In 2006 and 2008 I was a section leader at Harvard University for Tal Ben-Shahar’s lecture course Psychology 1504: Positive Psychology. I have also studied Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, earning a masters degree in 2007. This year I will teach with Tal Ben-Shahar through a Certificate in Positive Psychology program offered through Kripalu Yoga Center.
For me, positive psychology offers a way of using western language and thinking to express what I understand of yoga philosophy. The major distinction I see between the two disciplines is that Positive Psychology is descriptive and yoga philosophy is prescriptive. Positive Psychology describes various avenues which lead one to experience optimal states of well-being. Various psychologists and philosophers have studied the effects of cultivating character strengths, deliberately aligning one’s life with one’s values, cultivating an optimistic explanatory style, and developing self-efficacy or resilience. Yoga, by contrast, prescribes behaviors and practices all of which still the mind to assist our ability to take in information from the senses. According to yoga philosophy, the avenues described above are effective to the extent that they contribute towards this ultimate aim of clear perception, which brings about well-being.
My understanding is that a positive psychology is best expressed at those times when we are able to hear what the ears are hearing and see what the eyes are seeing, when we are not lost in perceptions and ideas from the past, when we are available to take in new information through the senses. In these cases, intelligence can operate according to the parameters of the situations in which we find ourselves and our behavior is less stuck, less self-referential. Having a positive psychology requires the ability to be present to what is happening while it is happening without resistance, and it is my firm belief that the moment-to-moment state of our nervous system determines the extent to which this is possible. For this reason, I favor a body-based approach and understand yoga to be the essential technique for cultivating a positive psychology.
For more information on Kripalu's Center for Yoga & Health's Certificate in Positve Psychology program click here.