Most people think that you have to be vegetarian to do yoga. Is this even true?
Perhaps it’s all the Instagram yogis that post about their vegetarian or vegan meals. Or maybe it is because yoga originated in India and a lot of traditional Indian food is vegetarian. Whatever the reason, many people wonder, do you have to be a vegetarian to do yoga? Vegetarianism and yoga are connected but you do not have to be a vegetarian to do yoga.
Can yogis eat meat?
Since yoga has become popular in the western world, there are many people who do yoga or identify as yogis who live quite differently to the yogis of old. The reality is, if you are a woman, drink alcohol, or eat meat and eggs, in the most traditional sense of ancient yoga customs, you wouldn’t ever find yourself in the yogi category.
Fortunately for all of us, yoga has been modernized. Whether you follow all the traditional practices or just some of them, yoga has proven benefits. And while a vegetarian diet is advised in the yogic tradition, it is actually not required (information source). There are even world-renowned yoga teachers who eat meat, like Leslie Kaminoff. So yes, you can do yoga and eat meat.
That said, there are lots of schools and teachers who want their students to stick to certain rules, like vegetarianism. In fact, you might have heard that you can’t eat meat and do yoga while researching yoga retreats and yoga teacher training courses. Luckily, there are plenty of yoga retreats and yoga teacher training courses that do not require you to be a vegetarian.
What’s the link between yoga and vegetarianism?
If yogis don’t have to be vegetarian, why are they? A common answer to this question is the yogic principle of non-violence or ahimsa, a principle you’ve probably heard of if you’ve studied yoga philosophy. Ahimsa tells us we should think, speak, and act without inflicting violence on other people, ourselves, or our planet. For many people, this means being vegetarian because eating meat requires killing animals. For others, it means being a vegan because the dairy, egg, and even honey industries can also cause suffering for animals.
Other people choose to incorporate the ahimsa philosophy into their diet without becoming vegetarian. They will buy meat and animal products from smaller, more local farms who are able to maintain a better living standard for their animals. Those living in cities and unable to access the farms directly might seek out farmers’ markets or more boutique butchers.
Of course, there are many ways that we can be kinder to others and the environment without giving up meat. We might choose to walk, cycle, or take public transport to the local yoga studio rather than drive. Similarly, we could decide that we don’t need that new pair of yoga leggings (27 is enough, right?). Or, when it’s time to replace our trusty yoga mat, we could opt for one made from eco-friendly materials. All these choices would help reduce our carbon footprint, which helps our planet and all of the animals that live on it.
Apart from ahimsa, there is another reason that many yogis are vegetarian: Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a sister science to yoga’s physical practice that teaches us how to use diet and lifestyle choices as medicine. Ayurveda recommends a mostly vegetarian diet to help avoid inflammation in the gut, increase energy levels, and ensure a nutrient-rich diet. Even in Ayurveda though, meat and other animal products are sometimes advised for medicinal reasons and have healthy benefits in certain circumstances.
What if I decide to become vegetarian?
Yoga teaches us to make mindful choices, so no matter what you eat, practice, or how you play, thinking through your choices is the first step. Here’s some thinking around vegetarianism:
- Vegetarians often have lower risk of common diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer
- Save money! A vegetarian diet is usually cheaper than meat diets
- Fibre - with a more balanced diet, you’ll increase your fibre helping to regulate blood sugar levels and lower your cholesterol
- You might be hearing your Aunt Mary say: “But where will you get your protein?!”...in truth, most vegetables contain protein: peas, corn, brussel sprouts, and mushrooms
- A balanced vegetarian diet includes iron-rich foods. Think dark green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, spinach, and sprouts
- You’ll impress your family with your delicious bean casseroles, tofu stir-frys and Sloppy Joes made from lentils
- Make friends with B12. What is B12, you ask? B12 is a very important vitamin that a plant-based diet often doesn’t provide naturally. If you’re still eating eggs and dairy, you’ll likely get enough, but if you’re limiting those then it’s worth investing in a B12 supplement. Interestingly, lots of meat-eaters can be B12 deficient so even if you aren’t giving up meat, consider supplementing your diet with B12
Always remember that dietary changes should ultimately make you feel good! If trying out a new way of eating leaves you feeling less energetic or worse in any way, consider speaking with your healthcare provider or a nutritionist. They can help you determine whether it’s a good option for you and your body and how best to go about it.
No matter what you decide to eat, you can still be a yogi!