A Surprising Key to Financial Success: Getting Present with Your Body

Brent Kessel reflects on the value of getting present in his yoga practice and every aspect of life–even in dealing with finances.

The Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga (affectionately known as “2nd series”) has seven headstands at the end of the practice, before one does backbends and the other finishing postures. This morning, I was about halfway through when I looked at the clock and noticed I only had 45 minutes left before I needed to be getting dressed for work, and I had more than 45 minutes of practice left to finish the series. My usual response in such moments is to rush. “If I truly keep each asana to five quick breaths and don’t get distracted, I can make it.” This attitude revs up my subtle body and creates a stressful outlook that often carries through the rest of my day. Today, I instead thought, “I’ll just skip the seven headstands so I don’t have to rush as much.” That was met with resistance from the part of me that likes to toe the line. If I’m supposed to do a preset sequence of asanas, then by Patanjali, I’m going to do them all!

I revisited this little interior battle two or three more times through the practice, which of course took me completely out of the present experience of whichever asana I was in at the time. And it increased my anxiety.

See also The Yoga of Money: Take Wisdom from the Mat to Your Finances

I did skip the headstands, telling myself that not forcing myself to do every single thing my mind commands would set a good precedent to set for the rest of my workday, which often includes several hundred commands from the hungry ghost who takes up residence in my skull.

When I got to work, I had a message from one of my clients who was convinced that the European economic situation was much worse than anybody thought, and she should sell any investment that could decline in the event of a Greek/Spanish swoon right now. There was panic in her voice.

I called back and asked her to take a deep breath. Then I said, “Tell me what you’re feeling in your body at this very moment.” She said, “I feel shaky. I’m scared of losing everything.” I asked her to just stay in that experience for a full minute, without letting any of the thoughts that were arising about Europe or specific investments of hers to hijack her attention. Then I asked again, “How are you feeling in your body in this moment?”  “I’m still anxious. But I came into this phone call convinced the only way I’d get relief is if I convinced you to let me sell it all. Now I feel a bit more space, and I’d like to talk it through.”

See also A Meditation On Money

So we did just that, and came up with a strategy that was prudent and took her anxiety into account, rather than letting her investment strategy be whipsawed around by the emotion of the day.

As I hung up the phone, I reflected on another client who I’d met with the day before. He had inherited a substantial sum of money, but it was all held in a trust his grandfather had set up. Unfortunately, coming from privilege had caused him to spend more than the income that the trust generated, racking up credit card debt and having to ask his parents to advance him additional sums to pay it off. He came to me to change this pattern. As we talked further, he admitted, “Why should I have to curtail my spending? My parents don’t, my grandparents don’t. And one day I’m going to inherit all this money, so who cares if I spend more a month than the income I receive.” Again, I suggested he get in touch with how his body was feeling in this very moment. He shared the anxiety and stress that his overspending was creating, and the shame and embarrassment that accompanied each time he got a call from the collections department of a credit card or when he had to ask his parents to pay off his debts. Coming back to the present moment and feeling whatever sensations came up allowed him to open to the possibility of living within his current means rather than banking on the future.

It’s ironic for a financial planner to give advice from this perspective, because financial planning largely exists to improve your experience in the future. But by putting our precious attention on the present and feeling our current feelings, we’re able to chart a financial course that isn’t just a reflexive reaction to an emotional state.

See also What’s Your Money Type?

About Our Writer
Brent Kessel is a yogi by dawn and financial planner by day, having dedicated himself to yoga since 1989 and progressed to the fifth series of Ashtanga under Chuck Miller and Pattabhi Jois. As the cofounder of Abacus Wealth Partners, a financial-planning firm specializing in sustainable investing for individual clients in 35 states, Brent has been named multiple times as one of the top financial advisors in the United States by Worth magazine. An advanced practitioner in both finance and yoga, Brent is the country’s foremost authority on bridging these two disparate worlds for personal transformation. He has appeared on the CBS Early Show and ABC News, has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times, and is the coauthor of “The Money & Spirit” workshop. Learn more at abacuswealth.com/yoga.