There I was...in front of master ayurvedic teacher and all-around badass Kathryn Templeton, along with her retinue of sorceresses and students. I felt very much like the cadaver in the Rembrandt painting Dr. Tulp’s Anatomy Lesson, except that I was alive and being observed by about 25 ayurvedic practitioners and students. I was in good and devoted hands. Kathryn has years of study and practice in yoga, ayurveda, and Western trauma therapy to bring to the table. I was good. I could relax. I could trust.
But even so, I was astonished when Kathryn and her many students recommended I eat meat. In truth, I wasn’t really a vegetarian, but I had chosen to live in a yoga ashram, where our diet was completely vegetarian. And aren’t yogis and good spiritual people supposed to be vegan—or at least vegetarian? Was the guilt I experienced when escaping into town for a tin of sardines warranted, given my choice to try to live a spiritual life of yoga and meditation? Maybe not. When these seasoned and budding ayurvedic practitioners made this recommendation right in the heart of the very ashram where I’d chosen to live, I asked for an explanation.
Was the guilt I experienced when escaping into town for a tin of sardines warranted, given my choice to try to live a spiritual life of yoga and meditation?
Kathryn explained that ayurveda is "the nerdy, doctor twin sister" of yoga (quotes mine). Where yoga is the philosophical, dreamy twin, ayurveda is the medical, nutritional, health nut. Ayurveda keeps the body healthy so the yoga practices of asana and meditation have efficacy and longevity. Subtle practices that work at the ethereal levels of mind and heart can be very challenging if your body is suffering or at least not functioning optimally.
I had moved to the ashram for the very purpose of doing more spiritual work. For years, I had worked as a video content developer for a leading holistic retreat center, and I was a little stressed out and drained from too many hours sitting in front of a video monitor. Additionally, I had been kissed by a tick and contracted Lyme disease, which had the interesting effect of taking my blessed sleep from me and leaving a huge load of anxiety. I decided that once I got better (if I got better), I would move to the ashram and work with my mind and body. Naturally, I assumed this meant I’d have to be vegetarian, which I was not looking forward to. But I decided I would do it in the service of the deeper spiritual healing I hoped to support.
But after months of not seeing real improvement in a couple of nagging issues including sleeplessness, anxiety, and, ahem, some "poo stuff," I jumped at the opportunity for a free ayurvedic workup from the students in training. I was pleased to be attended by several students and teachers and trusted that this healing modality would have some practical gems I could use. When they prescribed meat as part of my healing regimen, I was flummoxed. Wasn’t vegetarianism part of this cleaner lifestyle I was hoping to cultivate? It turns out that for some that answer is yes. For others, the answer is no.
Kathryn explained that in my particular case, meat was to be viewed as an ayurvedic medicine. It would provide a kind of dietary grounding to counteract the spacey, ethereal qualities of my symptoms. Though she and her students gave me a variety of therapies to cobble together into a united healing front, they were pretty clear that I needed to add animal protein, specifically meat, to my diet—which is no easy feat in an ashram. That, combined with the challenge of living in a small rural town and trying to locate grass-fed, cage-free varieties of animal protein, made for an interesting scavenger hunt.
I decided fairly quickly (not without secret relief) to do my best to comply. These very intelligent people with devotion to my health asked me to undertake some practices and make some choices that I had thought were not in alignment with the idea of leading a spiritual life. But they made a good case for how meat, and really anything you put into your body, can become a medicine. To me, that is what it means to live a spiritual life. The intention to come into greater wholeness, that is, to work toward becoming whole, is a spiritual intention. I just didn’t realize that the action that attempts to fulfill this intention could look so different for different people. Their advice in effect cut through some lingering spiritual guilt about who I was supposed to be as a spiritual being living in an ashram because, as I said earlier, I wasn't really vegetarian.
Though many people might benefit from some universal healing principles on some level, ultimately each of us requires individual treatment.
As a budding ayurvedic yogic specialist myself now, I wouldn’t necessarily prescribe meat as medicine for everybody. But of course, it’s not fair to consider any practice or lifestyle perfect for everybody. One of ayurveda’s mottos is “It depends.” One person’s medicine is another’s poison. We humans are complicated creatures with complicated habits and processes. Though many people might benefit from some universal healing principles on some level, ultimately each of us requires individual treatment. We need to be open to receive healing and grace as it presents itself to us. For me, one of the ways in which I found relief was through the taking of meat, and I use this word "take" consciously as I was asked to view my dietary choices as medicine. Now moving forward into my beautiful and increasingly conscious life, I hope that by practicing gratitude, using prayer, and being intelligent in the ways I purchase my meat, I will do good work in supporting my own healing and aspire to uplift the health of my friends and community.