Sunday, August 29, 2010


I recently stumbled across "Rapt - Attention and the Focused Life" by Winifred Gallagher.  She writes of a universe of ways that paying attention (or not) create the life we live.  The book contains plenty of neuroscience for the geeks among us, but it's an easy read for the less geeky.  Here is how the book ends...

Attending to pleasure is a reward in itself, but savoring also boosts your quotient of positive emotion, which in turn expands your focus and may confer health benefits, such as improved resilience and immune function.  During an illness, says Bryant (Fred Bryant, psychologist at Loyola University in Chicago), 'you should savor not just for the sheer joy of it, but also to help yourself recover.'  Then too, he says, 'just because something bad is happening doesn't mean lots of good things aren't also.  They're two very different phenomena.  The joy and meaning you find in life and the current stressor -- an illness, a troubled relative, a career setback -- are separate concerns, and you can experience both.'
The best strategy for savoring is learning to pay rapt attention to carefully chosen top-down targets.  To practice this skill, Bryant suggests taking a 'daily vacation': spending twenty to thirty minutes focusing on something you enjoy or suspect you might but have never done.  Then, at the end of the day, you revisit and relish that pleasurable interlude and plan the next sojourn.  After seven days, he says, 'most people say,  "What a great week! I wish I could do that all of the time!" Well why not?'

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Art of Choosing

I'm at the gym,  peddling my way to nowhere on the stationary bike, listening to a TED talk by Sheena Iyengar (not THAT Iyengar) on the art of choosing.  I've included it below.  It gave me this whole new perspective on how people choose which yoga class to take.  I think perhaps we sometimes only find the right class for us by sheer luck.

For instance, she mentions that in one study she put out seven different kinds of soda for the participants to choose.  She was surprised when one person said, that's not a choice, it's all one thing...soda.  So I realize, to someone completely new to yoga, a list different yoga classes with different names is one  It becomes really important to be clear then what a person new to practice wants (even though that may change over time) and needs from yoga at present.

There were also cultural differences related to how one approaches choosing.  Dropping the cultural significance and simplifying, I will say that there are the people who want to figure it out for themselves and people who are more comfortable with  choice assisted by a respected source.  I started thinking about how some yoga systems have structure and lots of adjustments. (A friend once said he would try yoga if he could go to a class where  they would teach him to do it right.)  Other styles of teaching that encourage an exploration that only begins with form but is ultimately INformed by form.  The yoga posture feels right.

It seems to me that not only do we need to help people understand the styles of yoga available but also the styles of teaching available.  Do you want tough love? Nurturing?  Drill sergeant or goddess of mercy? We need to offer  up the explanation of choices in a way that gives clarity rather than judgement...and perhaps a little finesse.

Give the talk a listen.  Even if you don't find yourself relating it to choosing a yoga practice, it's a really interesting look at how we choose.  Sometimes it's art!