HOW BEING VEGAN RELATES TO MY YOGA PRACTICE: AHIMSA IS A MUST
When you participate in ahimsa you become a part of a collective energy and a great love is exposed. You may even get to meet a guru along the way this life and will get to know this with a greater ease. Practice ahimsa by meditating on compassion and keep a strong faith that the best will take place on the path you are on. Give yourself grace whenever there are doubts. Ahimsa is the first ethical rule in yoga and according to my yoga teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra, without compassion yoga no longer exists. Sri Dharma taught me much of what I tell you here. I am just the vessel sharing my experiences through him. He teaches his students that practicing yoga without ahimsa is like “eating spaghetti without the sauce.” We must keep compassion in all we do, including the food we eat. The more compassion consumes you, it becomes easier to be a successful vegetarian and in time the milk products and eggs will disappear off your plate and a vegan diet will become you.
I have three beautiful children, a husband, and work as a part time nurse and teach yoga for fun on the side. Before yoga, running is where I would find relief from life's stress and spinning thoughts. After suffering a back injury from the many miles, I soon found yoga to relieve the physical pain, along with pain from the underlying depression I was running from. My practice transitioned from running everyday to yoga. No one plans to be depressed and not many individuals who suffer talk about it much. It is constant suffering with your own thoughts, past traumas big or small, and it can be difficult to escape from without the proper tools. I had tried medication for the illness off and on, but finally discovered I have medication resistant major depression, so had to learn to live the best I could on my own. Living a life of a yogi as taught by Sri Dharma and his advanced teachers has saved my life over and over again.
Like many Americans, in my twenties and early to mid thirties I drank wine to relieve stress, but of course it didn’t work long term. I was suffering living in my body on a daily basis, so my primary doctor recommended the famous Mary Jane and it worked for a while. Later down the road though I experienced a crash and burn that connected to this exposure as well. The crash came after I had to stop it in order to get a new job. For a while, I had been staying home with kids to heal from a previous serious downward spiral. Dharma said once in his beginning spiritual discourse, "With weed your meditation can go nowhere!" A pause followed and went straight to my heart. It is true. The life consciousness with dreams stop and willpower is lost to do the practice. I don't expect it, but the teaching and healing I receive from him in dreams is amazing. He shows up sometimes there and will give me a one liner of something I need to know. There is usually singing in the background and wake feeling as if I was bathed in pure love. Time with him allows the obstacles to dissolve. Eventually the karmas of using these substances ended, but I still struggle time-to-time wanting to crawl back into the bubble of not feeling. These unhealthy things (alcohol and the weed) were allowing me hide in a comfortable darkness and kept my existence in a frozen state so I didn't have to feel the pain. I was caught in a gray cloud of existing and not really living. Dharma knew it, but it was up to me to figure it out. Now I unroll my mat, breathe, meditate, read, sing, play in nature and search for the divinity within daily. Some days I may just do one of these things mentioned, but I do it. I teach it to my kids and they even sometimes start singing before I do. These sacred mantras become a part of the heart to remind us who we are. We are all a substance of the divine. Perfect. When the clouds in the mind appear and are too dark to see, I am able to sing with the kids, read a few lines wisdom or stand on my head and breath. It is all yoga. It is everything we do. Dharma teaches, “you are not the body, the mind or the senses”, but so much more. Still there are days that I hibernate under my favorite blankets and rest, but with the practice of yoga I am able to get up again. The unhealthy attachments eventually fade and disappear, but it still takes accountability to live fully in compassion. Practicing ahimsa is to have grace, let go, hold constant faith, and surrender to the divine within all beings.
I was preparing for a 200 hour teacher training with Sri Dharma when I first decided to change my eating habits and become vegetarian. My father was a hunter and loves to fish, so I grew up eating meat. The life of a yogi teacher training required us to be vegetarian during the training hours and my desire was to release the attachment in order to grow more spiritually. Until this moment in November 2014, I never realized I was participating in suffering. I remember asking my local yoga teacher how to start this process and she recommended I read the book, Skinny Bitch. It took just one listen through of the audio version and that was it, no more meat! Soon, more knowledge was gained from spending time with Dharma and I couldn’t imagine eating the flesh of another being. At one point, he spoke of the refrigerator being turned into a morgue when animal product is in it. No one wants a morgue in his or her kitchen. I learned after becoming vegetarian that it is also very easy to become a junk food vegetarian and fill up on bread and pastas, and not eat enough of the vegetables. You have to remain mindful and keep seeking the knowledge. Also, it is a nice practice to bless the food before you eat it. This can be a quick prayer, mantra, or a simple thank you.
In May 2017, the instagram #loveallbeings challenge was set around Dharma’s 78th birthday and realized it was the perfect time to finally go vegan for the animals. I was also preparing for the 500 hour life of a yogi teacher training that fall. My kids started to thank the mama cows for their service when we passed them in the field. Once vegan, I was all of a sudden able to do binds that I couldn’t do before. It wasn’t that I lost weight, but a new space deep inside was created. Marichyasana was the first pose where I noticed this. Also, I was able to stay in the poses longer to find stillness and comfort. The years of stomach discomfort, after eating, went away and I became more comfortable in the body. After the second teacher training with Dharma, I finally understood suffering in a new form, and didn’t have to exist in that discomfort as often. The biggest secret is an underlying peace of mind that is silently witnessed. Yogis call it the sattvic state. When we eat right, the mind is steady and calm, and anything and everything becomes possible. You are no longer as afraid of the things you once were. My time eating just plant based has been blessed with more peace. Meditation becomes easier and the body is less restless. The bliss only comes in short bursts, but peace soon lasts longer and longer. We need to remain receptive and not expect anything. Once this happens, you can’t help but see everything with more love, compassion and empathy. Dharma teaches “the action of compassion is to see yourself in others.” We all suffer and when we do it feels terrible. I don’t want to feel any worse by eating the pain and suffering of an animal. It is a nice practice to see all beings as our friends. Our souls are like trillions of bright shining stars, and animal souls are also pure love. We are all one on this journey of life together. Imagine our soul is the sun. Sometimes I like to close my eyes and imagine the billions of beautiful souls shining everywhere and feel unconditional love being shared by us all.
Eternal gratitude to Sri Dharma Mittra at Dharma Yoga New York City and all the incredible teachers out there for implanting seeds of love and awakening my soul. There are days I still struggle to get out of bed, but I do it anyway because I have to. Dharma once looked at me and said, "Don't die." Another "That's it!" moment was born so I could deeply know my gift is to live and share the way with others and we must make each day count by creating more peace in the world. Krishna Das says to sit and face the wind and do your practice no matter what. Maybe your practice is to sing, swim, hike, bike, do asana, breathing and meditation, but whatever it is it must be done. At first it may be cold and uncomfortable changing eating and exercise habits or molding every thought into a kind one. However, with time the wind will become warmer and not as brutal and cold. May you continue to ripen in the sun, by the grace of God, by the grace of a Guru, and become a delicious avocado as you effortlessly enter into each pose or phase of your life. May all you shining and perfect souls fly free from pain and be happy.
Om Shanti my friends,