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."