Should a yogi eat meat?
If you’re a meat-eating yogi who’s been thinking about becoming a vegetarian, in light of a study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, now could be a good time to make the transition. Researchers found that the more red meat you eat, the greater your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer. And if your choice of red meat is a hot dog, bacon, or pepperoni, the risk is even greater.
But this begs the question: Should a yogi be eating meat in the first place? Shouldn’t a yogi abstain from meat altogether? After all, there is that thing called ahimsa. You know—non-violence. Is there anything more harmful than killing another living being?
In search of an answer, I talked to three yoga teachers with decades of experience under their yoga straps. I also did a little research on the Dalai Lama’s views on dining on animal flesh.
First, is Tamal Dodge, a Southern California-based yoga teacher. While Dodge is young in years (he was 27 when I interviewed him for this article), he’s been practicing yoga his entire life, since en utero, he says. I asked him if he thought all yogis should be vegetarians.
“If you’re going to follow tradition and you’re going to try to live what yoga really is, I would suggest it,” said Dodge whose lips have never touched meat. “In every yoga teacher training you’re supposed to master and learn Patanjali’s eight sutras or Buddha’s Eight-Fold Path and ahimsa or non-violence is [part of that.] It just doesn’t mean non-violence to humans, it means to all creatures.”
Yogi number two is Tim Miller, a California-based Ashtanga teacher in his 60s. Miller told me he had been meat free for about ten years until a friend invited him to a sushi restaurant in San Francisco.
“I ate it and it felt really good. I felt like it was filling some gaps,” said Miller. “I continue to eat it sometimes, as often as I feel like I need it. Obviously a strict adherence to ahimsa would be no meat eating, but my experience is that not everyone thrives on a vegetarian diet. It’s important that people find the diet that’s optimum for their health and well-being. I think [being a vegetarian] is something everyone should at least try and maybe give an extended trial to.”
Interestingly, veteran teacher Wolf, based out of Baltimore, Maryland, who is around the same age as Miller, had a similar response.
“I was a macrobiotic vegetarian for about 30 years and one day my body said to me, ‘If you eat one more grain of rice, we’re going to go insane.’ I was going into a hormone shift. I noticed my body wanted to eat fish and I hadn’t eaten fish in 30 years. I think when you’re young, [being a vegetarian] is a good thing to practice. You’re very light in a particular way. I feel strongly that you need to really practice your yoga around your diet, which means when your body speaks to you, you listen and you feed it what it needs.”
Then comes the Dalai Lama. Most people are surprised to learn the king of compassion is not a vegetarian. His website states, “His Holiness's kitchen in Dharamsala is vegetarian. However, during visits outside of Dharamsala, His Holiness is not necessarily vegetarian.” While the site doesn’t explain why, other sources state that after contracting hepatitis, on doctor’s orders, he began consuming small amounts of meat.
So maybe refraining from flesh is not requisite to achieving a true yogic state. Can anyone say for sure? What is clear is a person should keep their meat intake to a minimum and they should think twice before eating red meat.
“I think that [red meat] has a lot of fat in it. It’s a more difficult kind of meat to process and it has the longest transit time for the digestive cycle, up to 17 hours. Most people have eaten two other meals within 17 hours. It’s very hard on the body,” said Wolf.