yoga meditation

Using Yoga & Meditation to Choose a Better Life

The power of choice is often overlooked within western meditation and yoga practices. Instead, teachings fixate on self-improvement and the pursuit of “happiness.” While there are certainly many external positives to regularly practicing yoga, real strength comes from the internal self. Today, I want to share with you the power of choice within yoga and utilizing personal responsibility. 

A Thought Exercise: You are at an ice cream shop and the owner tells you to choose between three different flavors: strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla. Which do you choose and why? 

The above thought experiment was given to me by one of my great yoga and meditation gurus. I remember when they first put forward the question. It was during a yoga/ meditation weekend retreat and we were doing one of our morning flows. At the time we were in downward dog and my guru noticed something about my technique that displeased him. He told me to hold downward dog as he put forward the same question that is written above. For me, when choosing between vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry, there was no question. I quickly told him that I would choose chocolate. I then explained all about my love for chocolate and why vanilla and strawberry were inferior flavors. My guru listened and listened until I became self-conscious and fell quiet.  

That is when my guru went to the start of the mental exercise and asked me to choose between the three ice cream flavors again. Clearly, I had done something wrong, I thought. So, this time, I knew what to do, I chose strawberry. Again, my guru asked me why? I told him it was because “he liked strawberry.” In fact, he had been eating some strawberries before that very class. My answer was once again incorrect as my guru began reciting the mental experiment for a third time. 

After many wrong guesses my guru put forward the question a final time. “Chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla ice cream, choose.” I chose chocolate. He asked why? This time I blurted out, “because I choose chocolate.” Everyone in the class started cheering. My guru was smiling ear to ear… this was the correct answer. 

In that moment, I realized the truth behind the mental exercise: the meaning we put behind every decision we make isn’t real.  

Everyone is constantly making choices based on past events. How they’re feeling at the moment, what they ate for breakfast, whether they slept in the right position, the list can go on and on. This same illogical variability lies at the heart of the ice cream exercise. You can choose whatever flavor you want, the choice is yours, but to say that you can truly identify why you chose a specific flavor is absurdity. To justify your choice is an endless rabbit hole of loose ends and unresolved questions. Which brings us back to my failed downward dog and that yoga class.  

Utilizing the Exercises: 

How will all of this philosophizing help your yoga practices? The answer is painfully simple and immensely important. At the end of that weekend, I asked my guru why they had stopped me during that yoga session. They turned to me and said, “because I could tell that you had not chosen to do downward dog, you had only been told to do it.”  

That truth cut through me. They were right of course. The glaringly obvious truth was that during that yoga class I hadn’t made the choice to be part of the class. I was consumed with every bit of my circumstance on that day. I had been stressing about an argument with my husband, I was hungry after skipping breakfast, and I was mad because my downward dog didn’t look anything like my other classmates. They had all perfected the yoga movement while I was struggling with the most basic adjustments. Rather than choosing to be in the moment doing downward dog, I was fixated on everything outside of the move.  

Through understanding this thought exercise, I had learned a universal truth – you must honestly choose to do something before it can possibly be done. Whether that is downward dog, a family picnic, or finding love, it all begins with that initial choice. The beauty of yoga and meditation is that they provide a safe environment to practice personal choice. Giving you the opportunity to build up strong internal responsibility before interacting with the external world.