I took my first yoga class in 1986. Never before able to touch my toes, I ended the semester-long course with greatly improved flexibility. But more than that it introduced me to the idea of being mindful, aware, intentional – simply being. As a driven young student who was doing my best to live up to the expectations (I thought) others held for me, I was constantly focused on doing. Much of the time I was doing one thing, my mind was either skipping ahead to what had to be done next or worrying about whether I had done well enough on something behind me.
I have been drawn to yoga ever since, practicing on and off as life moved forward. But it was at a workshop on Yoga Philosophy at my local studio 15 years ago that I had my greatest A-HA moments. I started to see the many similarities between yoga philosophy and the financial planning I do with my clients. Whether or not you practice yoga, the yoga outlook on life has many lessons applicable to sound financial behaviors.
My yoga teachers were always very accepting of everyone in their class, and they urged us students to put aside self-judgment. Heels don’t touch the floor in downward-facing dog? Not a problem. Need to hold onto the wall during tree post? Do it. Can’t quite get into wheel? Try a modification.
Likewise, I meet my clients exactly where they are. Don’t think you have enough saved for retirement? It’s OK. Built up some credit card debt? You’re not alone. Feel that you don’t have a mind for money? Let’s look at it together. I find myself reminding women that the numbers on the page aren’t judging them. We work with what they have and focus on what they can control to move forward toward their goals.
In yoga, all aspects of our being are connected. Doing the physical practice improves our mental clarity and spiritual contentment. Bringing attention to the breath and the body has wide-reaching benefits. If one segment of our lives if off-kilter, it will impact the others. The goal of a yoga practice is physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Similarly, money is interconnected with all parts of our lives. Our relationships, security, and sense of self-worth – I talk about all of it with my clients. It gets emotional – and that’s perfectly fine. Financial planning is not just about the numbers [link to breaking money silence podcast]. The goal is to achieve harmony and balance by bringing the money stuff into alignment with our deepest-held values and priorities.
Our teachers remind us to bring our awareness back to our bodies, to our breath, to this current moment. They ask us to set an intention at the start of each class, to assure we are fully present and get the most benefit from our time there. It is so easy to drift away, to let the monkey mind win. The grace comes in noticing and bringing our awareness back to this moment.
I believe the key to making wise financial decisions is to be mindful, to be intentional about our spending, saving and investing. Much of our financial lives happen on autopilot, and the decreased use of actual cash makes it more difficult to be truly aware of where our money goes. A good step is to notice how we are feeling as we go to make a decision – anxious, hopeful, angry, hungry, pressured? All such feelings can throw us off our true intentions.
4. Show up on the mat
I have been taught that the most important piece of a yoga practice is to do it. Do it regularly, whether you feel like it or not, whether your body is cooperative that day or not. Release your attachment to a particular outcome, and just be here, do the work, practice. Then congratulate yourself for doing so.
Success in financial management is much the same. The best financial advice is simple but not necessarily easy. What wins are disciplined, sustained behaviors. The first step is to show up, to start to pay attention, to make time to focus on it. Congratulate yourself for that. Then take the next step.
5. Flexibility, strength, and space
When I am disciplined in my yoga practice, the result is that I have more flexibility, greater strength and enhanced balance, all of which are beneficial for my long-term health. I create space – in my body and in my mind, which allows me to take on the world with more ease and patience.
When you take charge of your financial life, it gives you flexibility to deal with whatever life has in store, it increases your stability and security, and balances the needs and wants of today and tomorrow. Results are not instantaneous, but build over time. It’s worth the work!
6. The Value of Teachers
You can do yoga on your own, especially if you have been to enough classes to learn the asanas and have an idea of how to put them into an order that makes sense. I often roll out my mat on the living room rug. But how much nicer to be in class with a professional teacher to remind me of what’s important, to gently push me to go a bit farther than I would on my own, and to make adjustments to my poses to deepen my practice.
Likewise, you can take on your finances by yourself. Or you can work with a dedicated professional who knows the strategies, tools and terminology. A good financial planner works with you to develop a customized plan and keeps you accountable and moving forward.
I believe my yoga practice has helped me to be a better financial planner and borrowing the yoga outlook on life has also improved my financial behaviors.