What is the relationship between yoga and transformation? How can what you eat affect how you live? I caught up with the co-founder of the Jivamukti Yoga Method, Sharon Gannon. With over 25 years of teaching and activism, she is credited for making yoga “cool and hip.” Here’s what she had to say about yoga, life and being vegan.
Terri: From your perspective, what is yoga?
Sharon: Yoga means “union”: the union of the individual soul with the absolute eternal reality… both the practice and the attainment of self-realization. Our true nature is ecstatic happiness, so when we connect to it we become it. The practices of yoga help us to realize who we really are by revealing to us where and how we are resisting happiness. Through the practices of yoga, one has the opportunity to look deeper into the potential causes of their own mental, emotional and or physical discomfort, and decide whether or not to let go. This type of self-examination can then lead to greater clarity about who we really are, and that in turn leads to lasting happiness — yoga.
Terri: What does “being yoga” mean?
Sharon: Being happy. Or at least engaged in practices of kindness and compassion toward others, which would eventually lead to happiness for oneself.
Terri: How can yoga help the everyday person transform his/her life?
Sharon: Our thoughts are crucial — they actually determine our reality… our inner reality and the health of our bodies. Our thoughts also create the atmosphere around us. Whatever yoga practices you engage in should help you resolve your obstacles to enlightenment — in other words, should help you resolve your relationships with others and thus bring you to the state of yoga. How we treat others will determine how others treat us; how others treat us will determine how we see ourselves; and how we see ourselves will determine who we are. Enlightenment may be too big a goal for some people; they may just want to practice yoga to see if it will make them feel better. Okay, but then they should practice with the intention of transforming their present condition into a better one. To do that, they have to set that intention before they practice and continuously remind themselves of that intention as they are practicing, and they will reach their goal. Perhaps through continuous regular practice the concept of what a “better” life may mean can begin to expand, and we can learn something about our options.
Terri: What is a “yoga wild child,” as you call it?
Sharon: Our present world culture is a culture of slavery with a mission statement that could read: “The Earth Belongs to Us.” We go into our relationships with others with a self-centered intention, considering only what we will get out of the endeavor for ourselves. With this cultural attitude we clear-cut forests, dam rivers, throw garbage and even nuclear waste into the ocean as well as enslave, torture and murder billions of other animals, and our excuse is that it is economically viable. Our culture has conditioned us not to question the ethics of our actions or the sustainability of life on planet Earth for all beings that may result from that kind of one-sided relationship. Yoga recognizes the interdependency of all of life — no one exists alone, every action that anyone takes affects the whole. Yoga promotes other-centeredness rather than self-centeredness as a means to attain happiness. When we contribute to the happiness of others, our own happiness will be assured. When we live our lives so as to enhance the lives of others, we enhance our own lives. To live wild is to live in harmony with the natural world.
Terri: How can what you eat affect how you live?
Sharon: Choosing food that promotes health and happiness for ourselves and the planet will lead to a better quality of life for ourselves and the planet. If our food choices cause suffering and disease to others and contribute to the destruction of the environment and ultimately to our own demise, then perhaps it is time to question what we are eating. Through my practice, I have discovered some profound ways that the yamas (yogic ethical code) relate to our treatment of other animals:
Ahimsa (non-harming). The confinement, exploitation, slaughter and eating of animals is harmful to them — even if one does not do the harming himself or herself.
Satya (truthfulness). The animal user industries employ deception in advertising. They show us pictures of happy cows grazing with their families and smiling chickens pecking in a country barnyard, yet these beings are never happy on farms.
Asteya (non-stealing). The animal user industries are founded upon stealing — stealing milk from mother cows, stealing wool from sheep, stealing skin from many species of animal to use for coats, car seats and more, and of course stealing lives from all animals used for food, clothing, cosmetics, drugs, “scientific” research, etc.
Brahmacharya (not misusing sexuality). All animal foods and products are derived through sexual abuse: most female animals raised for food and/or as milk cows are tethered in a small stall and raped by human farm hands for artificial insemination, only to have their babies taken away from them shortly after birth. Forcible and repeated masturbation of males is also common practice in the farming industries.
Aparigraha (greedlessness). Patanjali recommends living a life of moderation rather than excessive consumption — taking only what one needs, rather than what one wants, and leaving no other beings impoverished. While the human population of the Earth is approximately 7 billion, the United Nations estimates that [67 billion] land animals are killed each year for food, not including the countless sea creatures whom we kill to eat. Further, the animal user industries create more carbon emissions than all transportation combined worldwide. By any measure, using animals the way we do cannot be considered moderate.
Bottom line: if you want to live a happy life, be vegan!
Photo credit: Guzman
Original article appeared in The Huffington Post.
This post is part of “Being Yoga,” a series on using yoga to transform your life. Dr. Terri Kennedy interviews some of the most respected yoga teachers in the country. It starts with “7 Ways to Transform your Life… from 7 Expert Yogis.”