Shelter from the Storm
The current state of the economy has you feeling adrift, you're not alone. Between rising unemployment and the tumbling stock market, nearly everyone is feeling the effects of the downturn. For many, the troubles hit close to home—my own friends, family, and neighbors are feeling the impact in ways ranging from a growing sense of uneasiness and insecurity to job losses and immediate financial concerns.
When times are tough, I look to my yoga practice for help. So, hoping to glean some practical, affirming advice on how to cope with the tightening economy, I sought out six yoga teachers known for their wisdom and pragmatism and asked them how yoga can keep us strong and flexible during these hard times. The good news is that they all agreed on one thing: In addition to calming and supporting you, your yoga practice might even allow you to see a time of difficulty as an opportunity for positive change. Here is their advice on how yoga can help right now.
Make Space, Then Decisions
Tough economic times can bring up turbulent emotions, which are important to acknowledge before you act on them. "You should not make any major financial decisions in the midst of intense emotions," says Brent Kessel, a longtime yogi and financial planner who co-founded Abacus, a sustainable-investment firm. "A better plan is to try to create some space and centeredness before making decisions."
If you're feeling fearful or unsettled about your finances, the first thing you should do is be present with those feelings, says Kessel, a Yoga Journal contributor and the author of It's Not About the Money. "Many people have a worst-case scenario in the back of their minds that they run away from," he says. "It's healthier to acknowledge those feelings and confront your imagined scenario directly." If you do, you'll realize that even if the worst should happen, you will find a way to prevail. "You would cope; you would bring all your resourcefulness to that situation. You'd make a plan and deal with it," he says.
Kessel advises that if you're concerned you could be laid off, try to have six months of living expenses in liquid assets. Cut most, if not all, discretionary spending so that if you are laid off, you have some breathing room to find the job you want, rather than taking the first one that comes along.
Kessel also suggests that a time of economic crisis is exactly the right time to ask yourself if how you've been living is the way you really want to live—if your life, in pursuit of a certain standard of living, is authentic and true. "Don't miss an opportunity to grow. When life presents you with a doorway, open the door and walk through," Kessel says.
If you're looking to your yoga practice to help soothe your nerves, the poses you do are less important than the energy and spirit you bring to them, says Scott Blossom, a yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner in Berkeley, California. "This is a good time to bring a sense of generosity to your practice and do those poses that most nourish you," he says.
For Blossom, this means bringing a grounding energy to your practice, particularly in standing poses. "Feel the four corners of your feet equally connected to the earth, keeping the center of the feet relaxed," he says. The simple act of standing helps you stay still in the face of fear and not run away. Standing poses like Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and the wide-legged posture called Horse Stance encourage a feeling of connection to the deeper support that is all around us, says Blossom. "This reminds us that there is a larger reality to the world than our egos can comprehend. None of us is alone."
Blossom also suggests practicing poses that balance your tendencies in a crisis. If you tend to freeze in the face of conflict, try an energy-building practice or a series of difficult arm balances to create courage and movement. If stressful situations make it hard for you to slow down, a more calming, restorative practice will help you face what is. "If you can create deep peace, pleasure, and beauty in your practice, you don't need the world to provide it," Blossom says. "You are reminded that you already have what you need to get by."
Sit a Bit
"The media is currently bombarding us with messages of fear," says Carlos Pomeda, a meditation and yoga philosophy teacher in Austin, Texas. "Don't base your state on these messages, but on something deeper and more solid within yourself," he says. One of the best ways to access stability is through meditation, which Pomeda says can result in greater perspective and clarity—assets in the best of circumstances, but particularly so in times of crisis. If you are feeling fearful or negative, Pomeda suggests simply sitting with whatever energy arises. "Don't try to escape. Don't seek out distracting pleasures. Sit with what arises, without allowing your mind to be drawn to the object of your fear or worry," he says. When you do this, he explains, an alchemy happens, and the energy is transformed. "It can turn to joy, peace, or simply disappear," he says.
Pomeda also recommends using this classic visualization technique: "Imagine yourself in an ocean. Though there is a storm above the surface of the water, the ocean below is peaceful and clear. As you begin to dive, you go deeper into yourself, and you are surrounded by an infinite sense of peace." This image, says Pomeda, is an apt metaphor for what goes on in life: Regardless of the storms that surround us, we always have access to a place of calm. "Nothing lasts forever," says Pomeda. "Crises have an end. What meditation gives you in times of trouble is agility and the ability to respond to what is with clarity and calm."
"These times demand that we be efficient with our resources," says Ann Dyer, a yoga and chant instructor in Oakland, California, who specializes in yoga for deep, restorative sleep. Dyer points out that sleep is basic to survival and essential for our mental health, particularly in times of distress. Yoga, Dyer says, is extremely effective at calming the nervous system and helping you get a good night's sleep.
"Any forward bend with your head supported on a block is deeply relaxing," she says, adding that if you can't reach a block, use a chair seat. Such poses might include Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), and a forward-bending Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Dyer also recommends practicing Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) before turning in. The most important thing, she says, is to let go of any effort. "It's not the time to challenge yourself. It's a time to let go." Dyer has some other practical advice:
We may not be able to control the stock market, Dyer says, but we can make sure we are well rested so we can respond to what is with clarity and courage.
Get Good at Giving
"Karma yoga is an attempt to align our actions with our spiritual self," says Swami Ramananda, president of the Integral Yoga Institute of New York. He believes that the yoga of service is especially important to practice in difficult times, when our natural inclination might be to protect our own interests and withdraw from others. But by closing our hearts, we deny ourselves our deepest source of strength, he says. "We cut ourselves off from our connection to the universe," he explains, "which is the most primal form of support—the understanding that we are not alone."
It is in the act of giving, of connecting with others through a shared sense of need, that we grow. "Karma yoga offers us a kind of spaciousness," Ramananda says. "Through giving, our hearts are more open. We see that the universe will catch us, that we have more options than we thought. And from that, our perceived limitations begin to fall away."
Find the cause that most speaks to you, he advises. "All of us have a natural inclination to serve in some way," he says, whether that is giving to animals, to people, or to the environment. Although opening your heart and being of service doesn't necessarily eradicate fear and anxiety, Ramananda says, "It allows those feelings to move through us rather than stay stuck. And we begin to see that fear is part of the human experience." Giving to others, especially when we're feeling needy ourselves, reconnects us to the true source of our own strength—the unchanging spirit within us. "Reaching out can be the most potent means for healing our own hearts," he says.
"Now is a good time to ask, 'How much is enough?'" says Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, a Kundalini Yoga teacher and the director of Golden Bridge Yoga in Los Angeles. "For too long, people have reached for happiness through money. And we've learned that the quest for more material goods has not brought happiness. In fact, it's brought conflict, greed, and war."
The antidote to this greed is aparigraha, the fifth of the ethical standards outlined in the Yoga Sutra. Aparigraha is often translated to mean "nonhoarding." At its root, it is the practice of nonattachment, of letting go of the idea that your happiness depends on what you own. "This is a time of transition," Khalsa says, "a time to ask yourself, 'What is really important? What makes me happy?' Not the instant rushes we get from shopping or titillating our taste buds with a fancy meal, but genuine, deep-down happiness." For Khalsa, this includes a return to the hearth and getting back to basics. "I'm spending more time at home and in nature. I cook more often, preparing simple, live, organic food. I focus more on my family and community. This is an opportunity to live more creatively, from the heart, and discover that simple is not only good, it might even be better."
It also means learning how to take pleasure in something without having to own it. "If you can enjoy beauty for its own sake, you change the way you relate to the world." And with that, she says, comes the power to change your destiny.
Dayna Macy is a writer and musician, and the communications director of Yoga Journal.