Friday Discussion: To Choose or Not to Choose

The Yoga Sūtra begins by juxtaposing two, mutually incompatible approaches to information. On the one hand we can simply accept our experiences as a fact about us and the world. In this case, we do not see ourselves as choosing our experiences. They rather happen to us. On the other hand, we treat experience as something that has to be altered and influenced by our choices.

What Patañjali describes here is a choice: on the one hand, we can treat our experiences as something we have no choice over, or, we treat it as something that we have to influence. This former choice is paradoxically the choice to not choose. But for any experience, we are always faced with two choices: either we treat the experience as an autobiographical fact, or we see it as our responsibility to influence our experiences to make room for ourselves as people.

Some folks, often due to trauma, think we have no choice: bad things just happen and then we have to live with the consequence. But this ignores an alternative: we can treat the good, bad and ugly as something we have to influence to make room for ourselves in our life. As what we have before us is a choice (to choose or not to choose), to pretend we don’t have a choice is disingenuous. Our freedom is not our ability: our freedom is our responsibility.

Shyam Ranganathan

Friday Discussion: śraddhā

According to Yoga Sūtra I.20, the practice of yoga involves śraddhā: faith, trust, optimism. This trust or faith is never about how things are. It is always about how things can be. In these difficult times we need to call upon this to keep at the practice of being ourselves: yoga. This is possible against all evidence as the trust we have is not in the outcomes, the way things are in the world, or even in our own capacities, but in the practice. Things will only get better when we improve ourselves. And having this insight is also śraddhā. This goes to the heart of Yoga as a basic ethical theory, according to which: the right thing to do is defined by devotion to the procedural ideal (Īśvara/Sovereignty) and the good is just the perfection of the practice. So if you feel down or tired, you can take comfort in this: as bad things are, better is possible. Understanding this is śraddhā.

Shyam Ranganathan

Inside the Asana (online)

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Saturday’s mornings at 8:30 am (San Francisco):

Jan 6th: Surynamaskara: Spinal Challenge
Jan 13th: Chaturangha: Freeing the Neck
Jan 20th: Trikonasana: Beginning at the Arches
Jan 27th: Paschimottanasana: Lower Back Relief

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Self-practice this Wednesday

I am taking a few days off this week so this coming Wednesday, February 3rd I won’t be observing your practice. The self-practice is still on though. Thoa kindly agreed to run the Zoom session for me. I will still see you on Monday and Tuesday. And the following week we are back to the regular schedule. Stay healthy and keep practicing. See you soon.

Friday Discussion: Minimizing Pain, Maximizing Joy

Here’s a podcast about Stoicism, a philosophy similar to yoga (hat tip Meghan):

Yes this is the dichotomy of control, although in my own works, I broken it into a tri-chotomy of control. So things you have complete control over, those would be your values. Those would be the choices that you make. Things you have no control over at all are like whether the sun rises tomorrow. So the first bit of advice, stoic advice in this comes from you, Musonius’s student Epictetus, one of the four great Roman stoic philosophers.

The advice is, don’t spend your time thinking about things you have no control over because you can’t control them. It’s a waste of time. You should instead spend that time thinking very carefully about things you do have control over, including your values. And then there’s this interesting middle category, and that’s the category of things you have some but not complete control over. So one analogy I use is preparing for a tennis match. You can’t control how hard your opponent practices.

You can’t control the weather conditions on the day of the match. But there are things you can’t control, like how hard you train, like the strategy you come up with for doing the match. And that’s what you should be focusing your attention on. Let me take a little bit of a side trip here. When a stoic is, has finished, when whatever he was preparing for is over, he won’t judge himself on the basis of whether he won or lost.

He’ll judge himself on whether he did the most with what he had available to him. And if he did that, that’s success, because that’s all he could do.