My transition to 100% vegan took me a rather long time although as I look back at the previous decade and even into my childhood, it’s clear it was always waiting for me. It just took me a long time to figure it out.
My life at home as an older child and especially during the teenage years was rather unpleasant. Honestly, I can’t remember most of it because I have blocked so much of it out. What I do remember is being scared, sad, anxious and angry most of the time due to the constant overshadowing of alcoholism, abuse and never ending fighting.
Sure, like other families, we would have the occasional good times, a wonderful memorable day at Disneyland, birthday party or afternoon at the pool, but the older I got, the less often it happened.
To give you a clear picture of who I was as a teenager, if I was a character from the Breakfast club, I would definitely be a cross between Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson. Without getting into too many details, I had a very negative outlook on life and shady morals at best. I was by no means a saint. In retrospect through my current lens as a parent, I was simply responding to living in such an unhappy and unstable environment.
I had an awful relationship with my mother as a teenager and young adult. While I was much closer with my father growing up, I had to watch him slowly kill himself over a couple of decades. I remember warning him for years that he would die early if he didn’t change his behavior. When I was in my mid twenties, he ended up in an alcohol induced coma, received a liver transplant and was quasi resurrected for the next couple of years. He continued to smoke after his transplant and died of lung cancer at the age 62. I thought the relationship with my mother and I would improve after he was gone, but it was beyond repair and extremely unhealthy. I ended up cutting off ties with her shortly after my oldest daughter was born in order to raise her in a healthy, peaceful family environment with my husband.
I’m telling you this information because it set the foundation for who I am now. There is a yogic concept that we each choose the roles we play each time we enter each new life. It’s sometimes referred to as our soul blueprint. I’m grateful for my childhood because it taught me through example. Not of what you should do, but the repercussions of abusing your body, yourself and others. It allowed me to understand fear, learn to stand up for myself and trigger an urge to find a deeper sense of Self. It brought me to yoga and through yoga, I eventually became a vegan.
I suffered from terrible anxiety for at least 25 years. In fact, while it doesn’t surface as much anymore, I’m still haunted by it from time to time. I found that yoga helped my anxiety subside for a while. The more I did yoga, the better I felt. Although it didn’t fix the problem, it brought about enough relief that as soon as my kids were old enough to go to preschool, I practiced at least 5 times a week. About 8 years after I began practicing yoga, I decided to do my first yoga teacher training.
About a year before I did the teacher training, my health began to suffer. The anxiety was getting worse and I was suffering from nightly insomnia. At it’s peak, I didn’t sleep for 3 days straight! I did some blood work and discovered that I had elevated cholesterol. I was also getting high blood pressure readings that wouldn’t come down when I relaxed and inflammation in my body. I was worried because my aunt had a heart attack at 46 and my grandfather who I never met had a heart attack in his mid fifties.
Around the same time, my mother in law was dying from pancreatic cancer. Like my father, she led a life of poor food choices and smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day. I noticed that both of them ate similar foods, lots of processed meats, dairy, very few fruits and vegetables and little water. Neither one of them ever exercised and both of them died, slow painful horrible deaths.
After my mother in law passed away, I became motivated to change the way I ate. My husband and I had cultivated such a happy home with our 2 girls, we both wanted to live a long and healthy life. Both of us knew we couldn’t rely on good genes as we had each lost a parent due to cancer and had other relatives with heart disease.
I knew in my heart, that the answer to my state of health was to shift my diet. Hippocrates, unveiled this answer in 431 B.C. with his famous quote “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” At first we ate a lot of vegetables and chicken which we thought was healthy at the time. I then came across The China Study and wanted to know the research behind turning on and off certain cancers. I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and felt there was enough evidence to believe the health claims. I was convinced that eating a vegan diet would help me restore my health, but I still wasn’t ready to go all in on the diet quite yet.
Knowing that ancient yogis traditionally were vegetarian. I decided to temporarily become one when I did my first teacher training back in 2010. I believed that if I was on a spiritual journey then it was appropriate to eat accordingly. The training was 3 months long and I felt confident that I could stick to the short term commitment. I was too scared to become vegan at the time because I didn’t understand what in the world I would eat.
I was stunned when one of the teachers leading the training, rolled her eyes at the notion that I was becoming a vegetarian for the training! This was the same teacher that delivered lectures on the yamas and niyamas, the moral code of conduct written in the Yoga Sutras around 400 CE by Sage Patanjali.
There were a few students who were vegan during the training. I remember how my friend Robert explained that there was animal rennet in the cheese and it really wasn’t vegetarian when you think about it. The students who were vegan were really nice and nonjudgemental. They led by example and shared recipes and substitutions.
After the 3 month training I decided to continue on as a vegetarian. 3 months after that I decided to try to commit to eating vegan but I held on to the out that sometimes pizza happens. I ate about a 95% vegan diet most of the time. My husband also decided to join me and ate mostly vegan too. We decided to also stop cooking meat in the home. My girls were vegetarian at home and then could make their own decisions when they were out to dinner or a friend’s house.
My health improved. My cholesterol numbers were good and my sleep was much better. My blood pressure lowered to normal but I still have to check it on a regular basis to make sure it stayed that way because when I get too anxious it will rise back up.
I continued to practice and teach yoga for the next 5 years. Our family then moved from California to Connecticut. When we moved here I got out of balance and slowly reverted back to eating some cheese. I think I was scared because we didn’t know anyone here and I wasn’t confident enough to introduce myself as a vegan. I started getting weird inflammatory symptoms in my body and generally didn’t feel very well. After 6 years of not eating any meat at all, I panicked and thought maybe my body was missing something. I decided to eat local eggs and occasional salmon! I really began to feel awful.
After being off track during that first year in CT I decided to go completely vegan. My health returned to normal and I felt good again. Shortly after, I decided to do Dharma Mitras 500 hour yoga teacher program. One of the conditions of being accepted into his program was that you had to adhere to a vegan diet during the duration of the study. I was overwhelmed with joy that this was a stipulation and hoped that I would be accepted into the program.
On the first day of our training, Dharma MIttra sat with us and explained the importance of being vegan and that it was the most important part about yoga. He explained that the first yama, ahimsa or not to harm or cause violence applied not only to ourselves but even to all animals and your pets. He asked us if our refrigerator at home was a morgue? It was such powerful imagery from such a wise man.
The training was divided into two eight day intensives. During that time I was surrounded by new friends and a supportive community who all shared the same interest.Collectively, we all deepened our spiritual awareness.
During the first month of our homework, we were asked to journal or meditate on the yama ahimsa for 10 minutes or so. I decided to change my habit of looking at my phone first thing in the morning and start my day by contemplating ahimsa. We had about 2 hours of homework each day. In order to fit it all in, I got up daily at 4am. We were required to do a daily sadhana practice that included pranayama, meditation, yoga asana practice and a strict vegan diet similar to what Dharma Mittra’s teacher Yogi Gupta taught him decades ago. During this time of practice, my heart opened and this is when I transitioned to living a completely vegan lifestyle.
I began to understand how being vegetarian in modern times is not in alignment with ahimsa. I learned about current farming practices and how dairy cows are used until they no longer produce milk. Instead of living their full life span of about 20 years, they are killed at about 4 or 5 years old after being tortured and essentially raped repeatedly. For the first time, I could understand the fear and anxiety that farm animals go through and how as humans we participate in their torture when we feast on them.
About a year after my Dharma training I decided to get certified as a Vegan Coach and Educator through Victoria Moran’s Mainstreet Vegan Program. Through her wisdom, I have shifted to a different perspective and no longer feel the need to tip toe around the idea that at it’s philosophical core, yoga is vegan.
It’s because of these experiences, I decided to develop this site. It’s meant to inspire thought and hopefully give other yogis different perspectives as to how living a vegan life changes the trajectory of our spiritual development. As you can see by my own example it took a while for me to get here. My goal if for this site to be a welcome mat for all yogis, even if they are still pre-vegan. I believe there comes a time in the yoga practice where you have to sit with your soul and ask yourself, are my actions in line with my heart?
— Holly Skodis, founder Yoga is Vegan