Sharon Gannon: On Yoga, Life & Being Vegan Part II
What is the relationship between yoga and transformation? How can what you eat affect how you live?
I continue my conversation with the co-founder of the Jivamukti Yoga Method, Sharon Gannon. Read Part I. With over 25 years of teaching and activism, Sharon is credited for making yoga “cool and hip.” She shares more on yoga, life and being vegan.
Terri: How exactly do the practices of yoga help us realize who we are?
Sharon: For example, when someone bends forward they may not feel happiness, but instead, discomfort or even pain, and those feelings could be physical as well as emotional. Bending forward may even affect someone energetically by restricting or even stopping their breath. The yoga practices are designed to generate these feelings or experiences, so that we have opportunities to examine those feelings. Those feelings come from our karmas. Our bodies are storehouses for our own unresolved karmas. Karma is a Sanskrit term meaning “action.” None of the actions that we take are taken independently; they are always in relation to others as well as to ourselves. In the second sutra of chapter one, Patanjali describes the practice of yoga as letting go of identification with mental fluctuations—thoughts. When we can let go then yoga is revealed as happiness, bliss and ecstacy. I think we have to have some level of faith when we enter into the practice—faith in happiness being the eternal truth or ground of being of all existence and with that an understanding that unhappiness is temporary and can be let go of.
Terri: So, what role does “karma” play in transformation?
Sharon: The world in which we live is created through our perception of it, our thoughts about it. But where do our thoughts come from? Do they just spontaneously self-originate out of our own minds? Or are our thoughts a product of our interactions with our various circumstances and relationships? The question of the origination of thought is an extremely important question to the yogi—someone who is trying to realize who they are. To begin to understand the implications of this question, we have to have a basic understanding of karma. Karma includes all actions—thoughts, words and deeds. Because we live in a universe where space is curved, whatever action we instigate will eventually but inevitably come back to us. This is a basic scientific paradigm revealed by Albert Einstein. It is part of his theory of relativity. Speaking of relativity, yoga practices have a lot to do with the relative world, the world of relationships. Who we are as an individual is largely determined by our place in the relative world—by our relationships with others. In other words nothing can exist independently, everything arises dependently upon all else. The actions of any one individual affects the whole, because there is really no such thing as a separate individual. This realization of the Oneness of being is what is realized in the enlightened state of Yoga.
Terri: What role does “asana” play in this process?
Sharon: In the West most people think of yoga as asana. The word asana is a Sanskrit term that means “seat” or “connection,” to the Earth, which implies relationship. Since what is realized in the enlightened state of Yoga is the Oneness of being, the perception of others as not part of your self creates a big obstacle to enlightenment. Whatever yoga practices you engage in should help you resolve your obstacles to enlightenment—in other words should help you resolve your relationships with others and thus bring you to the state of Yoga. Our bodies are made of our karmas. Every action we have ever done has contributed to the present body we have. Through the practice of asana one can resolve all of the negative karmas involving past relationships. Once our mental attitude concerning these relationships is resolved into a place of kindness, forgiveness or love, we have the beginning of Self-realization, of realizing our fuller potential. How we treat others will determine how others treat us; how others treat us will determine how we see ourselves; and how we see ourselves will determine who we are.
Terri: How can one person’s kindness affect the world?
Sharon: In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali offers five ethical precepts (yamas) for how someone who seeks enlightenment should act toward others. Each of these precepts is an aspect of kindness. Many people in our society feel that to be kind to others brings benefit only to the other, but Patanjali teaches that in fact kindness benefits us just as much. He tells us that when we stop harming others (ahimsa), we will stop being harmed by others; when we stop lying to others (satya), we will be able to say what we mean and mean what we say, and our words will be heeded by others; when we stop stealing from others (asteya), we will enjoy prosperity and abundance; when we stop misusing others sexually (brahmacharya), we will obtain good health and vitality; and when we stop being greedy (aparigraha), we will come to know the meaning of life.
Terri: You extend the yamas to the animal world. Why is that important? Talk more about the benefit of being vegan for this planet.
Sharon: These precepts are not new to those involved in living a spiritual or religious life, but extending them to include other animals is a new and quite radical concept, which I feel if put into practice on a large scale could have the power to dismantle our present culture—a way of life founded upon the enslavement of animals and a deep fear and hatred towards all animals, wild and domesticated, as well as fear and hatred of nature and women. For example, animals are separated from their families, crowded into cages, fed food and drugs that they would never eat in the wild (including ground up meat and other body parts of other animals) and ultimately brutally slaughtered. Therefore, if we want to practice truthfulness (satya), participating in the meat and dairy industry by eating other animals and wearing clothes made from other animals would be an obstacle to our goal. In terms of greedlessness (aparigraha), eating meat and using other animal products is the opposite of moderation. It takes 12-16 pounds of grain and 100 pounds of fish to produce one pound of ground beef. The United Nations has said that if we reduced meat consumption by just 10%, that would leave more than enough grain to feed all the hungry humans in the world. Another example is asteya, non-stealing. Our culture deludes itself by asserting that animals have no purpose other than to be exploited by humans, so we rarely see the many ways in which we steal from our fellow Earthlings. We believe we need these animal products in order to be prosperous, but Patanjali teaches that if we stop stealing, we will have all the abundance we need. Again, the bottom line is if you want to live a happy life, be vegan!
Contributed by Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy.
Photo credit: Guzman
Original article appeared in The Huffington Post.
This post is part of “Being Yoga,” a series on using yoga to transform your life. Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy interviews some of the most respected yoga teachers in the country. It starts with “7 Ways to Transform your Life… from 7 Expert Yogis.”
Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy is a Harvard Business School-trained Strategist, Mind-Body Expert, Award-Winning Author, Keynote Speaker and Activist. She is Founder & CEO of Power Living and creator of Elder Dignity. Selected as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, her mission is to unleash human potential and create a more just and sustainable world.
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