Spirit Voyage

To Sheepskin or Not to Sheepskin?

The first Kundalini Yoga class I took was at the Golden Bridge in Los Angeles. I remember walking into the large room with all the mats... and sheepskins. At the time I thought it was a little bizarre that people were using a dead animal as a yoga prop, especially since Kundalini yogis are usually lacto-vegetarians. I thought to myself: “why would you spare an animal’s life on your plate, just to use it as rug?”

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several people on the topic. This blog post is a kind of “best of” of all the conversations I’ve had. I feel much more neutral about sheepskins these days, though I must admit, I don't own one.

Have You Read Your Sutras Today?

Most forms of yoga, including Kundalini, acknowledge Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, as a general framework for yogic practice. He describes an 8-limbed path: the first limb is Universal Morality (Yamas), and the first morality is ahimsa (non-harming). Jivamukti yogis consider this to be such an important part of their practice that they avoid eating, wearing, and using all animal products and bi-products.

Citing ahimsa, sheepskins don’t seem to be in alignment with a basic yogic tenet.

Of course, nowhere in the Yoga Sutras does it say “do not eat meat!” or “do not use a sheepskin”! The way we apply the sutras to our lives is up to our own consciousness. Strictly speaking, Patanjali does not condemn sheepskins.

Eat Your Veggies and Sit Still!

Another point is that when Yogi Bhajan taught vegetarianism to his students, it was mostly for health reasons. 

Plant life is easier to digest and has more bio-available nutrients than animal products, making it an ideal diet for those of us who meditate. Yogis Bhajan’s diet recommendations did not originate from an animal rights campaign, so sheepskins were a non-issue.

Can Anyone Cause "No Harm"?

Since we are already getting controversial here, allow me to stir things up even more. Realistically, no one can live on Earth and cause absolutely no harm. Ahimsa is a saintly practice, but even saints step on bugs when they walk across the grass. While we are in physical form on the planet, the best we can do is our best.

When I was trying to be an “ethical vegan,” I noticed how difficult it was to escape animal products... in my car, in clothing, even on fruit stickers! Purchasing a sheep skin could be likened to purchasing a car in that respect. You can't avoid the leather on the steering wheel, but how many cars are you going to purchase in your lifetime? Whereas an unthinkable amount of killing results from the factory farming of animals for food, most sheepskins serve a yogi for at least a decade.

Perhaps it is better then, to think of ahimsa on a scale from 1-10. If 1 is “no harm,” yogis could strive for the lowest number possible.

Meditation Makes Us Less Likely to Cause Harm

Yogi Bhajan recommended the sheepskin for meditation, as it created an insulation between the yogi and the magnetic pull of the Earth. Indeed, many people experience deeper states of connection to their Self and the Universe when using a sheep skin as compared to a sticky mat or cushion.

Harm is not just something to be aware of in terms of animal rights. Using electricity causes harm, as does arguing with your spouse, or getting into a car accident. It stands to reason that if you are growing in awareness (through meditation on a sheepskin) you are creating less harm to the planet, its inhabitants, and (if you believe in karma) to yourself.

In this case, you might say that the benefits of using a sheepskin outweigh the costs.

The World is Impacted by Our Healing

One of the reasons I continued to go to KY classes, even despite the dead animal rugs on the floor, was because of the transformation that occurred in my life. Years of hatha yoga had not even made a dent in the store of emotional trauma that mysteriously evaporated in my first White Tantric Yoga experience!

In the same way that a butterfly's wing can alter weather patterns in another country, I imagine that my increasing lucidity has an impact on global sanity. A change in my frequency can't help but affect the global frequency.

If someone is able to enter a space where they can wipe out years of neurotic thinking, thus raising the frequency of the entire planet, is it even important that they used a sheepskin to do so?

In Relative Conclusion I have come to terms with sheepskins and understand the reasons why they are attractive to some, especially when taken from sheep who have died of natural causes. At this time, I believe that the least amount of harm I can do involves not owning one.  However, for reasons I’ve mentioned, and many more, I no longer judge yogis for their choice of floor covering.

(Editor's Note:  What do YOU think about using Sheepskins in the Kundalini Yoga practice?  Yogi Bhajan said that when a yogi meditated on the sheepskin, it helped to liberate the soul of the sheep as well. Most of the Kundalini Yogis I know don't treat their sheepskins as rugs, but rather as sacred spaces like an altar for their practice. And it certainly isn't a practice exclusive to Kundalini Yoga.  Even images of Lord Shiva, the first Yogi, have him sitting on a Tiger skin. Still, many modern yogis in an era of factory farming struggle with the ethical implications of using sheepskins. Tell us what you think!)

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Sirgun Kaur is a yogini, writer, and musician. She is based in Santa Monica, CA, where she teaches kundalini yoga to children ages 3-12, leads kirtan, and helps to organize a yoga festival in the Spring and Fall. For more information, you can visit her website (www.sirgunkaur.com), or her blog (www.sirgunkaur.blogpost.com).

27 responses to “To Sheepskin or Not to Sheepskin?”

  1. Sukhmandir Singh Khalsa

    Time to put this misguided teching to rest…….Just what Natural causes do you in your greastest fantasy do you imagine all these sheep die from……..(not old age, nor disease, maybe from telling sheep jokes?) So spare us with that useless and somewhat deameaning faulty reasoning………Just be upfront and admit that you do not care about suffering and pain of animals……..The main (and most important) thing to remember is not everything Yogiji did or said was the truth……..Most of his teaching are very valid but Yogiji would be the first to have us think for ourselves and modify those actions which are a afront to reason………So if you enjoy your sheepskin…….It’s your decision…….Just keep the facts straight…….

  2. Jaci

    Thank you!!

  3. Brahmdev Singh

    Thank you for concerning this subject.

    “Perhaps it is better then, to think of ahimsa on a scale from 1-10. If 1 is “no harm,” yogis could strive for the lowest number possible.”

    Your conscience always have to be the leader and not what thinks the ego or mind!

    So thank you, my contribution to this matter is:
    Sometimes, even good traditions should be broken.

    We’re all welcome into this new Age.

  4. GP

    This article is pretty bias if you ask me. No where in this does it actually represent the sentience of the sheep and it’s capacity to feel pain. I’m sorry, but if you need a dead animals tortured body between you and the ground to get something out of yoga, you’re not doing it right. While it’s nice to think that the sheep may have been humanely killed… it definitely fought for it’s life as all complex creatures do and it definitely suffered and died via some horribly painful stabbing, slashing, strike to the head or even gunshot. Prove to me that these animals died of natural causes without the express intent of them dying in order to make money off of their hides and I will consider that notion. Thanks

  5. EuroSheepskins

    Thank you. Real sheepskins made with eco-friendly tanning are sold by http://www.europeansheepskins.com There’s no comparison between thick, natural sheepskin products and the cheap mass produced ones sold by the big boxes.

  6. jiwan shakti

    Sat Nam Everyone!

    Thank you Sirgun for bringing this topic up for awareness! I am coming late to the discussion, but have been involved in this issue for many years now. I appreciate the sharing of all the perspectives represented as there are many out there. One perspective that has not been shared is vitally important to our Earth; nevermind your personal views on Ahimsa and animal rights…the process of tanning a hide is EXTREMELY toxic, using chromium and arsenic as the main chemicals that then are left in our environment. I have tried several times to have discussion with the “eco” skin companies to understand what they use to tan a hide, but the ingredients used cannot be disclosed?! Hmmmmmm….

    Rather than to share all my personal opinions and thoughts on the topic, i would simply like to share that I hand make wonderful Felted Wool mats as an alternative to the sheepskin. I call them Sacred Felts and you can take a look on my website at http://www.sacredfeltcollection.com or under the same name on facebook. In this way, not only is the animal not killed for a highly cancer causing meat industry and/or toxic skin tanning process, it is left alive and receives a haircut. The felted mats that I make and cushiony, light weight, travel well, and can be machine washed. They will last you a lifetime! Someone has begun to copy my work, which I can only take as a compliment and a sign that more people want an alternative, but be aware of the quality! Most are cheap imports from Nepal, bleed the dyes, can’t be machine washed, and are hard with cut edges….and fall apart rather quickly as they are not fulled in the felting process. Not only are my Sacred Felts hand made in USA with the finest eco domestic wool, they are made in a sacred way with mantra! They hold a Shakti that will call you back to your practice over and over~~

    Kundalini Yoga is the Yoga of Awareness, and I often find myself in need of having better understanding that we are all on a continuum of how much awareness… some of us see a hypocracy in being vegetarian and prescribing to ahimsa, but sitting on a dead animal. Some never even think of it. Most never consider the toxic process of tanning hides…So with conversations like this, we can bring greater awareness into the aquarian age and how we practice these teachings. I encourage everyone to share this information, to question the status quo, and to always bring more truth into sadhana. Wahe Guru!

  7. Deepa

    namaste

    my yoga mat is made of sheep woll and not the skin itself. it is pure organic woll from the sheep. For this no sheep has to die.
    namaskar,
    Deepa

  8. Acharya Sita Ram

    Thank you for this insightful and pragmatic read. I see many people asking what can be used as an alternative to sheepskin and (forgive me if I have overlooked something) no replies addressing this question, which is a good one in my opinion.

    According to Sri Guru Gita, verses 138 & 139:

    “The skin of a black deer brings the attainment of (indirect) knowledge. A tiger skin begets the splendor of liberation. A seat of kusha grass brings the attainment of (direct) knowledge. A woolen blanket brings all attainments.

    O Goddess, (the Guru Gita) should be repeated (by one) with a one-pointed mind (who is) sitting on a seat of kusha or durva grass covered with a white blanket.”

    And, in verse 16, addressing the subject of japa yoga, the Amrita Gita states:

    “Sit on a Kusha-grass seat or deer-skin or rug. Spread a white cloth over it. This conserves body-electricity.”

    Regarding my own practice, I sit for meditation on a kusha mat with a white woolen blanket spread over it. I have used other colors of wool also. I can absolutely feel the difference. Although it is a little too small for sitting in padmasana, I purchased the kusha mat I use presently from http://www.devshoppe.com. I have purchased multiple quality wool articles from a wonderful couple in Berea, Kentucky, who are very enthusiastic about helping Yogis in their practice. If you are so inclined, you can find them at:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Weavers-Bottom-Craft-Studio/121487064606191

    Hope this helps. Namaste. _/|\_

  9. Ram Sahai Singh

    Kat,
    You could use a Flokati Rug made from natural wool and keep a sheep alive by paying for their upkeep. you could even have it sewn onto your cotton rug so it has additional backing, You could also do that with one of those padded cotton yoga mats to add cusioning. And you would fit in more with the faux sheepskin look… just an idea. You can find them here http://www.linensource.com/ then search Flokati…
    Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru…..

  10. Ram Sahai Singh

    If in fact the sheepskin is taken from sheep that have died of natural causes there is no harm and a blessing to the sheep. An ethical question of the skin taken from sheep not dieing of natural cause does exist. However, the outcome is the same due to those sheep being used for sacrificial spiritual purposes. The ancient Vedanta/Vedic texts spoke of an animal being used for sacrifice. These animals were instantly elevated above humans and would end the cycle of birth and death. Thus they would return to God for their service in sacrifice. One death in exchange for everlasting life versus remaining here for numerous birth and deaths… The Guru is to credit for this information, I am only a vessel for his use….
    Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru Waheguru…..

  11. Kat

    What can I use in place of the sheepskin? I have a cotton rug, but it is not good at cushioning. What are cruelty-conscious kundalini yogis using?
    Many thanks!
    Kat

  12. Chris

    Thanks for the article and raising the awareness of a much needed subject. Thanks for clearing up Linnea’s point of view which is incorrect. I was appalled but not not completely surprised when I witnessed the use of sheepskins at kundalini yoga classes. We live in a world of people who say one thing and do another. I’m still quite new to kundalini yoga but not yoga in general. It seems odd that one would need to use the skin of an animals to better their meditation practice. Is there no other way this can be achieved, and does the ends justify the means? C’mon people give your head a shake. I’ve noticed so many things are justified in kundalini yoga because Yogi Bhajan said. Really? Think for yourself people. This is the problem with Gurus and religions, not that kundalini yoga is religion, well kind of, but that’s another story. Sure Yogi Bhajan brought many great things to the west that we can learn from, but that doesn’t mean we have to take everything he says and do it. The use of milk too is disturbing. If you drink milk you support the veal industry, a by product of milk. The dairy industry in incredible cruel.

    I encourage you to find out what really happens to sheep.
    http://www.peta.org/issues/Animals-Used-for-Clothing/inside-the-wool-industry.aspx
    http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=6361872964130308142

    Please people think for yourself and think about the lives of innocent animals over your meditation practice.

    Thanks,
    Chris

  13. Kat

    I’m with you, Sirgun…least harm for me would be to just not own one, or to look into a fake fur version at the most. But I am so appreciative of your intelligent article viewing all “sides” of this issue! I was startled to see all the skins in the photo montage of the recent Sat Nam Festival yoga session, and thankfully found your article.
    Many thanks!
    Kat

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    […] Young immune systems are fragile and they need to be treated accordingly with hypoallergenic clothes, blankets, and toys. Sheepskin rugs keep babies warm and toasty during cold months, and cool in warm months. Plus they don’t attract dust, dirt or other allergens. When the would-be kid’s not using it, snag it yourself for a spot of meditation. It’s the preferred rug of Kundalini yogis. […]

  15. Sirgun Kaur

    Thank you Linnea for your well-written reply.

    When I watched “Earthlings” there was an entire section devoted to explaining how most leather is made. It is not, in fact, made as a by-products of the meat industry, but it a separate industry in itself. Most leather comes from “leather cows” who are tortured and dragged (starving) from India to Pakistan (where they can be legally killed). They are used for their skin only, discarded after being killed.

    As for sheep… “Recycling” is one way to look at it. The bottom line for me is I do not support the cruel way in which these animals are treated in the slaughterhouse. Sheep are subject to castration without anesthetics, punched holes in their ears… many are skinned alive! Whether or not the skin would go to waste, if I bought one, I would be funding an industry I do not support.

    If I ever purchased a sheepskin it would be from a farmer that either killed its animal ethically, or from one that died of natural causes.

  16. Linnea

    Important note if you feel bad about using sheepskins. They are a BY-PRODUCT. Sheep aren’t killed just for their skins, the meat is more valuable and many lambs/sheep killed do not have their hides saved – especially smaller farms and state inspected slaughter plants (vs. federal USDA plants). The farmer makes very little money off of sheepskins, they are sold salted to a tanner for a pittance who then works the hide so it is soft and durable. Less sales of sheepskins wouldn’t reduce the number of sheep slaughtered at all, the sheep would still be killed for their meat. It would just result in skins being thrown away and less money for the hide tanning industry. It’s much the same with down feathers, the animals are killed for meat, the feathers are harvested and either used a filler in pillows etc or as fertilizer/ feed additive.

    So next time you buy a sheepskin rug, down comforter, leather couch etc. Don’t think you are encouraging slaughter, because you aren’t. You are just reducing waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill, shredded and added to the land, or fed to another animal (yuck)… Use of animal by-products like skin, feathers, hooves (dog chew, glue) is a form of recycling really. So don’t feel guilty : )

  17. Agnidevi

    Sat Nam everyone,
    I am a vegan and find it very difficult to escape the usage of products made out of
    animal skins. Here in Spain vegan shoes are still horrible to look at, difficult to come across
    and pricey. I wear trainers most of the year, and thank God this winter there are non leather shoes with fluffy warm material inside in raging fashion.
    I truly think that society will change when the big corporations learn that there is more money to make by keeping animals alive than killing them. As simple as that.
    Of course, at the time of lord Shiva and Guru Nanak there were no rubber mats.
    If these masters were here today, they would certainly do things differently.
    I stopped buying leather bags a long time ago, but I did buy a much needed pair of leather boots two years ago. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed either.
    I’m doing my best. And if some brother or sister of mine want to buy a sheepskin for their ky practice,I’m sure as my name is Agnidevi that they will pray for the poor animal much more than the average meat eater.
    Thank you for reading. Sat Nam. :D

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  21. Lenoir

    In my most humble of opinions, if your name really is Sirgun Kaur, then I found your article very fun. I look forward to reading more :) Thanks! Keep on elevatin’!

  22. Sirgun Kaur

    Thanks for the great feedback! Nichelle, what a great story.

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  25. Jasmine

    In my humble opinion, if your name is Sirgun Kaur, and you have changed your name to adopt a new faith, then you must have accepted Guru Granth Sahib as your Guru. As such, Yogi Bhajan is not your Guru, nor is Patanjali. The answers and justifications of your questions should come from Guru Granth Sahib, or you should use Guru Granth Sahib as the final “weighing scale” upon which you place the opinions of Yogi Bhajan, Patanjali or others.

    Secondly, whether you are performing yoga on a sheepskin or a grass field or the oily floor of a New York auto repair shop, your spiritual practice, intention, attention and discipline will connect your consciousness with the supreme consciousness, rendering the use of a sheepskin inconsequential and superstitious.

  26. Nichelle Hammer

    “Yogi Bhajan recommended the sheepskin for meditation, as it created an insulation between the yogi and the magnetic pull of the Earth. Indeed, many people experience deeper states of connection to their Self and the Universe when using a sheep skin as compared to a sticky mat or cushion.”

    This is why I use a sheepskin when I practice Kundalini Yoga, and almost always while meditating. I’ve come to feel about my sheepskin much the way a child feels about a favorite security blanket.

    Not too long ago, I was in Las Vegas performing with my band at a convention. Every time I walked through the particular hotel/casino where we were staying, I felt completely assaulted by the negative energy and false veneer of the place. Meditating on my sheepskin during that trip was a profound relief, like finding a close friend in a crowd of strangers.

    I view my sheepskin with respect and try to take very good care of it. However, I can understand why some people would feel uncomfortable using one, and I respect that decision. My suggestion would be that you at least use a mat made of natural fibers, such as a cotton yoga rug or a rubber mat, so that you experience some of the same benefits that a sheepskin can give.

  27. Donna Quesada

    “Perhaps it is better then, to think of ahimsa on a scale from 1-10. If 1 is “no harm,” yogis could strive for the lowest number possible.”
    It’s nice to think about it this way!
    I don’t own a sheepskin, either, for similar reasons – thanks for the article.
    ~Donna

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