What Influences Diet Choices for The Ashtanga Yoga Practitioner?
This question is not just a matter of nutrition for the Ashtangi. Philisophical principles, interpretation and personal experience will influence diet as much as it does any other part of yoga. This post is not meant to say what is right or wrong, it is really just some food for thought☺️ Seriously though, I know that everyone makes food choices based on their own bodies and beliefs and I wholeheartedly respect those decisions when they are well informed.
In Ashtanga, there are eight limbs that make up the basis of the practice. In the West, modern yoga is known best by Asana, which is the third limb and refers to the physical practice. This being only one of the eight, you can see that there are several other aspects to the practice of yoga that will deeply influence the life of any serious Ashtangi.
The first limb is Yama. I have written an entire post on the Yamas. If you would like to learn more about all of them, please check out this post: https://mysocalledyogalifeblog.com/2017/05/29/3rd-edition-using-the-yoga-sutras-of-patanjali-to-enrich-life/
For today, our main interest will focus on the first Yama called Ahimsa. This particular Yama means to cause no harm or pain. For many, when discussing a yogic diet, it has been interpreted as not harming animals by killing them for consumption. Killing an animal to eat it is viewed to be wrong.
Vegetarians and Ahimsa
What is a vegetarian? There are many forms of being vegetarian, but a true vegetarian does not consume eggs, meat or fish. Vegetarians do consume dairy products.
In the world of yoga, it is most common to find people who are vegetarian. I have read that many yogis consume diary products, specifically in the form of ghee or clarified butter. How far one may wish to take this interpretation is individual, in my belief. What does it look like to go further with ahimsa and your diet? Well, since ahimsa also means to cause no pain, one may decide to be more strict with their diet and become vegan.
Vegans do not consume meat, fish, eggs or dairy products. Basically, no animal products of any kind will be found in their diet. Generally speaking, the conventional dairy industry and their treatment of animals, is basically why vegans refuse dairy as well. Many vegans will extend their protest of animal cruelty by refraining from wearing leather or any other animal products. Some will only wear vegan make-up and use products not tested on animals.
How Do You Be A Good Yogi?
I think the ethical part of veganism is very noble but there are many factors that can make this lifestyle difficult for some. It isn’t really important how far you can go to respect Ahimsa in your life. If you are being mindful and making decisions that allow you to do your best, you are doing your part. Do your best. That’s it. I have, many times, beaten myself up because I made this choice or that, but at the end of the day, it has to fit into your life.
I will give you an example to illustrate what I mean. When I became pregnant with my first child, I was vegan. With my pregnancy came several food aversions. I hated many of the foods that I relied upon for calcium and protein. There was really no messing around when I had a baby developing inside me so I began to eat some dairy and later on, eggs as well. These are not decisions that were easy for me to make but when it came down to my health, they were justified.
It can also be difficult if you live in a family that is not supportive of your lifestyle choices. I have heard many silly things from people about being vegan, and if you are not strong and able to stick to your choices because of the opinions of those close to you, it is easy to become derailed. It is helpful to find a community of people who are also vegan and have similar views to yours so that you have some support.
Another issue that may confront you is meeting the dietary needs of your immediate family. My personal example of this is my son. He has several food sensitivities to soy, rice, peas, wheat, peanuts, oats and a few other foods. To meet the requirements for a growing child, I find it far too difficult to maintain a vegetarian or vegan diet for him. With just small exposures to these foods, he gets eczema rashes on his body. When he first got the eczema, it was all over his whole body and it was red, itchy and very uncomfortable. Under the advice of a naturopath and some research, I was able to clear him completely. Without these foods, his skin is clear and wonderful. He eats meat. I feel no shame that he does, but I am responsible in where I buy the meat for him to eat.
So you see, yoga philosophy is just that- philosophy. It does not mean that if you cannot practice it to the full extent, you are not doing yoga properly. It is a series of suggestions or a moral code by which we strive to be mindful of and act with awareness to observe it to the best of our abilities. I absolutely love to say ‘Do Your Best.’ Because there is really little else that you can do. It gives me peace of mind to remind myself that doing my best is good enough. My family is healthy, I am healthy and I am thoughtful in the decisions and choices that I make to maintain that. I feel that I am doing my part to be a good Yogi.
So my advice to anyone asking these questions of themselves?
Do Your Best