Many of us have a kinda weird relationship with money. Me too.
I’ve ranged from penny pincher — clipping coupons, checking my budget multiple times a day — to completely reckless — not looking at my balances for months on end. Hoping if I ignore it, maybe it would just go away. (Newsflash: it did. But not the way I’d hoped.)
Sometimes my behavior was related to how much money I was making, and sometimes it wasn’t.
In 2018, I promised myself I would take the bull by the horns and do whatever it took to heal this relationship. My theme for 2018 would be “Easy Money.”
Because until now, Money had been anything but easy.
If yoga is one of my core values,
it was clear to me I was out of integrity when it came to money.
As I understand it, yoga is a practice of intentional relationship. Derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means ‘to yoke’ — like a cart to a horse — yoga is often translated as ‘union.’
The practices of yoga were designed to yoke us to the power of the Ultimate. There may be loving bickering about what ‘union’ actually means, and what the Ultimate might be — but pretty much everybody agrees that yoga means union; connection. A joining together.
Yoga is both a noun and a verb, in Sanskrit. You can be in a state of yoga, you can do yoga, you can work on yoga, and you can achieve yoga. But you can also yoga to something — the act of communing is yoga. And yoga as a verb can be active or passive.
In 2013, before I quit my last job, my old boss (bless her heart) gave me a Strengthsfinder 2.0 Test. This is a cousin to a Myers-Briggs test, so if you hate that stuff, just skip ahead. My number one Strength? “Connectedness.” The book said that people with that strength usually become priests. In the moment, I was annoyed. But within weeks, I realized: “YES. Now how do I become a lady priest?”
So I became a yoga teacher.
My aim, as both yoga teacher and practitioner, is to let yoga seep into the pores of my life. Once I realized there was more to yoga than “just” the poses, I knew there was possibility for a lifetime study — and eventually, a career.
But in order for me to really live that aim, I couldn’t stuff yoga in the trunk with my yoga mat and blocks. I had to be willing to let it grow into the rest of my life.
It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up one day “fully yoga.” Little by little, tendrils of practice have made their way into every aspect of my life: my family dynamics, my work, how I approach my work, how I talk to myself, how I work out, even Tinder.
And, yes, even my budget had to yoga.
Some areas were easier than others. Some seemed incompatible at first — so much so that I didn’t even consider trying.
But when I realized that having these kind of intentional connections was enhancing my life, it was hard to keep it from spilling over.
Suddenly I went from “Money and yoga are like oil and water,” to “Maybe I should put my change jar on my altar.”
And then things started to change.
In the history of yoga, for thousands of years, those who were practicing and living ‘yoga’ were called sadhus or sannyasin. In order for these monks to commit to pursuing a state of yoga, they were required to sacrifice their attachment to worldly things. Sannyasa is the stage of life (referred to in thePuranas) — usually around retirement — where we give up the material life in favor of the spiritual. Traditionally, sannyasins give up property, family ties, money, relationships, and physical pleasures. (wink, wink.)
Even though these practices and philosophies have evolved over millennia, these ascetics are still held in high regard. These wandering monks of variation traditions can be found all over India — and the culture is built to support them, offering food, shelter or water when possible. Many believe that sadhus are the only ones who can achieve enlightenment.
Except, I’m a “householder.” In a Hindu worldview, that’s considered pretty typical for someone in my age bracket — post-education, pre-retirement. I’m a person who lives in the world, makes a living, has social and romantic relationship, and has a family. (Technically, I should be married by now, but that’s neither here nor there.)
In a modern age, and inside a western culture,
is it possible for me to practice yoga with my finances?
What would that even look like?
I could give a whole lecture about the yamas and niyamas that have been popularized by The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali — and those would be helpful.
Briefly, the Yamas and Niyamas are ten guidelines for living a yogic life (Think the Ten Commandments with no mention of idol worship). They generally belong to a Classical (ascetic) yoga tradition when applied in an orthodox way.
Because I don’t consider myself a Classical yogin, I try to not adapt or adjust them to my own needs. I respect and study them, but they aren’t my go-to tradition.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t say: nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), not-stealing (asteya) and contentment (samtosha) are damn fine guidelines when it comes to money.
Instead, I want to look at money a non-dual perspective, which is core to my belief system.
Non-dual systems say there is no separation between divine and not-divine. This a very basic understanding of a Tantric world view, and I find it more helpful than a list of rules. [Let’s face it. Who really LOVES rules?]
First, Tantra embraces paradox. That might seem like an easy excuse for me to avoid adopting the yamas and niyamas. [Brahmacarya, the fourth yama, is usually translated as “abstinence.” ‘nough said.]
But actually, paradox allows for the grey areas of life — it allows me to see everything I see, feel everything I feel, and also acknowledge that there might be different circumstances that would allow a completely opposite feeling and experience.
This gives me freedom to experience the world as I do — AND not think my way is the only way.
It means I can be 100% committed to my experience — totally immersed in how I live my life — AND you get to do the same thing.
There is no “my way or the highway,” because there’s no highway. Just a vast expanse of opportunities — a constant wonderland of adventure paths made up step-by-step.
So my non-dual Tantra approach asks me to see Divine in all things. [See where I’m going with this?]
If I’m really honest, my definition of “divine” changes day to day, and sometimes hour to hour. But my relationship to divine is the thing that drives me, and I aim for steadfastness in and commitment to that relationship.
That doesn’t mean I can’t be mad at God. It doesn’t even mean I always believe! But I must always conscious of the relationship — and how I am participating in it.
My relationship with Ultimate is not something I can phone in. It’s something I choose to show up for in every breath.
So if I seek to see Divine in everything, and build relationship with the Divine in all things, then… what kind of intentional relationship am I developing with money?
If I’m going to both profess and practice my values, that means that money can no longer be a dirty subject. It can no longer be taboo. It also is no longer something that “other people have.”
Wanting more resources can no longer be a mark of spiritual sabotage.
And yet, seeking ONLY to gain more resources will certainly sabotage your spiritual path.
I am willing to say “Yes, and,” when it comes to income. I am willing to see my debt as holy. I am seeking to participate intentionally, to build a relationship, with money and all of its energies.
This is the first post in a series of explorations of Yoga & Money — if you’d like to dive deeper in to the conversation, I’m offering a workshop at the end of June 2018. Check it out.