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The Achievement Trap

Depression and anxiety are natural reactions to an unnatural culture, says Ira Israel.

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America is a "resentment factory," according to Ira Israel. "In 300 years, when whatever existing intelligent life looks back on the former USA, they will easily discern why so many of our inhabitants felt alienated, disconnected, disenfranchised, and depressed," predicts Israel, a Certified Yoga Therapist and psychotherapist intern who has traveled the world earning degrees in philosophy, psychology, and spirituality. He will lead a workshop on Yoga for Depression and Anxiety at Piedmont Yoga Studio (396 Piedmont Ave., Oakland) on Saturday, June 26.

"As sentient beings, we want to be loved unconditionally; growing up in America, we subconsciously learn that if we 'succeed' — within our society's definition of success — we'll be loved, appreciated, and respected," said Israel, who has studied existentialism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Reiki, Kabbalah, Iyengar yoga, and more. "The way many children assimilate this dynamic is to assume that they must be inherently unlovable, that they must constantly 'do' or 'achieve' things in order to get their emotional needs met.

"Resentment for not being loved unconditionally causes some people to self-soothe with excessive alcohol, drugs, shopping, sex, and television, sabotage their relationships, get depressed, and have suicidal ideation," he said. "What the pharmaceutical industry considers to be the symptoms of clinical depression I consider to be a natural reaction and signpost to not getting emotional needs met."

So-called pathological "syndromes" are natural reactions to an unnatural society, Israel argues. He places the blame on capitalism: "Our cultural paradigm is based on productivity and perpetual growth. If, as an adult man, I stood on the corner and cried for a month because my cat died, I would be quickly diagnosed and medicated so that I could 'walk it off,' 'suck it up,' 'be a man,' and 'get back to work.' As a society, we are not at all comfortable with emotions because emotions are unwieldy, unpredictable, and can get in the way of productivity." 

In order to escape the resentment factory, "we need to learn how to replace resentment with gratitude, see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty, and be happy with what we have and who we are rather than constantly wanting more, more, more."

Israel believes a bit of downward-facing dog and mountain pose can help immensely. "Yoga is the healthiest tool available for getting present and releasing resentments about our pasts and worries about our possible futures," he said. "Yoga teaches personal integrity because there is no competition" — and, he argues, competitiveness fuels resentment. "One of the central tenets of yoga is ahimsa, which means nonviolence; many people have learned to be violent to themselves, to not think of themselves as ever being good enough, to have to continuously push themselves to achieve more and have more and do more. Yoga is the opposite; there is nothing to achieve. In yoga we cultivate equanimity and peace of mind by concentrating on our breaths and releasing the negative voices in our heads." 2 p.m., $75. PiedmontYoga.com or JustYoga.net

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