Yoga and Veganism. From personal to universal.

I became vegan before I found the Jivamukti Yoga community. But I was already a long way into my yoga practice. I was practicing Bikram, Power yoga and then Ashtanga. Somewhere along the way, my back then boyfriend and now husband, told me about the plant-based diet and that it can improve health. Very quickly I became interested in the idea and was committed to to give it a try. Many people around me told me that it cannot be healthy at all, and that it is silly not to eat animals. However my body felt really good without consuming animal products.

There was a lot of confusion in the beginning of my plant-powered way, as there is so much information that can mislead one. So I had to dive into a massive work of research that is available out there and my interest led me to Cornell University, where I immersed myself into the certification program on Whole Foods Plant Based Nutrition.

However, I did not have the vegan heart at first. I was merely doing it to improve my health. But somewhere along the way my heart woke up and I came to the realisation that animals are the same beings as us, and that their wish for happiness is no different from mine. With this enlightenment I had a great breakthrough in my yoga practice, relationship with myself and others.

Later on, my Mysore Ashtanga Yoga practice led me to India. I was practicing in the world renown school of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore. I am grateful to my Sanskrit and Yoga philosophy teacher Lakshmish, whom I’ve learned from a great many things. I have made friends with Saraswathi Jois, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’s daughter, and have arranged a 10 day teaching event with her in Barcelona.

My Mysore experience and the event with Saraswathi Jois back home in Barcelona made me realise the power of the community of like-minded people. The impact that group of like-minded people can have on the world is enormous.

When I met Sharon Gannon, I realised that she is not a just the founder of a yoga school but the founder of the Jivamukti community; like-minded people who are driven by activism. It is a spiritual activism, vegan activism and environmental activism that is at the core of this community. Jivamukti is an integral yoga method that is bringing real change into the world.

I was a certified yoga instructor before my Jivamukti teacher training has even begun, but I knew that just the asana instructions cannot bring much change in the world. I choose to be a Jivamukti Yoga teacher, because I share its core philosophy. The Jivamukti method is a path to enlightenment through compassion for all beings. It is kindness that is spoken through every Jivamukti teacher, it is the yoga wisdom of unity.

Through the Jivamukti Yoga method we are establishing a mutually beneficial relationships with all beings of the Earth. ‘Earth’ here implies life. Sage Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras: “Sthira Sukham Asanam.” The connection to the Earth should be steady and joyful. Asana is commonly known as the practice of asana, physical exercise, but the literal sanskrit translation means “seat”. By taking a seat you establish the connection to the Earth. By Earth we me mean ‘all life’, without exceptions: plants, animals, humans, minerals, etc.  According to Patanjali, the seat that we establish should be steady (sthira) and joyful (sukham).

When one puts in practice this sutra, one goes beyond the culture that one was raised in. One starts practicing universal relationships of kindness, that are beyond the notion that the Earth and all animals exist for our benefit and are here to be exploited by us.

The yoga philosophy points out that the goal of our practice is unity. The Jivamukti method is an oath to this unity and interconnection of all beings. The practice is not the physical asana practice that stops on the yoga mat, but a much greater practice that does not have weekends and days off. It becomes a way to improve one’s relationship to all others, and will inevitably lead to enlightenment and realisation of the Self, which is samadhi, happiness and bliss.

In the Jivamukti Yoga method students as well as teachers establish and advance in their yoga practice very rapidly. The aim of the teacher is to share all knowledge with the student, so the student can become a teacher one day.

Jivamukti Yoga method is build upon 5 tenets:

Ahimsa

A nonviolent, compassionate lifestyle extending to other animals, the environment and all living beings, emphasizing ethical vegetarianism (veganism) and animal rights.

Bhakti

Acknowledgment that God/Self-realisation is the goal of all yoga practices; can be expressed through chanting, the setting of a high intention for the practice or other devotional practices.

Dhyana

Meditation: connecting to that eternal unchanging reality within.

Nada

The development of a sound body and mind through deep listening; can be incorporated in a class using recorded music, spoken word, silence or even the teacher’s voice.

Shastra

Study of the ancient yogic teachings, including Sanskrit chanting, drawn from the Focus of the Month to the extent possible.

Why vegan?

As I learned to adopt a strict plant-based diet via a scientific approach, I can recommend and guide people to that direction through scientific reasoning. The easiest way to start your education is through a few well done documentaries: Forks Over Knives Cowspiracy 

It is not easy to give up addictive substances like milk, butter and cheese. The degree of addiction of certain dairy products is similar to drugs like cocaine. They are also very prevalent in our daily lives. It’s really hard to find a food item in our supermarkets that is free of either milk, butter or cheese.

Recovery from dairy and animal foods addiction is a great practice, which will require lots of self-awareness and learning. However the results will be asstonishing, and you will feel at your best. You will learn new ways to eat and shop. First you will think that you are depriving yourself of tasty and amazing foods, but very soon you will open a whole new world that is full of adventures and new foods and new experiences. It is a new, beautiful life just eating at your best. A whole foods plant-based is not a diet, it is a lifestyle and it is the best skill you can acquire as an adult.

Being vegan goes beyond a healthy way of eating. ‘Vegan’ means that you not only refuse to eat animal foods, but you also do not use animal products, such as leather, fur, products tested on animals, vitamins that are animal based, etc. To become vegan you have to realise the animal suffering in your heart. A vegan knows and feels that there is no difference between human and animal suffering.  

A vegan knows and feels that there is no difference between human and animal suffering.

Does is mean that all vegans are yogis? I don’t know, but vegan people have definitely realised something very kind, that really matters, something that makes them realise the unity. They are able to connect with beings on the Earth.

Why Veganism is the most important part of the yoga practice?

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali gives us a 5 recommendations – yamas – on how to live a yogic life. A life that is dedicated to liberation from suffering, a life that is dedicated to enlightenment. The yamas are presented in the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, known as the ‘Chapter on Practice’.  So, a yama is something that the yogi puts into practice. With a closer look, the contemporary yogi can find that veganism is directly linked to all of the yamas. By following the yamas and applying them one will realise the unity. And unity is the goal of our practice.

  1. Ahimsa

The very first advice of Patanjali’s towards Yoga is Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a practice of non-harming and non-violence. How can one ignore that the main tenet of the Yoga practice is vegetarianism. How would you eat a being without harming it. Of course, by just being alive we do harm many beings, but we want to minimize the amount of harm that we bring in the world. Always questioning how we do things, and looking for the best solutions to create less impact, when we consume things.

    2. Satya

Satya means truthfulness. Living in ‘satya’ means always trying to be a bigger and better version of yourself. Getting to the truth is not an easy process. However, the more you are established in yoga practice, the deeper you are able to peel the layers of avidya, that prevents us seeing the truth. And then it is being true to ourselves and living aligned with the truths that we discover along the way. No matter how hard it can be to practice the truth, finding out the horrors that surrender the animal industries. Some of this truths are not easy to find, and can be hard to watch. Earthlinks  and Plastic Oceans 

      3. Asteya

The third yama is asteya. Asteya means ‘non-stealing’. People steal when they feel less than others. By practicing yoga we come to experience the fullness of our being. The deeper our practice goes, the more  we realise the feeling of wholeness. We understand that it cannot be bought or taken away. We are born whole, but along the way society imposes that we need things to be fulfilled, so we start looking outside of ourselves for this fulfillment, acquiring more and more stuff that promises us the fulfillment.

The industries that produce meat, dairy and fashion are found on the intention to make people feel less.

Examples:

“You need calcium, drink milk!”

“You want to be strong, eat meat!”

“You want to look expensive, buy furs!”  

At the very core of these industries is the stealing of lives, happiness and freedom of other beings.

4. Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya – is to respect the creative power of sex and not abuse it by manipulating others sexually. Animals on farms or in zoos are not living in their natural habitat. Their sexual energy is misused. That is why it is such a big thing if species living imprisoned have babies. On the animal farms, both male and female animals are raped. Male animals for their semen, and female cows are inseminated by the hands of a human. Animals are never even seeing its partners. It is scientifically proven that animal foods can not bring vitality to human. This is a lie that was told to humans for many centuries, and the evidence of this lies is know today by the science. Humans never consumed so much animal products, never raised so much animals for food, also humans were never in such a poor health situation.

Patanjali has stated the following aphorism:

Brahmacharya-pratishthayam virya-labhah (P.Y.S. 2.38)

– When one does not misuse sexual energy, one obtains enduring vitality resulting in good health.

5. Aparigraha

The last yama is Aparigraha – “greedlessness”. Our consumerism-driven culture wants us to consume more food, more fashion, more ‘everything’. We forget the difference between what is actually needed and what is just an act of greed. A compassionate vegan lifestyle is adopting habits that are environmentally friendly. We then start to be established in Aparigraha.

Patanjali has stated the following:

aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah P.Y.S.  2.39

-When one becomes selfless and ceases to take more than one needs, one obtains knowledge of why one was born.

“If we want to know who we are, it will have to start with how willing we are to look at the way we are treating others, because how we treat others determines how others treat us; how others treat us determines how we see ourselves; and how we see ourselves determines who we are.” – Sharon Gannon

Karma and Veganism.

Through adopting a vegan lifestyle, we get to purify our karma. Karma means “action” – by choosing not to harm other beings we choose to liberate ourselves from sufferings in the future. The law of karma is very simple: every action has a reaction. What you do has a direct influence on what will happen to you in the future. It is true that we cannot erase what we have done in the past, but we have the present moment that will lead us into the future.

The future is being established in the present moment, and being able to do the best you can now, can clear you from fear, anger and jealousy, making your actions pure and free of karmic seed.

All yogic practices are aimed at one goal – yoga. Yoga is the name of the practice and the goal of the practice. We practice veganism as it helps us to purify our karma, which involves our relationships with others, so that we may perceive the oneness of being.

Vegetarians: why are you not vegan?

There lots of vegetarian yogis, and they see nothing wrong with dairy. Well, perhaps they just need to make a bit of research on the dairy industry and get down to the truth of it. They will be forever avoiding this ‘baby calf drink’, that is causing so much pain and suffering for the cows. The dairy industry has put this beautiful image of a dairy cow to our heads: the cow walking around the organic fields of grass in the Alps. But this is only the image that is put in our heads by dairy commercials, or the packaging of the dairy products. The truth is that the dairy industry is one of the cruelest industries on the planet.  Whether a big corporate farm or a small family organic farm, cows are kept by their owners as slaves. The organic label or bio sticker is just meant to show that the cow was fed organic food. Every other process of getting milk from the cow remains the same. To be able to give milk, the female cow has to give birth to a baby – the same way as human. But to get the cow pregnant, human hand with semen from the bull is put inside cow’s vagina. In human society that is called the rape. So cows are getting raped to get pregnant. The next step: The cow gives birth to a calf and the milk comes. Her baby calf is taken away from her in less than 2 days. On an organic dairy farm the calf is fed grain instead of his mother’s milk. Soon after the calf will be slaughtered for tenderness of his meat and the bio sticker on the packaging. His mother, full of hormones from the baby birth, will lactate for some time. As soon as she stops lactating she will be raped again.

This whole process cannot be called humane, and there is no way around it, there is nothing happy and free about this poor being’s lives. Is this suffering worth the taste of pastries, butter or cookies or cheese. Are there not enough vegan recipes that will water your mouth, and will leave you satisfied?

Also as a whole foods plant-based nutritionist, I understand that there is also no advantage to drink or use dairy in the diet. Not kids or adults, or old people will benefit from it. It is exactly the opposite, milk, butter and cheese will harm your health. There is plenty of research out there that will explain why milk and products with milk are so unhealthy for humans.

But here is a video for you, that talks about dairy – htts://youtu.be/toZ7Mr-ClCE

“The single most important part of your yoga practice is the strict adherence to a vegetarian diet, a diet free of needless cruelty, harm and injustice.”  –  Sharon Gannon

Written by Varvara Tsepkova Dame

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