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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 05/10/2011

Flexitarian yogis and ahimsa

Let’s face it: A lot of people who regularly practice yoga are in it for its salubrious effects on their derrieres.

And another whole contingent values yoga for its other health benefits, particularly its capacity to lower stress and help us deal more calmly with life’s challenges.

But a good number of people out there don’t just do yoga for the physical or even the psychological benefits it can offer. True yogis and yoginis tap into yoga as a holistic system for understanding and managing their own lives and their roles in the universe. They seek balance by adhering to a set of ideas that can collectively be viewed as yogic principles. Perhaps chief among those principles is the notion of ahimsa. In brief, ahimsa means doing no intentional harm to any living creature.

In many people’s eyes, doing no harm includes killing no animals for food or other purposes. In practical terms, many believe, that means being a vegetarian.

But as we learn in this week’s Eat, Drink and Be Healthy column, not all devoted yoga practitioners are in fact vegetarians. Shiva Rea, who has been a yogini practically since birth, tells me that she doesn’t consider herself a vegetarian; she finds herself drawn to protein sources such as goat cheese and fish. Nor is her 12-year-old son a vegetarian, she says. To her mind, denying yourself, and your body, foods you love and your body seems to need is wrong-headed.

In theory, I would love to be a vegetarian; I don’t relish the thought of animals’ dying on my behalf any more than the next person. But I do like a bit of meat now and then. For me, the aspects of ahimsa that matter most are those that apply to the way I treat the people around me on a daily basis. I would never intentionally hurt anyone, and I would do my best to not hurt an animal. (Just ask me about the horror I felt when once I couldn’t avoid hitting a rabbit with my car. It still hurts to think about it.)

Or maybe I’m just a hypocrite, or undisciplined. But in a yogic kind of way, I feel pretty balanced and even-keeled. Most of all, I feel I have no business dictating how anyone else eats (well, except for my kids, when I can get away with it), even if they choose burgers, fries, doughnuts and sodas all the time.

What’s your view on this matter? Should everyone who is serious about yoga follow a vegetarian diet?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 05/10/2011

 
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