Ahimsa is one of ten traditional yamas that represent an ethical right of living within Hinduism and yoga; it is the Sanskrit term for non-violence. To achieve ahimsa is to demonstrate compassion and harmlessness for all living creatures no matter our distinctions or differences. Through our yoga practice, we begin to see that all life is connected; this moral imperative is one reason why many yoga traditionalists choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
My “Ah-Ha!” Moment
I’ve always loved animals, but lived as an omnivore for the first 30 years of my life. I never made the connection between the meat on my plate to the living creature it once was – and I never put thought into how it got to my plate. In my naïve world, these animals lived on old MacDonald’s farm and they ran in the sunshine, ate grass, and had a decent life (because that’s what I saw on small farms in Oregon). Ignorance is bliss, right? My naïve little world was turned upside down 2 years ago when I decided to watch Food Inc.
This documentary exposes the unethical, highly mechanized food supply system that is monopolized by a handful of corporations that put profit ahead of consumer health, the environment…and animal welfare. Appalled, horrified, disgusted, angered and saddened, I decided to make a change – and even asked myself what took me so long to finally take action! My husband and I began watching other documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, Vegucated and Earthlings; I read the book Skinny Bitch and explored various blogs on the health benefits of vegetarianism to the negative effects of factory farming on our environment.
The main reason I chose vegetarianism was ethical – it was ahimsa. Images of filthy, disease-infested slaughterhouses, over-crowded, manure-filled cages, barbaric killing techniques that often times fail leaving the animal to literally suffer to death, and endless counts of animal abuse have stained my mind. You wouldn’t subject your pet dog or cat to this type of cruelty, would you? So why do so many turn a cheek when it’s a cow, pig or chicken?
Did You Know?
- More than 20 billion animals are killed by the American meat industry each year, and that doesn’t even count fish and other sea creatures since they are measured collectively by tons.
- Research has proven that chickens are as smart as dogs, cats and even some primates. The mother hen begins to teach her chicks various calls before they even hatch by softly clucking while sitting on the eggs.
- Cows are socially complex creatures that develop friendships over time and enjoy problem solving – they even experience “Eureka!” moments when they are successful!
- Pigs have the cognitive development to that of a 4-year-old, but are more sophisticated! They are every bit as smart, loyal, friendly and affectionate as dogs…they are even very successful at playing video games!
- Fish have impressive long-term memory and sophisticated social structure, which allows them to create cognitive maps that guide them through their watery homes, using cues such as polarized light, sounds, odors, and visual landmarks.
All Life is Connected
I truly believe that animals experience love and hate, joy and fear, peace and anxiety; they are capable of displaying intellect and affection and they most certainly feel physical pain. We see these emotions in our beloved pets. We experience these emotions ourselves…
“I can’t imagine that if you’re putting something in your body that is filled with fear or anxiety or pain, that that isn’t somehow going to be inside of you.” Ellen DeGeneres. I love this quote by Ellen, and it brings us back to the yoga philosophy that all life is connected, and what we do to another, we eventually do to ourselves.
I’m not a perfect vegetarian. In fact, I am considered a lacto-ovo vegetarian because I still eat cheese and Greek yogurt. And I’m not vegan because I still have leather boots and handbags. But in the past two years of exploring ahimsa and a vegetarian world, I am more aware of my choices, their impact and am taking steps in the right direction towards leading a healthier, more eco-and-animal friendly life.
Have no fear my carnivorous friends, I’m not out to convert you! I simply hope that I’ve inspired you to practice ahimsa in some aspect of your life; research what you’re eating and where your food comes from; know that your actions and lifestyle choices have an impact on things much greater than yourself; accept the fact that all living creatures are connected and we all share this earth.
Peace. Love. Namaste.