Why yogis should be vegan.

I’ve been living a vegan lifestyle now for over two years. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done to my body, together with a regular yoga practice. It’s a true pleasure to see how my body thrives on this diet. Particularly in the first weeks after changing my diet I had outburst of physical energy that I didn’t know what to do with! I guess it became the new normal now. I can see the effects of the regular exercise & the conscious breathing; detoxified body systems that led to better skin, weight loss, a sharper mind & better concentration. In classical Hatha yoga (the original physical yoga) where we purify the body systematically, we can’t ignore someone’s diet. It doesn’t make much sense to purify the body through cleansing practices (Shatkarmas), through Asanas (postures; heat; sweat; removing neuro-muscular knots) and breathing techniques (Pranayama) without watching what we put into our bodies. Yoga is a holistic practice and thus has to go beyond the mat. I’d like to see more teachers & gurus talk about mindful eating habits. These are not limited to veganism but I’m convinced that every yogi should be vegan.

If we take the footage from slaughterhouses & animal farming practices seriously, it becomes clear that farmed animals suffer a lot during their short lives & during the process that takes their lives. There is a lot of violence involved in animal farming. This violence is not limited to chickens, cows & pigs but involves many more species that are being slaughtered for food & fashion. I have to mention the oceans here that are being emptied for profit. Not only animals that are being killed suffer immensely. The dairy industry separates calves from their mothers about which cows mourn for days. There’s no humane process behind milk production. Animals are sentient beings, just like us. Male chickens in the egg industry are being shredded because they are useless. To declare a living being as „useless“ crosses a line, I feel. There is no appreciation for life anymore.

One of the most profound principles in yoga is „Ahimsa“, non-violence (see „Yamas & Niyamas“ in Raja Yoga by Patanjali). People like to use this term to highlight self-care & self-compassion during a yoga class. Others relate it to thoughts, saying that it is good to observe the violent thoughts that we have against ourselves & others. This is true. But most teachers don’t extend this principle to a very obvious area of our lives: food. Wouldn’t Ahimsa mean to not support violence in any form? By buying animal products we either support their death and / or their exploitation. To some people it is acceptable that an animal dies for food, to others it isn’t. While I consider taking someone’s life per se as a violent act, I think everyone should be aware of the violence involved in farming animals. As yogis we can not chant our Aums & ignore the suffering we support everyday with what’s on our plate. It is an area where even small choices make a difference. This is the good news. Start with a vegan meal a day & you cause less suffering. Extend it to a vegetarian diet & less animals die because of you. By all means, please take your yoga seriously.

„Satya“, truthfulness, is another fundamental principle of yoga. Be truthful with yourself where you are in this process. Let’s be honest with ourselves. If we’re not ready yet to take the big step & to change our diet radically, can we please just say it honestly? I’d much prefer that to heated discussions about right or wrong.

Yoga and veganism. In yoga we cultivate awareness. And awareness expands naturally. Once we are aware of the animal farming industry – how can we support it any longer? Are we aware of the energy of suffering that is in our food? An animal who is in panic in the slaughterhouse, smelling the other dead animals, holds this energy in the body when it is being killed. We eat this. Chickens who can’t walk anymore because we overfeed them on purpose for profit – they suffer. This is in our food. Hens who have never seen the sunlight, imprisoned & treated like a good – they don’t lay happy eggs. They suffer while the egg is being formed inside them. Let’s consider all of this when we want to practice spiritual yoga, when we want to attain higher consciousness. For me this is not only a peace & love attitude & nice words I use to feel better than my surrounding. Yoga needs to transform our habits, our actions, our thoughts, our lives. Then it is spiritual because it brings us closer to our true purpose in life, because it helps us to unravel our true nature, our soul, & to live our light. Let’s practice spiritual yoga in depth & with humbleness. We are in this together. We need to fight extinction of species & the destruction of the rain forest together. We need to ensure that the oceans become plastic-free one day hand in hand. Some of us are ready to sacrifice a lot of convenience for this goal. We can all make a difference. Live your yoga. It simply has too much to offer to just practice it as a physical exercise! Yoga leads to union, to peace, with ourselves & our surroundings.

Lokah Samastha 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.
(Ancient Sanskrit prayer)

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Mantra

Mantra means literally to “free the mind” and it is what describes my experience with these ancient words best. Chanting a mantra is very meditative through the repetition, the rythm, the melody. The most simple mantra you might know is the mantra OM. Om or aum is the universal mantra. It is described as the link between matter and spirit, and it has various meanings. The syllable is first mentioned in the Upanishads and has associations such as “cosmic sound”, “affirmation to something divine”, “essence of breath, life, everything that exists”, “that which one is liberated” (read more here). When we write aum we put more emphasis on the phonetic sound of the mantra; when you chant it you experience three different vibrations in the body, wandering from the abdomen (“a”) to the upper chest and throat (“u”), ending in the head (“m”). As everything in yoga Aum chanting should be experienced and the effects in your body observed. In my yoga classes I like to open and close with Aum, sometimes practicing what I call an “open Aum chant” where we all follow our own breathing rhythm and chant for several minutes. It can be very powerful and grounding. It is unifying.

Mala mantra meditation

Another beautiful way to chant Aum or any other mantra is with the Mala. The Mala necklace has 108 beads. The mantra is chanted once per bead, aloud or mentally. You hold the Mala in a specific way in your right hand. Your fingers do the counting, so you can focus internally. If you chant the mantra Aum you might want to focus on the third eye trigger point which is between the eyebrows. The concentration helps to go deeper in meditation.

Mantras for beginners

A wonderful way to start into the day is by chanting mantra, maybe before starting your asana practice or as a closure. The following mantras are well known and simple to start with: Gaytri mantra, Shanti mantra, Mahamrityunjaya mantra, Durga mantra. Each mantra has a different vibration and energetic quality to it. Again, experience them. Mantras work with three tones: the main tone, an upper and a slightly deeper tone. Different syllables are placed on these three tones which creates a distinct rhythm. Mantras can be easier to chant for beginners than other songs as the melody is simple.

You can incorporate mantra into your yoga practice. It can help to silence distracting thoughts. After physical, breath and energetic awareness it is another layer of awareness that can be added to deepen the experience of asana. The Satyananda yoga tradition works with mantra for the sun salutation sequence for example. There is a short mantra (called “Bija mantra” that addresses the targeted chakra) and a longer mantra for each of the 12 postures. They provide rhythm and deepen awareness.

Kirtan – singing mantra together

Last but not least I’d like to mention Kirtan as a beautiful, uplifting practice to share and chant mantra. In Kirtan we sing mantra in call and response. A Kirtan is a sung mantra; a melody is added and there is room for the response and the participation of the audience. The leader of the Kirtan often plays with the beat and rhythm of the song; he can speed it up and slow it down several times while playing it. It is an art to lead a Kirtan and great fun at the same time. Often the harmonium is used to accompany a Kirtan but also the guitar works fine when leading. Drums and other percussion instruments are needed, too. The audience is asked to clap along, to dance and express how they perceive the songs. Thus a Kirtan gathering can be very meditative and loud with people dancing. But what I love most about Kirtan is the feeling after: the absolute calmness of mind, the liberation of thoughts and the burst of energy that comes through. Sometimes also sadness or hidden emotions. It is always purifying, energetic and transformational. I am part of the Kawai Purapura Kirtan Collective. Once a month we gather for an evening of chanting together. Join us!

Yoga with tradition

My yogic journey started with meeting my teacher. She was also my boss at that time when I started working at a Yoga Retreat Centre in Auckland. One of her classes was enough to re-connect with something deep inside of me and to get hooked. Pragyadhara teaches a traditional Hatha yoga approach. Traditional meaning rooted in a lineage in India, with focus on meditation and transformation. Prior to that I had only known what I’d call fitness yoga – classes that focus on the physical benefits of a yoga practice and that cater to the needs of people who have busy lives. This physical focused yoga definitely has a place in the yoga world and can be a bridge for some people to dig deeper and get in touch with layers that are beyond the body. However often the spiritual aspect gets lost, forgotten, ignored. Yoga is so much more than physical exercise – it is a path to transformation.

In traditional Hatha Yoga we address the physical layer through asanas (postures) and different purification practices (shatkarmas) in order to prepare the body to sit still in meditation. Through the asanas and pranayama practices we also affect the mind. Goal is to master the mind, to silence the ongoing chatter of thoughts in meditation. It is in the state of meditation that we meet ourselves, our habits, our patterns but also our Higher Self and the Divine. Meditation is a path and a practice and a state of being that can saturate our every day life. I am all passionate about discovering yoga more in depth, about integrating yogic principles into my life and about following the spiritual call to a life in harmony with myself, my surrounding and the elements.

Hari aum tat sat,

Ceremony

Reference: Hatha Yoga Book 2 – Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, India.

Havan ceremony at Kawai Purapura Retreat Centre