Vegan Yoga: The Relationship Between Yoga and Veganism

Animals are the biggest victims of the evolutionary process of the human species. Man is the only living thing that sees himself the right to inflict suffering on one species because he sees his own species superior to another. Throughout history, mankind has even persecuted different groups of his kind, even enacted this cruelty, and committed genocides for the sake of the delusion that he lost himself. Veganism is a doctrine that opposes this persecution. Yoga has a parallel structure with veganism in many subjects. Let’s examine the relationship between yoga and veganism together.

The importance that a vegan attaches to his health, his environment, and the life of other creatures go parallel with a yogic lifestyle. Veganism is a philosophy that defends the free life of all sentient beings. The awareness that the effects of individual choices made in any field (political, moral, scientific, etc.) are far from individualism is also dominant in this understanding. Indeed, the evidence of this is common in our daily lives. Yoga, on the other hand, is a set of practices that helps people to overcome their distorted gaze on themselves and their environment, their ego, and their ignorance about their place in life.

The Relationship Between Yoga and Veganism Philosophies

The teachings of the 8000-year-old yoga philosophy, founded by Patanjali, who first transferred yoga practices to written texts, have adopted an approach that leads people to the path of purification and enlightenment. The purification and enlightenment process begins with the realization of patches called the person’s characteristics that need to be controlled and/or the rules to be followed. The patches that are the first step of Patanjali’s eight-step Astanga Yoga path; ahimsa – nonviolence, Satya – honesty, Asteya – not stealing, brahmacharya – controlling energy, and aparigraha – not being greedy.

Yoga philosophy adopts the Lacto-vegetarian diet. Yoga traditions in India look at dairy products as excellent foods, especially for individuals on the spiritual path. In India, the cow is allowed to give milk to her own offspring first. Milk that cannot be consumed by its own calf can be used by people. Animals have a different ontological position in Indian thought due to the teaching of reincarnation. The law of karma directed people to protect animals and developed a lifestyle away from eating meat.

Veganism, of which Donald Watson is the name founder, is a stance that refuses to use animals by humans. When the Lacto-vegetarian diet adopted by the yoga philosophy is adapted to today’s conditions, it is an issue that should be addressed in relation to the Yamas, which are the basic rules to be followed in the way of purification and enlightenment. I would like to talk about patches in general so that Yamas can be evaluated through veganism philosophy.

  • Ahimsa, which means “not to hurt any living thing”, forms the basis of moral rules in the philosophy of yoga. Ahimsa, which has a very wide meaning, does not mean not only killing living beings; it also means not hurting any being by thought, action, or word.
  • Another moral principle to be followed is the Satya principle, which means not to lie and honesty. Satya means being sincere, correct, and honest in speech, thought, and action.
  • The third moral principle is the Asteya principle, which means not to steal or not to steal. It makes it necessary to avoid even such an idea, let alone use and own things that belong to others illegitimately.
  • The fourth rule is the brahmacharya principle defined as “conserving energy”.
  • The aparigraha, the last principle mentioned in the Yogasutra (II.30), includes not being greedy, not tolerating property and wealth, minimizing possessions, not accepting gifts, and appreciating others.

Evaluation of Yoga from Vegan Perspective

I think that a yogi who has adopted the Ahimsa principle and tries to apply it properly should weigh whether any living thing is harmed during the formation of the food he eats, the clothes he wears, or other products he uses to meet his basic life needs. The philosophy of veganism advocates avoiding the use of animals as much as possible and to the extent practicable. Yoga philosophy includes the idea that you have to do your best in order to be able to perform an action. When we combine these two thoughts, do we do our best to absorb the philosophy of yoga in order to cause the least harm to animals, nature, and ourselves?

While it is possible to see the pain caused by the industry they are a part of in order to get the milk of animals from them, closing our eyes means that we violate the “Satya” principle against ourselves. Even though we do not need the fur, skin, and feather of animals, the fact that we take the parts of their bodies for our own benefit (with the aim of creating itself in the eyes of society with an unbridled ego) is against the principle of “ahimsa” considering the suffering we inflict while taking it. At the same time, listening to the voices of our minds that suggest that we need it in some way is against the ‘Satya’ principle by being dishonest with ourselves. The fact that the animals’ own parts are stolen from them is simply contrary to the ‘Asteya’ principle.

Controlling the reproductive cycle of animals also means violating animal rights and the brahmacharya principle. The normalization of violation of animal rights leads to the normalization of rape against animals. While it is normal for a society that progresses with the mentality that animals exist for us to use animals for their basic needs such as feeding, shelter, and clothing, it should not be surprising that they use animals for their sexual needs. In order for animals and humans to be liberated, we need to evaluate our “norms” based on the philosophy we believe in.

The biggest reason that violates the principle of greed, namely the aparigraha, is our fondness for our taste buds and our social norms. We must examine the first established order to investigate the notion that the one who always has more is more venerable. Stacking, even if it is not needed, has changed and transformed from that time to the present. The fact that people see their own body as the most sheltered area to stack up explains the increasing acceleration of the “obesity” disease, which is growing every day, especially in the USA. Especially in the history of humanity where animal food consumption is perceived as an indicator of wealth; It is quite usual that we act with the pre-acceptance that plant-based foods that we could not try but find the opportunity from animal foods are “not suitable for our taste”.

Although the reasons why people need more have changed, it has not come to an end. Considering the 4.5 million non-target sea creatures killed although they did not consume in the fishing industry, or for example the hunting sector, the hero of the lives taken under the name of sports; Unless people give up their arrogance, animals will continue to pay the price as usual. Even in the light of this very summary information, we can see that yoga has adopted the philosophy of veganism in today’s conditions and that yoga and veganism are two approaches that go parallel to each other. No religion, any philosophy can reasonably explain the enslavement of animals for human use.

Yoga and Veganism: What Are the Similarities?

Veganism and yoga are two parallel approaches, two lifestyles. Because the principles of these two philosophies follow each other very closely. First, let’s open these two words a little. Yoga is difficult to define. Perhaps we can try to express it very roughly as the search for a bodily, mental, and spiritual integrity, the effort to reach real existence. For example, the famous Hatha Yoga guru Iyengar described yoga as a timeless utilitarian science that developed over thousands of years, dealing with the physical, moral, mental, and spiritual well-being of human beings as a whole in his book Light on Yoga.

Veganism, on the other hand, is an understanding that rejects any kind of exploitation against animals. The Vegan Society, of which Donald Watson, the father of the word “vegan” was one of its founders, gave a definition to veganism in 1979 as follows: Excluding all kinds of exploitation and cruelty (as far as possible and practical) against animals for food, clothing or any other purpose hence a philosophy that promotes the use of non-animal alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals, and the environment. A person who has adopted veganism does not use any textile products made from materials such as wool, silk, leather, cashmere in addition to products such as meat, milk, cheese, yogurt, and honey.

As a vegan, I have personally witnessed how a herbal diet combined with yoga provides peace of mind and holistic balance. Therefore, in this study, I will try to explain as much as I can about veganism and how veganism connects with yoga. “Those who show the real seriousness about spiritual practices are noble spirits who practice meditation and other yogic methods, who are careful about all beings, who protect all animals.” (Atharva Veda Samhita 19.48.5). “High-spirited people who want beauty, perfect limbs, long life, understanding, memory, mental and physical strength should refrain from doing harm.” (Mahabharata 18.115.8).

Why Veganism With Yoga?

We all have the truth. These are the truths that are imposed and/or accepted by some society and that we learn from some families and close environment. The “truth” that animal products are needed to get protein is actually wrong. It is a very common belief that animal protein is indispensable, especially for muscle growth. However, many scientific studies reveal these well-known mistakes in many channels today as well as in various time periods. Generally, these well-known mistakes result from a lack of effort to obtain alternative information.

Of course, one should not deny the role of animal husbandry in refuting any counter-thesis. Combined with these factors, naturally, it creates prejudices about veganism. As in every sector, while products are pumped to the consumer in the livestock sector, the animal slaughter during their production is masked by “happy cows”, the findings and evidence of the diseases caused by these products are suppressed, and most of the herbal products are declared inadequate. However, the damage caused by animal product-based nutrition to both health and the environment cannot be ignored. Isn’t it a big problem to take away a living thing’s right to life?

Many of us don’t need to question why we discriminate between a cat and a cow. What about the tendency to hold the man above all other living things? This is called speciesism. Thanks to today’s scientific and technological developments, what kind of superiority can we talk about when it has been proven that many creatures, including fish, except the human species, have many “human” features such as thinking, feeling, sharing their feelings, communicating and socializing?

The starting point of veganism is mostly ethical. Many vegans choose this diet and lifestyle because they are against speciesism rather than physical health. “Speciesism”, which is the English equivalent of the term speciesism, was first used in 1970 by the English philosopher, author, and animal rights theorist Richard D. Ryder. Ryder was concerned that the activist wave of the 1960s excluded animals, and prepared a flyer titled “Speciesism” to express this concern and share it with people. Based on this view, a vegan does not keep any living creature above another but defends the freedom and life rights of all living things.

This point, which Ryder touched on in the ’60s, has actually been among the basic principles of yoga for thousands of years. Many ancient texts, from the first Sanskrit writings of the Vedas, which are considered sacred, to the famous Baghavad Gita epic, advise not to distinguish between living things and nonviolence. Patanjali, who was a great sage and regarded as the “father” of yoga, wrote 196 succinct words that he compiled based on the old traditions of yoga in 400 BC under the name of Yoga Sutras and thus aimed to enlighten yoga a little more.

This collection is considered to be the primary teaching of Rāja Yoga or Aṣṭāṅga (eight-armed) Yoga, which is one of the four ways of yoga. The first of these eight arms are patches. The patches that we can define as ethical rules or “right way of life” in the Hindu and yogic lifestyle also have five pillars and Ahimsā, non-violence, comes first:

  • Ahimsā (nonviolence, non-harm, mercy)
  • Satya (truth; being honest in one’s thinking, words, and actions)
  • Asteya (not to steal)
  • Brahmacharya (virginity if the person is not married, loyalty to one’s spouse if married)
  • Aparigraha (purification of earthly ambitions)

In vegan philosophy, nonviolence and compassion for all living things are the most important elements. In his book, Light on Yoga, Iyengar wrote that violence is born out of fear, helplessness, ignorance, or unrest. To contain violence, one must get rid of fear. The way to do this is to change the view towards life and the direction of mind and thought. The famous vegan, activist, and creator of the Jivamukti Yoga method together with David Life, yogini, Sharon Gannon, expressed the relation of veganism with the Yama’s (yogic ethical codes), the first branch of eight-arm yoga.

Ahimsā (non-violence, non-harm): Capturing, exploiting, killing, and eating animals is to harm animals.

Satya (truthfulness): Industries that use animals as commodities resort to deception in ads. Although they show us happy cows grazing with their family and chickens feeding in a farmyard, these animals are never happy.

Asteya (not stealing): Industries that use animals as commodities are based on theft – theft of milk from mother cows, wool from sheep, the skin of many animals for things like coats, car seats, and of course food, clothing, cosmetics, medicine, “scientific” research. , etc. all lives of animals are stolen.

Brahmacharya (non-sexual abuse): All animal foods and products are obtained as a result of sexual abuse: most female animals raised for food and/or milk are trapped in a small chamber and raped by the farmer’s hand for artificial insemination; Shortly after birth, their babies are taken from them. It is also common practice in the agricultural industry to force male animals to masturbate repeatedly.

Aparigraha (not being ambitious): Patanjali offers a moderate life rather than excessive consumption. This is to get only what one needs, not what one wants, and not deprive other entities. While the human population in the world is approximately 7 billion, the United Nations has calculated that approximately 67 billion land animals are killed for food every year. This does not include the countless sea creatures we kill for food. Moreover, industries that use animals as commodities generate more carbon emissions than all means of transport around the world combined. This use of animals can in no way be considered moderate.

Veganism and Vegetarianism in the Light of Yoga

The main difference between vegetarianism and veganism is based on nutrition. A vegetarian doesn’t eat meat either, but mostly consume honey, eggs, and dairy products. Vegans, on the other hand, do not consume any food of animal origin. In addition, they do not use animal textile products such as leather, silk, cashmere, wool, and products that have been tested on animals. The reason for this is that all these products are the result of exploitation.

Often, yoga is associated with a vegetarian diet. However, this philosophy, which accepts non-violence as a principle, is in great contrast with the production methods applied in modern animal husbandry. Today, dairy products and eggs are not obtained as when Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras were written. At that time probably cows and poultry roam really free on family farms. Today, cows spend most of their lives in small compartments attached to machines.

Violence against poultry is much greater. Chicks are separated according to their sex in the hatchery where they are born. Male chicks are immediately destroyed, as they have no value in the egg industry. The beaks of chickens that are forced to stay in very cramped coops due to lack of space are cut to prevent them from pecking each other.

In honey production, the persecution begins with the wings of the queen bee being torn off so that the bees do not leave the hive. Bees produce honey for themselves as a food stock during the winter months. Honey producers feed bees with sugary water because people claim honey. The lives of bees that cannot be fed ideally are shortened. You must have noticed how much the bee population has decreased in recent years. Another reason for this is pesticides. Bees are the main pollen carriers of vegetation that meet our food needs such as fruits and vegetables, and their role in the ecosystem should not be underestimated.

Veganism, Yoga and Nutrition

What is a healthy diet? It is the adequate and balanced intake of nutrients that the body needs. Nutrition is a behavior that should be done consciously in order to take the nutrients required by the body in adequate amounts and at appropriate times in order to protect and improve health and to increase the quality of life. Carbohydrates, which meet the energy needs of the body, are among these nutritional elements. They are followed by protein, minerals, vitamins, and finally fat. Studies conducted in recent years have associated many diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, especially cancer, with processed animal foods such as red meat and salami, and sausages.

According to the report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 75% of the new diseases affecting humans between 1999-2009 came from animals or animal products. While animal-based nutrition causes many diseases, vegetable nutrition plays an important role in the recovery of many diseases. However, many people ignore this fact. In the following sections, I will briefly mention the main nutrients that the human body needs, and I will focus on protein, iron, and B12, which are generally met by animal foods.

The primary role of carbohydrates is to provide energy to all cells in the body. Carbohydrates are divided into simple and complex. Sugary (jam, molasses, fruit juice), white flour foods (white bread, pasta, all kinds of sweets), and processed foods fall into the category of simple carbohydrates and are foods that the body does not need, even harmful. They are empty calories that are poor in fiber and nutritional value, easily converted to fat in the body. Since such foods are easily absorbed into the blood, they cause a sudden increase in the sugar rate in the blood. Knowing how dangerous this situation is, the metabolism immediately activates high amounts of insulin to lower the sugar level in the blood.

This time, the sugar rate drops sharply. This fluctuation in blood sugar often makes you feel tired and hungry more quickly. This situation may bring along excess weight gain and diabetes. Complex carbohydrates are found in abundance in whole grain foods, legumes, fresh fruits, and green leafy vegetables. They are rich in nutrients and fiber, naturally stimulate the metabolism, low-calorie but highly satisfying nutrients. A healthy adult gets most of his daily calorie needs from carbohydrates.

The first and most common question a vegan faces is what he eats and the second is where he gets the protein. There is a certain amount o protein in all plants, from potatoes to lettuce, from apples to almonds. The only difference between vegetable protein and animal protein is that the proportion of amino acids that make up protein in animal foods is higher. Since the amino acid density is higher in animal foods, for example, eggs, a false perception may occur in humans that enough protein is only taken through animal foods. However, the number of plant foods rich in protein, although they are not of animal origin, is quite high.

According to the analysis of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most authoritative organizations in the world in nutrition, “herbal nutrition containing complementary vegetable protein mixtures can provide protein of the same quality as animal protein. Existing evidence does not support the claim of a separate protein requirement for individuals consuming complimentary plant protein mixtures. A balanced and varied diet is important not only for vegans but for anyone who wants to have a healthy body. Protein constitutes 10-30% of the total calories taken by a healthy individual over the age of 18.

The B12 requirement of the human body is very low, but this vitamin, which is effective in protein and fat metabolism and DNA synthesis, is equally important. B12 is required for cell division and blood formation. Bacteria are responsible for the production of vitamin B12. The human body produces B12 in the large intestine but excretes it because it cannot be absorbed. Therefore, B12 produced in the body actually has no benefit to the body. Vegetable foods cannot be considered as a source of B12 if they are not in contact with microorganisms that produce this vitamin or do not contain a fortified formula (eg Alpro branded herbal milk).

In fact, all plants come into contact with B12 as they come into contact with the fertilizer while growing. However, the plants consumed for the intake of this B12 into the body should not be washed. This will mean that the chemicals (pesticides, various drugs) on the plants enter the body. Animals also do not produce B12, this vitamin is present in their bodies as they are fed food contaminated with B12. The only nutrient a vegan needs supplements is vitamin B12. It is very easy and inexpensive to do this with nutritional supplements suitable for herbal nutrition.

Iron is an essential nutrient because it forms an important part of hemoglobin that provides oxygen circulation in the blood. Iron in foods is divided into heme and non-heme. Heme-iron is found in animal meat. It is non-heme iron found in plant foods. The main difference between these two types of iron is that heme-iron is much more easily absorbed by the human body than the other. However, studies have shown that iron absorption increases when iron-containing plant foods are consumed with foods containing vitamin C.

The general perception is that an herbal diet cannot provide enough iron for the body. However, in order for a person to reach the amount of iron he obtains from 100 calories of spinach, he must consume 1700 calories of tenderloin. Since vegan diets are mostly rich in both iron and vitamin C, the rate of iron deficiency in vegans with a balanced diet is low. However, regardless of veganism, iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world.

Fats make up about 20% of an adult’s daily calories. Fatty acids make up fats. These are divided into saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids are very high in animal fats such as butter, lard, margarine. However, since these oils prevent the cleaning of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood, it may cause vascular occlusion as a result of accumulation in the vein. They also increase the risk of diabetes because they increase the fat and LDL ratio in the blood. It is not essential to take the saturated fatty acids that can be synthesized in the body from the outside. These fatty acids should not exceed 7% of the total calories a person receives.

Unsaturated fatty acids are divided into monounsaturated fatty acids (TDYA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). According to the researches conducted by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, TDYA has no known individual benefit to the body. However, when they replace saturated fats in the diet, they reduce the rate of bad cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are divided into omega-3 and omega-6 and contain linoleic (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic (omega-3) acids that the body needs but cannot produce itself. These fatty acids are mostly vegetables.

Yoga and Ecology: The Impact of Veganism on Ecology

Since the prehistoric period, the fauna in the lands has been rapidly extinct. Yuval Noah Harari, a history professor and author of the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of the Human Species”, which has set sales records in many countries, states that the Sapiens settlement was one of the biggest and fastest disasters to befall the animal kingdom. While there were “around 200 large land mammals larger than 50 kilograms in the world” before the Agricultural Revolution, this number dropped to 100 after the revolution. The industrial activities that came with the Industrial Revolution show that the future of animals is not at all pleasant today. Probably the only exception is farm animals.

Since Homo sapiens settled around 10,000 BC and carried out the Agricultural Revolution, the only animal species that have been increasing day by day are human and farm animals. According to the findings of the United Nations, the human population increases by about 1.2% per year. Farm animals are based on 2.4% per year. Industrial livestock breeding is the biggest driver of this increase. The fastest production of livestock is in factory-type farms, which the UN calls Collective Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).

The findings of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization are that 80% of the growth in the livestock sector originates from these industrial production systems. With this abnormal increase in the number of agricultural animals, the rate of fertilizer waste increases, excessive water is used, natural lands are occupied for the sake of animal husbandry, human and animal diseases are increasing, biodiversity is gradually decreasing. In recent years, the environmental hazards of animal food consumption have been mentioned more frequently in scientific articles, press, and social media, and people are warned about the consumption of animal products.

An article on the website of the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research company founded in 1974, states that eating meat has become a problem for everyone on the planet. In the world we live in, the conditions gathered under the name of “civilization” are the worst conditions in terms of environmental sustainability. Many exploitations, both social and environmental, which undermines the lives of all living things, is encouraged. Many cultures ignore the major long-term destructions that the world will face and focus on short-term interests.

Karma Yoga, which is one of the four ways of yoga, is an understanding that one should give up the ego and move on the path of the Dharma, that is, the “order that makes life and the universe possible” and do the right thing. Therefore, the person is responsible for his actions and will have to accept their consequences. Yoga is a word that corresponds to the Sanskrit meaning of “to connect”, “to join”. Based on this, a yogi strives to live in harmony with nature. This effort is primarily based on not harming other living things because the yogi sees himself as part of the world around him. To harm another creature is to harm oneself.

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Savaş Ateş

I like meditation and yoga. I read a lot of books about them. I applied them in my daily life. I want to write about my experiences.

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