More than 35 million Americans practice yoga. Many turn to it to improve strength, balance, and flexibility, as well as to reduce stress. Some also turn to it as a spiritual practice, a way to quiet the mind and develop deeper awareness of themselves and all that is. But it’s a safe bet that not many people turn to yoga as a way to stick to a budget.
Nevertheless, Megan McDonough, general manager of RISE and cofounder of Wholebeing Institute, emphasizes that yoga’s applications are broad enough to include money management. “In the largest sense, there’s nothing that’s excluded from yoga,” she says. “It’s all practice. Life is practice.”
The postures themselves can be a metaphor for how we interact with money. When we’re on the mat in a challenging pose, do we feel like we have to get it perfect? Do we give up quickly if the posture feels too uncomfortable? Or do we stick with it?
“Yoga builds discipline to stay with an edge,” Megan explains, “to stretch into a posture outside your comfort zone. The discomfort of a budget may be a knee-jerk reaction, but can we stay with that edge just like we do in yoga practice?”
Megan says yoga also increases our capacity to pay attention, be aware, and be mindful. We can apply the mindfulness we develop through postures or meditation to other areas of our lives. “Budgeting, as mundane as it is,” Megan notes, “is something we can be mindful of. It, too, can be a practice, helping us understand our relationship to money and what we value.”
Practicing yoga over time, we develop greater awareness of the present moment, which can help us notice when we overspend, purchasing things we don’t really need instead of saving for things we will. “Present-moment awareness is really a way of saying to ourselves, ‘This moment matters. I’m going to pay attention to it,’” says Megan.
Ironically, though, awareness of the present moment can also help us plan for the future. Looking at money over time—saving for a child’s college education, deciding how much to allocate to a retirement account—requires mindfulness, Megan says. “We’re all striving to ‘be in the moment,’ but you can plan for the future while being grounded in the now. In fact, the act of planning for the future can bring you into the present moment. There’s nothing spiritually inferior about looking ahead.”
Megan says that our present-moment decisions about spending and saving should be influenced by the notion of an “ideal self”—the person we’d like to become, the person who symbolizes what we want our lives to stand for, the person who lives in accordance with our strengths and values.
“For example, if a ‘memorable mom’ is your ideal self,” Megan explains, “then you’ll budget your time and money so you can do things with your children, whether that’s visiting a museum or taking a day at the beach. Your yoga practice helps you stay mindfully present to the experience, and your ideal self helps you prioritize spending your money on connecting with your kids over buying a new purse.”
In this sense, the choices we make about what we spend money on reflect the values we’ve clearly delineated about how we want to live our lives. “When you get clear on your values,” Megan says, “choosing what to spend money on becomes easier.”
And yet, messages we received as children about money and the pressures of living in a fast-paced, consumption-oriented society still take their toll. Moments of stress around money management—how much we can feasibly spend, how much we ought to save—are understandable, but Megan says there are ways to meet the challenges that financial stress can cause. Here are her recommendations.
- Acknowledge the good. Instead of focusing on what you’re not doing well enough, focus on what you are doing well. Compliment yourself for paying off your debt one week instead of buying a pair of shoes you didn’t really need.
- Count your blessings. Look around and be appreciative of all you have. Notice the abundance in your life rather than the limitations. Megan quotes positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar: “When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.”
- Start somewhere. Managing money is a practice, just like yoga. “Consider your values and your ideal self, and decide on one aspect of money management that’s congruent with your values,” Megan suggests. “It might be committing to paying off a certain credit card, saving a certain amount of each paycheck, or contributing to a retirement account on a regular basis. The biggest mistake is that we think small actions don’t matter. They do. So commit and start somewhere.”
- Be rich in time. “Time affluence is a greater predictor of happiness than money affluence,” Megan says. In the end, the happiness derived from spending money on things is short-lived and pales in comparison to the happiness we derive from having time to spend with the people we love.
Originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health