In the New York Times article “When Chocolate and Chakras Collide” (January 26, 2010), yoga practitioners debate the yogic diet: Should yogis eat meat? Drink alcohol? Indulge in sweets and spices, onions and garlic?
Traditionalists hold that ahimsa requires vegetarianism, and that one must avoid strong flavors, caffeine, and alcohol, which overwhelm the senses. Revisionists argue that the hardline approach is unnecessary, if one’s attitude is appropriate. Both views make sense. It seems incongruous that a yogi be pleasure-seeking; yet, sticking to the rules doesn’t guarantee saintliness.
My two cents:
In the article, a group gathered for “vigorous, sweaty yoga” followed by a gourmet meal “to allow the yogis to taste, smell[,] and digest in a heightened state of awareness.” The higher-consciousness rationale seems worthy. But isn’t it a no-brainer to appreciate a “multicourse dinner of pasta, red wine[,] and chocolate”?
When I studied Zen meditation under Reb Anderson of Green Gulch Farm, he once described his training. Meals were spartan: a plain soup doled out in limited quantities. Students had to learn to appreciate the humblest sustenance, to be grateful for whatever one receives. (If a server was particularly stingy, they had to squelch any rumblings of resentment!)
To heighten sensory awareness, a simple meal seems more apt than a catered feast. (Better yet, cook your own meal (and clean up).) Mind you, I’m not dissing chocolate and wine. I’m certainly not “holier than thou,” to use quoted yoga teacher Sadie Nardini’s words. But, to me, socializing over a gourmet meal is simply an evening out. A “yoga experience”? Call a spade a spade.
By enjoying yummy food, with their tastebuds on red alert, the group was doing nothing wrong. But if they are really “interested in healthier bodies, clearer consciences and a greener planet,” wouldn’t it be better to volunteer in a soup kitchen or to donate the event fee to Haiti (or to others in need)?
Since I posted “Ahimsa versus sashimi,” and “Addendum of vegetarianism,” I’ve gone vegetarian. Unless I catch the fish, I’ll forgo it. I grew up eating fish (and poultry, beef, and pork), so I have no sanctimony about vegetarianism. I simply realized two things: First, I cannot without qualms kill an animal (not even a fish). Perhaps I cannot forget how my 15-year-old cat, with congestive heart failure, gasped and suffocated in my arms. Second, letting someone else do the killing lets me too blithely ignore the creature’s life. When I’d order maguro sashimi, my focus was its succulence. I never really acknowledged the creature that died for my pleasure.
This is my choice for myself. I accept others’ choices for themselves. But it behooves us to be clear about our philosophy. Before, I wasn’t.
IS SENSUALITY “YOGA”?
The meat-eating debate reflects a larger question: Is sensual pleasure a yogic experience? In the Times article, David Romanelli, the yoga teacher who presented the dinner event, is said to believe “that any profound pleasure of the senses—a live Bruce Springsteen track, an In-N-Out burger, the scent of lavender gathered in the French Alps—can bring on the ‘yoga high’ that is a gateway to divine bliss.”
Whoa. While I’m all for pleasurable experiences in life, would I call them “yoga”? Everyone experiences sensory highs: parents bonding with their infants, athletes pushing their physical limits, scuba diving in the tropics, romantic love that weathers decades. As humans, we all experience such beauty in life.
To me, what yoga does (or can do) is to crystallize our awareness of the mundane, the simple, the ordinary moments. It’s easy to be awed by life’s obvious pleasures. Yoga develops our sensitivity to subtlety.
Hamburger image: Vanessa Pike-Russell