I want to start this article with the reasons behind making this connection or even trying to understand if there is a connection. I am a vegan – I do not eat meat and dairy products, do not use silk and leather, try to limit my use of synthetic materials, do not change my electronics very often, avoid buying anything wrapped in plastic as much as possible, buy and use locally sourced and produced products where possible, limit my buying to needs most of the time. I do not say this to boast because there is nothing to boast about; it is simply a way of life I have chosen for myself.
Lately though, whenever there is a discussion on food or shopping and I politely refuse something that I’m not keen on because of reasons stated above, I have been asked if it is because I practice Yoga. Many assume I am vegan because I practice and teach Yoga. I avoid packaged, ready-to-eat foods, which also many assume is because of Yoga.
Initially, I laughed it off when these connections to Yoga were suggested, but as more people started asking me, it made me stop and think, is there a connection? This article (and the next one!) is my observations from these contemplations.
What is minimalism?
As always, we start by looking at some dictionary meanings of the word and then looking at its connection with Yoga, if any.
Collins Dictionary says this:
- A style in which a small number of very simple things are used to create a particular effect
- Action of a minimal or conservative kind
- A type of music based on simple elements and avoiding elaboration or embellishment
Cambridge Dictionary has this to say:
- A style in art, design, and theatre that uses the smallest range of materials and colours possible, and only very simple shapes or forms
Google defines the word minimal this way:
- Of a minimum amount, quantity, or degree; negligible
The common threads I see running in these definitions is less, minimum, and simplicity; doing away with embellishments, no extras, sticking to the basics. What does any of his have to do with Yoga?
Yoga and minimalism
I asked a few friends why they thought that I live the way I do because of Yoga. The answers I received all pointed me to what Yogis lived like in the olden days; they were sanyāsis, monks and sages who lived in forests and mountains with no worldly possessions and attachments. My friends assumed my lifestyle was me trying to replicate that kind of life while living in a big city. Until this was pointed out to me multiple times, I had never thought of the two things together or thought one would influence the other.
I was introduced to Yoga philosophy in my teenage years, around the same time that I decided to stop buying silk and leather. I gave up these materials because I didn’t agree with how they were produced and processed and didn’t think they were necessary for me. I have rarely if ever missed having these materials in my wardrobe.
The next thing that I did, a few years on, is keeping my wardrobe small. I almost never shop unless I need clothes (although sarees are a big weakness) or shoes, and I always give away something or discard something old when I buy something new. With the lockdowns and everything going online, my requirement for clothes and shoes have gone down even further. I also try to buy products that will last me a long time, maybe even a lifetime. This is something I follow even now.
Years later, I started slowly phasing out packaged foods from my diet. This was driven by a promise to myself that I would create less waste on a daily basis, which then pushed me to find zero-waste alternatives to packaged foods. I started cooking more often, eating at home often, and taking the time to go to restaurants and cafes instead of ordering in. I started going to grocers who did not pre-pack their products and I could buy unsealed plastic packets that could be reused multiple times. I started asking for paper packets where feasible or carrying my own boxes and bags.
Giving up dairy came in after all of this when I started reacting badly to dairy products and couldn’t digest them well. I started falling sick and having trouble with digestion and energy levels. I started getting severe gastric attacks. Going vegan in my diet seemed like the logical and obvious next step. It made me more conscious of everything I consume in my daily diet and to make more healthy choices for myself.
A few years on came the opportunity to go into a deeper, more encompassing immersion in Yoga philosophy that continues to date. I started studying the Yoga Sūtra and the Bhagavad Gita, trying to understand the depth of wisdom in their words; I was introduced to some Hatha Yoga texts as well. I still did not make any connection between any of that and my lifestyle till much later.
I now realise that Yoga philosophy might have subconsciously and unknowingly influenced my choices over the years, but for me, there was never a direct connection. I didn’t make changes because of something I read in a Yoga text or heard something one of my teachers said. It was more a journey of self-discovery, figuring out what I wanted from life and how I wanted to live. I can see now that that is, in itself, the journey that Yoga talks about – the journey to finding the real Self.
I will be continuing this discussion in the next article, where we will explore concepts given in ancient Yogic texts that directly relate to the idea of minimalism and avoidance of excesses.