“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” —Anaïs Nin Do you feel stuck? Do you find that you’re often preparing for the worst? Where are you putting your attention? When we step back and examine our worldview it can lead us to question our belief systems and our […]
Does eating organic make us mean?
A recent study conducted by researchers at Loyola University New Orleans looked at how food related to morality: how and whether what we eat influences how we think and act. The results, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, revealed that eating organic foods can most definitely impact morality, kindness, and attitudes toward others—but not necessarily in a good way. Participants who were exposed to organic foods, the study reported, volunteered significantly less time to help a stranger in need. They were also far more judgmental about others’ actions as they related to food and non-food subjects. In short, people who ate organic food were more likely to be jerks.
While most of the organics-loving people we know are kind, generous, lovely non-jerks, the results of the Loyola study could perhaps be explained by what Aruni Nan Futuronsky, a certified life coach and program advisor for Kripalu Healthy Living programs, calls “the curse of consciousness.” That is, the more we know, the more we want to impose that knowledge onto others. As we make changes for ourselves it becomes easier to notice those who have not made those changes for themselves, or who otherwise live differently. We may then judge them, even unconsciously.
Daniel J. Siegel, MD, is clinical professor of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and executive director of the Mindsight® Institute. He has published extensively, including Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, an in-depth exploration of the power of the mind to integrate the brain and promote well-being.
Q Describe what you do in 15 words or less.
A I teach interpersonal neurobiology to empower people to create more integration, kindness, and compassion in their lives and the world.
Q Tell us about a turning point in your life.
A I was working with a family whose relationships with each other were profoundly shaped by a brain injury the mother experienced. The question of how to help this family depended on addressing how mind, brain, and relationships are interconnected, and what makes them so fundamental to well-being. That experience gave birth to a journey to bring all the sciences together into one perspective, one we now call “interpersonal neurobiology,” that offers a definition of the mind, a view of mental health, and a framework that reveals how mind, brain, and relationships are three facets of one reality that shapes our lives.
I see my own concerns about fulfillment played out nearly every day of my professional life. I work at one of the biggest holistic retreat centers in America—Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. We see more than 35,000 people a year here in our sprawling, former-Jesuit monastery perched high up in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. Our guests come for various kinds of retreats: yoga, meditation, self-inquiry, couples’ work, healthy living. And almost every single one of them comes here in some phase of the mission to find this secret, hidden inner possibility spoken of in the Gospel of Thomas.
Want to keep your bones healthy and strong? If you’re paying attention to the news these days, the word on bone health can feel pretty discouraging. Bisphosphonates, the first-line therapy in treating osteoporosis, have been linked to serious side effects, such as atypical femur fractures, osteonecrosis of the jaw, and even esophageal cancer. More recently, a European study showed an increase risk of heart attacks in those who take calcium supplements. But don’t lose hope! Better bone health can be simple to achieve and maintain. The key is balance.
As a veteran police lieutenant living in Philadelphia, I’m not your typical yogi. About a decade ago, while looking to add stretching to my exercise routine, I discovered Bikram Yoga. I quickly found that incorporating yoga into my life made me feel radically different—less worried, more grounded. Even doing a 20-minute routine before work left me feeling at peace with myself and better able to handle people with grace. I also found that yoga helped dissipate the low-level anxiety I’d lived with for so long.
Yoga soon took on a central role in my life, and, five years ago, I decided to become a teacher so I could share what I’d learned with others. I’d been teaching in Philadelphia for about a year when I flipped through the Kripalu catalog and was intrigued by a program with Shiva Rea. It seemed to have an element of flow to it that I hadn’t experienced in other classes I’d taken.
Her program was my first opportunity to take yoga all day long, and the experience was supernatural. When I came out of the class the next day, I felt like I was flying. It was as if someone had unleashed a sense of joy in my body; I felt so light and exhilarated. I couldn’t believe I could feel that good. I thought to myself, “I need to learn how to bring this feeling into my teaching.”
It’s not the thoughts that are the problem. It’s what we do with them.
A recent New York Times op-ed took issue with positive thinking. “What if we’re trying too hard to think positive?” asks Oliver Burkeman. According to research, he writes, visualizing a successful outcome, under certain conditions, can make people less likely to achieve it. “Or take affirmations,” he writes, “those cheery slogans intended to lift the user’s mood by repeating them: I am a lovable person! My life is filled with joy! Psychologists at the University of Waterloo concluded that such statements make people with low self-esteem feel worse—not least because telling yourself you’re lovable is liable to provoke the grouchy internal counterargument that, really, you’re not.”
But is this really true? According to the principles of Positive Psychology, focusing on growing happiness, love, success, and strengths through positive thinking is far more effective than trying to overcome anxiety, neuroses, and weakness alone. At the same time, overcoming anxiety and finding happiness needn’t mean denying less desirable emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or sadness. “Negative emotions are fact of life,” says Susan B. Lord, MD, who leads many Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “Instead of thinking about how we can live without them, we should be thinking about how to deal with them.” That is, it’s not negative thinking that‘s the problem—it’s how we choose to react to it. “Sadness is part of life, grief is a part of life, but depression means your sadness has gotten stuck,” she says. “The idea is to be mindful of the kinds of thoughts we have. Some are positive and some are negative. Our lives involve both.”