YIV: How were you first introduced to yoga? Why have you continued to practice?
MS: I was first introduced to Yoga in University after I sustained a bad concussion on the rugby field which lead to anxiety and depression. I used Yoga and Meditation as a way to heal my body and mind from years of playing rugby, and the consequential anxiety that ensued. For years I had an on and off relationship with Yoga, until I found Ashtanga.
For me, Ashtanga has been the most transformational practice of my life. Each day it gives me an opportunity to connect with my breath, my body, and my Self. It helps reveal my unconscious patterns, and through daily practice, it helps me transcend them... slowly but surely.
For me Yoga helps to keep me grounded, and connected.
YIV: When did you go vegan? Why did you make the decision to do so?
MB: I became vegan shortly after beginning my Ashtanga practice. I think as my connection to the practice deepened, and as my consciousness expanded, the idea of eating meat didn't make sense for me anymore.
I felt called to take on the practice of Yoga off the mat, and for me, veganism felt like the best way to begin practicing Ahimsa. If I could sustain myself without eating another living creature, why wouldn't I?
As my practice has evolved, I've started to see veganism not only as a way to practice Ahimsa, but to cultivate Sattva. I think it's important that as vegan Yogis we adopt a whole-foods plant-based diet, to support the cultivation of Sattva and Prana while practicing Ahimsa.
MS: Why is do you think yoga is vegan?
This is a tricky one, and maybe the answer isn't what you would expect to hear.
I think Yoga is about consciousness.
And generally I think when we become conscious and aware of the unjust treatment of animals in factory farming, the tamasic nature of meat and other animal products, and the consequential effect this has on our body and mind, and if we want to align ourselves with the yama, Ahimsa we would naturally choose a vegan diet.
But I think beyond veganism, Yoga is about being conscious of our choices around food. And sometimes, this might mean consciously choosing animal products. I have met many Yogis who from a very conscious place choose to eat animal products.
And this is something I have been grappling to reconcile in my own mind.
Yogis who have tried to go vegan, but were left feeling depleted, and run down ask me for guidance all the time. They want so desperately to go vegan, and to live in alignment with ahimsa, but after seeing various alternative health professionals, have been advised to eat some animal products.
So what do they do?
This is where it gets tricky. My advice to them is always to be empowered in their choice. To arm themselves with knowledge of what is actually happening in these industries and to make a scientific, and spiritually informed choice.
And, if they have to, to choose products that cause as little harm as possible, and that are sourced from animals that are treated with love and care. Ayurveda, who's goal is somewhat the same as Yoga from the perspective of connecting to our highest Self, does not admonish the use of animal byproducts from a spiritual perspective, so long as they were sourced from animals that were treated well.
It's tricky, really it is. There may be karmic, and spiritual implications for consuming animals products, and I think one should strive for an all or mostly plant-based diet if this is possible for them. It is the most karmically, and spiritually sound diet, in my opinion. Also, likely the most nutrient dense!
But I fully acknowledge that we are all at different stages on our journey. We all have different body's which have varying nutritional needs and considerations. In my opinion, the Yoga of Eating (or what I call, Food Sadhana) is all about being grounded and conscious about your food choices.
If you are a teacher, do you ever introduce the concept of ahimsa or veganism to your students? If so, how has it been received?
While I don't teach Yoga, I do teach meditation and run online Ayurvedic Plant-Based Nutrition and cooking programs. The concept of ahimsa is one of the fundamental principles in all of my programs in The Yogi Fuel Academy.
The concept is generally well received, I think people connect to and understand the idea of practicing ahimsa via a vegan diet, but the implementation is sometimes challenging.
YIV: What advice would you give to a yoga student who wants to become vegan?
MB: Begin to look at becoming vegan as a practice, the same way you would look at your asana practice. It's ok to take it slow in the beginning, and it's ok to go all in. You need to adopt this lifestyle in a way that feels sustainable in the long term.
In the beginning, it might feel really, really hard. Maybe even overwhelming. You may find yourself going back to old ways of being, and consume animal products from time to time. And I think that's ok.
Even your "setbacks" are a valuable part of this journey, and there is so much wisdom in them. Be conscious of how you feel in your body, mind and soul if you do consume animal products. How does it make you feel, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually? Many of my clients have shared that eating meat again after going vegan brought up feelings of physical discomfort, mentally and emotionally they felt unsettled, and spiritually the felt disconnected. It just felt wrong.
I encourage them not to feel guilty for having a "setback" but to use it as an invaluable tool going forward. And I think that's the best advice I have to any Yogi trying to adopt this lifestyle for the first time.
YIV: Do you have a favorite vegan recipe you would like to share?
MB: Oh man, I have so many favourites! I think one of my favourite recipes, is one I created (no big deal) and it's my simple peanut butter ball recipe. It's the perfect post-practice snack, super easy to throw together, and each ball has like... 5g of plant-based protein.
YIV: Where do you love to go for vegan food?
MB: Truthfully, my kitchen! I am a big believer in cultivating connection to my food through the cooking process. But if I had to pick a second, I would say Planta in Toronto. They have the best, fanciest vegan food in town! I also love a good stroll down a a health-food store aisle... pursuing the health vegan snacks, and day dreaming about all the food I could make!