Can Going Vegan Be a Path to Enlightenment?

Some yogis believe diet is key to practice the Yoga Sutra's principle of Ahimsa, or non-harming.

Adopting a plant-based diet makes sense for your health and the environment, and according to some yogis’ interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, one of yoga’s primary texts, it may also be a way to enlightenment. Some yogis believe diet is key to practice the Yoga Sutra’s principle of Ahimsa, or non-harming., meaning “nonharming,” is the first of five yamas, or guides for self-restraint, set forth in the Yoga Sutra. To some practitioners, veganism is ahimsa in practice: “It’s about being kind—to others, including animals, to the planet, and to oneself,” says Sharon Gannon, co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga School and the vegan Jivamuktea Café in New York City, and author of the vegan cookbook Simple Recipes for Joy. “Veganism is not about restriction—it’s a way of eating and living that can create more happiness and joy.”

Gannon is on one end of the veganism-as-ahimsa spectrum, choosing also not to eat honey or wear clothes made from animals, such as leather. But other practitioners take a different tack. “[Patanjali] says to be as kind as you can and to do no harm, and while being vegan is one way, there are a lot of other ways,” says Alanna Kaivalya, an international yoga teacher and author of Myths of the Asanas. A former vegan, Kaivalya, with her doctors, determined that the diet actually exacerbated an existing thyroid condition, so now she buys local and organic food when possible, including meat, and looks for other ways to incorporate ahimsa into her life. “There’s not one right way to practice yoga, but there is a right way for you,” she says.

Inspired? Join us in October for the 21-day Vegan Challenge.