“Healthful eating and kind choices are in yoga’s DNA. Explore these in a day of learning and reflection that will further your practice and open your heart.” — Dean Ornish, MD, Founder and President, Preventive Medicine Research Institute, and NY Times Bestselling Author of Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease
As I look forward to the Yoga Goes Vegan Zoom retreat coming up March 20th, I’m moved to remember a salient fact of my personal life: yoga made me vegetarian. At the time I discovered three books on yoga in the public library at age 17, most Americans would have defined yoga as “weird contortions from somewhere far away” or “a fermented milk product.” But those books opened my world and all said that if I was going to be serious about yoga, I had to become vegetarian.
Yoga’s vegetarian teachings have a time-honored two-fold origin, health and ethics. The ancient yogis of India had determined that a diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and “milk from healthy cows” brought about both physical health and the ability to sit for long periods in meditation. In addition, the teaching of ahimsa — non-killing, non-harming, nonviolence, reverence for life — was, and is, yoga’s first moral precept. That lacto-vegetarian tradition has persisted among Indian yogis to this day, although the yoga world in the West has often dismissed it.
Within this world, however, there remain fervent vegetarians, many of whom are seeing that to truly practice ahimsa requires a vegan lifestyle — “pure vegetarian,” with the elimination of dairy. Key proponents include Jivamukti Yoga cofounder Sharon Gannon, author of Yoga and Veganism, celebrity yogis Seane Corne and Koya Webb, and Forrest Yoga founder Anna Forrest, once a hunter and strong advocate of meat-eating. Still, veganism is a sticking point for many yoga students — 36 million in the U.S. alone. They cite history — yoga has traditionally been lacto-vegetarian, not vegan; and preference. And yet: this tradition gave the world ahimsa. It’s time for this glorious concept to expand to its full expression within the philosophy that birthed it.
I realize that one can run into “cultural appropriation” here. Yoga comes from India, where dairy has a long history, with religious as well as cultural associations. There are numerous vegans in India and in the Indian diaspora around the world who are presenting the concept of “expanded ahimsa” to those who are the natural inheritors of this sacred tradition. My goal is share the tremendous power of vegan living within the yoga community in the West.
To this end, Main Street Vegan has joined forces with Integral Yoga NY and a handful of yoga luminaries to present a blissful and beautiful all-day retreat on the first day of spring, March 20th. This date also marks “Meatout Day” in the vegetarian/vegan world. The idea is to give vegan yogis a space to feel welcome and supported; to introduce the vegan ethic to other yoga practitioners; to present an introduction to yoga as a healing, growth-promoting lifestyle that dovetails excellently with a vegan ethic; and to provide a place where everyone can feel welcome, accepted, and heard. Click here to see the day’s full lineup, which includes
- Holly Skodis of Yoga Is Vegan (podcast and community)
- Sujatha Menon (Ayurvedic practitioner, 5 Seasons Yoga)
- Jess Gumkowski (YogiTriathlete podcast, author, YogiTriathlete Cookbook)
- Christina Gdsis (Compassionate-Filled Life)
- Carole Kalyani Baral (editor of The Yoga Way: Food for Body, Mind and Spirit)
- Alabama State Representative Jeremy Gray
- A film clip on dairy in Indian religious tradition from Sailesh Rao, PhD, ClimateHealers.org
- Chandra Sgammato of Integral Yoga NY, teaching a morning yoga class and leading a closing meditation.
So many yoga classes around the world end with the recitation of Lokah smasthah sukhino bhavantui, a prayer for the relief of suffering of all beings. As vegans, we have the tremendous gift of living that prayer. Please join with others on this path for a beautiful day of refreshment, renewal, and inspiration.
Victoria Moran took her first yoga class in 1968 and hasn’t looked back. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher, author of books including Main Street Vegan and Lit from Within, and host of the Main Street Vegan Podcast. For more information and to register for the Yoga Goes Vegan Gathering & Retreat on March 20, please click here. Tuition is on a sliding scale. If you wish to attend but need scholarship aid in order to do so, please write to [email protected].