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To Meat or To Not

by on February 16, 2011

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(quick personal history – I grew up in a vegetarian house with veg. parents, and consumed meat on rare occasions such as restaurant outings. I grew up skinny, and decided in my mid-teens that regular meat consumption was crucial to gain muscle, compete in athletic endeavors, and impress girls.  In my mid-20s, I switched diets around several times, including pescetarian, vegetarian, raw vegan, and most recently, flexitarian. In other words, I’m currently enjoying feasting on flesh, with the exception of deli meats and fast foods. Also for the record, eating fish does not make you vegetarian.)

Onwards ho. Contentious issue, isn’t it? Not surprising when placed in the context of the relatively recent (and eerily exponential) rise of Yoga in the West. Take a philosophy and way of life cultivated and honed over centuries by peaceful sages who aspire to be one with the world, nay, the universe. Now introduce this system to a culture spawned from centuries of colonization, industrialization, competition, and consumption. There are bound to be disagreements across a wide spectrum of yogis ranging from hard(soft?)core vegans to our very own meat-coke-sex Bikram C.

The authorities (at least the Sutras (PDF) and Light on Yoga) present ahimsa (non-violence) as a primary yama (universal rule) for attaining enlightenment. Hatha Yoga Pradipika specifically lists meat and fish as being detrimental to a yoga practice. Generally, since meat is without life force, or literally dead, consuming meat depletes the pranic life force rather than increasing it. Similarly, Ayurveda insists that food should be eaten fresh, and never overcooked (analogous to the raw foodist perspective that cooking denatures vital enzymes).

Conversely, general arguments in favor of meat eating include the “essential amino acid” theory (which is pretty much bunk), increased caloric density in cold climates, and the paleo diet (which is my favorite – I mean, animals eat each other, so man eating animals = balance with nature, right?).

However, this post is not intended to be an academic treatise on the subject, nor is it intended to pick one side over the other. You have your own myriad reasons for defending what you eat, including culture, physiology (blood-type, for instance), happiness (note that Ayurveda explicitly discourages “emotional eating”), and whatever wisdom you may have come across in your own journeys. Just like you, I have mine. My own diet tends towards eating meat during the winter, or during weight-training. However, I’m remembering an increased clarity of mind and lightness of being during my vegetarian days. In fact, my dreams were at their most lucid and memorable when I was eating 75% raw vegan. This reminiscing, along with the impending change of season, has spurred me to adopt meat-free Wednesdays and Sundays (my hot-yoga days). I’ll probably add more days to this as spring approaches, with the goal that before midsummer, I’ll be 100% vegetarian again. Maybe even vegan one day (and this where the devil on my shoulder says “good luck prying this thin-crust slice of NY pizza from my cold dead fingers”).

The moral of this story is: like a blues guitar solo, let your efforts toward spiritual enlightenment be well-paced; never rushing yet never stopping, with equanimity, love, and a bit of humor sprinkled in with every moment. And please, please hold the bacon.

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2 Comments
  1. Pam permalink

    Ha. What’s a yoga blog without a post on v*gn-ism! You know I’m a ‘hardcore’ vegan.

    You were 75% raw at one point? Wild! I recently semi-gave up on my vague attempts at raw-ness. I ultimately decided that since I have no moral imperative, to go with what my body wants – and baby, it wants cooked food.

    Also, the paleo diet is so ridiculous. If you ever what to mess with Mike (my Mike, not Bowman), bring it up in conversation and ask him what he thinks about it. It’s pretty fun.

  2. yay! so excited to read your blog posts. i particularly like the approach of this one. its a sensitive subject for many but is certainly an individual choice. me, i’m a “listen to my body” kind of yogini. 99.9% of the time, it tells me vegan. like you, i feel more clarity and my body feels so much more unencumbered when i eat raw. i’d be interested to hear your perspective on fasting, too. 🙂

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