money & debt: tackling taboos through a yoga lens

money & debt: tackling taboos through a yoga lens

Something happened last month: I put my credit card over the limit. To be honest, I’m often hovering just below the limit. And then my bank will invite me to increase my limit, which I do and that buys me some short-lived peace of mind. Then the credit floats up and I’m back to hovering around the limit. I make regular payments, often paying much more than the monthly minimum, but I can’t make a dent in the debt.

Something else happened last month: I decided I’m tired of living this way. I’m tired of slowly sinking in a sea of debt. I’m tired of the weight dragging me down. I’m tired of feeling like I’m never getting ahead in the world.

Then I did something we’re not supposed to do with debt and money: I started talking about it. On my personal Facebook page first, where I called out for good financial tracking apps as a starting place for tackling my debt. I received dozens recommendations and suggestions, and people who didn’t know each other were sharing resources and following the conversation. Even though talking about money is supposed to be taboo, people seemed to want to talk about it.

And finally, just for fun, I posted something on the IAYB Facebook page. Because what I noticed as I started reflecting on my dysfunctional relationship with money is that yoga culture has an even more complicated relationship with money (okay, I noticed this a while ago, but was too busy living in denial to comment on it).

While yoga has had no trouble becoming a capitalist pursuit, it’s still shrouded by a spiritual gloss that obscures its inner financial workings. It’s a perfect scenario, actually – some entities (namely clothing companies and corporate yoga studios) are able to make a lot of money while teachers struggle and the target market (i.e., those who can afford the practice) has affluence and leisure time.

a yoga-informed framework for working with money

The Facebook post received hundreds of reactions and comments. People shared stories about personal financial struggles, the challenges of making a living as a yoga teacher, and choices to return to the world of “regular” work.

It became clear that this is a conversation that isn’t happening. And when it does happen, it’s framed in a “business of yoga” or “how to market your yoga teaching” way. In both of these approaches, I haven’t encountered a lot of honest or healing conversations about the role of money in our lives, or how we apply a yoga-informed framework to our relationship with money.

What I’m interested in is those who are committed to the practice and somehow trying to make meaning and some sort of living in the world. I’m interested in knowing how many of us are in debt because of teacher trainings, workshops and yoga retreats. How many of us are blindly hoping that we can repay our debts through “manifesting abundance”?

I can speak for myself when I see how I’ve gained so much self-awareness and transformation through yoga, but I haven’t been able to apply this to my personal finances. Yoga has helped me heal from depression, overcome personal failures, develop a healthy body image, experience deeper and more fulfilling relationships, and trust in a higher power/divine force – yet I have $15,000 credit card debt, no savings, and practically no personal worth.

I’m not trying to blame yoga for this, but it’s a culture that has enabled me to hide from my financial fears while pursuing more esoteric and touchy-feely personal developments (of course, mainstream consumer culture supports this as well!).

What I’m curious about now is how classical yogic practices, especially the yamas and niyamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, can support introspection and self-awareness around money. Sincere practice has taught me to be content with what I already have (whether that’s my body or my worldview) and not need to look elsewhere for validation or solutions. Can I finally learn to do this in the material world?

what’s going to happen here

So my plan is to dedicate 2018 to facing my financial fears and paying down my debt, and I’ll be writing about this journey on the IAYB space. These are the reasons why:  

Accountability  There’s nothing like having an audience to help me stick to a goal. I hope IAYB readers will follow along, cheer from the sidelines, and offer support. At the very least, I’ll be able to share what I’m learning.

Conversation  I would love to see this project encourage dialogue within a culture and a sub-culture that doesn’t talk about money. It’s also my wish that an open dialogue will support yoga teachers, studio owners, and practitioners in sharing their own stories, best practices, and new models. (I touched on some of this in my recent interview with Angela Jamison and her “sociological experiment,” the Ashtanga yoga community she leads which is based on transparency, trust, and value – she spoke about her teaching practice being based on “a deep sense that I have debts that I cannot repay” and has open conversations with students about their monthly contributions to practice in community.)

Subversion  My big dream is that this project will challenge a multi-million dollar industry where many workers (yes, yoga instructors are workers, even if you’re self-employed; yoga studio staff are definitely workers, even if you’re doing an “energy exchange”) can’t earn a living wage. They’re teaching a practice that many working/lower class people can’t even access. I hope to continue exposing imbalances and injustices within yoga culture.

it’s all money, baby

This will be an emerging conversation. Get ready for personal reflections, interviews, profiles, and guest posts. I have a dream list of people I want to talk to, and I expect that this list will grow as I start digging deeper. I’m also going to be revealing my own struggles with cutting back and living a more austere life (here’s where the yamas and niyamas will come in).

But really, I’m doing this because I haven’t found the approach that I’m looking for in the financial blogs I’ve read, the podcasts I’ve listened to, and the “thought leaders” I’ve started following. I haven’t found a perfect blend of practical information, collective awareness, and sass. I want to know who’s talking about upping their money game as an act of resistance. Who’s talking about paying off debt as a process of spiritual and cultural transformation and subversion?

While my journey to heal my relationship with money is individual and highly personal, I hope that it will illuminate how living in this precarious debt-state sucks for so many people, and expose the trauma of late capitalism and its impact on our psyches and bank accounts.  

So this is what’s going down. Follow along, because it’s going to be a wild ride.

What are your experiences with yoga practice, making a living, debt, and money? Where are you at right now? What have you learned? What do you want to know?

Featured image by Kristopher Roller via Unsplash.

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  1. Hello fellow yogi. I recently walked away from running my own Events company, to pursue a career as a yoga teacher. I’ve been in Events for over 10 years and it’s been tough to walk away completely to allow myself the time needed to develop my practice and purse my yoga journey, whilst paying for training, kit, setting up classes etc, all with very little income coming in. At the age of 33 and without the support of parents, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have friends and family step in who believe in the new life choices… offering my a place to stay and generally telling me how much they believe in what I’m doing…..however, it has left me in debt and constantly worrying about paying bills, paying for further training, and generally living a life that’s not hand to mouth.

    I read a brilliant book recently by Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness that has a quote ‘the risk is high, the reward is greater’ – thing is yes I may daily embrace my yamas, niyamas, practice and have a grateful heart, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy or at times incredibly tough. To the point where I often feel terrified I’ve made a huge mistake. Don’t get me wrong. This is what I am meant to be doing. It’s where my passion lies and I know that I’d rather have less and live more, and this is my path. Having lost a lot of people close to me this year, I know and have experienced how being a yoga teacher has literally turned my world upside down and all for the better. I would however love to know how others survive and make it work in a purely practical way….

    Look forward to hearing others opinions


  2. I am happy to see that you are tackling this!

    My story: Now, after my decision to quit teaching yoga, i see that my yoga-spending over the past 15 years is the main reason why i haven’t got any savings left. All the books,the clothes, the props, the courses, trainings, healthy foodstuff – it meant that i never got on top of things financially. I mean, it felt like i did, i guess, because i did «all that stuff», but when it came to other things, like buying practical new shoes, the funds have always been short. But i realize that i kind of felt a pressure to be a part of things, thus had to prioritize participating in something that cost money. I know that young people feel this way about parties etc, spending money on alcohol and fancy dresses. In a way, yoga did the same to/for me.

    I have been taking my high school degree, bachelors degree and masters degree all while i have been learning yoga, teaching yoga, running a yoga studio and teaching other people how to teach yoga. Almost 30, and i have barely worked with anything not related to yoga. My family never had much money and the first of my savings, from my confirmation, i spent on yoga. When i bought stocks for the yoga studio ownership, really, it was my dads money. I realize now that i haven’t really had much savings in my bank since my confirmation/sweet 14 . That’s 15 years ago. (Yeah i started yoga at 12, taught classes by the age of 16).

    Now that i’m unemployed, i can’t help but look back and think man, that finacial part sucks balls. All the hours i have worked (alot of them underpayed or for free… what if i had had a regular job instead?), and i feel like my accounts are in minus rather than plus. No wait, they ARE in minus, it’s not a feeling. The feeling is something close to shame/disgust/sadness/apathy/anger…I never took up any credit cards though, and think i will stay away, as that seems like another pile of shit.

    Working partly as self-employed and entrepeneur also means that i haven’t built up my pensions. I didn’t think about that at all while in my pre-and early twenties doing this. Now, fast approaching 30, that sucks too.

    At ytt i have been the one to tell my students «don’t quit your dayjob, because the money is not in this line of work. Entrepeneurship in the self-development industry might seem like a good idea, but if you don’t have alot of savings/a rich partner/other investors, this is not something that pays your bills and your extracurricular activities unless you work your ass off, and then you burn out and will have no use of the money other than going to a psychologist.» I haven’t been able to lie about that. But no, there has been no room for talking about the capitalist wound or the trauma around money. And then it gets mixed up with alot of other things, like the idea of female entrepeneurship, and my «honesty» about money and yoga have kind of been met by some with : « don’t you want other women to be successful? To be strong and independent women?» and then i’m like «entrepeneurship doesn’t equal feminism».

    And then i’m like: making money off of yoga in the way that we do in the west is not only capitalist bullshit, it is also colonialist bullshit, and i don’t think we are entiteled to it. So then i ended up giving away my only income (teaching yoga as a senior teacher, meaning that i had worked my way up the income ladder somewhat) in the in-between-period between my masters end and what will hopefully be a regular dayjob.

    The cultural appropriation aspect of modern yoga, in addition to the shitty capitalist marketing milieu that holds western yoga like a clammy hand strongly keeps me from crawling back to teaching, even though it would mean that i could pay for my own bread. I just can’t .

    And then, when i think that i should look into mindfulness meditation or somatic awareness-movement to get into my body and work through the trauma of unemployment and being broke (because all the online doctors say that meditation and yoga is good for you these days), there is the yoga capitalist marketing shining back at me wherever i look. It has become clear that i cannot fix my issues with the things that causes them.

    Still navigating these waters, so yep, interested in seeing what you come up with.