The Superfood grocer sits down and speaks to a Jivamukti Yoga Philippines teacher and vegan advocate, Nancy Siy about her 100% plant-based lifestyle and how it renewed her as a person.
Hi Nancy! Please tell us a little about yourself andyour inspiration for pursuing Jivamukti yoga and a 100% plant-based vegan lifestyle? Please talk about Jivamukti yoga and how you feel it is different from other yoga practices?
I’m a full-time yoga teacher. I teach a style of yoga called Jivamukti which is an adaptation of the Sanskrit word jivanmukta (meaning enlightened soul). Yoga and veganism came to my life separately. I started practicing yoga at the gym, and although I didn’t understand why at that time, the physical exercises of yoga carved out a peaceful space for me. My practice progressed as I moved to a yoga studio, though yoga philosophy was still pretty much unknown to me. Meanwhile, I was going about my normal life when I was handed a Vegetarian Starter Kit from PETA one Sunday morning. The information about animal cruelty was shocking to me. It pushed me to look into all the information I could get into. I remember watching quite a few undercover videos that same Sunday. And as much as I thought I didn’t want to give up the convenience of eating animal products, I quickly found out that I didn’t have the stomach- or the heart- to do it anymore. I transitioned to vegetarianism overnight and veganism (food, products, clothing etc) in a month. I did not look for the vegan lifestyle. It found me. When I realized I had been contributing to so much suffering all along, I felt I had no other choice but to right this wrong. I simply cannot be complicit to so much unnecessary pain. It is for this reason that I was instantly drawn to Jivamukti.
The first Jivamukti class that I attended was the first yoga class that I heard the teacher speaking boldly about compassion, and not only just to other human beings but to all beings. It was the first time that I encountered the spiritual aspect explicitly presented in a yoga class. Jivamukti classes are taught with enlightenment as the end goal in mind. Because of this, Jivamukti teachers will teach as if students came for enlightenment (that is, to see ourselves as one with others). We see enlightenment as the goal of yoga. Everything else (being fit, flexible, strong etc) can easily become an egoic trap if left unchecked. Jivamukti Yoga has been dubbed “the wild child of yoga”, maybe because Jivamukti teachers are unapologetic about teaching kindness and compassion, which is considered “wild” in a world where the status quo is materialism and the pursuit of personal gain. We teach classes that integrate ahimsa (non-harming), bhakti (devotion to a higher Self), dhyana (meditation), nada (music), and shastra (intellectual studies). The result is that classes feel well-rounded and inspired.
How do you feel a vegan lifestyle has benefitted you as an individual?
For me personally, being connected to the reality of animal suffering has given my life a distinct purpose. I used to feel lost and empty. I didn’t know what purpose I served being alive. Being vegan made me realize that I can use my life to help make the world a better place. Maybe it sounds idealistic, maybe even corny, but I feel like I am part of a very important movement that will shift the role of nonhuman animals from slavery to liberation. Being healthier and thinner are the side effects I gained out of being vegan, but purpose really is IT for me. There is a specific yoga sutra about greed and purpose actually. Basically, it says that if we stop taking more than what we need, our purpose is revealed. That is exactly how it worked out for me. When I became vegan (therefore not taking what is not mine to take), all the non-essentials in my life were put into perspective, and the purpose stood out clearly.
Not a lot of people know about the implications of what we eat has so much impact in the world, can you talk about your passion for animals and how a lot of people are unaware of the immense suffering animals have to bear every day?
That is exactly it- most people are unaware, just like I was. It is not completely our fault. These industries do not want us to know. The animal agriculture- meat, dairy, egg, leather, exotic skins, circuses etc and pharmaceutical companies do not want us to know. They know that if everyone knew, they will be out of business. At the same time, we live in an age where information is becoming more and more democratic. If we wanted information, we can just Google it. I remember reading the advice of Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet. He encouraged everyone to spend one month of their lives to do research on food, where it comes from, implications on animals, environment, health etc. I think that is amazing advice. If everyone did it, imagine how many vegans there would be! I am not sure if “passion” is an accurate word to describe how I feel towards our fellow sentient beings. The very basic essence of it is that I do not wish any harm to be inflicted on them. That is why I choose to do the things that I do. No animal wants to die to be our food. Even during their slaughter, they struggle and fight. I would too if I were in that position. All that pain and fear and suffering- for what? I speak out about animal rights not because I “want” to, but because I have to. I felt like a fool when I first found out. I did not understand why nobody told me sooner. So that is the place where I am coming from. I am that person who will tell you.
We know that a plant-based lifestyle goes more beyond food. Can you share with us how just by changing the food we eat, we can make a tremendous difference in the world environmentally and socially?
By switching to a plant-based diet alone, we preserve our environment. Most rainforest destruction comes from animal agriculture. They plant homogenous crops to feed to animals to feed to humans. It’s a very inefficient way of feeding people. If we eat plants directly, we don’t need to take up as much land. Same goes for the use of water. Greenhouse gas emissions is another problem. All the stats are out there, peer-reviewed. More than that, we are experiencing this destruction ourselves. What other proof do we need? On a social level, I think many people forget about human beings who work in these industries. If your job description was to kill and the measurement of a job well done is to kill as many beings as possible, how do you think that would affect your emotional life and the lives of people around you? It’s a cycle of violence. Human beings who work in slaughterhouses have to be desensitized to continue to kill animals. Animals suffer, human beings who kill animals suffer, human beings around human beings who kill animals suffer. That’s a lot of violence for a piece of fried chicken or a block of cheese.
Have there been any social difficulties when you shifted your diet and lifestyle?
In many situations, I would be the only vegan in a group. The burden is on me to explain why I am vegan rather than others to explain why they eat meat/dairy/eggs. The toughest situations I find are those around family. They see me as a fanatic constantly trying to convert them. And I see their type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension and I want more than anything in the world for them to understand that this is not the way it should be. They could reverse these lifestyle diseases. Obviously, it is not genetic because the only vegan in the family does not have them. So yes, it’s a struggle with family.
Can you recommend any readings or videos for someone wanting to learn more about this topic? Documentaries: Earthlings The Animals kamagra store Film From Farm to Fridge A Life Connected.
Podcast: Vegetarian Food for Thought Books: Food Revolution World Peace Diet Eating Animals Yoga and Vegetarianism
Please talk about your Jivamukti class that you teach around Metro Manila for people wanting to learn more.
I teach at yoga studios in 5 different locations: Bliss Makati, Bliss Greenhills, Yoga Plus at the Fort, Yoga Plus Ortigas, and White Space Katipunan. I also teach free classes at the park most Sundays. Being the only Manila-based Jivamukti teacher, I do my best to spread the method. I have a website that has all my teaching schedule: www.manilajiva.com. I find that students who come to my classes regularly are not necessarily drawn to the vegan message specifically, but to the compassionate message and conscious living as a whole. The best way to understand it is to experience it, so come take a class!
Any advice for someone starting out on a plant based diet?
Do your research. Eat nutrition-packed whole foods as much as you can. Veggie meat and processed food are fine sparingly, but try not to rely on them. Find like-minded people for support. Research on the health implications, the animal suffering, the environment, world hunger issues, human rights violations in these industries, pharmaceutical companies’ agenda and everything else you can get your hands into. Once you know why, you will figure out how.
You can follow more of Nancy’s lifestyle and blog at www.manilajiva.com