There was a time when I treated my financial situation a lot like my physical health – I never thought about it. But as I got older, the aches and pains from my desk job reached a point that I needed to take action. I found yoga, and it transformed my life.
Beyond the physical benefits, yoga also gave me a new way to align my values with my life — not just my health but also my money, my work, and other life choices. Today, I run a nonprofit fintech, with deep connections to our users’ financial well-being. And I’ve come to appreciate just how much that the lessons we learn on the mat can, and should, apply to the rest of our lives.
Lesson 1: Get aligned with your core values.
Several years back, I went to see a financial coach. She asked about my goals, and I said that my most important goal was to buy a house.
That’s quite a stretch here in the Bay Area, so she asked: “Are you willing to leave San Francisco?” I said no.
“Well,” she asked, “are you willing to rent out part of this house to roommates — to have them cover part of the cost?” And I said no.
Then she asked, “Well, would you be willing to team up with people, to make buying a house more affordable?” And I said, well, no — that didn’t sound like a good idea either.
So she looked at me and said: “I am not really hearing you say that owning a house is your biggest goal.”
The problem, of course, was that my alignment was off. My coach taught me that to be successful at money management, you had to make sure your choices were aligned with your own values. (Spoiler: Mine weren’t.)
In yoga, alignment is incredibly important. It stops you from hurting yourself and also allows the full expression of a pose — specifically, your pose, and not the pose of the person one mat over.
And the same is true when it comes to money. Your money should align with your values. When I went to financial coaching, I was single and had no kids, and I ultimately decided that a mortgage wasn’t for me. Instead, I moved to a rent-controlled apartment in a neighborhood I loved, and invested my money in the things that brought me joy. I still put money away in savings, but I also traveled and indulged my other passion: riding horses. Ten years later, I am married, I have a child … and I also have a mortgage. Life changes, but clarity around your values will always help you make smart investments.
Lesson 2: Flexibility comes from a strong foundation.
Truth is, I’m not actually very “good” at yoga. I am not particularly flexible, I’m a bit lazy, and most of the advanced poses will always elude me. I will likely never sit comfortably in full lotus. So instead I focus on building a strong foundation, steadily working to master the basic poses.
Similarly, in my financial life I’ve realized that the strongest financial foundation comes in the form of an emergency fund. Setting aside a cushion has allowed me to make it through life’s ups and downs and stay on track toward my long term goals. Financial strength gives us choices — and choices give us freedom to live life on our own terms.
Lesson 3: It’s called practice, not perfect.
There was a time in my life when I practiced three days a week, went on retreats to exotic locations, and even completed a six-month immersion. These days, I am a CEO with a toddler and I’m lucky if I can complete 20 minutes of an online class with a two-year old climbing on my back.
And… That’s fine. It’s still yoga.
Now think about your money habits. Saving money is a journey — and you tend to hit a lot of speed bumps along the way. In one recent study from SaverLife, the nonprofit I run, we found that while clients had a steady pattern of savings, progress wasn’t linear: Even as our users built up assets,they still wound up making one withdrawal for every two deposits. This is success — by establishing a lifelong habit of setting money aside, our Savers are financially stronger, even when they have to dip into those savings.
You don’t want to get discouraged every time you face a setback. It’s important to know that just turning up — just setting that intention — is what’s going to keep your practice intact.