This article was written as I receive many emails regarding this topic from spiritual people.
This article is not meant to support meat eaters, but to demonstrate that any one way of looking at life is limited and can be dogmatic.
Not everyone is born to be vegetarian!
I do not believe in one way of living (or in this case, one way of eating) for all human beings as we have all evolved from different tribes that came from different climates with different eating habits according to what each environment provided. Some of us originated from tribes that were wandering from place to place for thousands of years like the Tartars, Inuit, native Indian or the desert people in the Middle East, where growing and harvesting food wasn’t an option. As a result, hunting or fishing was the main source of food for these tribes. As a consequence, due to the different evolutions of eating habits there are a great many populations in the world who, genetically speaking, are customised to eat meat and fish. Who is one to say that these people are not entitled to a spiritual practice simply because they eat meat?
North American native Indians were hunters and meat eaters who were very much connected to nature and had a great respect for the animals they hunted. They conducted a highly spiritual life.
Throughout my years of teaching yoga and meditation, I met many sincere yogis who forced themselves to be vegetarians for spiritual reasons and often ended being physically unwell (low blood pressure, anemia, physical weakness, fatigue, etc.) Their bodies were simply not getting nourishment on a foundational level. One of my closest friends who regularly ate meat went to consult an ayurvedic doctor about shifting to a vegetarian diet (this was after a few futile attempts of his own, that made him feel weak and caused him to lose undesirable weight). The ayurvedic doctor told him blandly that because his roots are from the Tartar tribes (which could be seen easily by his large and strong features) vegetarianism was not the right diet for his body and would weaken him.
The main concern in regards to eating meat while doing any spiritual practice is the act of killing.
Any child can tell you about the cycles of nature wherein animals eat other animals to keep balance between the populations of various species. Since we are a part of this food chain, the question is why have we taken human beings out of the structure of balance? Human were always part of the cycle, controlling the populations of other animals by hunting and, at the same time, being eaten by other animals.
As we evolved more sophisticated methods of protecting ourselves, we became less and less vulnerable of becoming meals for other animals; and yet we are still getting eaten – but mostly from the inside out. We may have become too smart to be easily hunted by carnivores but we still often get “eaten” internally by endless bacteria and viruses that can easily wipe us out in huge numbers.
It is also true that now that our population has grown immensely we need to consume more food than before. This definitely changes the balance in numbers, but it does not mean that eating meat is wrong. It is more a problem of us reproducing without control, taking over the planet by numbers and draining all of the resources – not only animals, but also vegetation, minerals, water, etc.
So there is no one way for all of us. Vegetarianism is often taken as an absolute way of living by the ones who were born to be vegetarian. If this way of living is not suitable for your body and you still choose it as a lifestyle you may find yourself in doubt from time to time as your body demands its natural nutrition.
Often, the conflict over vegetarianism makes people who need to eat meat feel as if they are less on the spiritual path than they should be. We need to know for ourselves. Each of us must tune into the needs of our own body with great awareness – discovering the right way of eating that is suitable for our way of living. Even this may change during different periods of our lives or depending upon activities or non-activities that the body carries during our life. Sometimes our eating patterns may change depending on climate, etc. So there is a place for being vegetarian and there is place for eating meat.
If your body tells you that you need to consume meat:
- Do it mindfully without greed (this means: do not live for eating but eat for living).
- Tune into your body and see what kind of meat works best for you: how much and how often you need to consume it without making your body and mind heavy.
- Make sure that the meat you eat is from hormone-free animals and organic.
- Make sure the meat you eat comes from animals that are treated with respect and live in a healthy environment.
- If you consume meat, practice pranayam 4-6 hours after your meal. The best time for a pranayam practice is early morning on an empty stomach.
My point here is to give you another perspective on this issue, as opposed to the conventional one-way yoga approach. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to contemplate this matter and reach your own authentic conclusion. If you hold a fear about practicing pranayam while consuming meat, the practice won’t be effective. So you must make sense for yourself.
For every argument I have presented in this article you can bring one to support vegetarianism, especially if you are one of them. The same works vice versa, and it is not because either of us is right or wrong, but because there is no one way for everyone. Anyone that takes one side on principle is missing the whole picture and risks becoming a fanatic by limiting their point of view.
If you’d like to discuss this topic, please do so here: Meat and Pranayama