Category Archives: animals

Ahimsa and Veganism

by Susan Craig

“The most violent weapon on earth is the table fork.” Mahatma Gandhi

I became a vegan nearly 30 years ago – long before I found Sri Dharma. My decision to stop eating animals was born out of a very hopeless period in my life when I was severely abused. During that darkest days of my life I made a pact with myself that, as small and inconsequential as my life seemed to be, knowing what it felt like to be abused and to be treated as if I had no value, I would do my best not to treat others as if they had no value. This decision included non-human animals; the least that I could do was to stop eating them. Little did I know that this decision, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, would take me on a most amazing journey which recently included finding Sri Dharma Mittra as my yoga teacher.

While the deep pain in my life did not suddenly dissipate as a result of becoming a vegan, I did experience some immediate benefits. My overall physical health improved quickly and dramatically (To this day, at nearly 60 years old, I am far healthier than I was in my teens  and twenties.). Along with that, issues around body image and eating that had been a source of personal torture since my teens disappeared and never returned. These were miracles!

With veganism as a non-negotiable core value, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, I began the slow and arduous climb out of the deep pit that I found myself in. While I have utilized many additional means of recovery support along the way, I believe that the deepest and most profoundly transformative decision that I have made has been to become a vegan. Sri Dharma’s core teachings around Ahimsa certainly support this.

It is a rare individual who has not eaten animal flesh, dairy, and eggs. We have been born into cultures that treat food animals as commodities meant to be eaten. From birth we have been indoctrinated into a culture that tells us that we must consume animals, that it is normal and necessary for health. Upon questioning this indoctrination, however, we find that it is based upon false information. The human body is designed to thrive on a vegan diet. Additionally, on a deeper, spiritual level, the simple act of changing what we put on our plates at each meal – the decision not to participate in the abuse and slaughter of food animals, is liberating  beyond words. The benefits extend far beyond one’s health and spiritual development. As the effects of climate change become become increasingly evident, numerous sources of scientific research indicate that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming. (Perhaps the law of Karma is at work here…as we reap, so shall we sew.) What a blessing that, by choosing a plant-based diet, we are improving our own health, we are ceasing to participate in wide-spread violence towards sentient beings, and we are drastically reducing our contribution to the environmental stress on the planet!

In June 2015, I participated in the deeply transformative 200 hour LOAY training with Sri Dharma Mittra. Prior to making the decision to go through the LOAY training, as I searched for my yoga teacher, I started with one screening requirement: I needed a teacher who practiced and taught veganism as a core requirement of being a yogi. This one requirement narrowed the field of potential teachers down to few enough that I could count them on the fingers of one hand. Out of these few, I found myself drawn to Sri Dharma – his wisdom, dedication to his practice and to selfless service, his humility and egoless presence, and his fidelity to practicing and teaching the Yama of Ahimsa or non-violence. Ahimsa literally means A=not, himsa= killing or violence. In the LOAY Teachers’ Manual (2015, p. 4) Sri Dharma says, “Ahimsa means love; ‘thou shalt not kill!’ This applies not only to human beings, but to every living creature.”

Sri Dharma is one of the only yoga teachers of whom I am aware who does not shy away from teaching the yama of Ahimsa to his students truthfully. He regularly states while teaching that one must extend one’s compassion beyond one’s pets and that when one eats animals one is engaging in cruelty. He talks about how when one consumes animal products, one’s body becomes a morgue. In Sri Dharma’s words, “Without taking on the yama of ahimsa, there is little benefit to observing the other four yamas or any other aspect of the holy science of yoga.” (LOAY Teachers’ Manual, p. 5) I know, from the center of my soul, that this information is true and correct. The decision to become a vegan as a core component of one’s practice of Ahimsa will deepen and strengthen one’s  yoga practice. It will simultaneously improve the quality of one’s life immeasurably while benefiting other beings and the health of the planet. I highly recommend it!

Note: For additional information on the benefits of veganism that this blog has room for, I recommend reading The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle and viewing the documentary, Cowspiracy.

Susan Craig is a Berkeley, California native who participated in the transformational June 2015 LOAY 200 hour training. Susan strives to practice Karma Yoga each day in her job as a school district administrator where she oversees support services for marginalized youth, as an advocate for animals through vegan activism, and as a teacher of a weekly donation-based yoga class. She resides in Napa in the home of the four cats and a rabbit who rescued her. Susan is most grateful to have found Dharma Yoga and to have Dharma Mittra as her yoga teacher and spiritual guide.

Dharma Yoga Across the US

Q & A with Dharma Yoga teachers in the US…

This week: 

Gopi Om (Nicole Sopko) in Chicago, Illinois 


Where do you live?

I live in Chicago with my partner Dan, and our rescued dogs. I have an affinity for rescued pit bull type dogs especially since they need loving homes. Though I am not a Chicago native and I grew up outside of Detroit, this city is definitely where my heart is.


Which LOAY trainings have you completed? How did you come to do those trainings?
I lived in Philadelphia when I first heard of Sri Dharma’s teachings from others. I dedicated a day to taking the train up for the noon Master Class and my heart instantly knew that Sri Dharma-ji was the teacher for me. Following many years of self doubt and a move to Chicago, I got on a plane for each of the four sessions of the 500-hour and the intensive 800-hour training. It was a test of dedication, not to Sri Dharma-ji to whom I already felt very dedicated, but to embracing my own worthiness.


The 500-hour training took place in the winter of 2009/2010 and I had several life events take place during that time that would be considered a little catastrophic. These events were the pieces of my life that were not me falling away to make room for the things that are more in line with my goals. Being in Sri Dharma-ji’s presence and the presence of so many other aspiring yogis, I felt at peace with the changes and natural in my surrender to the will of the Divine.


When I heard about the first ever 800-hour training I knew that I could not miss it. My personal life was more stable than it had been during the previous training and as a result my mind was freer to submerse myself in the deep teachings that Sri Dharma-ji was offering. The experience was like nothing else and I still struggle to explain what I’ve taken away, but it has been absolutely life-changing.



What would you say about the people who you met during your trainings? How have they inspired you?
The people I met during the trainings inspire me endlessly! Many people I see infrequently but still feel incredibly close to. I keep up with many of them on Facebook, which is an easy tool for that kind of transmission. 

I am constantly awe-struck by the magnitude of what my fellow Dharma Yoga teachers are accomplishing. Of course, I believe it is all a result of “giving up the fruits.”

What is one practice that you do every day?

I try to offer kindness to myself, to others and to the world. I make mistakes, but I constantly practice being kind. I also practice Psychic Development regularly.



What are you currently working on?
I currently make my living in a variety of ways! I am the Vice President of Upton’s Naturals, an exclusively-vegan natural foods company owned by my partner, Dan. Upton’s primarily makes seitan, a compassionate alternative to meat. We just moved into a new production facility in Chicago that we’ve constructed to house that business and which also incorporates a small vegan café called Upton’s Breakroom

Dan and I both live and work together to operate these businesses, to which we’ve dedicated much of our lives. The new space has been designed from the ground up limited only by our imaginations and more realistically, our budget. It is a beautiful space for our employees, guests, and students to enjoy and I hope it adds something beautiful and of value to the city that we’ve made our home.


I am also regularly teaching yoga. The top floor of the seitan factory has a small by-donation yoga center called Maha Dharma. I also recently became the caretaker/owner of a second yoga center, Yoga Trek Center, in nearby Oak Park, IL. 

Both spaces offer yoga classes as well as host community events. I aim for them to both be multi-use spaces, while still keeping our intention of creating a devotional space for studying the science of yoga.



Why are these projects a priority?
I think that the main purpose of my previous “profession” was to make enough money to afford the 500-hour training and once that was secured, that job fell away naturally. 

For the first time in my life, I feel competent at what I am doing, which I think is a result of my passion for this work. Now, I just want to keep moving forward; offering whatever I have towards making the world a more compassionate place – whether that is by making vegan options more available and maybe more palatable or by offering spiritual teachings. I try to meet every situation in the way that I am most needed.


How has your experience in the Dharma Yoga LOAY program affected your life outside of training?
The experience has helped me tremendously in developing my drive, as well as to eliminate my fears of success and of failure. As long as I am offering up the fruits of this work, I know that whatever I accomplish will not hold me back from the real reason that I am here, the realization of the Supreme Self.



Can you share a little about your current teaching schedule?
I currently teach at Yoga Trek and Maha Dharma each a few times a week, as well as retreats and workshops throughout the year wherever I am drawn.

What books are you currently reading or studying?

I am currently reading Yoga and Yogic Powers by Yogi Gupta and reading it very slowly and deliberately as I try to soak in as much as I can from this text. I also always re-read the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras and attempt to “check it out for myself,” as Dharma-ji advises.

3 Ways To Cultivate Compassion In Your Life

By David Jozefczyk 
Ahimsa (non-violence/non-killing or compassion), the ethical guideline that stands in the forefront from the others, is life’s law of non-harming

Once this ethical guideline is mastered, all other ethical guidelines fall into place. Also true, is that the more compassion is studied, the more layers of understanding appear.



Most people understand Ahimsa in regards to non-killing or not causing physical pain to other human beings or pets.  But Ahimsa goes beyond that. Prior to learning about Ahimsa, I fell into this category.  The first time that I had the honor to receive Sri Dharma Mittra’s teachings regarding Ahimsa, it changed my life.  This intricate ethical guideline (Yama) was explained to me with such simplicity and in such a compassionate manner that it brought tears to my eyes and struck a chord deep within me
A vegetarian lifestyle is a great way to practice Ahimsa as it covers three areas – through thought, word and deed. 

1.    Thoughts

With thoughts, for example, when eating with friends and family who are not educated in Ahimsa, my thoughts do not judge or think bad of them.  I have realized their true Self does not mean to harm, it’s just their physical mind is not ready at this point in their evolution and so I feel compassion for them.



Ahimsa of thoughts not only applies towards others, but towards the self as well.  Negative thoughts can manifest themselves, so any negativity or harm towards yourself (as well as others) should be avoided.  A good amount of bad karma can be accumulated in this regard and no one wants that!

2.    Deeds
In regards to deed, leading by exampleand consistently living as a vegetarian is a very powerful way to influence and it may eventually change another person’s outlook on diet.  

3.    Words

Lastly, being vegetarian and practicing Ahimsa in regards to word, conversation arises from time to time and I am asked “what made you become vegetarian?”  I always choose my words carefully, as some friends and family members love to play devils advocate by mentioning plants.  I answer that it is impossible for most people to be completely non-harming due to the physical body needing sustenance, so I chose what I feel to be the lesser of two evils.  This type of conversation has the ability to transform others not aware of Ahimsa.

Words can be very powerful and life changing in both a positive and negative way.  Even a simple “hello” with the right intention to someone passing by can brighten his or her day! 

I feel it is a good practice to keep your words to a minimum and positive and uplifting in nature.  Many yogi masters teach that if you do not have anything good to say then this is a good time to practice silence or Mouna, which Swami Sivananda describes as “Tapas of speech.”
I am still learning from the masters to eradicate negative traits and to bring more compassion into my life by practicing Ahimsa.  Through a steady and consistent practice this can be mastered and then applied towards all Yamas and Niyamas!


_____________________________________

Dave Jozefczyk began practicing yoga in 2006 by taking class with his wife ‘chelle in his basement.  Having a consistent flow of friends who attended three days per week made it an official class.  The next chapter in Dave’s spiritual journey was experiencing a long weekend immersion with Sri Dharma Mittra at Kripalu in 2008 with his wife.  Since that transformative weekend, he has been faithfully practicing Dharma Yoga.  During these five plus years of practice and observing his wife’s transformation after completing her 500-hour LOAY Teacher Training, Dave realized that he also had the ability to help others and serve in so many different ways. In June of 2013, Dave was very humbled to experience the 200-hour LOAY TT at the Dharma Yoga Center in NYC.  He is currently teaching at the CNY Yoga Center (Dharma Yoga Syracuse) to fulfill his internship credentials.  It brings him such joy to be able to share the Dharma Yoga teachings, which he continues to learn from Sri Dharma and the Dharma family.

Transitions


Gina Lee

My journey towards vegetarianism is not the one that you would normally hear of in a Dharma Yoga class. In fact, for years I attended classes and other teacher trainings in which they espoused the virtues of the yogic diet and I would politely nod my head knowing that as soon as I left I would be headed towards a meal with meat as its centerpiece. Even when I heard Sri Dharma give his classic comparison of our refrigerators to morgues and our stomachs to graveyards I went back to eating meat albeit with some food for thought (particularly thoughts that equated parts of my home and body to death). 
As a yoga teacher I was perplexed to hear from teachers that I had great respect for, that I was not living ahimsa by eating animals and I did my best to consume less by getting educated about where my meat was coming from and by choosing to eat only organically raised free range meat. This helped reduce the amount I was eating but I still felt the urge to eat it. Something was missing and I wasn’t really sure what. What would it take to give me the conviction that I needed? 
I was curious about how to possibly begin to incorporate more vegetarian options into my diet but it wasn’t until I met Sri Dharma that I felt a deeper pull to give vegetarianism a hard look. In my first immersion weekend with him he made his point clear: beyond the moral implications of eating animals, we could never realize the full potential of our meditation or yoga practice or feel the subtlety of the energetic impact of what we eat until we gave up meat and increased the amount of live foods that we consumed so we could see the difference for ourselves.
The idea of giving up meat cold-turkey (pun intended) scared me. But if there is one thing I’ve learned on my yogic path, it is that if something scares me I am headed in the right direction and that further investigation is necessary before drawing any conclusions or making a decision. 
As I started to root out my fears bit by bit, the first area that surfaced for inspection was my emotional connection to meat through my family of origin. Meat was a part of my psyche and identity as an Italian American. For us, meat was not only a primary source of protein but also one of pride and love. My mother’s meatballs are the stuff of legend; my Grandmother’s meat sauce has been passed down for generations, a rite of passage to be in the kitchen alongside her learning how to make it. To renounce meat would be to renounce them, to look upon my family’s rich tradition as barbaric and outdated.  
I also realized that my love for food and for cooking was heavily rooted in recipes for meat. For us, vegetables were always an afterthought or something meant to be choked down, certainly not enjoyed as a main course.  
As I peeled through the layers of awareness around my food habits I began to uncover hidden truths buried about myself within them. One that surfaced quickly was my emotionally reactive and addictive relationship with food that went far beyond meat. This particular fact was what led me to be 50 pounds heavier than I am today.   
My meals consisted mostly of highly processed foods, contained some fried element and had a super high fat content. My emotions and connection to food went something like this: 
Happiness=celebrate with food
Sadness=comfort yourself with food
Excitement=celebrate with more food than usual
Holiday=Plan entire day around preparing food then gorge yourself on food
Grief or depression=numb yourself with food
I knew I had a problem when I could remember more good meals than the names of acquaintances. I simply did not want to live in a world where pork fat was not a part of my diet. I derived more pleasure from eating bacon than any human should. Eating salad depressed me… you get the picture.
Through the careful practice and study of yoga I finally came to witness the feelings of emptiness and disconnection to my spirit that was driving me to eat the way that I was. I also realized how much my familial conditioning was holding me back from thriving as a healthy adult, and I wanted to be a better model for healthy eating habits for my children. Perhaps I could do the hard work of eating less meat and influence the ones I loved in a positive way.
I knew that I was ready to take the next steps on my path when I had successfully begun to add more and more vegetarian items to my cooking repertoire that didn’t depress me and were actually quite delicious (a shock even to myself) and more days passed before I had a meal with meat.  I was preparing myself for the next stage, my Dharma Yoga LOAY 500 Hour Teacher Training.
When it was time for me to seek out a 500-hour training, it was with careful thought and consideration that I chose Sri Dharma’s program. I knew that it would require a commitment to being a vegetarian for the duration of the training and I was inspired by the depth of devotion that Sri Dharma clearly had to his commitment to being not only vegetarian but mostly vegan. I was also genuinely curious about the energetic implications to what it would mean for me to have no meat for that great a length of time, the longest I would ever go without meat in my life thus far. 
At first, finding alternate replacements for protein was difficult; there was only so many sprouted almonds I could reasonably consume in a day. Once I got into my flow of morning smoothies and making tasty salads with tahini and avocado as suggested in Sri Dharma’s Ahimsa diet, I began to experience what they said about feeling lighter in my body and less disturbed in my mind. I also felt the digestive impact right away. The fresh green juices left me feeling energized and mentally sharper. I found I needed less sleep and that my emotions were more balanced. I was finally feeling something other than overwhelmed by what I initially felt was a restrictive lifestyle.
My family was largely unsupportive, which wound up being the more challenging thing for me to face.  My husband actually felt directly threatened by it, even though I still continued to cook meat dishes for him and our children. My mother and siblings outright taunted me at family gatherings. I stood firm but saw how challenging it would be to holding the diet for the rest of my life if I were to choose to do so once the training and all of my requirements were completed.
After all of my required months of steady diet journals and training, I felt my body (and perhaps mind) asking for meat so I allowed myself the ability to choose and see for myself what would happen to my energy and digestion again. I immediately found that my energy dropped and my digestion was impacted when I ate beef or pork. Chicken and fish seemed to do nothing so long as I watched the quantity and frequency. My decision was clear – beef and pork were officially off my plate (a major victory for cows and pigs everywhere, given how much I used to consume) and I would be greatly limiting the amount of chicken and fish I ate allowing it only when my body really gave me a message for it which is happening less and less frequently.  
I’m also happy to note that my family has backed off their incessant teasing to a certain degree; they are respecting my choices more and more and are even enjoying my creative interpretations to Italian classics such as mushroom “burgers”. They do still get mildly insulted when I turn down the food that they made with love and pride, but they are at least taking it a little less personally which is another victory to say the least.  
The lesson I learned through all of this is that even old habits and ways of being can change – even the strongest ones that you thought were an inextricable part of your being (if you give it enough time and self-reflection). I am gentle enough with myself to know that I will probably be in transition towards total vegetarianism for a while, but I know enough to not speak in absolutes or to attach too strongly to rigid timelines or expectations. Sri Dharma gave me the tools & strength to try, and I feel stronger in my convictions because of it. Life, like yoga, can be a work in progress.
Need some help with your transition? Join us on New Year’s Day for a special asana practice with Sri Dharma Mittra, followed by a FREE film screening of Forks Over Knives (Still have doubts about plant-based eating? This is the film for you.) Plus, free vegan snacks throughout the day, provided by the unbelievably delicious Cinnamon Snail food truck.
Make sure to pre-register for the festivities! 
_________________________________________________
Gina Lee has been practicing yoga for ten years, teaching for five, and is the owner of Bearfoot Yoga & Wellness Center in Bay Shore, NY, which opened in May 2012. She is a certified Dharma Yoga Teacher (levels II and III) and a 200-hour level Integral Yoga instructor, as well as a certified Prenatal Yoga teacher. She has two beautiful, energetic sons and enjoys living her yoga in many ways, making her whole life a sadhana (spiritual practice). She enjoys making regular pilgrimages to the Dharma Yoga New York Center with her students in tow, spreading the light of Sri Dharma’s particular brand of yoga far and wide.