I've always loved animals. My family had chickens when I was growing up, we had a rescue dog that I loved with all my heart. I would walk him and look after him to make him happy. The chickens I would take the vege scraps to and it always made me smile to see them pecking and scratching around the backyard. When I was little, I never made the connection that those same chickens I loved and cared for, would be the same thing that would be put on the dinner table some nights.
Forward about 20 years, I found yoga. I'd recently moved from Sydney to Melbourne and had found myself struggling with social anxiety. I didn't want to leave the house, and was afraid when my partner left for the day, that he wouldn't return. I lived in fear that I was unwanted, unneeded and taking up space.
I began practicing yoga at home, using DVDs to be in my own space. I found I enjoyed the ritual of having an hour to myself to think about something else. Let my mind try to be still and move my body at the same time. I used to look at yoga as exercise purely. This is where the shift began to change for me. Yes it was working my body in a way, but I didn't realise the effects it would have on me mentally.
When I felt brave enough to leave the house, I joined the local gym that offered yoga classes. I began going once a week. That turned into two and then three times. I was in love. And this was at a place where there were no fancy mats or candles or tea waiting for you. It was yoga at its simplest and I think that's why it didn't scare me.
After a little while, I found I was craving an almost daily physical practice. I then found a couple of local studios with classes I wanted to try and then I was even more hooked. I was lucky to be in a space where there were many offerings and I was financially able to afford these classes. Going to a variety of teachers helped me understand more about the practice and how broad yoga really is.
Around this time is when I also started adapting my diet. I was planning a trip to Borneo where I was to raise funds for the orang-utans to help save their habitat. I was asked by a colleague if I was vegetarian. I wasn't and I'd never really thought about it. I was always one of those people that staunchly said "I will never be able to go vegetarian or vegan". This colleague questioned me why I was so adamant on saving one animal if I was happy to eat others. That question shook me to my core - I had never put those two things together.
I then delved into many questions. What was the difference? Why was I happy to eat a cow or chicken but then campaign for the safety of orang-utans, elephants and tigers. I'd just adopted a cat, I would never eat her but I would gladly eat the flesh of other beings. I decided some things needed to change.
I gradually became vegetarian over a few weeks, adapting and changing things. I found it quite easy and living in inner-city Melbourne, it was no problem when deciding to eat out. Discovering how easy it was, I was still surprised at how many people were still so curious or even frustrated by my decision. I tried to keep my head down and keep learning. Eventually, I went vegan.
A little while later, I decided I wanted to use what I had learned from yoga and become a teacher. I signed up to do my yoga teacher training in Ubud in late 2017. I was so excited! The more I kept learning about yoga and how that then changed my way of thinking, eating and doing, I was keen to share in this passion with others.
The teacher training was transformative and learning from teachers who also lived the way I did was inspiring and educational. However I was surprised at how many people on the training were quite happy to talk purity and peace throughout the day, and then happily eat a dead animal that night. I guess I assumed all yogis were like me! That we all wanted to embody this practice and go and teach others about the benefits of living the yogi way.
I tried to shake this off, but continued to keep learning. When studying the 8 limbs of yoga, the yamas were obviously one that stuck out to me. And the fact that ahimsa was the first on the list made so much sense to me. Non-violence and freedom from harming. At first I thought this was a way to treat myself, non-violence in thoughts against myself and kindness in the way I practice. However then I learned that these are the "restraints" in the way that we should treat others and the world around us. Again, this felt like a real eye-opening moment where everything started to make sense. Non-violence in a yoga practice should lead to non-violence off the yoga mat. How I speak to others, how I treat others, and how I treat beings that have no voice.
There's a great Paul McCartney quote that says, "you can judge a man's true character by the way he treats his fellow animals." This is one stance I like to live by. While practicing non-judgment is the trait of a yogi also, it really is something to think about.
I consider yoga teaching my passion and partly a purpose to keep talking about this. I don't know if other yogis are still embarrassed to be seen as 'weak vegans' or that it will diminish their practice. For me, yoga was never about getting into handstands or deep backbends, or twisting my body in ways it's not meant to. Yoga truly is a way of life. I can't help but take this practice off the mat and encourage others to delve deeper into the study of yoga and what it means.
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all.
I think about this mantra almost daily and am reminded every time I step outside to tread lightly in any way that I can.
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