The issue of vegetarianism has become a major point of contention among yogis. The Yoga Sutras list five yamas (restraints) as part of the eight classical limbs of yoga. First among these is ahimsa (nonviolence/non-harming). In the opinion of many, this yama provides a clear mandate that all dedicated yogis commit to lives of vegetarianism or even veganism. To less literal yogis, the subject is not so cut and dry. For instance, if a vegetarian diet causes harm by leaving an individual feeling weak and unwell, whose needs should prevail – those of man or animal?
I was already vegetarian by the time I began practicing yoga, but I’m not the evangelical sort to demand that others make the same choice. What’s important is consideration of the effects of your actions on others. Have your mealtime options negatively impacted the environment, local farmers, animals, or hungry people in other lands? It’s not so simple – even if we eschew meat, for example, the soy in the diet of many vegetarians contributes to the destruction of rain forests in Brazil. What about the clothes you pick out, the beauty products you use, the unnecessary items you purchase, the medicines that keep you healthy? There are no easy decisions, no obvious answers, no choices that fail to trickle down and affect others. But adding conscientious awareness to the decision-making process leads to less harmful consumerism and cultivates compassion within us.