Yoga, Meet Finance: Applying Ancient Teaching to a Modern World
October 4, 2012 • comment(s)
Christa Avampato is a product developer in the mobile space, yoga teacher, and freelance writer. She is the Founder of Compass Yoga, a nonprofit that provides wellness programming to non-traditional populations with mental and physical health challenges. Find her online at http://christainnewyork.com and @ChristaNYC. Christa makes her home in New York City where she lives with her rescue dog, Phineas. To learn more about Compass Yoga, please visit http://compassyoga.com.
The meshing of yoga and personal finance is not the most apparent pairing of subjects. For a long time I lived a life of true dichotomy – one half of my heart belonging to the practice and contemplation of a 6,000 year old tradition and the other half of my heart passionate about business, financial independence, and the economy. I’m inspired equally by new technology and ancient wisdom. In one hand I wield an MBA degree and in the other I just as proudly carry my yoga teacher-training certificate.
For a long time, I struggled with how to reconcile my seemingly disparate interests. I wrestled through this conundrum with Brian, my gifted and insightful therapist and coach. He didn’t see any problem at all. “That sounds like balance to me.” And isn’t that balance the goal in both yoga and in personal finance? In that moment, I saw, and more importantly felt, balance.
Many of my beautiful yogi compadres struggle with how to make ends meet, particularly in my home city of New York. They aren’t sure how to have the life they dream of and one that helps them to earn a comfortable living. They aren’t asking for mansions and yachts and fame. They’re just asking to not live paycheck to paycheck, to have the flexibility to pursue their passions without panicking about the balance that is (or isn’t) in their savings account. Some are starting to recognize that the energy that is gained from having financial freedom can facilitate a lot of their dreams, but they don’t know how to bring that picture to life.
I understand these struggles at a very deep level because I live them. I grew up in a family of very few financial resources and money actually scared me. I struggled personally and financially for many, many years; it was a painful and difficult. I didn’t understand how money worked or what made the economy go round. I wanted to understand how to use our financial system to my own advantage rather than feeling like a victim of its cycles.
To reach this goal, I selected Economics as one of my majors while I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. At a very basic level, I began to see money as energy. It flows, changes form, and can be altered by applying pressures in certain ways. I had part of my career puzzle solved.
While gathering up all of this knowledge on finance and starting my career, I was personally wracked by anxiety and stress. I had struggled with insomnia for most of my life to that point, and it got worse as I entered my early 20’s. While managing a Broadway show, a co-worker of mine really pushed me to try yoga. He was studying to be an Iyengar instructor and offered to take me under his wing. I politely declined. I had no time to breathe, much less practice yoga. He offered to work around my schedule. I declined again, citing money as an issue. I didn’t have the funds to pay him, as I was too busy trying to pay down my student loans on a too-small salary. He offered to give me the lessons for free and refused to take no for an answer until I at least tried it once. The only payment he wanted would be for me to pay forward the practice if I found it helpful. We had a deal.
My co-worker bought me a mat, let me choose the time for the class, and found a quiet space for us in the theatre to practice for an hour. I remember that moment of stepping on my very first yoga mat and something changed. Slowly, my mind began to shift and I found that my internal energy could also be altered with concentration and effort, just like my finances.
Several years after that first yoga class, and many, many hours of practice later, I had an experience on the mat that I would eventually recognize as a moment of personal break-through. While in high school, my father passed away in a tragic manner and I dealt with the fallout of that situation for over a decade, never able to reconcile my difficult and strained relationship with him. What’s worse, I never had any experience of my father being nearby after his passing. I just had the empty, hollow feeling that he was gone and that any kind of mutual understand would never be possible. One evening in my regular yoga class at my local gym, I relaxed into savasana as I had hundreds of times before. However, this would be no ordinary savasana.
A few minutes in, I began to have this very warm feeling on my right-hand side. After a decade of never feeling my father nearby, he was suddenly there with me and his message was not one of him being okay. It was for me. He was there to tell me that I no longer had to beat myself up for our strained relationship. I could release all of my grief and guilt. I could be free if I chose to be.
I began to cry great, silent streams of tears. I was no longer conscious of being in a gym on a mat. Truthfully, I have no sense of how long I was there. Every concept I had of space, time, and reality had been blurred. When I finally opened my eyes, the lights were out and my teacher had left me alone to work through the moment, however long that took. From that experience I realize that now I had something to teach others about yoga. Another piece of my career puzzle fell into place.
My yoga knowledge came together with my financial knowledge once I entered business school at the Darden School at the University of Virginia. I had taken a very basic yoga teacher training class in 2004 and thought I could use the techniques I learned in that training to help the school. Many of my classmates were stressed from the workload of our curriculum and though the workload was heavy for me, my yoga practice helped me to keep myself together. Offering a free weekly yoga class for my classmates would be a wonderful way to pay forward the kindness of my co-worker who first got me interested in yoga.
That yoga class at Darden would eventually become another milestone in my yoga and personal finance journey. For the first time I began to think of myself as a teacher with something to offer that people really needed and truly appreciated on a variety of levels, both practical and personal. Many of my classmates were brand new to yoga when they walked into my class. Today, many of them maintain a regular practice as a way to manage stress and they credit our class at Darden for showing them the profound effect of this practice.
Our path – in our careers and in our personal lives - bobs and weaves in ways we don’t always understand in the present moment, though when we look back along the road we’ve traveled the pieces fit together more perfectly than we ever could have intentionally planned. That has certainly been true for me, and in this reflection I found something even more intriguing and ultimately very freeing: we are not on a path, but many paths and they are not linear, but are great concentric circles and magnificent spirals. Their common center is the single heart we put into each of these journeys, and that commonality is enough to bind them all together into one grand work of art – a life with purpose.