When I arrived in India in late February 2017, I was standing in the currency exchange line at New Delhi airport when a turbaned gentleman behind me asked what I was doing here. I told him that I primarily came to attend the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh. He immediately warned me to not become a vegetarian. He urged me to not give up meat because a body needs protein. I found this response surprising as I thought that most Indians were Vegetarians, but I agreed with him as I thought that I did need protein from meat.
Indira Gandhi International Airport of New Delhi, India
For most of my life, I ate whatever I thought tasted good. After working part-time at a gourmet French restaurant for the past seven years, I have developed a well-rounded taste for many meats, eggs, creamy sauces, cheeses, pastries, and buttered vegetables. I thought it was all fine in moderation as long as I drank plenty of water, slept enough, and exercised regularly.
However, one of my 2017 New Year Goals was to explore my relationship with food and experiment with what would help me to be the best version of myself.
At the festival in Rishikesh, we ate delicious gourmet Vegetarian meals and I encountered Vegetarians like Crystal Galleher. who were surprised that through my yoga journey I had not yet given up meat. I was in denial that there was anything wrong with eating animals and I thought we needed a balanced diet to receive the appropriate nutrients and energy. Isn’t that what we’ve all been taught by society?
Crystal encouraged me to look deeper into the Ahimsa aspects of meat eating and watch some of the many documentaries on Netflix explaining why we should make this change for the environment and our own health.
I tried to avoid this reality at first, but when I returned from my journey, I decided to finally face the facts. I watched Forks over Knives, Food Inc., Food Choices, and Food Matters and I was shocked with the truth. These documentaries are filled with real but shocking footage of animal cruelty. I can’t help but imagine the cycles of this negative energy as it transfers into my body.
It brought to my awareness how disconnected we are from where our food comes from. I realized that I wouldn’t torture, kill, skin, and prepare animals to eat, so therefore I shouldn’t be consuming them while allowing someone else to do that for me. That would be like sharing responsibility with Hitler who ordered hundreds of thousands of people to their death, but didn't have to watch or perform much of it himself. By eating meat, I shared the same responsibility for cruelty to animals and as a result the karma cycle taints our long-term health.
Yoga means union or oneness. One of the first guidelines to Universal Morality, or Yamas, to living a life of union as outlined in Patajali’s 8 Limbed Path to Enlightenment, is Ahimsa, meaning kindness or non-harming. This concept relates to our relationship with ourselves, other fellow human beings, and all other living beings.
Patajali's 8 Limbs of Yoga: Path to Enlightenment
After viewing and processing this horrifying footage, I remembered a symbolic dream that I had. In January, I found the first cockroach in my apartment. I had been living in this apartment for seven years and was surprised and terrified. I reacted in fear and instantly killed it with my shoe. Although it bothered me for a couple of hours, I soon forgot all about it. Several nights later, I had a dream about a cockroach crawling on my wall. Again, I got fired up and wanted to kill this filthy creature, when unexpectedly, it began to slowly transform into something else. Its hind legs started growing very long in feathers and upper arms turned into wings. It became a beautiful Quetzal bird and it started flying around my room. I was captivated and frozen in awe. When I found peace in its presence, it slowly transformed back into a cockroach.
This dream influenced the way that I think about other living creatures. According to the Dalai Lama in the enlightening novel, The Dalai Lama’s Cat, he tries to explain to a professor how animals think like us, “We all want to live and we all want to be loved.” There is an underlying unity and oneness in how we feel and desire. Yes we are also more highly developed beings in our consciousness and brain activity, therefore, we should make more unifying habits and decisions for those being who cannot free themselves.
Photo Credit: Yoga Yamas
Ahimsa goes further that not harming animals directly. It also relates to non-harming the Environment, or natural world of plants, trees, clean water, and fresh air. I learned that the production of so much meat and other animal products creates a substantial problem for the environment. Outrageous amounts of fuel emissions are released into our air to transport animals and animal products while ancient forests are being cut down to harvest mass crops for to feed the animals. As a result, other species are losing their habitats and species are becoming extinct. Further, with a loss of trees, our air quality is going down in oxygen saturation.
“In Brazil alone, the equivalent of 5.6 million acres of land is used to grow soya beans for animals in Europe. This land contributes to developing world malnutrition by driving impoverished populations to grow cash crops for animal feed, rather than food for themselves (Vegan Society).” Conversely, considerably less crops and water are required to sustain a vegan diet.
What Would Happen if the World Went Vegan? by Micheal H. Brunnet on Linked In
Therefore, I realized that I should not take another creature’s life or harm to mother nature just for a tasty pleasure that will quickly fade. I decided that I must at least try to become a Vegetarian. In fear of missing out of my favorite flavors and textures, I told myself that I will just be 90% Vegetarian and gave myself a couple of months to adjust to this first major step, allowing one day to cheat by eating a meal with meat. At first, I savored this weekly meal of gourmet halibut or burger with brie and French fries. Then, I started noticing that I was leaning on cheese, milk, cereals, pastries, pastas, and buttered vegetables for most of my caloric intake. Cheese and Ice Cream were my favorite foods and I couldn’t imagine parting with these flavors and textures.
Unfortunately, I noticed that I was gaining weight and feeling foggy and confused. My friend, JoAnna, told me a story about a Mexican nun named Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695) that loved eating cheese until she researched and found that cheese degraded the mind, poisoned reason, and hindered learning. In her devotion to God, she gave up the beloved food forever. Like many monastics, she considered the pursuit of learning vital to her vocation on earth, in this life ( After Cheese).
This was alarming information to me and I knew that I needed to let go of dairy. I went back to the documentaries to help me remember and feel motivated once again about my consciousness of other beings, nature, my own health, clarity of mind and lightness of being.
I learned that besides killing animals for their meat, 90% of animals who are harvested for their milk, cheese, butter, or eggs live a tortured life. According to Vegan Society, “The production of dairy products necessitates the death of countless male calves that are of no use to the dairy farmer, as well as the premature death of cows slaughtered when their milk production decreases. Similarly, in the egg industry, even 'ethical' or 'free range' eggs involve the killing of the 'unnecessary' male chicks when just a day old.” As much as I love the taste of dairy products, I don’t want that kind of negative energy flowing through my body and infesting my cellular structures.
Spiritual Awakening expert Ekhart Tolle emphasizes,
Apart from the compassionate reasons to abstain from meat and animal products, I discovered that eating a plant based diet, free from processed foods, is also considerably better for your health. The Daily Mail states, “Cheese is as addictive as drugs because of a chemical called casein. This is found in dairy products and can trigger brain's opioid receptors. Opiod receptors are linked to the control of pain, reward and addiction.”
Recent resources and articles support this argument, “women who ate the most saturated fat scored lower on tests of brain function and memory. On the other hand, women who ate the most monounsaturated fats (found in foods like olive oil and avocado) had higher scores. Further, “Consuming large quantities of processed foods over a lifetime slowly destroys your nerve cells and causes your brain to shrink.”
The Vegan Society has well documented research that, “Well-planned plant-based diets are rich in protein, iron, calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals. The plant-based sources of these nutrients tend to be low in saturated fat, high in fiber and packed with antioxidants, helping mitigate some of the modern world's biggest health issues like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.” I find plenty of protein in kate, spinach, artichokes, mushrooms, and broccoli. Eating a clean plant based diet is also increasing my energy and giving my skin a youthful glow.
From these documentaries and other interviews, I recently learned that some of the world’s top athletes are Vegan. Further, Ancient Greek Olympic Athletes ate only fruit for top speed and strength performance while the soldiers ate primarily meat to make them more aggressive killers.
Photo Credit: Pixel Joint
Therefore, eating more fruits enhances lightness and swiftness, while meat eaters have more aggression and anxiety. Since I made the switch to vegan, I’ve certainly felt more light and compassionate. I’m much more in tune with how other animals are feeling.
Letting go is not easy. In yoga philosophy the guideline of Aparigraha is about lightness and non-hoarding. When I feel tempted, instead of telling myself, “Never again,” I say “Not now, today I am going to eat fruits and vegetables.” At first, I was still very attracted to buttery croissants, cheese plates, creamy macaroni, and croque madams, but the more I ate clean foods, the better I felt.
Making small changes to everyday meals is one of the easiest ways to bring more lightness and clarity. Some people start by removing meat or dairy one day a week and go from there. Others try changing one meal at a time, having vegan breakfasts during the first week, adding a vegan lunch during week two and so on. Now my taste buds have changed to like the taste of coconut or almond milk as well as coconut oil better than dairy milk and butter.
Tapas means Self-Discipline
Photo Credit: Arvore da Vida
When I did occasionally give into the voice of the ego that desires comfort and pleasure in the moment, I felt tired and foggy. This motivated me to make even healthier choices the following days. This is why I titled the blog, Becoming a Vegan. This is a process involving steps of tapas or self-discipline. I allow myself room for forgiveness, and remind myself that I've been making so much huge changes as I just recently gave up beef, chicken, pork, and fish!
Instead of feeling guilty and shameful when I mess up, I forgive myself and get back on track. In the near future, my taste for these items will fade and I will only desire whole foods. For example, the thought of eating chicken or steak no longer crosses my mind, but I do find myself craving kale and beets! Further, instead of desiring dairy Ice Cream, I’m learning how to make my own Ice Cream out of nut milk and caramel from blended dates.
As a vegan, its also easy to fall into a desserts and processed foods trap. I have to remind myself that just because chips or some vegan breads are not made from animal products, does not mean that I should eat them. I’m trying to stay away from sugars too.
However, my biggest challenge, besides working part-time at a delicious French restaurant, is social gatherings. I’ve found myself at parties, surrounded by processed food made with animal products. After the first couple of awkward temptations, I’ve started taking the time to prepare delicious vegan items. This not only helps me to stay on track, but also to show my friends how delicious eating vegan can really be. So far, the Curried Coconut Lentil Soup while camping is a favorite!
When I want to meet up to catch up with a friend, now I always suggest Cafe Gratitude in San Diego! The 100% Vegan menu centers around the concept, "You are what you eat" as each item is a positive word to describe who you are. For example, if I want to order the Indian curry lentil bowl, I tell the server, "I am humble!"
I’m becoming so excited about fruits vegetables and all of the exciting combinations of ways to prepare and eat them. Sometimes for lunch I’ll have lentils, roasted corn, sliced almonds, organic heirloom tomatoes, chopped dates and a dash of extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic. Then in the afternoon I’ll prepare a smoothie. Occasionally its peaches, figs, pecans, cranberry, lemon, and dates while other times it’s carrots, beets, walnuts, olive oil, and apple.
Are you ready to be the change that you want to see in this world?
Hannah seeks to find relationships between nature, cultures, yoga, and art through her writing.
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Fun Yoga in the Park
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Lessons from Abroad