She has taught English to the adolescent Strokes and yoga to Psychology 1504, “Positive Psychology” lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar ’96. Yet Positive Psychology teaching fellow (TF) Deborah R. Cohen ’91 took only one psychology class while an undergraduate at Harvard.
“I found the prospect of psychology so depressing,” Cohen says. “I took ‘States of Adolescent Adjustment’ spring of my freshman year and it talked about today’s adolescent eating disorders and today’s adolescent mental problems, and I was like, ‘Go shoot me!’”
Disappointed, Cohen concentrated in English. She became a high-school English teacher after leaving Harvard, but again found herself less than satisfied.
“I felt like I was always thinking about the next thing that had to be done. A friend of mine brought me to a community education yoga class and it was the first time I could really relax,” Cohen says. “My mind slowed down.”
After 9/11, Cohen decided to abandon her career and focus on yoga philosophy, leaving New York to study in India before opening a yoga training studio, CoreYoga, in Cambridge. When Ben-Shahar came to CoreYoga to become an instructor himself, Cohen found that they shared ideas about the self, the body, and happiness.
“Yoga philosophy starts with an inquiry of ‘what is the essential motivation for everything?’ Tal’s book, The Question of Happiness, explores this question too and ends up exploring the same conclusion—that if you look within, that’s where you find happiness,” Cohen says.
When Ben-Shahar offered her a position as a TF, she scheduled her yoga classes around lectures and sections. Cohen plans to incorporate yoga meditation into her five sections. She makes a connection between psych sections and yoga philosophy.
“It’s taking the concepts that Tal presents, and we use ourselves as a laboratory to check these concepts. That’s what yoga is—you’re using your own body and mind to check these things out,” Cohen says. “This way I feel like I’m bringing yoga to Harvard in a meaningful way, in a way that has context, in a language that’s acceptable because it’s through the language of psychology, but again, yoga is also the language of the mind.”