Practicing and teaching yoga is my way of serving the world. Yoga spaces are one of the remaining places where phones are off and quiet is welcome. Yoga invites us to notice and to feel.
As one of my students says, "Once you start feeling in the poses, you start feeling everything." We become more sensitive. Colors may seem brighter. Empathy may increase.
Through the senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing (sizzle!), food is another way to explore sensitivity. I grew up cooking alongside my mother as she prepared meals for our family and for the parties she hosted. I sat at the butcher block table flipping pages in her cookbook collection. I poured herbs and spices from the small jars into my palm to sample flavors.
At seven, I read the dedication in the book “Laurel's Kitchen”, which mentions “the appeal in the eyes of a glossy black calf on its way to the slaughterhouse.” My large collection of stuffed animals and countless drawings of horses and birds clued in my parents to my affection for non-human beings. My parents supported my decision to become a vegetarian, and adjusted. In those days, that meant lots of cheese-topped bean enchiladas.
Twenty-five years later, I visited Animal Place, a farm sanctuary then located in Vacaville, California. The cows, goats, pigs, dogs, chickens and people were so peaceful. The setting was how I had long imagined the whole world could be. I committed to starting on the vegan path. A full transition to a whole foods plant-based lifestyle took a few more years. Some family members have roots in ranching, others have a passion for gourmet-eating. I took time to examine dietary choices from many angles.
When I dedicated myself to teaching yoga in 2014, I was working as a teaching artist — writing, publishing and performing poems and stories. Having spent so long living in my head as a writer, the drop into my body was rousing. Yoga’s movement changed my relationship with time and space. Part of that change was savoring the selection, preparation and eating of food.
I currently live and teach in the mountain community of Ely, Nevada, population 4,500. There are a few other vegans here, and they tell me it’s difficult to be vegan in the isolated high desert terrain. I understand! The produce from the single grocer is a far cry from what I was used to at farmers’ markets in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. But the limited selection of produce has made me a more creative cook, and ultimately a better one. On Instagram, I share ideas for recipes and front-yard gardening; I host plant-based pop-up dinners at the Ely Pink House, our Airbnb rental.
Being vegan is an embodied practice. If we are what we eat, I want to be peaceful, vibrant, loving and strong. Plants amaze me. I love growing them, walking among them, admiring them and eating them! By harmonizing with plants and animals, I am a citizen of the planet, living on it as lightly as I am able.
- Alexa Mergen