Book: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers


This Robert Sapolsky book details the stress response in animals, the studies of which makes up much of his life’s work.  He describes how stress affects many aspects of our lives, from pain and digestion to sleep and memory. Entertaining and very informative.

He’s also in a documentary called The Science of Stress and has written other good books.

Lessons for Yogis:

1.) Animals don’t have physical or mental diseases from stress because they use the stress response how it is intended – and turn it off immediately after a genuine threat to their survival has passed.  Our ability to think allows us to dwell on perceived risk.  Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help!

2.) Did you know that social relationships are a strong indicator of life expectancy?  Companionship and community are important.  Yoga classes may provide a sense of belonging that provides as much benefit as the asana!  And it certainly makes us more pleasant around our family and gives us energy to meet up with friends.

3.) Chronic psychological stress can cause cardiovascular disease, so keeping up a yoga practice can keep that blood pressure down.  Off the mat, we can be mindful of our thoughts and not obsess over deadlines or what-if’s.  Your deadlines are not going to literally eat you.  (But perhaps those stressful thoughts could kill you.. yikes!)

My sister took one of Robert Sapolsky’s classes while she was an undergraduate, and really liked what she learned about the human animal.  I have her copy of A Primate’s Memoir, which is about how he began his studies on baboons and stress.  I’d be happy to lend it to you!   Another book from the syllabus of that class was my favorite book, The Tangled Wing, which sites Sapolsky’s studies.