B. K. S. Iyengar renowned yoga teacher and guru who died in 2014 at the age of 95 believed that a vegetarian diet is a ‘necessity’ to the practice of yoga. It is certainly true that lots of people who do yoga are vegetarian, but why is that and is it essential? If you’re a meat eater are you going to feel excluded?
Years ago, before I started my yoga teacher training I went to a yoga day with a friend and we took sausage rolls to the shared lunch-not realising that this wasn’t at all what was expected. It was only when we got there that it dawned on us that we had unwittingly broken an unwritten rule, which everyone else seemed to know, that any shared food should be healthy and vegetarian! At the time we thought it was very pretentious.
One of the principles of yoga is ahimsa -non harming- which means being kind and compassionate to all living things, so not eating meat and fish fits in well with this idea.
Another reason for being a veggie is that according to philosophy yoga can bring us towards a higher state of mind comprising harmony and illumination. A sattvic diet is part of this and said to help calm the mind. The expression comes from the Sanskrit word Sattva, meaning clarity and lightness. A sattvic diet is lacto vegetarian, including primarily fruit, vegetables, grains and nuts.
At the other end of the spectrum according to tradition are foods known as tamasic and rajasic which dull the mind or lead to hyperactivity. They include foods from animals, processed foods and caffeine.
Another reason why yogis might be more likely to be vegetarian is that they want to feel good and look after themselves. As research has shown, a vegetarian diet can help us live a long, healthy life reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and so on.
However people practise yoga for different reasons. If you perceive it mainly as a physical exercise you may not feel the need to embrace a certain life style or way of eating.
However, if you start to get interested in the wider aspects of yoga and your own spiritual development, you are more likely to reflect on your life style and consider making changes which might include diet.
Finally many yoga enthusiasts and yoga teachers eat meat and wouldn’t dream of giving it up.
An important aspect of Yoga is being non-judgmental. We can accept the fact that people make their own choices including what they want to eat, without looking down on them.