It may not surprise you to discover that this yoga teacher is a vegan.
Veganism is increasingly popular (rising from 2% to 3% of the UK population between 2020 and 2021, that's over 2mn people) and a vegetarian diet (usually including milk but not eggs) is considered to be the most appropriate choice in many yoga traditions. The amount of time I've been vegan - now officially more than 21 years- may be more surprising.
In recent years the 'plant based diet' has become prominent and there are good reasons why this is the case.
However, it makes it easier to view it as a 'fad' diet which people try for a month at a time, or give up when they realise it requires changes in other areas of life that they're not fully prepared for. Veganism isn't just about eating a plant based diet, it's a lifestyle constructed around the wish to do as little harm as possible.
In years gone by, when veganism was more of an extreme lifestyle choice, I often got asked why I chose to be vegan. In some ways I was a bit confused by the question; from my point of view, I struggled to see why others weren't vegan.
I break down my approach in four parts, all of which apply.
1) Vegan for the animals.
Yes, I love and respect animals, just as I love and respect all other living beings. If we can can live perfectly well without killing or harming animals for meat/milk/eggs/fur/leather/cosmetics/pharmaceuticals/etc, why do we still keep doing it? Since I don't think we need to harm or kill animals for these things, the best thing I can do is vote with my feet and live the vegan lifestyle.
2) Vegan for the planet.
Even before widespread knowledge of the current climate emergency, veganism had been understood as part of the solution for feeding growing populations, helping to prevent food shortages and solving problems with land use and intensive farming. In 2018 a landmark study demonstrated that cutting animal products from our diets could be the single biggest thing we can do to reduce greenhouse gas and other factors causing climate change. By choosing a lower-impact diet, I'm treading more lightly on the planet and the life that shares it with me.
3) Vegan for health.
This has always been a contentious issue and there will be those who come down on either side to say that one is always better off eating or not eating meat/animal products.
From my point of view, my vegan diet means that I usually get 10 of my 5 a day, avoid risks associated with the digestion of meat and tend to eat more whole foods and home made meals. I became vegan at a time in my life when I was not healthy, struggling with an eating disorder from which it's taken me years to fully recover, and I credit veganism with showing me something positive about food when all else was negative.
4) Vegan for consciousness & wellbeing.
As touched on above, for me, veganism is an easy way that I can do less harm and tread more lightly in a world where the consequences of our actions are ever present in the environment and in our own bodies. Although I became vegan before I regularly practiced yoga, it links well with important yogic considerations including karma, dharma and right action, ahimsa or non-violence, and deeply knowing that we are not separate from one another or any other part of the universe (deep, I know right?).
In the 21 years that I've been vegan, it's certainly become more mainstream (particularly in the last 5 or so years) but I'm not sure this is a good thing in all ways.
Whilst it was inconvenient in my teens to have to visit the whole food shop any time I needed specialist food or cosmetic items, those I purchased there were usually organic and high quality. Now it's easy to get vegan convenience food, which is often highly processed, over-packaged and poor in terms of nutrition (but still considered 'healthy' by many people simply because it's vegan).
Vegan clothing and footwear lines abound in fast-fashion high street shops, creating more plastic waste as they fall out of style or wear out quickly. Of course there are high quality options (I've had my Vegetarian Shoes 20 eyelet boots for 13 years and still going strong) but it takes care to find them and consideration beyond whether it's the right thing just because it's 'vegan'.
21 years on, I'm still fully committed to veganism. I'm more aware of my health and the changing needs of my body than I was then, a growing awareness in which my yoga practice has played no small part. I know how to listen intently to what is or isn't needed in my life, and direct my vegan diet and lifestyle accordingly. So as far as I can see, here's to the next 21 years of veganism!
If you have any questions about veganism and yoga, mindful veganism or just veganism in general please feel free to get in touch, I'm always happy to chat!