It’s a fact that most of yoga practitioners embrace a plant-based diet (1, 2) while vegans tend to meditate and exercise more and practice yoga. What are the links between the vegan diet, meditation, and yoga and how do they relate to each other?
Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. A follower of the diet or the philosophy is known as a vegan. (3)
Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on an object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. (4)
Mindfulness: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. (5)
Awareness: knowledge that something exists, or understanding of a situation or subject at the present time based on information or experience. (6)
Yoga: a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation. (7)
A few more thoughts about meditation
Meditation is not part of any religion; it is a science and a precise technique through which the mind becomes silent. When the mind is clear and relaxed, the meditation deepens. Also, you are awake and alert, but your attention focuses on the world within you. Meditation is to the mind what physical exercise is to the body. Additionally, meditation helps rest the mind and achieve a state of consciousness inwardly focused. In practice, there are different ways to meditate: focus your attention and thought on your breath, a sound, an image, or an object. The purpose though, is the same: to attain an inner state of awareness and increase personal and spiritual growth. Relax, breathe, feel, be aware.
The practice of yoga enhances both relaxation and concentration given by meditation. It also adds physical exercises that connect the body to the mind and vice versa. Therefore, yoga helps achieve a balance between the inner and outer world.
But yoga is not only about postures.
The postures – called Asana are only the third on the eight-limbed path to unity and the five Yamas are foremost important, from which the first one – Ahimsa (non-violence) is “the highest ideal. It is meant only for the brave, never for the cowardly.” (Gandhi)
The ancient texts called The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written between the second century BCE and fifth century CE, outline the basics and principles of yoga and mention eight limbs:
- YAMA – moral and social restraints
- NIYAMA – self-discipline
- ASANA – Yoga poses/postures
- PRANAYAMA – control of “Breath”
- PRATYAHARA – withdrawal of the senses
- DHARANA – collection or concentration of the mind
- DHYANA – deep meditation
- SAMADHI – enlightenment or bliss, state of oneness
Here is a brief definition of each yama:
Yama 1: Ahimsa – the practice of non-harming or non-violence
It teaches us to cause no harm in thought, speech, or action to any living creature, including ourselves. Ahimsa is the expression of the unconditional love towards everything and everyone. On top of that, it teaches love and it gives peace, balance, and wholeness.
Yama 2: Satya – truthfulness
In Sanskrit, “satya” means “that which exists, that which is,” being truthful in one’s thought, speech and action. Attention here: ahimsa comes first before satya and nonviolent communication is more urgent than truthful communication. (8)
Yama 3: Asteya – non-stealing
The practice of asteya urges not to take anything that has not been freely given and it is associated with both tangible things as well as intangibles such as information or emotions. Non-stealing includes not only taking what belongs to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose to that intended, or beyond the time permitted by its owner. (9 -Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar)
Yama 4: Brahmacharya – right use of energy
Brahmacharya leads the mind inward and frees the body from physical dependencies and cravings. When the mind is freed, sensual pleasures are replaced by inner joy. In Yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism it generally refers to a lifestyle characterized by sexual continence (marital fidelity) or abstinence (celibacy). (10)
Yama 5: Aparigraha – non-possessiveness or non-greed
It teaches to have a balanced relationship with what we call “mine”. “All the things of the world are yours to use, but not to own.” (Yogic maxim) Greed makes us possessed, anxiously holding onto our things and seizing for more. But when we free ourselves from it, possessions will bring us joy and peace.
And now let’s put all this together:
How can someone truly practice Ahimsa (non-violence) and consume products that lead to the torture and murder of billions of animals each year? How can we follow Satya (truthfulness) when we do not accept the cruel reality and report it for what suits us rather than for what it is? Do we really embrace the Asteya principle (non-stealing) when we steal the milk of the mother cow that was intended for her baby calf? Are we in control of our physical cravings? How can someone claim he practices yoga when the greed is so tremendous it affects the environment?
Those who practice yoga are or will eventually become flexitarians, vegetarians or vegans.
On the other hand, those who decide to eliminate meat and animal products from their diet, overtime will feel physical detoxification and cleanliness, flourishing flow of energy, and enlightenment. And that’s natural to occur. When you stop feeding your body with dead corpses and instead you nourish yourself with plant-based food, a regeneration process begins. But above all, your consciousness is clear. You are grateful that today no living creature had to die for you to live. You had no excuse for that previously and now you embraced the truth. There are plenty of options out there to keep you healthy. On top of that, this feeling leads you to a path where more awareness, gratitude, and unconditional love could be achieved. And that is meditation. And yoga.
As the Indian author and yogi Sadhguru mentions: The word “yoga” essentially means, “that which brings you to reality.”