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.
Meditations make 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.
What do you think about using sheepskins in the Kundalini Yoga practice? Yogi Bhajan said that when a yogi meditates on the sheepskin, it helps 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!
If you’re still torn on the topic or are looking for a new ethical sacred space for your practice, consider Spirit Voyage’s merino wool meditation mat and yoga mat. They feel like sheepskins and are dense enough for use on wood floors, but the sheep are sheared without injury. Their wool is super-washed and knitted into a porous fabric, which is then stabilized with potato starch. The result is a mat that looks and feels like a sheepskin without harming these peaceful animals!