I talked about good dietary choices last night over dinner out (yes, I ate veggie) with a runner girlfriend. And we thought about it simply in terms of fuel — purer fuel burns more cleanly in your body and makes for a better physical experience. She said she could feel the difference if she was eating healthily or if she wasn’t. And she should know — she’s training for her first marathon.
The ideal yogic dietary choice would be vegetarian, if not vegan. For yogis such a choice is a way of living by ahimsa, the idea of non-harm: by eating vegan you’re not harming other animals, and you’re reducing the harm to the planet caused by meat and dairy farming. I’ve just read Gannon and Life’s Jivamukti Yoga, in which they put forward an impassioned argument for veganism (for a flavour of their stance, there’s a short web piece by Sharon Gannon here). And I can see there are clear ethical arguments in favour of veganism, even if I don’t agree with all Gannon’s arguments).
So am I vegan? Far from it. I’m not even vegetarian.
The best I’ve got is advancing to two vegetarian suppers a week in my household, plus a fish night if all goes well. And I no longer eat meat at breakfast or lunchtime (and I’m very much the bacon sarnie type of English girl, so this is big for me!). I also have a weekly organic fruit and veg box and I try to ensure the meat and eggs we have are ‘ethical’ within the limits of modern farming methods.
On the dairy side of things, I’ve made little progress. I could say it’s because I can’t conceive of a life without proper cheese (I dream in cheese) plus I can barely get through a single day without Greek yoghurt. But in my defense I did repeatedly try giving up milk in favour of various non-dairy alternatives and they all made me very sick. I can’t choose to live feeling like that.
So I have to fall back on the argument that the full expression of ahimsa can’t reside in thinking globally, if I don’t also think locally. I need to look after myself and those around me, and that too is an act of compassion and non-violence. A full-on dietary change doesn’t seem viable for me: the non-dairy alternatives make me feel lousy. And so far as meat is concerned, my husband is definitely carnivore, and he married me assuming I was too. And if there are two things he’s always disliked – it’s English women and vegetables. Although I convinced him to change his mind about one of those….
… could I change his mind on the other?
When I started yoga, we had a conversation about yogic diets — cue anxious question: “you’re not going to go all weird and vegetarian on me, are you?”, and I promised I wasn’t interested in that side of things. And I wasn’t. Then.
Now I can’t pretend that I abide by any of the yamas and niyamas sufficiently well that an interest in what I eat is the result of my virtuous adherence to these guidelines for yogic living. And yet something weird happened (happens? I don’t think this is just me) as a result of sustained asana practice. My tastes have really changed, are still changing all the time, and I just feel more inclined to eat more natural, healthy foods. And wanting less meat goes along with this.
But I have to say I think this is much more about physiology than philosophy. My teacher has never uttered the v-word that I can recall and I can’t even claim that some of my best friends are vegetarians. So I don’t feel anyone calling me over to the veggie side. Plus interestingly my meat-eating hubby is more amenable to adapting his diet than I ever expected. Yes, he does practice yoga, but very much in a gym-workout-it’s-just-exercise kind of way: his eyes glaze over if I go all spiritual on him, so his willing compliance at a few non-meat meals a week can’t be ascribed to conscious ahimsa.
I don’t know, maybe this aspect of ahimsa is an ongoing practice that will develop over time. Or maybe not. I have given up trying to predict how my yoga will evolve. For now I think a balanced approach (=local+global) is no bad thing. I’d rather be happily married than needing to downgrade to an organic veg box that serves one.