Friday, December 25, 2009

Befriend Your Body

Yoga Bear, a non-profit I advise, recently asked cancer survivors and members of the yoga/medical communities how they befriend their own body -- what they are grateful for, how they take care of and nourish themselves, and what steps they have taken to heal the mistrust, anger, or grief toward the body that commonly goes along with illnesses, injuries, and cancer treatment.

I got to choose the winning response, which you can read here. It is honest, heartfelt, and relatable, and communicates well the imperfect but compassionate relationship many of us have with our bodies.

If you want some support befriending your body, check out the audio practices here, adapted from Yoga for Pain Relief.

Thanks to Rae Johnson, a two-time breast cancer survivor from Maryland, for sharing her story.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Guide to New Year's Resolutions for People with Chronic Pain or Illness

Below is a guide I wrote for New Harbinger, the publisher of my new book Yoga for Pain Relief. The resolutions aren't just for people with chronic pain and illness--we could all use a little more self-care and a little less stress.

Happy Holidays!

A Guide to New Year’s Resolutions for People with Chronic Pain or Illness

1. There’s nothing wrong with hope. New Year’s resolutions are a celebration of hope, and you deserve hope as much as anyone else. Let yourself imagine future events or experiences that will bring you pleasure or satisfaction, and make a list of at least 10 such things to look forward to in 2010. Think small and predictable, but nevertheless enjoyable (such as new episodes of a favorite TV show), as well as big dreams that you can work toward (such as finishing writing your novel, or a trip you’d like to take).

2. Make peace with your body. Most people with chronic pain or illness feel betrayed by their body. However, you’ve only got this one body, and it is your companion for this journey. This New Year, resolve to befriend your body. Start by reminding yourself what you’re grateful for. Heart still pumping? Thank your body. Able to enjoy a delicious meal? Thank your body. Can you still find sensual pleasure and contact comfort from touch? Thank your body. Whatever your state of health, thank your body for doing its best. Then resolve to do your best to care for and listen to your body, whether it’s with a nourishing diet and exercise, getting a manicure, or seeking the complementary care that feels most healing to you (e.g. acupuncture, massage, music). Pick at least one specific thing you are going to do to befriend your body.

3. Give yourself permission to do something you’ve been putting off. Time to take a look at how your world has gotten smaller because of stress, pain, or illness. Medical care and researching medical conditions can consume as many hours in the day as you let it. Doubts about what you can handle can push important activities into the uncertain future. Even fun can start to feel frivolous when your energy or time is limited. In 2010, reclaim your time and energy as your own. Ask yourself: Is there anything you need to give yourself permission to do, or to return to?

4. Remove something from your self-improvement or to-do list. To help you stick to resolution 3, ask yourself how you can take back your mental, emotional, and physical energy from something that just isn’t important enough to make your “what really matters” list. You may need to lower your housecleaning standards or decide that your daily chocolate habit is not a problem after all. Or maybe you need to find a way to forgive someone so you can cross resentment off your emotional to-do list.

5. Ask for support. Tell your support system about your resolutions. Let friends, family, therapists, and healthcare providers know what you are looking forward to, what is working with your body and in your life, how you plan to take care of yourself, what you want more of in your life, and what you are ready to let go of. If there are ways they can help, be specific and ask for it.

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, is a health psychologist at Stanford University and author of Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Chronic Pain.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yoga for Pain Relief Released!

My new book Yoga for Pain Relief was released this month by New Harbinger. It's now available at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and other book retailers.

I'm especially excited that the book made Disaboom's 2009 Top 10 Books for People w/Disabilities! Disaboom is a wonderful community and resource for people living with disabilities, and their caregivers. See their entire holiday gift guide here.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Problem with Dieting

Latest Science of Willpower column up on Psychology Today!

"Bad news for yo-yo dieters this week: according to a recent study, cycles of feast and famine can create fast-food junkies–at least in rodents. The researchers put rats on a cyclic diet of 5 days of standard rat chow, followed by 2 days of the equivalent of rat fast food (high fat, high sugar, highly delicious). In other words, a compressed version of most dieters' swings between self-control and indulgence....

....Another study offers hope for ending the cycle. Researchers at Laval University in Québec, Canada have been following the benefits of a unique weight control intervention for over a year. This intervention, called 'What about losing weight?' emphasized the possibility of being healthy at every size."

Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ethical Dilemmas for Yoga Teachers

Below are the ethical dilemmas we will discuss in Avalon's Yoga Teacher Training today. We first review the yamas and niyams, then identify our own core yoga and teaching values, and use them to guide self-reflection and discussion.

1. You have the opportunity to sub a class in a style that is very different from yours. Further, you don’t personally enjoy this style. Should you take this opportunity? If you do, how do you approach the class and students? What thoughts, emotions, and behaviors do you need to bring special awareness to?

2. A student in your class invites you out to lunch “to talk more about yoga.” You suspect he or she is interested in friendship or a romantic relationship. What do you do? Does it matter whether you find this person interesting or attractive? What does your decision say about how you perceive your role as a yoga teacher? Does having an outside relationship with a student change or limit how you interact with them in a class setting?

3. You have gotten very busy teaching yoga, and are excited to have so many classes to teach! Unfortunately, this is getting in the way of your personal practice. You haven’t attended a class in a few months, and you aren’t practicing formally at home. You tell yourself that your life is your yoga practice, and you don’t really need to practice asana, pranayama, meditation, etc. Is there an ethical component to this decision? What are the risks in this situation? How will you respond if you find yourself feeling like a “fraud”?

4. You witness one of your favorite, most inspiring yoga teachers outside the classroom doing something that really strikes you as “unyogic” but not necessarily illegal (pick behavior that conflicts with your personal yoga values/ethics). How does this make you feel? Will you tell others about this? Will this person continue to be an important teacher for you? What standards do you hold yourself to as a yoga teacher? How will you feel when you fail to live up to your own or another person’s standards?

5. You are so excited! You just received a request for private yoga instruction. The potential student is new to yoga, and his doctor recommended he learn yoga to help recover from hip replacement surgery (or knee surgery, or back surgery, or heart surgery…something you don’t know much about). Do you agree to help the student? Why or why not? If you do, what are you going to do to prepare? Where might you start? Who can you consult in this situation? How can the potential student be involved in making this decision or making any yoga lesson safe and helpful?

6. You have been teaching at a few different places that pay you very different amounts. One studio pays you by the student, and your classes have been very small but building a base of regulars. Another gym pays you a very low per-class fee, but the class is full and you love teaching it. Your corporate class pays a very high per-class fee, but attendance is poor and there are few regulars. Because of time constraints, you feel like you need to drop at least one class from your schedule. What are the ethical dimensions of this decision? How would you make this decision? What factors—besides class size and pay rate—would you consider?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Can working out help you avoid or recover from a cold or flu?

My latest Science of Willpower column on Psychology Today is a response to a wonderful article in the NYT:

"A recent New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds asked and answered the question: Does exercise boost immunity? The answer may surprise some, and its lessons extend well beyond the world of working out."

My Science of Willpower class starts at Stanford this Monday (still time to register, through 10/26) -- I look forward to blogging some of the interesting insights and questions that come up!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pain Solutions Article on Yoga for Pain Relief

Pain Solutions put online their recent article about yoga for pain relief by Yoga Journal editor Kelle Walsh. Walsh interviewed me and Timothy McCall, MD, about how yoga can help people with pain:

Perhaps most important, yoga makes it easier to tune in to what’s happening in your body. “People learn to reject the body when they are in pain,” McGonigal says. “They feel betrayed by their body and the fact that the body is getting in the way of their life.” When you slow down and tune in, though, McCall says, you’ll begin to notice that the pain “changes all the time. It goes up and down with the breath, the time of day. You start to notice that variation. And when you go in and actually feel the pain — instead of your emotional response to it — you may begin to notice that you can alter it.”

Read the whole thing, then check out the book....Google books has the first 3 chapters!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Does being in a happy relationship make you gain weight?

Interviewed for this article on whether being in a happy relationship saps willpower to lose weight/stay at a healthy weight. (personally, I'd prioritize a happy relationship over losing weight)

"Happiness Takes the Cake" Boston Globe October 15, 2009

Unfortunately, we have been trained over the years to reward ourselves with food, says Kelly McGonigal, a health educator and PhD at Stanford University. “If you celebrate your good mood with high-fat foods, recent research suggests that the brain gets tricked by the fat molecules into ignoring signals of fullness, so you keep eating,’’ McGonigal says.

Although it’s tempting, McGonigal warns me that my ticket back to Skinnyville is not making myself miserable. In fact, she explains that stress, fear, and depression are triggers for eating even more.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tips for Modifying Yoga Poses

Below is a handout for this Sunday's yoga teacher training workshop at Avalon Yoga Center. We'll spend the class exploring what these strategies look like in action, applying them to challenging and contraindicated poses.

Teaching Methods: Exploring Modifications and Alternatives

Strategy 1: Simplify the pose and/or offer support. (Often easy to describe while teaching without requiring demonstration or one-on-one help)

Teaching Challenge: Choose a pose and figure out 2 simple ways to make it easier. (e.g., keeping legs straight rather than bent or vice versa; putting knees on ground; taking a wider or more narrow stance; using a block or blanket or strap; changing arm position to require less strength or flexibility)

Strategy 2: Change the foundation/orientation of pose. (More complicated to explain—typically requires teacher demonstration or one-on-one help)

Teaching Challenge: Choose a pose and find 2 other foundations/orientations for it. (e.g. from standing or seated to reclining, upside down to right side up, etc.). Ex: camel, bow, and bridge are nearly identical postures, just with different foundations. Students with injuries, sensitivities, or contraindications (e.g. lying on belly or back when pregnant) may prefer one over the others.

Strategy 3: Offer alternatives from a functionalist perspective. (If the alternatives are familiar to students or easy to demonstrate, can be worked in class without much disruption; some may require one-on-one help)

Teaching Challenge: Identify four actions/benefits/qualities of a pose or movement (e.g. breath effect, what is stretched, what is strengthened, effect on attitude, effect on energy—calming, stabilizing, or energizing). For each benefit, find an alternative pose or movement.

General Teaching Tips:

• Be supportive in the face of student “failure.” Ignoring a student’s complete inability to approach or hold a pose is not responsible teaching.

• Don’t teach to the “top” of the class. Aim to offer a practice in which the “average” student can approach most of the things you suggest without having to do extreme modifications or alternatives.

• Don’t be afraid to be creative. Modifications and alternatives don’t need to look like the original pose, as long as you can explain the benefit and purpose.

• Pay attention to pose action and effects in your own practice. You will discover relationships between poses that you can use to develop modifications and alternatives.

• Use your alternatives and modifications as preparatory practices for challenging poses. This gives students a vocabulary of options if they discover they cannot do a pose with a steady breath, body, and mind.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Change Your Posture, Change Your Mind and Mood

Check out my latest column on Psychology Today-- Change Your Posture, Change Your Mind and Mood.

"Quick, notice your posture as you read this. Are you slumped at your desk, shoulders curved forward, spine rounded? Or sitting up straight, with a tall spine but relaxed shoulders?

How you're sitting may be influencing how you're feeling - not just in this moment, but throughout the day. A recent study in the European Journal of Social Psychology (Brion, Petty, & Wagner 2009) looked at how posture influences self-confidence....."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Summary of Research on Meditation and Brain Changes

I prepared this summary of research on meditation and neuroplasticity for the Yoga Service Council. We're putting together research reviews and "best practices" recommendations across a wide range of topics to support individuals in the yoga and healthcare communities. We hope that these resources will help individuals apply for funding, bring yoga/meditation into a new clinical or educational setting, and develop evidence-based interventions.


The brain, once thought to be relatively fixed in structure and hard-wired in function, has been shown in the last decade to be remarkably responsive to experience. Mindfulness meditation and yoga appear to have positive neuroplastic effects, supporting both structure and function related to improved attention, memory, self-regulation, and mood.

For example, multiple studies have shown that long-term meditators have increased neuron density and preserved structure in areas of the brain (such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, temporal gyrus, and insula) associated with attention, memory, self-awareness, self-control, and emotion regulation. (1-4) Long-term meditators have also shown increased gray matter density in the brain stem, which may be related to improved self-control and emotion regulation. (5)

Research also demonstrates positive differences in brain function. For example, experienced meditators, compared to those with less or no meditation experience, show increased activation in areas of the brain associated with attention during tasks that require focus. (6-7) Experienced meditators also perform better on tasks that require focused attention and cognitive flexibility. (8-10)

The neuroplastic effects of meditation and yoga also include positive mood changes. A single session of yoga has been shown to increase brain levels of GABA, which is associated with reduced anxiety and improved mood. (10) An eight-week training program in mindful meditation and yoga led to changes in frontal brain activation--increased left prefrontal activity--associated with positive emotions and well-being. (11) A similar training helped preserve increased left prefrontal activity in previously suicidal individuals, preventing further deterioration of mood. (12) Meditation experience is also associated with increased activation of brain regions (such as the cingulate cortex and insula) associated with empathy for others. (13) A meditation intervention has been shown to increase experience of positive emotions, and these changes in mood further predicted increased sense of purpose in life and social support, and decreased illness and depression. (14)

In summary, mindfulness and yoga are potentially valuable tools for improving cognitive function, self-regulation, and mood, in part because of how they influence the structure and function of the brain.

-Written and References Compiled by Kelly McGonigal, PhD

1. Luders E, Toga AW, Lepore N, Gaser C. The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. NeuroImage. 2009;45:672–78.
2. Hölzel BK, Ott U, Gard T, Hempel H, Weygandt M, Morgen K, Vaitl D. Investigation of mindfulness meditation practitioners with voxel-based morphometry. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2008;3(1):55-61.
3. Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH, Gray JR, Greve DN, Treadway MT, McGarvey M, Quinn BT, Dusek JA, Benson H, Rauch SL, Moore CI, Fischl B. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 2005;16(17):1893-7.
4. Pagnoni G, Cekic M. Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiol Aging. 2007;28(10):1623-7.
5. Vestergaard-Poulsen P, van Beek M, Skewes J, Bjarkam CR, Stubberup M, Bertelsen J, Roepstorff A. Long-term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem. Neuroreport. 2009;20(2):170-4.
6. Brefczynski-Lewis JA, Lutz A, Schaefer HS, Levinson DB, Davidson RJ. Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2007;104(27):11483-8.
7. Baron Short E, Kose S, Mu Q, Borckardt J, Newberg A, George MS, Kozel FA. Regional brain activation during meditation shows time and practice effects: An exploratory FMRI study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2007 Oct 27[Epub].
8. Slagter HA, Lutz A, Greischar LL, Francis AD, Nieuwenhuis S, Davis JM, Davidson RJ. Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PLoS Biol. 2007;5(6):e138.
9. Moore A, Malinowski P. Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility.
Conscious Cogn. 2009;18(1):176-86.
10. Garland E, Gaylord S, Park J. The role of mindfulness in positive reappraisal. Explore (NY). 2009;5(1):37-44.
10. Streeter CC, Jensen JE, Perlmutter RM, Cabral HJ, Tian H, Terhune DB, Ciraulo DA, Renshaw PF. Yoga asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: A pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2007;13(4):419-26.
11. Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, Rosenkranz M, Muller D, Santorelli SF, Urbanowski F, Harrington A, Bonus K, Sheridan JF. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med. 2003;65(4):564-70.
12. Barnhofer T, Duggan D, Crane C, Hepburn S, Fennell MJ, Williams JM. Effects of meditation on frontal alpha-asymmetry in previously suicidal individuals. Neuroreport. 2007;18(7):709-12.
13. Lutz A, Brefczynski-Lewis J, Johnstone T, Davidson RJ. Regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: effects of meditative expertise. PLoS One. 2008;3(3):e1897.
14. Fredrickson BL, Cohn MA, Coffey KA, Pek J, Finkel SM. Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008;95(5):1045-62.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Science of Willpower Study: The Virtue of Pessimism

Check out my latest post on Psychology Today.

"Two people are beginning a weight-loss program. One is an optimist and the other a realist -- perhaps even a pessimist. Who has the better chance of losing weight?

According to a new study from Doshisha University in Japan, it's the pessimist. People who began a six-month program of nutrition, exercise, and counseling were less likely to lose weight if they had an optimistic personality.

This at first doesn't make sense. We usually associate optimism with greater success and better health. There's plenty of research showing that optimists have stronger social relationships, are happier, and even live longer. So why wouldn't optimism help people lose weight?"........ [click to read full column]

Study: Saito, H., Kimura, Y., Tashima, S., et al. (2009). Psychological factors that promote behavior modification by obese patients. BioPsychoSocial Medicine 3:9 (in press).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mindfulness Reduces Medical Burnout

A new study from the University of Rochester Medical Center reports that mindfulness meditation can reduce burnout in physicians. And we know they need it, thanks to another recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that physician distress and fatigue significantly increase the risk of medical errors.

An important part of the mindfulness training was mindful communication. These communication skills led to an increased sense of support and connection with colleagues, as well as increased empathy for patients.

Coincidentally, my introduction to the now-ubiquitous Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program developed by Jon Kabat Zinn was in an elective class for medical students at Stanford. Community members were also in the class -- people who had been recommended to take the class because of illness or pain -- which made the experience even more eye-opening and educational.

Physicians and physicians-in-training, heal thyself first! Get thee to a mindfulness meditation class.

Monday, September 21, 2009

L.A. Times Article on Yin Yoga

"A softer, gentler form of yoga seems to be quietly on the rise...."

I was interviewed for this L.A. Times article on Yin Yoga.

Also interviewed is the wonderful Molly Kenny, co-founder of the Samarya Yoga Center in Seattle, WA.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Diabolic Secret Powers of Junk Food

My latest column on Psychology Today features a new study that will make you question the loyalty of your favorite comfort food:

"It seems too clever, too diabolic to be true. A recent study shows that foods high in saturated fat -- ice cream, cheese, red meat -- cause your brain to secrete chemicals that tell the body to ignore biological signals of fullness (like leptin and insulin). The result: you don't "feel" full, and you keep eating. It's as if junk food had been shaped by the forces of evolution, learning to fool humans into ever-increasing consumption. And it explains why we seem to have an endless appetite for some foods, like pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerry's."

Read more here....Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New study: depression increases risk of dying in cancer patients

A new report in the November 15 issue of Cancer analyzed 26 studies that looked at how depression influences cancer progression and survival rates.

Cancer patients who experienced depression were at higher risk for dying. The increased risk was as high as 25% for mild symptoms and 39% for those diagnosed with clinical depression.

This study points to the importance of social support and complementary care, whether psychological, spiritual/religious, or mind-body interventions like yoga, meditation, and exercise. All of these have been shown to improve a sense of control, hope, or meaning during an experience that can feel dehumanizing, uncontrollable, and frightening.

The authors of the report are quick to point out that cancer patients should not be pressured into some forced kind of "positive thinking" or discouraged from feeling and expressing negative emotions.

Study citation: Jillian R. Satin, Wolfgang Linden, and Melanie J. Phillips. Depression as a predictor of disease progression and mortality in cancer patients: a meta-analysis. Cancer, 2009; DOI: 10.1002/cncr.24561

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Guidelines for Teachers of Mixed-Levels Yoga Classes

I created the following guidelines for teachers at studios who participate in Yoga Bear's Share a Mat Program (offering free classes/studio passes to cancer survivors). These guidelines as particularly important for participating studios, but are helpful reminders for all yoga teachers. Enjoy!

Guidelines for Teachers of Mixed-Levels Classes

Mixed-levels classes typically contain students with a variety of abilities, experience, injuries, and illnesses. The following guidelines help ensure that all students, including Yoga Bear participants, feel safe and welcomed in your class.

1. When a new student walks into your classroom. Welcome every student, and be ready to offer assistance setting up or answer questions about the class. Don’t make assumptions based on age or appearance about what they can physically do and what they are looking for in a yoga class. A young student who looks physically fit may have a serious injury or illness and need encouragement to rest or modify as needed; an older or overweight student may be an experienced yoga practitioner ready for a challenge.

2. When a student appears to have special needs or require extra instruction. Not all new students, students with injuries/illness, or students who don’t fit the typical profile of your class (e.g. obese students or seniors) will want continuous extra attention. They may be self-conscious enough and already feel like they stand out. Offer one-on-one attention and support as you would with all students, but try to offer a variety of options to the entire class, rather than constantly singling out one student for special instruction.

3. When a student isn’t following your instruction. There are many reasons a student might choose to modify a pose or refrain from a practice. Don’t make assumptions (e.g. laziness, fear, confusion about instructions) about why the student is not participating fully. Check in with the student and offer information or alternatives, but don’t pry. Student with injuries, symptoms of illness, or side effects from treatment may not want to explain why they need to modify, especially if they are in class to experience some freedom from being a “patient” or a person with cancer (or other illness/injury).

4. Use informed and intentional touch. Students with injuries and illnesses may enjoy supportive touch in a yoga class, but—like any student—may also be wary of getting hurt by an adjustment, or be sensitive to being touched. When you offer touch to students, make sure they have an opportunity to give you permission and feedback. Remember that adjustments can be confusing to students. When possible, explain what you are doing, why, and what you want the student to do in response (e.g. relax your shoulders, bring the knee over the heel, let your torso turn).

5. If you use partner work in your class, give students an easy way to choose whether they want to participate. Just as with touch from an instructor, many students have concerns about being supported or adjusted by an untrained student. Have an alternative for students who consciously choose not to participate in partner work.

6. When emotions come up in practice. In yoga practice, students may experience strong emotions, especially if they are going through a difficult time or dealing with a health challenge. This does not necessarily mean that anything is wrong, or that the student needs special comfort. If you notice a student is upset, privately and discretely ask if there is anything they need, or offer a tissue and give them permission to take care of themselves.

Compiled by Kelly McGonigal, PhD, ( for Yoga Bear (

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Join me & Yoga Bear in Austin!

Yoga for Healing: Information Session

Sunday, July 26, 2009 from 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM (CT)
Austin, TX Free/By Donation (for Yoga Bear)

Learn more about yoga for healing and the work of YOGABEAR, a national non-profit organization that provides free yoga to hundreds of cancer patients and survivors.

Join us for a private event at Sundara Yoga Therapy for a talk, Q&A, and short meditation/breathing practice with Kelly McGonigal and Halle Tecco. Yoga Bear Chapter Directors from Austin, LA, and NYC will also be in attendance.

Space is limited, so you must RSVP to guarantee your spot.

Kelly McGonigal, PhD. Dr. Kelly McGonigal is a leading expert on the mind-body relationship and the psychology of yoga. She received her doctorate in psychology and humanistic medicine from Stanford University, where she currently teaches yoga, meditation, and psychology. McGonigal is the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, a peer-reviewed journal for yoga professionals and healthcare providers, and the author of Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Pain (New Harbinger 2009). She serves as an advisor to Yoga Bear, supporting Yoga Bear’s research, outreach, and trainings for yoga teachers and healthcare professionals.

Halle Tecco, Founder, Executive Director of YOGABEAR. Tecco founded Yoga Bear in 2006, after she was inspired by a paper she read on yoga and cancer while interning at Columbia Hospital. A lifelong cancer-advocate and 8-year yogi, she has grown Yoga Bear from 4 partner studios in San Francisco to a national organization with 11 regional branches and over 150 partner studios. She is an advocate for survivorship, healthy living, social justice, and grassroots organizing. Tecco serves on the board of Great Non-Profits, and is an MBA student at Harvard Busienss School.

Kelly Hollis, Nicole Reed, and Michelle Robbins are the Chapter Directors for the Austin, SoCal/Arizona, and NYC Chapters (respectively).

More about YOGABEAR.

Thank You to Sundara for graciously hosting the event!
Phone number: 512 249 9201

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July Yoga Sun Celebration Playlist!

Setting the Mood, Pre-class:
Peace, Love & Harmony by Rejoice
Time To Be Free (Acapella) by Basil
Free by Ultra Naté
State of Independence by Moodswings
You Make Me Feel Like (Peace & Love & Happiness) by A:XUS Feat. Naomi N'Sembi

The Practice Soundtrack:
Sunrise by Norah Jones
Sun Comes Up by John Legend
Love, Peace and Freedom/Sita Ram by David Newman
Asha by Asha Puthli
I've Got a Passion by DXT and Damita Miles
Bajoran Sunrize by King Midas
Maha Deva Soulshine by Wah!
Closer to the Sky by Michael Franti And Spearhead
Curtain Call: Let The Sun Shine In [Reprise] by the Hair Broadway Cast
The Longtime Sun Shine Song by Amrit Kirtan
California Sunshine by Abakus
In The Sun by Donna De Lory
Surya by Jai Uttal & Ben Leinbach
Sun-Set by Jalan-Jalan
Shabda - The Purity II by Rainer Tillman

Celebrate, now go home music:
Freedom 90 by George Michael

Monday, June 29, 2009

After an especially good deed, are you destined to sin?

My newest article is up on Psychology Today:

After an especially good deed, are you destined to sin?
Being good can feel bad—but being bad can make you feel better.

Have you ever experienced do-gooder exhaustion? When you've done the right things for so long, you just need to indulge your inner sinner? Or when you've given so much too others that you want to save something for yourself?

You aren't alone, and this isn't a defect in your moral virtue. Researchers at Northwestern University recently published three studies that show why one good deed can prevent another....

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Worldwide Vegan Bakesale! Yum!

Love cookies, cupcakes, chocolate, donuts....and ahimsa?

Check out the worldwide vegan bakesale, going on in a city near you through June 28th. (From Australia to Canada, there's a lot going on -- and if you don't see one near you, there's still time to organize one yourself!)

Each city's bakesale is independently organized and benefits a non-profit chosen by that city's group. My local bakesale in San Francisco will benefit two animal welfare groups.

Anything that makes eating donuts an act of compassion gets a lot of love and gratitude (and $, see you Saturday!) from me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Is your neighborhood making you fat?

I'm writing a new blog on Psychology Today called "The Science of Willpower: Secrets for Self-Control without Suffering." It will cover research on self-control, emotion regulation, stress reduction, behavior change, and health psychology--and also include practical strategies from the classes I teach on these topics at Stanford.

My first post is up!

It's about a new study showing how where you live can strengthen or sabotage your willpower.

Friday, June 19, 2009

STUDY: Nature better than TV at reducing stress

Great post at Psychology Today about a new study that compared the stress-reducing effects of looking out a window at nature, viewing a similar nature scene on a large plasma TV, and staring at a blank wall.

Real nature outside the window outperformed the virtual nature and blank wall. The outcome in this study was physiological recovery from a stressor--exactly the kind of calming down we need to do each time we overreact to an email, hear bad news, feel overwhelmed, get into an argument, or whatever the stressor du jour is.

A great reminder to look out your window or better yet step outside. Consider it a booster shot of health and well-being.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

STUDY: In Defense of Laziness

Great article on the New York Times about a study from Stanford showing that sleeping 10 hours a night improved the performance of athletes.

It's not just athletic performance that sleep improves--it's well-documented that sleep deprivation hurts work performance, emotional self-control, and even willpower.

The interesting thing about this study was how great everyone felt sleeping 10 hours a day. If you feel like you're not on top of your game, either at work, in relationships, or taking conscious control of your actions, consider resting rather than ramping up and working harder. A little laziness may refuel you!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Yoga for Cancer Survivors

To get everyone excited for Yogapalooza this weekend, here's a recent radio interview I did with Yoga Bear founder Halle Tecco. The show is The Stupid Cancer Show, a radio podcast for young adult cancer survivors.

We talked about how yoga can benefit survivors, some of the myths about yoga and meditation, and how Yoga Bear connects survivors with free classes at yoga studios around the U.S. Our interview is in the second half of the episode.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Yogapalooza 2009!

June is national cancer survivor’s awareness month! Come show your support by attending the second annual Yogapalooza, a multi-city fundraiser for Yoga Bear.

Treat yourself to a day of yoga and help provide cancer survivors with free, alternative rehabilitation services at this annual event, where 100% of the proceeds will benefit the Yoga Bear and its programming.

I'll be teaching at the San Francisco event.
WHEN: June 27th, 2009 1:00 PM - 6:00 PM
WHERE: James Howell Studio, 66 Sanchez St. San Francisco, CA 94114
(One block from Church and Market. Easy Access by MUNI)

There will also be Yogapaloozas in Atlanta, Austin, Cleveland, New York City, and Washington D.C.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Ethics of Teaching Yoga: What would you do?

In the last session of the Avalon Yoga 200-hour teacher training program, I lead the teachers-in-training through self-reflection and discussion on common ethical dilemmas that yoga teachers face.

Below are the dilemmas I used this session. I'd love to hear from yoga teachers about other situations that have challenged them, or what you'd do in any of these situations. Drop me an email or add a comment!

1. You have the opportunity to sub a class in a style that is very different from yours. Further, you don’t think much of this style. Should you take this opportunity? If you do, how do you approach the class and students? What thoughts, emotions, and behaviors do you need to bring special awareness to?

2. You teach yoga in a studio or gym setting that offers many different types of yoga classes. A number of students coming to your class have complaining of getting injured in another instructor’s class. What, if anything, do you do with this information? What is your obligation to your students, the studio/gym, and the teacher in question?

3. A student in your class invites you out to lunch “to talk more about yoga.” You suspect he or she is interested in friendship or possibly a romantic relationship. What do you do? Should it matter whether you find this person interesting or attractive? What does your decision say about how you perceive your role as a yoga teacher? Does having an outside relationship with a student change or limit how you interact with them in a class setting?

4. You teach a class that is advertised as mixed-levels or “open,” but nevertheless attracts a mostly athletic and experienced crowd. One day an obese student you do not know arrives for class. How do you react to this student? What are your assumptions? What are your obligations in a class listed as “mixed-levels” or “open”? How confident are you that you know how to teach bodies that don’t fit the stereotypical yoga-studio mold?

5. You have gotten very busy teaching yoga, and are excited to have so many classes to teach! Unfortunately, this is getting in the way of your personal practice. You haven’t attended a class in a few months, and you aren’t practicing formally at home. You tell yourself that your life is your yoga practice, and you don’t really need to practice asana, pranayama, meditation, etc. Is there an ethical component to this decision? What are the risks in this situation?

6. You witness one of your favorite, most inspiring yoga teachers outside the classroom doing something that really strikes you as “unyogic” but not necessarily illegal [e.g., smoking, eating meat, trash-talking other teachers, talking about how they lie on their taxes, apparently cheating on his/her spouse, or some other behavior that conflicts with your yoga values/ethics—pick something that would really surprise you]. How does this make you feel? Will you tell others about this? Will this person continue to be an important teacher for you? What standards do you hold yourself to as a yoga teacher? How will you feel when you fail to live up to your own or another person’s standards?

7. You get together with friends from this teacher training program, several months after you have been teaching regularly. The other teachers begin to complain about some of their least favorite students, sharing stories about annoying and inappropriate behavior in the classroom. It seems to strengthen the bond between the group and make everyone feel better about their experiences. How might you contribute or react to this conversation? How might you use this conversation for later private reflection on your teaching?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

STUDY: Wealth, Fame, and Beauty Make You Miserable

“I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living, so different now from how it seemed….now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

When Susan Boyle first sang those lyrics on the stage of Britain’s Got Talent, they seemed to herald a lifelong dream come true.

They take on a different meaning now that her meteoric rise to fame has landed her in the hospital. At the time I’m writing this, Boyle is being treated for a nervous breakdown. Her reported last words at Britain’s Got Talent: “I hate this show.”

Why did the story have to end this way? As we watched her triumphant debut, the crowd’s standing ovation, and the judges’ sentimental praise, we all felt that a life was being changed before our eyes.

And so it was. Susan Boyle’s performance earned her instant fame and wide acclaim. There was talk of book deals and record deals. Even her image got an upgrade, thanks to a Hollywood-style makeover.

It was everything an aspiring singer could hope for. And that may be exactly why things went wrong for Susan Boyle.

We expect that when our dreams come true, happiness will at last be ours. But a new study by psychologists at the University of Rochester, NY, finds exactly the opposite. Achieving fame, wealth, and beauty does not guarantee happiness. Instead, it can be a quick road to hell.

For this study, the researchers asked 246 adults to rate the importance of six life goals: three that sound pretty wholesome (to be physically healthy, to grow and learn new things, to help others improve their lives), as well as three goals that sound more like the modern American (Idol) dream: to be wealthy, to be admired by many people, and to achieve a desired appearance.

One year later, researchers checked in to find out how well the participants had attained their goals. They also tracked how happy and healthy the participant were. Those who pursued and attained the more wholesome goals were, as you might expect, feeling great. But attaining fame, money, or appearance had absolutely no relationship to happiness. There was no boost in self-esteem, satisfaction with life, or mood. The more participants succeeded at these goals, the worse off they were: higher anxiety, worse mood, and more health problems.

How does success turn into depression? Consider it a contrast effect. No matter what spiritual or psychological advice we are given, it’s almost impossible to imagine we won’t be happier when we’re famous, wealthy, and beautiful. In modern society, we accept as self-evident that stardom leads to happiness. This belief is part of our collective story about how the world works. Talent discovery shows—like Britain’s Got Talent or American Idol—are popular in part because they tap into and exploit this deeply-held belief.

But while some accomplishments are truly satisfying, the rewards of fame, fortune, and image are all smoke and mirrors. They look wonderful from the outside, but from the inside, you can see through the illusion. Instant fame is a poor substitute for real connection. Personal fortune is less nourishing than personal growth. And a makeover is a shallow achievement—even for a 48-year-old Scotswoman who claims to have never been kissed.

What we’ve witnessed in the reality TV journey of Susan Boyle is the cruelest kind of reality check. When a lifelong dream comes true, and the gap between what you expected and what you experience is so vast, the only rational response is a breakdown.

Many of us fear that we will never achieve a lifelong dream that seems out of reach. But perhaps we should be more afraid that we spend our lives chasing goals that cannot provide lasting happiness.

The same study points to how we might achieve more satisfying happiness: participants who pursued learning, community, and health were better off over time. It might be time to take a look at your own goals, and devote your energy to the less glamorous but reliably rewarding sources of well-being.

Study source:
The path taken: Consequences of attaining intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations in post-college life. Christopher P. Niemiec, Richard M. Ryana, and Edward L. Deci. Journal of Research in Personality 43 (June 2009) 291–306.

Friday, June 5, 2009

STUDY: Gang Members Feel Safer

A new study in the journal Criminology reports that children who join gangs feel significantly safer after they join the gang--even though gang members are actually more likely to be victims of violence and crime.

The study followed 1,450 public school students in the sixth through ninth grades, from 15 schools in four states, for two years, tracking both gang activity, personal victimization, and the student's sense of safety.

This finding highlights the psychological importance of finding a "tribe" and feeling connected to--and protected by--that tribe. Even though joining a gang makes you statistically less safe, the psychological effects of belonging override reality. The more we have to give up (or give) to belong to a group, the more we value membership. Gangs aren't the only groups that operate on this principle--it keeps people committed to fraternities, companies, and even professions.

People trying to keep youth out of gangs, or help them recover from violence they experienced as gang members, know this and must address it. The Art of Yoga project, a Bay-Area organization I advise has recently begun a mentoring program for girls in juvenile detention, to try to build social ties in detention that can protect students after they return to their communities. Mentoring is one way to build a psychological sense of safety and support that might keep girls from rejoining the social groups that would lead them back to juvenile detention or prison.

You can read more about the study here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Congratulations Part 2: IDEA Fitness Journal

This year, IDEA Fitness Journal took first-place honors in the Best Health & Fitness/Trade Publication category at the annual Maggie Awards, which are known as the “Oscars” of the publishing world.

Congratulations to IDEA! I am a regular contributor to the magazine, and the editorial staff (including Joy Keller, Kate Watson, and Sandy Todd Webster) is one of the most professional, friendly, and supportive and I have ever worked with.

The magazine is only available to IDEA Health and Fitness Association members, which can you learn more about here. The magazine stands out for its focus on cutting-edge research-- no other magazine communicates the latest "science of fitness" as brilliantly and practically as IDEA.

Below are some of my favorite articles I've written for the magazine.
The Science of Willpower. IDEA Fitness Journal June 2008.
Mind-Body Continuing Education: Facilitating Fellowship. IDEA Fitness Journal, 4(6).
Teaching Restorative Yoga. IDEA Fitness Journal, 4(5).
Mind-Body Continuing Education: Yoga for Chronic Pain. IDEA Fitness Journal, 3(6).

Congratulations to the Spring 2009 Avalon Yoga Teacher Training Program graduates!

Yoga Lesson Plans

The second in my new series of yoga lesson plans for teachers is now up on

Bonus: There's a free guided meditation/relaxation you can download for each lesson in the series.

Description of the series:
"The benefits of yoga go beyond more flexible hamstrings, a stronger core, or less back pain. Yoga has the power to make you more resilient to stress. It reminds you of your inner strength. It can give you back a sense of joy and purpose in your life.

You already know this. But as a teacher, it’s usually easier to plan a class that focuses on stretching the hamstrings than reawakening joy. Each lesson plan in this series will help you plan a class that empowers your students—body, mind, and spirit. We’ll consider not just pose choice, but all aspects of teaching—from sequencing to touch to verbal cuing—that contribute to a cohesive class experience."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Kids who can focus grow up to be healthier adults

A recently released study from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that children's ability to focus on a task at age 7 predicted their physical health thirty years later.

Children who persisted longer on a difficult task were less likely to have experienced a serious health problem such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or cancer. The same was true for kids who were less easily distressed by, or likely to withdraw from, a difficult situation.

It's not clear whether these kids were simply born with better attention and perseverance, or whether focus is something that can be taught. However, I know a few folks who are betting on the latter--going into schools to teach kids how to focus their attention and regulate their emotions. For example, Little Flower Yoga is teaching kids in inner-city schools in NY and Yoga Calm brings yoga to classrooms in the Midwest and Northwest.

Although yoga is often "sold" to schools and parents as a way to increase physical fitness, the physical practices of most yoga-for-kids programs also do an incredible job teaching relaxation, mental focus, and emotion regulation skills.

Study source: Early manifestations of personality and adult health: A life course perspective. Health Psychology, 13 (1).
Authors: LD Kubzansky, LT Martin, SL Buka.
You can read the full article here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is hugging harmful?

The New York Times today has a feature on a shocking new trend: teenagers hugging each other when they say hello. Not just best friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends, but casual acquaintances.

Schools are cracking down on all this free love. According to the article, "Schools from Hillsdale, N.J., to Bend, Ore., wary in a litigious era about sexual harassment or improper touching — or citing hallway clogging and late arrivals to class — have banned hugging or imposed a three-second rule."

Seriously? Considering the high incidence of depression, social isolation, anxiety, and stress among this generation of teens, schools should consider imposing mandatory hugs. The evidence is clear that friendly, supportive, non-sexual touch is good for you. Even a brief moment of feeling close to someone, of being socially supported and belonging, can reduce stress hormones, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and improve mood.

In my generation, teenagers had to get drunk or take drugs like Ecstasy to overcome hugging inhibitions. Kudos to this generation for wanting to reach out and touch someone without chemically-induced courage.

How Swine Flu is Paving the Way to Gay Marriage

At the beginning of any crisis, it is impossible to predict the final outcome. Every step we take to prevent catastrophe can carry unexpected consequences.

The current hysteria over the H1N1 pandemic may come with a particularly surprising side effect—fear of the flu may be paving the way for gay marriage.

Just how could a pathogen 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair be accomplishing a political task that until recently seemed impossible?

The answer lies in something innocuous and even virtuous: hand-washing.
Everyone from the World Health Organization to President Obama has begged us to wash our hands thoroughly with soap and hot water. Even Randy Cohen, resident ethicist of the New York Times, has argued that washing your hands is, in times like these, a moral obligation.

A new poll by the Harvard School of Public Health reports that two-thirds of Americans are soaping up more often to ward off the flu. All that hand-washing should slow down the spread of the flu virus—a consequence that is both predictable and positive.

But even actions as simple as washing your hands can have unintended consequences. Case in point: A 2008 study published in Psychological Science found that washing your hands makes you less morally judgmental about other people’s behavior.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom asked participants to evaluate a range of morally suspect actions, such as keeping the money in a found wallet, killing a terminally ill plane crash survivor to avoid starvation, and engaging in a deviant sex act. Half were asked to wash their hands before rating the scenarios. These participants rated all of the behaviors as less “wrong” than did the participants with less pure hands.

The connection between clean hands and a forgiving heart was not logical but emotional. Hand-washing reduced participants’ feelings of disgust. That change in emotion tempered participants’ willingness to throw the first stone.

Why would a change in the physical feeling of disgust dampen moral outrage about other people’s actions? Psychologists now believe that many moral judgments are based on feelings, not rational decisions. We use emotions—including disgust—to quickly “know” whether something is right or wrong. We then try to rationalize our feelings by developing a logical explanation.

This may be especially true for political positions that are colored by moral judgments. Opposition to same-sex marriage is often emotional and rooted in a visceral discomfort with homosexuality. Rational discourse on civil rights and the definition of marriage comes later. A study published just this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that conservatives are more likely than liberals to use instinctive feelings about “purity” and “sanctity” as the basis for moral judgments.

Changing a person’s views on such matters may be less about logical argument and more about changing that underlying feeling of disgust. In other words: you’re your mouth shut, but carry hand sanitizer.

This leaves us with an improbable but theoretically possible consequence of the H1N1 pandemic. Look around: same-sex marriage legislation is marching forward with far less outrage than conservatives or liberals would have predicted just one month ago.

Gay marriage may not feel right to you yet, but it is starting to look inevitable. So let me be the first to pass the soap and pump the sanitizer. You’ll feel better, and the CDC will thank you.

Studies cited:
Washing away your sins: Threatened morality and physical cleansing. Chen-Bo Zhong and Katie Liljenquist. September 8 2006. Science, Vol 313, 1451-2.

Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Jess Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian A. Nosek. May 2009. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 96, 1029-46.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

1st Annual Summit on Yoga, Mindfulness, and Service

I just got back from the 1st Annual Summit on Yoga, Mindfulness, and Service at the Omega Institute in NY (May 17-21 2009). This was a gathering of leaders in the yoga community who are passionate about outreach, activism, service, and research on yoga and meditation. Many run their own non-profits that bring yoga and meditation to underserved populations, from teenagers in prison to women in recovery from addiction, eating disorders, and domestic violence. I was there representing several great organization I work with: the International Association of Yoga Therapists, Yoga Bear (offering yoga to cancer survivors), and the Art of Yoga (teaching yoga to girls in juvenile detention).

Check out this 2-part youtube conversation about service in yoga between summit attendees Mark Lily, founder of Street Yoga in Portland, OR, and Seane Corn, founder of Off the Mat Into the World.

The 12 attendees at the summit officially formed the Yoga Service Council. We look forward to harnessing energy, good will, skills, science, and --oh, yes-- funds to support individuals and organizations that serve communities through yoga and meditation. Stay tuned for more information about our projects and ways to get involved!

STUDY SUMMARY: Yoga of Awareness Program for Menopausal Symptoms in Breast Cancer Survivors

Source: Support Care Cancer. February 2009. [Epub ahead of print]
Authors: Carson JW, Carson KM, Porter LS, Keefe FJ, & Seewaldt VL.
Contact: James Carson, Department of Anesthesiology and Peri-operative Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Rd, UHS, Portland, OR, 97239.

Researchers were interested in whether yoga could benefit breast cancer survivors currently experiencing menopause-related hot flashes. 37 female breast cancer surviors (mean age 54.4 ± 7.5, mean time since diagnosis 4.9 ± 2.4 years) were randomly assigned to either an 8-week Yoga of Awareness program (weekly 2-hour group classes, with 5-10 students) or to a wait-list control group (which would receive the yoga program after the initial study period).

The Yoga of Awareness classes 40 min of gentle stretching poses, 10 min of breathing techniques, 25 min of meditation, and 45 min of group study and discussion of various topics (for example, the yoga philosophy idea of non-judgment acceptance, and how this could be applied to the experience of hot flashes). Classes were co-taught by a certified yoga teacher who holds a master’s degree in health behavior and education and a clinical health psychologist. Classes followed two types of posture sequences. The first was a mat-based sequence including warm-ups, child’s pose, table, a downward-facing dog flow, half moon, a warrior 1 flow, extended side angle, modified locust, supine squats, supine big toe, supine sage twist with bolster, and corpse pose. The second was a chair-based sequence including warm-ups, cat/cow, a spine twist flow, sun salutation, standing wide angle fold, standing wide angle fold with twist, prayer flow, seated wide angle fold, head to knee, pigeon, forward fold, modified sage twist, seal of yoga, and corpse pose. Participants were encouraged apply yoga ideas to everyday life and to practice yoga at home. They were given simple homework assignments, CDs, and illustrated guides to help them do so. On average, participants attended of six of the eight classes.

Researchers measured menopausal symptoms and minutes of yoga practice through daily telephone diaries. Participants completed two weeks of daily self-reports at three time points: before the intervention period, during the last two weeks of the intervention, and three months after the intervention. At the end of the intervention, the yoga group showed a significant reduction in both number and severity of hot flashes, whereas the control group showed no change. They also reported being less bothered by the hot flashes when they did occur, which reflects the yoga program’s emphasis on non-judgmental awareness and acceptance. The yoga group showed significant improvements (compared to the control group) in daily joint pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and energy. These improvements were maintained at the 3-month follow-up, and the yoga group showed additional improvements in mood, relaxation, and acceptance. Many of these improvements were positively related to number of minutes spent practicing yoga each day.

This study provides encouraging evidence that yoga benefits cancer survivors and women going through menopause. Of particular note is the program’s emphasis on developing a yogic attitude toward physical symptoms and stressful life events, which received as much time as asana practice. This type of yoga program is a good model for the type of interventions many in the yoga community would like to see in both research and healthcare practice.

This research summary was orginally prepared for the International Association of Yoga Therapists. IAYT is a professional organization for yoga therapists, yoga teachers, researchers, and healthcare professionals who use yoga in their practice.

STUDY SUMMARY: Restorative Yoga for Women with Breast Cancer

Source: Psycho-oncology, 18(4): 360-368. April 2009.
Authors: Danhauer SC, Mihalko SL, Russell GB, Campbell CR, Felder L, Daley K, & Levine EA.
Contact: Suzanne C. Danhauer, Department of Internal Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, 27157-1082.

This study examined the effects of group restorative yoga classes on emotional and physical well-being in women with breast cancer.

44 women with breast cancer (34% still undergoing cancer treatment; mean age of 55.8 ± 9.9 years) were randomly assigned to either the yoga program or a wait-list control group. After the initial 10-week study period, the control group was offered the full yoga program.

The yoga program consisted of 10 weekly 75-minute restorative yoga classes at a local studio, with class size ranging from 3-12 students. The instructor was registered with the Yoga Alliance, had cancer-specific yoga training, and was a cancer survivor.

The classes included asanas (held from 20 seconds to 5 minutes, depending on the pose), pranayama, and deep relaxation in savasana. The principle of ahimsa (non-violence) was emphasized throughout the practice, and participants were encouraged to take care of themselves and modify poses based on their own needs. Most poses could be practiced either in a chair or on a yoga mat, and the teacher offered props to help students become more comfortable. In each pose, the teacher reminded students to breathe.

The researchers provided the following list of practices and postures that were practiced in every class:
(1) centering and meditation (conscious, deep breathing, mental inventory of body, energy, thoughts, and emotions)(15 minutes)
(2) neck and shoulder series (move neck through range of motion, turning head side to
side, dropping ear to shoulder, chin to chest and eyes toward ceiling, roll shoulders forward and back, then squeeze shoulders to ears and release)(5 minutes)
(3) leg stretch (janu sirsasana variation) using a strap and circling ankles slowly in both directions (5 minutes)
(4) side bend (seated parighasana) (2 minutes)
(5) seated twist (ardha matsyandrasana variation) (2 minutes)
(6) simple supported backbend (1–5 minutes)
(7) transition(resting pose to shift into another posture)
(8) legs up the wall (viparita karani or variation) (5 minutes)
(9) supported bound-angle pose (supta badha konasana variation) (5 minutes).

The following poses were in some but not all practices:
(1) mountain pose (tadasana)
(2) arm and shoulder stretch
(3) supported forward fold
(4) seated sun salutation (surya namaskar variation)
(5) reclining twist with a bolster

Researchers measured the following self-reported dimensions of well-being both before and after the 10-week study period: physical well-being, social/family well-being, mental/emotional well-being (including symptoms of depression), functional well-being, spiritual well-being, and other outcomes particularly relevant to cancer concerns, including sleep and fatigue.

Yoga participants, compared to control participants, reported better mental/emotional well-being, physical well-being, spritual well-being, sleep, and energy. The improvement in emotional well-being was strongest for women who entered with higher levels of negative emotions or depression, and the improvement in sleep quality was strongest for women who began the study with more sleep problems. Women attended an average of 5.8 out of the 10 classes (s.d. = 3.4). For both physical and functional well-being, number of classes attended predicted improvement. Participants reported that they enjoyed the classes, and no adverse events were reported.

This study demonstrated some of the most comprehensive benefits of yoga for cancer patients and survivors. Previous studies (by different research groups) have demonstrated benefits for sleep, energy, cancer symptoms, emotional well-being, and social well-being, but none have demonstrated such global positive outcomes. This study should be considered encouraging evidence supporting the use of yoga to support women with breast cancer. In addition, the researchers should be thanked and commended for providing such a detailed description of the yoga classes, allowing other researchers and yoga teachers to replicate or build on their program.

This research summary was orginally prepared for the International Association of Yoga Therapists. IAYT is a professional organization for yoga therapists, yoga teachers, researchers, and healthcare professionals who use yoga in their practice.

STUDY SUMMARY: Yoga Decreases Breathing Distress and Improves Functional Performance in People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Source: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(3): 225-234. March 2009.
Authors: Donesky-Cuenco D, Nguyen HQ, Paul S, & Carrieri-Kohlman V.
Contact: DorAnne Donesky-Cuenco, Department of Physiological Nursing, School of Nursing, Box 0610, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0610, or Virginia Carrieri-Kohlman at

This pilot study examined the safety, feasibility, and benefits of a yoga practice in older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 21 women and 8 men (mean age of 69.9 ± 9.5 years) were randomly assigned to either a standard care control group or a yoga therapy intervention. The yoga group participated in a 12-week, twice-weekly yoga program designed specifically for individuals with COPD. The practice included 9 basic asanas and visama vritti pranayama (timed breathing).

To examine the safety of the yoga practice, researchers measured heart rate, oxygen saturation, dyspnea, and pain during the practice. To examine feasibility, researchers recorded participant adherence and asked participants how much they enjoyed the practice and how difficult they found it. To test the benefits of yoga, researchers measured breathing pain and distress before and after the 12-week program, as well as other measures of health, including exercise performance and health-related quality of life.

The yoga practice was both safe and feasible for the participants, providing more evidence that a well-planned yoga intervention is appropriate for individuals with COPD. Compared to the standard-care control group, participants in the yoga group showed a significant reduction in breathing distress. The yoga group also showed improved physical strength and walking speed in a timed exercise test, as well as higher self-reported of life.

This study is limited by its size, and should be interpreted as providing encouraging but modest evidence for the idea that yoga benefits individuals with COPD. However, the number of these small-scale studies is increasing, and being reported by diverse research groups, as illustrated by the two studies reported here.

This research summary was orginally prepared for the International Association of Yoga Therapists. IAYT is a professional organization for yoga therapists, yoga teachers, researchers, and healthcare professionals who use yoga in their practice.

STUDY SUMMARY: Efficacy and Tolerability of Yoga Breathing in Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Source: Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, 29(2): 133-137. March/April 2009.
Authors: Pomidori L, Campigotto F, Amatya TM, Bernardi L, & Cogo A.
Contact: Annalisa Cogo, Centro Studi Biomedici Applicati Allo Sport, Via Gramicia 35, 44100 Ferrara, Italy.

This study investigated whether a traditional and simple yoga breathing technique could benefit individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). People with COPD tend to breathe shallowly and rapidly. The researchers hypothesized that yogic breathing could help people with COPD learn to breathe more deeply and slowly.

8 men and 3 women (ages ranged from 59 to 80) with COPD were taught a yoga breathing technique in a single session. None of the participants had any previous yoga experience. A certified yoga teacher taught participants “the complete yoga breathing technique” as described in The Complete Yoga Book: Yoga of Breathing, Yoga of Posture, and Yoga of Meditation (Schoken Book 1978). This technique involves breathing in a way that expands the belly and lower ribs, then the lower chest, and then the upper chest on the inhalation and reverses this pattern on the exhalation. The breath becomes both deeper and slower than habitual breathing.

The researchers monitored the participants’ spontaneous breathing for 30 minutes prior to the yoga session, as well as the participants’ breathing throughout a single 30-minute yoga session. They measured many variables related to healthy breathing, including oxygen saturation, the depth of each breath, breathing rate, the relative length of inhalation compared to exhalation, and the coordination between rib cage and abdomen movement.

Participants took between 5 and 12 minutes to successfully learn the technique, but all were able to perform it comfortably. Compared to baseline breathing, participants showed a decrease in breathing rate, greater depth, and significant lengthening of both inhalation and exhalation. There was no significant change in coordination of the rib cage and abdomen. This was considered a positive finding, as other breathing techniques have increased desynchronization in people with COPD. Participants also showed a small but significant increase in oxygen saturation, with the greatest change among participants who had the lowest saturation at baseline.

This modest study is important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that this yoga breathing technique can be safely and comfortably performed by individuals with serious respiratory concerns. Participants learned the practice relatively quickly and without respiratory distress. Second, it demonstrates that the technique reliably produces its purported effects (slowing and deepening the breath) in a single session, even among individuals with strong habits to breathe shallowly and rapidly. This study should encourage yoga teachers and healthcare practitioners to share a simple, nonstrenuous breathing technique with a population that they may feel cautious with.

This research summary was prepared for the International Association of Yoga Therapists. IAYT is a professional organization for yoga therapists, yoga teachers, researchers, and healthcare professionals who use yoga in their practice.