The most important part of the yoga practice is eating a vegetarian diet. -Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Yoga has hit the mainstream. With yoga studios popping up all over, offering everything from traditional forms of yoga to new forms aimed at special groups ranging from prenatal moms to airline pilots (there are even new and innovative forms of yoga such as laughter yoga and Christian yoga), more and more people are giving it a try. However, in their drive to become more popular, or perhaps because of a shortage of fully trained instructors, many, if not most, yoga studios have dropped the vegetarian portion of yoga theory and practice.
When most people think of yoga, they think of the physical postures taught in yoga classes. This is a yoga practice called asana. It is one of the many yoga practices, such as meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), and yamas (ethical, moral, philosophical guidelines.) Yoga therefore offers the student both physical health and psychological/moral well being. It turns out that yoga theory considers a vegetarian diet most beneficial to them both, and of course the two, while seeming separate, are really part of the greater whole.
Let’s take a look at the physical aspect first. In their pursuit of good health, the Yogic Masters of old determined that a vegetarian diet was definitely the most conducive to bodily health. They developed a theory of food that explained the basis of good nutrition and the effects that different foods can be expected to have on the consumer.
According to yoga theory, each food has its own particular vibrational frequency associated with it, and when we eat that food a kind of sympathetic vibration is set up in our bodies a result. While there are many different foods available they fortunately all fall into three groups. The first group is known as Sattvaguna and forms the basis of the yogic diet. These are vegetarian foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and beans and also includes mild spices. These foods are thought to impart a peaceful, relaxed, calm, loving and enhanced sense of self awareness in the person who eats them. The second grouping is known as Rajaguna and includes foods such caffeinated beverages, strong spices, hot peppers, chocolate, some fermented foods and certain drugs. These foods impart a sense of agitation and restlessness to the person who consumes them. These foods are allowable in the yoga diet but only for special circumstances and purposes. The third grouping is known as Tamaguna and includes meat, poultry, fish and eggs. These foods are thought to impart the vibrations of decay and even death, and are generally not part of the yoga vegetarian diet.
Amongst the moral and ethical guidelines (yamas), the practice of Ahimsa, not killing, injuring or causing pain to humans and animals, is considered by many yoga scholars and practitioners to be the most important. The practice of Ahimsa is said to be conducive to psychological wellbeing, eases the conscience, and is thought to be spiritually enhancing. Obviously, considering the harsh conditions almost all animals are subjected to on both industrialized factory farms and in slaughterhouses, consuming meat is anything but Ahimsa and is therefore not recommended in the yoga diet.
For body, mind and spirit, yoga has long held that the vegetarian diet is best all around. Let’s hope that with all the new yoga studios opening up around the country, those studios that have dropped the vegetarian foundation of yoga and its practice will reincorporate it once they feel more secure, and the popularity of vegetarian diets will grow as a result.