Yoga and Veganism: Ask Sharon Gannon

A great column in the Origin Magazine

Q: What does it mean to be a spiritual person?

Sharon: If you want to know if someone is a “spiritual being” ask yourself, “Is he or she breathing?” If the answer is yes, then you know that you are in the presence of a spiritual being. All living beings are spiritual; this includes everyone, whether they are animals or humans, carnivores. or vegetarians.

Breath is an indication that spirit is present. In English, as well as many languages, breath is defined as “the vital spirit, which animates living beings.” Our breath is connected to the air that every being breathes. There are atoms of air in your lungs that were once in the lungs of everyone who has ever lived. In essence, we are breathing (inspiring) one another. By breathing consciously, we acknowledge our communion with all of life.

To live and breathe with an exclusive focus on one’s small self, disconnected from the whole, is the definition of egotism. The enemy of enlightenment is the selfish ego, which thinks that happiness can be gained through causing unhappiness to others. In many ancient languages, the word for enemy means “one who falls out of rhythm; one who is not working in harmony with the larger group.”

Freedom from this disharmony can begin by letting go of the breath as “my” breath and respecting all other living beings as spiritual and thus worthy of life.

Q: If the law of karma is true, then shouldn’t we accept the fact that animals are suffering because of their karmas? Doesn’t this justify eating animals?

Sharon: It is true that every being is enjoying life or suffering as a direct result of his or her own past actions. The animals in the factory farms may have been meat-eating human beings in a previous birth; we don’t know, and it is not our place to judge. Nonetheless, their suffering provides us with an opportunity to step in and alleviate suffering where we see it.

By choosing to be vegan we can break the karmic chain of reacting to violence with more violence, contributing to a more peaceful future for everyone. Knowing the truth about the hell-realms that animals have to endure, it would be wise of us to do our best now not to plant the karmic seeds that would cause us to be reborn as an animal in one of those hell-realms. Sometimes this is referred to as “enlightened self-interest.” The law of karma guarantees that what we do to others will come back to us. But however you see it, choosing to be kind rather than to be cruel benefits everyone.

Q: How can you put so much energy into caring about animals when there is so much human suffering going on in the world?

Sharon: Yogis intend to come to the realization of the interconnectedness of life. We must free ourselves from the conditioning that has caused us to think it is all right to exclude all the other animals from our own goals of peace, freedom, and happiness. By working to alleviate the suffering of animals you are working at the cause level of human suffering.

Sharon Gannon is the co-founder of the Jivamukti Yoga method and the author of Yoga & Vegetarianism, the Diet of Enlightenment.

Submit your questions for Sharon about yoga or veganism to

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