Last week I had my first general health physical in probably three years. I don’t have a great excuse for not going to the doctor for that long, aside from generally being healthy and disliking the facial responses to my wine and coffee consumption in a typical week. I’ve been dealing with a minor knee injury for a few months now that kicked into high gear over the previous weekend, though, so despite my dislike of doctors in general, I made the appointment to my tired body in for a check-up. I couldn’t say nicer things about the office or staff if I tried – they were all wonderful and I felt at ease in a situation I dislike – save for one moment. In the initial health assessment with my doctor, the topic of yoga came up (e.g. for the first time ever I had an answer to “Do you exercise?” that wasn’t “Do subway stairs count?”); he seemed impressed that I was a yoga instructor until we reached the next set of questions. “So what’s your typical diet? You’re vegan or vegetarian, I assume?” he asked. I laughed as I normally do to that query and told him no, I’m one of those yogis that eats meat. Rather than moving on he looked me up and down for a minute with what can be described as a smirk, turned back to his computer and said “You’re not a real yogi then, are you.”
The first of the eight limbs of yoga (because yes, it’s actually more than just cool poses) is called the yamas – basically five rules of how to treat others. One of those concepts, arguably the most well-known, is ahimsa. Ahimsa translates to non-harming, or non-violence, depending on who you talk to, and on a top surface level, it’s pretty simple: don’t harm. Many yogis choose to interpret this particular yama as “Don’t Kill,” which is why so many yogis are vegetarians or vegans. This post isn’t to bash those people at all. If you choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet for whatever reason, I commend you! I firmly believe that physical and mental health starts with what we put into our bodies, and if you feel best by abstaining from animal meat or other products, consider this my support and encouragement. This post is not meant to bash those lifestyle choices, just because that isn’t my own. This post isn’t even really about food choices, though on the surface that’s what triggered the conversation. This post is about respect.
So often people demand respect without knowing what they’re demanding or why. Frankly, if your methods for earning respect begin with demanding it, you’re already doing something wrong. I’m not demanding respect in writing all this down, just to clarify. Going back to the story above though, not only was the doctor judgmental to my life choices, he was disrespectful to how I choose to care for my body. I mean come on. I don’t eat dairy or grains, I eat enough vegetables to send Cookie Monster into a coma and my worst indulgences are a few pieces of dark chocolate at the office (*to be fair that is daily) and a glass or two of wine after work (*that’s not daily but let’s just say I wouldn’t be shocked if he’d told me to cut it back). I source my food responsibly and have no problem spending more money for grass-fed or local cuts of meats than cutting corners and supporting factory farms. I’m not asking him to praise my diet. I’m asking him to respect my choices for how to care for my body, and to respect that I know what’s best for my health and well-being.
Some yogis I talk to agree with my doctor. Doesn’t matter if they’re certified to teach or not, doesn’t matter if they practice daily or once every few weeks, there are some people that have felt compelled, especially on social media, to comment on my choice to keep meat and animal products in my diet. They cite ahimsa, telling me there is “no possible way” you can understand ahimsa and follow a yogic lifestyle and think that it’s acceptable to contribute to animal “torture.” I respect that some people interpret ahimsa that way – truly, I see where they’re coming from. I just understand and live ahimsa differently. The last time I tried to go vegetarian I felt so tired and weak I could barely function. My yoga suffered, my moods suffered, anyone who had to deal with me suffered through my pinballing blood sugar and subsequent outbursts. I was doing more harm to myself by changing my diet that way. More HARM – and ahimsa is non-harming. If I can’t start with the basest level of the yama – don’t harm yourself – how am I living that value?
I’ll probably keep seeing that doctor. The office is right next to my own, their lobby has good music and cucumber water, and other than the moment that inspired this post, I really liked the doctor and his whole staff. But let it all above be a lesson in respect. Respect each other. Respect our choices. Unless you can see someone actually harming themselves or someone else, let them continue living their lives as you go about yours. I’m a yogi because I live and breathe and love yoga in everything that I do. I’m not a yogi because of the diet choices I make. Respect that I’m a yogi who eats meat, and I’ll respect your choices too.