Kripalu Yoga Center
, a self-described "center for yoga and health," which I have visited a number of times, has been a mainstay of the Berkshires for over twenty years. Founded by Yogi Amrit Desai
, it offers classes in yoga and meditation and, as part of its foundational identity, serves delicious and healthy vegetarian meals for all comers. Or rather did
Apparently, Kripalu has a new chef, one Deb Howard, who created the Love Dog Cafe
in nearby Lenox. According to Kripalu's Spring 2006 catalogue, in which Deb is featured, vegetarianism doesn't cut it anymore: "We're recognizing that as more people become interested in Kripalu's programs," she says, "we need to provide a wider variety of food to take care of their dietary needs. If we come to the dining table with a preconceived notion of what's good and bad, then we miss the opportunity to have an authentic experience of what's right for us in the moment."
What that means, according to the catalogue, is more egg dishes for breakfast and there'll be an additional "nonvegetarian offering several times a week." Continues Deb: "I'm excited about helping us all go the next step in our spiritual maturity by making responsible dietary decisions for ourselves and creating an atmosphere of embracing individual choices and nutritional needs."
Now, you don't have to be overly schooled in the hermeneutics of suspicion
to get the coded message in Deb's comforting words: "Back off, vegetarians! We need our eggs in the morning and we want meat; we don't want to feel deprived of anything, and if you damn well say anything then you're just a bunch of food Nazis. This is America! Don't you know the meaning of choice?"
According to Deb, vegetarianism is not complete and presumably protein deficient. Food, apparently, is neutral and those who think otherwise are unevolved purists who, in her exquisite combination of New Age guff-speak, are missing out on a genuine experience of something or other that just feels right. But food isn't neutral: it comes from somewhere. If it's dairy, it comes from someone, and if it's meat, it once was someone. Vegetarians understand the meaning of choice every time they sit down to eat: they choose the path of less violence.
And we're talking about a yoga center here, folks! The thing about yoga and spiritual discipline is that they involve, er, discipline. "Yoga" gave us the word "yoke"; it is meant to challenge and transform. It is also founded on the principles of non-violence and compassion to animals. That's why, when you go to a yoga center or ashram you have to give up some of the practices that may have led to feeling the need to be cleansed or destressed or reconnected to something deeper and more peaceful in the first place.
What really ticks me off are those phrases "dietary needs" and "spiritual maturity." Eating meat for dinner and having eggs for breakfast aren't dietary needs, they're dietary preferences. Do people seriously believe that they'll die if they stop eating meat for a week or don't have fried eggs to wake them up in the morning? And accusing those who might think that a yoga center should be vegetarian of being spiritually jejune is just plain insulting. Swami Satchidananda
, Swami Sivananda
, and virtually every other major, authentic yogic tradition would beg to differ.
Unfortunately, this fight is an old one: David Life and Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti Yoga Center
told me once that when they talk about the vegetarian and compassion-for-animals roots of yoga to their fellow teachers and students they're met with demurrals and fears that nobody will come. Jivamukti is about to expand to a new space. Vegetarianism and veganism are growing.
What it really comes down to is that American culture is infinitely consumptive and self-satisfying, and that Kripalu just wants to become your common-or-garden spa for the self-indulged and lazy: people who can go and pretend to do serious work on themselves and get more evolved without giving up anything. On its home page, Kripalu invites you to stretch yourself. Apparently, that means by not much. But then what do I know? I'm spiritually immature.