Saturday, March 13, 2010


Dharma says that without Yama there is no yoga.

Yama is the first limb of the asthanga or eight-limb yoga system. Yama is its ethical underpinnings.

The first Yama is Ahmisa, or non-harming of any living being in word, thought or deed. (If I remember correctly, Sanskrit scholar Edwin Bryant, author of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary, told our teacher training group that the limbs appear in order of importance, as do each of the directives contained within).

Ahimsa would including everything from beating up yourself physically and mentally in class to eating animals - even ones that someone else has butchered. As Dharma often explains, "You are somehow participating in the violence."

If not for the animals, or for health, or for your practice, then do it for the environment.

Read why in my recent Yoga Chicago article, Eat Less Meat and Save the World: A Gradualist's Guide to Going Veg.

You don't have to do it all at once. I certainly didn't:

I began eliminating meat from my diet in 1987, when I started feeling sorry for the cows (I grew up on a farm that had cows, and eventually their soft, innocent eyes got to me). First, I cut out the big mammals--beef and pork. I made do by eating a lot of poultry for a few months--until a sweltering summer day, when I saw a truckload of chickens crammed into crates and gasping for breath. I immediately gave up eating anything with wings. A few months later, I cut fish out of the diet; after all, they suffer too. For me, the diet stuck because I did it gradually; I have many friends who went vegetarian abruptly and fell of the wagon, hard, a short time later. At first, my diet was not good; I ate a lot of grilled cheese, enchiladas, French fries, and other vegetarian “junk” food. Then I got a job at Chicago Diner and learned how to eat and prepare healthy meals. Finally, many years later, I cut out eggs.

Many experts agree that it's easiest to eliminate one type of meat at a time. Or, simply eat one meal a week without meat. One easy way to transition is to substitute tofu, tempeh, or other meat alternatives in your favorite recipes.

You may eventually choose to become vegan, which means no animal products--including eggs, dairy products, and honey. But the important thing is to start thinking about your diet--and how small changes in your lifestyle can make a big difference in the world.

As Jane Goodall said, “Each one of us makes a difference every single day we impact the world around us, and if we would just think about the consequences of the little choices we make--what we eat, wear, buy, how we interact with people, animals, the environment--then we start making small changes, and that can lead to the huge change that we must have."


  1. Anonymous9:13 AM

    Yay! Good blog. I'm not totally meat free. I often eat a little when I'm served it at another's house. I still eat fish and eggs- but not as much. (I haven't gotten into vegan baked goods). At some point during the past few years everything I saw, read, and heard started pushing me in the vegetarian direction. It was good. So many of the mainstream messages we receive are not enlightening- luckily I somehow tapped into this non-mainstream messages and listened. It's been good for me. Thanks for your reminders as well! BTW, I wholeheartedly recommend eating local and organic when possible. It's more expensive but worth it if one has the resources. Have you seen Food Inc.? Our food system needs a MAJOR overhaul. The fact it's cheaper to buy a box of Twinkies than a crown of broccoli is messed up.

  2. I am imperfect, and eat meat when served it like Anon, also sometimes when I weaken. But in the last six months I have not used my lapses as an excuse to abandon all efforts.

  3. Bravo to you both for doing it sanely and gradually. And to you Boodi for not giving up when you fall off the wagon.

    I know about organic/local, but at least part of my diet is so odd - lots of tropical, juicy fruits - that I should move to someplace like Puerto Rico - where they fall off the trees like money from the heavens (or so I've heard).

  4. I'll come with you!

  5. Anonymous4:11 AM

    I think I was born vegetarian, but it took me a lot, really a lot of times to realize it.

    All healthy problems that I have suffered since I was so small, they have mysteriously disappeared when I pratice the vegetarian diet.

    Everything has done very naturally and smoothly for me. I did not have to force myself at all. It was simply one step of transformation ... Yoga is really the union with one's true self.

    I am not a vegan, but a veggie because I take some Yaourts, special cheezes which does not contain the animal rennet for my vegetarian pizza, some butters, etc.

    With metta

  6. Boodiba:

    We could start a shala:

    "Asana Plus Seven Yoga Center"

  7. That's a great idea! I'd love to have regular pranayama and meditation sessions every day, regular visiting lecturers, and evening restorative classes... course that takes lots of props but may as well dream big.

    Oh and hey a vegan cafe and shop full of artworks of both local artists and imports from India.

  8. shilpa5:20 AM

    Good article! I really enjoy this. Thanks for your reminders as well!