108 Days to a Yogic Diet

Vegetable market. India

David Dillard-Wright teaches philosophy and religion at the University of South Carolina, Aiken.  He is the author of several books, including Meditation for Multitaskers: A Guide to Finding Peace Between the Pings (Adams Media, 2011).  David studies Indian spirituality in the tradition of Shri Ramakrishna under the direction of Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Devi Mandir (Napa, CA).  He is the founder and general secretary of the Anahata Chakra Satsanga (Heart Chakra Society).  

108 Days to a Yogic Diet

by David Dillard-Wright, Ph.D.

How can he practice true compassion who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?  Greater than a thousand ghee offerings consumed in sacrificial fires is not to sacrifice and consume any living creature.  Tirukural, śloka 69  Quoted in Dancing With Śiva, by Śivaya Subramaniyaswami, p. 201

Already-cooked bacon in the grocery store aisle, salads laden with steak in popular restaurants, beef jerky and pork rinds as “snacks”: these are all familiar sights to vegetarians and would-be vegetarians, who have a heightened sensitivity to animal suffering.  The world seems to conspire against the reduction of harm to animals and the environment, making life very difficult for those who would overcome negative karmas.

Many well-intentioned Hindus, spiritual seekers, and ethical consumers may want to practice vegetarianism, but, for one reason or another find themselves unable to do so.  Those of us living in Western, industrialized nations must face a society already geared towards eating meat and may not find much support from others.  Born Hindus and Buddhists may have faced social pressures that led them to give up the diet of their childhood in an attempt to assimilate into Western culture.

Whatever the reason, once a meat-eating diet has been espoused, it can be difficult to shed.  This article offers a template for conversion to a vegetarian diet, giving a realistic timeline for the transition.  The 108 day period places dietary choice within a religious context and gradually leads to abstinence from animal-based products.

Purists will argue that one should quit eating meat right away, “cold turkey,” so to speak.  Such an approach will work for some people, but others will need a more gentle way to transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet.  Like quitting smoking, quitting meat can be very difficult, as meat-eating is a major individual and societal addiction.

Phase One: Days 1-27

In this phase, eliminate red meat from your diet, including beef, pork, and lamb.  You will find that you still have a large number of choices in restaurants and in your home kitchen.  You may experience some cravings, but these can be easily overcome through spiritual and mental discipline.  Friends, co-workers, and family members may not understand your choice.  Arm yourself with information about the health and environmental benefits of vegetarianism, but do not feel the need to overly defend your choices.  They speak for themselves.

Spiritual practice during this phase should include puja and japa to Lord Ganesha.  Pray to all the devas for support in undertaking this lifestyle change.  Ask forgiveness for past abuses of animals and the environment, and consider a financial gift to an animal sanctuary or environmental organization.  Educate yourself about industrial farming practices and other alternatives, including the local food and organic movements.

Phase Two: Days 28-54

In this phase, eliminate poultry from your diet.  You will begin to need to look for meat substitutes, including beans, nuts, paneer, tofu, and seitan.  More processed “fake meat” items will help occasionally with specific cravings for foods like sausage, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets.  Focus on cooking at home more in this phase.  Buy a new cookbook or look for online recipes.  Notice how many of the world’s traditional diets—Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean—do not use large amounts of meat.  Experience the freedom that comes from exploring new cuisines and cooking for yourself.

Spiritual practice during this phase should include prayers on behalf of those who have criticized your choice of a vegetarian lifestyle.  Make sure to practice pranayama and asanas to increase your body’s energy, which will help with your transition to plant-based foods on mental, physical, and spiritual levels.  Make sure to go walking or jogging for at least 30 minutes a day.  You will find that you have more vigor and enthusiasm than most meat-eaters.  Drinking water and herbal tea will also help with cravings.

Phase Three: Days 55-81

Congratulations!  You have already finished the hardest part of your journey to a yogic diet.  Now eliminate fish and seafood from your diet.  You might increase your consumption of “good fats” like olive oil and flax seed oil to make up the difference and consider taking a multi-vitamin.  Keep your home and office well-stocked with healthy snacks like fruit and granola bars.  Drink herbal tea several times a day.  Eating many small meals will stave off cravings.

Channel mental wanderings into deepening your sadhana.    Now would be a good time to make a donation to a religious institution, go on a spiritual retreat, or undertake scriptural study.  As you make your lifestyle more in accordance with ahimsa, meditation will become easier.  Likewise, your spiritual practice will make your vegetarian lifestyle easier.  You will no longer need to strain yourself to abstain from meat, because your practice will take you to deeper dimensions of living.

Phase Four: Days 82-108

In this final phase of your transition to vegetarianism, abstain from eating eggs and possibly dairy.  Begin to look for ingredients like gelatin that are animal-derived.  Investigate household products that are tested on animals and get rid of them.  Try using handmade or ayurvedic soap, and clean with baking soda and vinegar.  Find natural products that you really like as an additional motivator.  Now is the time to go the “extra mile” towards a yogic diet.  Rajasic (passion-inducing) foods like onions should also be avoided.  An ayurvedic practitioner can help you tailor a diet to your specific constitution.

During this last phase, finding the support of others will become more important.  Find a “real-life” or online community that can help with your journey.   Avoid the company of those who profess spirituality but do nothing in practice.  Pick your battles, and refuse to get into debates with those who don’t really want to hear.  Now would be a good time to take a lifetime vow (vrata) to abstain from meat before the preceptor of your lineage.

Take the time to reward yourself at the end of this 108 days.  Buy a new item for your home shrine, take a yoga retreat, or visit a massage practitioner.  Purchase some high-quality tea or incense.  Take a day to do something you really enjoy.  At its basis, the harm-free lifestyle is equally about self-care as it is about caring for animals and the earth.  A natural, ayurvedic lifestyle can be easily practiced when hurry and stress are avoided.  Taking time for good living leads to deep fulfillment

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