Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yoga Conference 2012 - III

Ironically, I actually ended up missing the first two hours of the session on Willpower because I got the start time mixed up... I'm blaming it on a right brain take-over, since the day before I'd attended the Asana/Pranayama/Meditation followed by the Laughter Yoga workshop.

After I spent a few minutes beating myself up for my stupidity, I decided to have a good laugh and drop the matter. Fortunately for me, I arrived during break and there was a spot right up next to the stage.

I was there for Kelly McGonigal's workshop based on her book, The Willpower Instinct.

Also fortunately, there was very little asana.  I hadn't realized how much of a workout I'd gotten the day before and my shoulders were a bit stiff from all the planks and down-dogs.

There is definitely a lot of material to ponder.  Dr. McGonigal teaches a course at Stanford based on the subject and her publisher has been getting the book a lot of airplay recently.  After leading the conference class she ran across the street to do a CBC interview.

Who hasn't heard of the Fight and Flight response by now?  It paralyzes the long-term reasoning capacity of the pre-frontal cortex to deal with immediate threats.  It also floods the body with a deadly chemical cocktail. While a great defense for dealing with tigers in the jungle, it is not meant for daily activation. Instead we need to cultivate a different reaction to our modern day stressors.  Let's call it the 'Pause and Plan Response', when heart rate and breath rate are synchronized and a physical state is created where you are alert and prepared for action. One of the best ways to create the state is to synchronize breath with movement:  walking meditation, slow flow.

Other take-aways:

  • Whatever you do, don't think about the white polar bear!  Trying to 'block' thoughts is a self-defeating strategy. 
  • "Surfing the urge" of a craving is a more successful strategy than trying to avoid the craving in the first place:  notice, accept the craving, breathe and give your body the chance to pause and plan, broaden your attention and look for the action that will help you achieve your goal.
  • Beating yourself up for giving into temptation seems to cause escalation of the problematic behaviour (studies of addiction & compulsive disorders show after wallowing in self-hate the subjects then end up seeking comfort in the very substance or behaviour at the root of the problem... otherwise known as the "what the hell effect").
  • Inference of goal preference or 'goal-switching'... if the main thing motivating self-control is the desire to be "good", when told they are doing well or feeling "good" about themselves, people will "give in" to their self-defeating behaviour... permission is granted to go against the bigger goal for the temporary reward of the thing or object being denied.
  • Respond to setbacks with self-compassion.
  • It's a given by now that trying to shame yourself or others into good behaviour totally backfires. But at the same time, we should stop chasing self-esteem and learn self-compassion.
  • Self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence or lower standards.
  • Keeping a self-compassion journal for only 7 consecutive nights improved overall happiness scores even six months later.
McGonigal spoke about small interventions with big outcomes to the Googleplex earlier this year: 

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