly from plant sources or from sunlight. We come to recognize that our old bodies can be transformed and become light and whole — holy bodies, used as vehicles to bring peace.”
Practicing yoga and meditation is like driving the car around in that safe empty parking lot. But it cannot be our fullest expression, unless we take what we’ve learned into the conduct of our own lives. Veganism is what you take out into your life when you are ready to know more truth than you care to know. It’s taking your understanding of the eight limbs of yoga (www.expressionsofspirit.com/yoga/eight-limbs.htm), and deciding to incorporate Ahimsa into the conduct of daily life.
Dr. Will Tuttle, author of “The World Peace Diet,” tells us that daily life is filled with choices of how we conduct ourselves. “We have to make a choice of how to satisfy and nourish our bodies every day … often three times a day we have to choose. Whether we want to or not … we are all involved in this issue of conscious or unconscious living. If we purposely block out the truth about the food we eat, we become so easily distracted. We allow ourselves to be manipulated by big business interests — because their profits depend on our inability to make meaningful connections.”
And isn’t that yoga — connecting our minds to our bodies to our spirits? Isn’t that yoga, to destroy (through asana, meditation and conviction) the walls of separation between us, and everything and everyone else?
Yoga is not a workout — it is a work in. Yoga is the vehicle in which we ride to a higher consciousness. But let’s not leave that consciousness in the parking lot. Let’s take it out into the world. Veganism is higher consciousness out on the highway, an awakened state of being. Veganism connects us to everything and everyone, it allows us to hear the collective heartbeat. Veganism is the essence of Ahimsa. Veganism and yoga are interminably connected.
In many classes, yogis and yoginis chant this beautiful mantra: “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
These are simple, but powerful words, not unlike the golden rule we learned in school. A viable goal is freedom, compassion and the ability to make the ultimate connection.