The Importance of Vegetarianism for the Practice of  Yoga

Marly Winckler – Brazil

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The word yoga (Yoga) comes from the Sanskrit Yuj, which means ‘to join’. According to Hindu philosophy, the human soul, or Jivatma, is a partial facet or expression of the Over-Soul, or Paramatma, the Divine Reality, the source of the manifested Universe. Although in essence the two are the same and indivisible, yet Jivatma has become subjectively separated from Paramatma and is destined, after going through an evolutionary cycle in the manifested Universe, to again unite with Him in consciousness. This state of unification of the two in consciousness as well as the mental process and discipline by means of which this union is reached, are both called Yoga1.

Patanjali was the great compiler of the ancient tradition of yoga - and did so masterly. The system outlined by Patanjali consists of eight parts, being called Ashtanga Yoga. The system contemplates eight angas or limbs, designed as stages that follow one another in a natural sequence. They are: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi.

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Character Construction

The first two angas of Yoga, yama and niyama are intended to provide a proper moral basis for yoga training. For the purposes of this article, we will only be with Yama, the first aspect.

Yama are vows of self-restraint or abstention and comprise five parts: ahimsa (abstention from violence), satya (abstention from falsehood), asteya (abstention from stealing) brahmacharya (incontinence or sexual abstinence), aparigraha (abstention from covetousness). For the purposes of this article, we will focus only on the first topic of Yamaahimsa.

Ahimsa is the abstention of any type of violence. It does not only mean not killing, but not voluntarily inflicting any harm, suffering or pain on any living being, by words, thoughts, or deeds. It means the highest degree of harmlessness.

Ahimsa is part of the preliminary preparation for the practice of yoga, the basis for the construction of the multi-store building which is yoga. Without this moral basis provided by Yama and Niyama (purity, contentment, austerity, self-study and self-surrender), it is not possible to advance much in integral yoga, being restricted to physical postures (asanas) and breathing (pranayama), and thus not having the indispensable elements for the higher yoga constituted by the more advanced stages: pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Only the practice of postures already brings benefits, but yoga is much more than that.

The first of Yama's abstentions is Ahimsa, or non-violence. An integral part of Ahimsa is not causing harm or damage to any living being. Feeding oneself in a manner that avoids violence or harm to any living being is essential to Ahimsa. Vegetarianism, therefore, is inherently linked to the practice of yoga. It is no coincidence that India, the birthplace of yoga, is also a traditionally vegetarian country. This tradition dates back to ancient times, long before the modern-day barbarities and cruelties inflicted upon animals in the process of slaughter.

Types of food 

According to the Hindu tradition, the construction of the physical body results from the food and drink we ingest, and of course the quality of its constituent elements depends to a great extent on the quality of this food. Knowledge of the nature of different food species and experience enabled Indian scholars to classify them into different categories.

The most familiar classification is the division into three groups: tamasic, rajasic and sattvic. Tamasic foods are those that stimulate inertia, rajasic, those that produce activity and sattvic, those that produce harmony and rhythm. It is in the latter group that the practitioner of yoga must base, as much as possible, his or her diet2. Meat is classified in the first group.  

The grains from which new plants will come out and which are full of the most nutritious substances, the fruits, all the products whose next development, during the life cycle, is growth, are rhythmic foods, saturated with life, proper to constitute a body to the body. The same time sensitive and vigorous, more appropriate to the practitioner of yoga3

Impacts of a meat-centered diet

Meat-centered feeding besides imposing enormous suffering on animals also creates strong impacts on the environment. On the other hand, human health benefits a lot from vegetarian eating. A good practitioner of yoga should enjoy good health, for, as Rohit Mehta says, with a sick body and a sick mind it is not possible to advance on the path of yoga. 


Several renowned international organizations such as the American Heart Association (AHA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Kids Health (Nemours Foundation), College of Family and Consumer Sciences University of Georgia) and the American Dietetic Association have a favorable opinion of vegetarianism, the latter claiming that nutrition professionals have a duty to encourage those who express their intention to become vegetarians. The International Vegetarian Union (IVU)'s Guide to Vegan Nutrition highlights the numerous health benefits of a plant-based diet, including reduced risks of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, while also promoting overall well-being and longevity.5

The vegetarians have 31% less heart disease, 50% less diabetes, fewer cancers, 88% less than large bowel cancer and 54% less prostate cancer, just to name a few6.


The environmental impact caused by the creation of exorbitant amounts of animals to supply (and stimulate) the demand for meat is colossal. In Brazil alone, around 200 million cattle and about one billion chickens, chickens, pigs, etc. are raised annually.7

According to FAO, livestock farming is among the top three causes of any significant environmental problem, including land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water scarcity and contamination, and loss of biodiversity.  

Beef consumption is the main cause of burning, deforestation, silting of rivers and loss of biodiversity, use and contamination of water, among other environmental problems, such as the generation of exorbitant amounts of animal waste. The consumption of other meats (chicken, pork, fish etc.) and products of animal origin (dairy products and eggs) also generates enormous impacts.



The meat industry is the main responsible for clearing the forests (80% of the destruction of the Amazon is due to livestock and soybean (to turn into animal feed). Cattle breeding is responsible for the deforestation of 93% of the Atlantic Forest, 80% of the Caatinga, 50% of the Cerrado and 18% of the Amazon8.

Global warming

In the report Livestock Long Shadow, the FAO says that emissions from excrement and flatulence, deforestation to open pastures, and the generation of energy spent on livestock management account for 18% of the greenhouse gases emitted annually in the world. According to this report, livestock farming aggravates the greenhouse effect more than the transport sector, responsible for 13% of emissions9

Water use and contamination 

The meat industry accounts for more than half of the water consumed for all purposes. About 15,000 liters of water are needed to generate one kilogram of beef, while only 195 liters are needed to get 1 kilogram of beans, 42 liters to get 1 kilogram of potato, etc.

Each kilogram of meat generated in the confinement system leaves behind 7 to 9 liters of excrement, which cannot be absorbed by the soil. This waste goes directly to streams, wells and groundwater.


Industrial fishing is extremely predatory. The oceans are collapsing rapidly. By 2006, 29% of fish and seafood species had already collapsed. Shrimp yields only 2% of the total amount caught annually, but accounts for 35% of total waste. The "discard" is now valued at 27 million tons per year of fish and other marine organisms considered "of the wrong size or type"10.

Most fish and other marine creatures caught annually are not consumed directly by humans but given as feed to animals. 45 kilograms of wild fish are needed to create one kilogram of salmon raised in captivity11.

Unsustainability and inefficiency

Half of all the good land in the world is destined for pasture. Half of the world's grain harvest is consumed by cattle worldwide. Raising livestock is a very inefficient way of using resources. An average of 7 to 9 kilograms of cereals and grains is required to produce one kilogram of beef. The ratio for pork and chicken is 3.5 and 1.7 kilograms, respectively.

In a world where hunger is a reality, eating meat is ethically unacceptable.  

Social impacts

In addition to the ecological footprint, the social problems generated by the meat industry are also very serious. Most of the slave labor complaints made at the Ministry of Labor in Brazil come from livestock. Another major problem is clandestine slaughter, responsible for approximately 50% of the national market, where child labor is also recurrent.

The working conditions in the slaughterhouses are degrading and generate physical and psychological problems in the workers. Accidents are commonplace. In the fridges, the productive processes are aggressive. Either the heat is excessive, above 40 degrees, reaching 95 degrees at various points, or very cold, below 12, reaching up to minus 35 in the cold chambers. The noise is deafening, and ear protectors reduce the noise level very little.

Humidity is everywhere, coming from the vapors or hoses that are incessantly driven to clean the blood from the floor. The odor is unpleasant, reaching unbearable levels in some sectors. The pace of production is mind-boggling, dictated by the speed of the pulleys with hooks that carry the pieces of the animal on the rails, which is dissected to each section.12

Cruelty to animals

Countless cruelties are committed in the creation of so-called "consumer" animals, that is, to be slaughtered to become food. The suffering inherent in slaughter is not the only thing to consider. Idyllic images of farms where animals live happily and contentedly with their offspring populate our imagination, but agribusiness is making it a thing of the past. The trend today is to raise them in industrial farms, where they live confined and subjected to cruel treatment. Practically one hundred percent of pigs and chickens are reared today in confinement, and cattle and fish walk to it.

The puppies are separated from the mother as soon as they are born and raised in abominable, totally artificial conditions, generating much stress and disease, combated with even more execrable measures: cut of the beak, tail, teeth, and genitalia, all without anesthesia. They only leave this difficult situation for slaughter. There, they are plucked, skinned, scalded, and quartered, most of the time, still alive.

In the case of animals bred for milk and eggs, they endure equally horrific conditions. Dairy cows are subjected to repeated forced pregnancies, with their calves taken away shortly after birth, while hens are kept in cramped battery cages, deprived of natural behaviors, and subjected to painful procedures like beak trimming.

There is no dairy industry without the meat industry; they are intrinsically connected. One cannot survive without the other. Dairy cows inevitably end up in the slaughterhouse when their milk production declines.

Never in the history of mankind have animals been so disrespected and mistreated as they are now in the 21st century on industrial farms. As Peter Singer puts it, "Animals are treated as machines that convert low-priced forage into high-priced meat, and any innovation will be used if it results in a lower 'conversion rate.'13

More than 70 billion terrestrial animals are killed for food each year in the world.

Eating meat and other animal products is a long-established habit, especially in Western societies. Many yoga practitioners in the West believe they need to eat meat in order to have the strength required in practicing yoga postures. K. Pattabhi Jois, the creator of the yoga style that most demands physical fitness, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, stated that the vegetarian diet is a requirement for its practice. So did his son, Manju Jois, on a recent visit to Brazil, when I intercepted him about it. Pattabhi Jois was initially reluctant to teach yoga to Westerners because they ate meat. He only opened the door for Western students when he realized that they could become vegetarians even though they were not born vegetarians.14

Humanity calls for peace, but peace will not be possible as long as it associates itself every day with the bloody and cruel acts indissolubly linked to the creation and slaughter of thousands and thousands of helpless beings who, like us, also feel pain and terror.

All the cruelty and other impacts associated with meat and other animal products are not compatible with the first precept of yoga: ahimsa. Strict vegetarian food (vegan) is a fundamental and integral part of a non-violent, healthy, sustainable world that respects all forms of life. It is the diet of the yoga practitioner.


1. Taimni, I.K. The Science of Yoga. The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, p. 13.

2. Taimni, I.K. Self-Culture in the light of Ocultism. TPH: Madras, India, 1976, p. 56.   

3. Annie Besant. Introdução ao Ioga, Círculo do Livro, p. 160

4. Rohit Mehta. Yoga a arte da integração. Editora Teosófica, 1995, p. 106

5. IVU's Guide to Vegan Nutrition

6. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Clikck HERE

7. IBGE, 2010.

8. João Meirelles Filho. Você já comeu a Amazônia hoje?

9. Livestock's long shadow: environmental issues and options, FAO, 2006.

10. Paul Watson. Consider the Fishes, VegNews, March-April, 2003:27 

11. Impactos sobre o Meio Ambiente do Uso de Animais para Alimentação. SVB, 2007 p.12. Click HERE 

12. Frigorífico deve adequar condições de trabalho. Repórter Brasil. Click HERE

13. Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation, Editora Lugano, Porto Alegre, 1990. p. 110.    

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