Yoga, veganism and sustainable living: how it all fits together

Yoga, veganism and sustainable living: how it all fits together

1st November 2018

If you’re not overly familiar with the world of yoga, you may not know that the yoga postures (known as ‘Asana’ in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India) are just one part of  ‘The Eight Limbs of Yoga.’ The first limb is called ‘Yama’ which is the name given to a set of moral and ethical guidelines to live by as a yogi. I know that sounds pretty dry, but they’re actually really interesting and just as relevant now as 2000 years ago!

The first Yama is called ‘Ashimsa’ which means non-harming or non-violence,  and it’s these principles that I’m writing about today, on World Vegan Day 💚

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

I’ll one day write a detailed post about The Eight Limbs of Yoga, but for now here’s a little overview outlining the eight limbs and what each one means, in its basic sense. Each stage of the eight limbs prepares us for the next, with Samadhi being the ultimate goal of yoga.

  1. Yama – moral and ethical guidelines
    • `Ahimsa – non-harming, peaceful
    • Satya – truthfulness
    • Asteya – non-stealing
    • Brahmacharya – sexual continence / celibacy
    • Aparigraha – detachment
  2. Niyama – self-disciplines and observances
    • Saucha – purity
    • Santosha – contentment
    • Tapsa – perseverance
    • Svadhyaya – self-study
    • Ishvara-pranidhana – surrender to a higher power
  3. Asana – posture
  4. Pranayama – breath control
  5. Pratyahara – sensory withdrawal
  6. Dharana – concentration
  7. Dhyana – meditation
  8. Samadhi – bliss / cosmic consciousness

“Nonviolence is not a garment to put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Ahimsa and veganism

When thinking of Ahimsa (being non-harming and peaceful) we could see it as a practice of non-violence towards our fellow humans whether that violence be with our thoughts, words or actions. However this can extend to all beings, avoiding unnecessary suffering to animals, as well as the planet we share with them.

This is where a vegan lifestyles comes in, and where there are other reasons to become vegan too (such as the environment or health) for me it always boils down to not wanting to create pain or distress for any animal. The traditional diet of a yogi was vegetarian (dairy was acceptable to consume), however modern day dairy and egg farming practices create endless suffering for the animals involved.

“Ethical veganism results in a profound revolution within the individual; a complete rejection of the paradigm of oppression and violence that she has been taught from childhood to accept as the natural order. It changes her life and the lives of those with whom she shares this vision of nonviolence. Ethical veganism is anything but passive; on the contrary, it is the active refusal to cooperate with injustice”
Gary L Francione

The majority of vegans weren’t born into this lifestyle, and most of us at some point have used the words “I could never go vegan”. But now with so many delicious plant-based recipes and dairy and meat alternatives, there really is no need for us to consume from other animals. If you’ve not cut out (or even cut down) on animal products as yet and want to know about the realities of where animal-derived food and products such as leather and wool come from, I recommend watching Dominion and Earthlings.

How does sustainable living fit in?

As humans, our overconsumption is significantly damaging the planet and this is where the first yogic ethical guideline Ahimsa comes back in. Thankfully, this is an area that many people are becoming more aware of now with plastic pollution, climate change, deforestation and fast fashion production continually making the news. We do however still have a very long way to go.

Where I have been vegan for over 3 years, sustainable and low impact living is something that I’ve only really begun practicing in the last year. In October 2017 I headed off to SE Asia to travel for 6 months, and here I had many experiences which really opened my eyes. This included jungles being cut down for crop plantations and logging, destroying natural habitats for countless animals and insects and putting them in danger. The plastic problem was very obvious with large amounts of plastic covering beaches and forests, and with huge rubbish dumps scattered around the edges of villages.

Veganism crosses over from animal ethics into the environmental side also. So much land and water is used to farm animals (for example it takes 15,415 liters of water to produce 1kg of beef but just 1,849 liters of water to produce 1kg pasta), not to mention how much animal agriculture is contributing to man-created climate change. The Guardian recently reported that the easiest way that we could stop climate change reaching more than 2C by 2050 is to significantly reduce the amount of animal products we consume (including beef by 90%) and instead, eat more legumes, nuts and vegetables.

Sustainable living for me is about reducing our consumption to what we really need, buying second hand, reusing what we can and making plastic free packaging food and product choices wherever possible. This is something that I talk about more in my What I learnt during #plasticfreejuly and The products and tools I use everyday as a low impact, vegan yogini posts if you’d like to know more.

Basically, Ahimsa here is all about limiting our damage to the planet as much as possible.

“Strictly speaking, no activity and no industry is possible without a certain amount of violence, no matter how little. Even the very process of living is impossible without a certain amount of violence. What we have to do is to minimize it to the greatest extent possible.”
Mahatma Gandhi

There are many other ways that Ahimsa is relevant in our modern day lives. particularly the ways in which we can cause suffering for other people but also within ourselves. This is however a huge subject, and one that I’ll park for another day.

If you have any questions about yoga, veganism or sustainable living please feel free to get in touch – I’m always so happy to help in any way I can. You can message me on Instagram or Facebook, or email me on

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