THE BLOG
02/19/2013 05:29 pm ET Updated Apr 21, 2013

Healthy, Not So Wealthy and Wise

Welcome to life on the edge.

As our economic health takes a nosedive, I can't help but notice how closely this affects our physical health. The folks in our gym are stressed out and low energy. They are distracted and out of sorts. Everyone I know is worried about money. Even the richest people I know have different, but as many, stressful worries about money as people like me, who have 24 cents.

Financial stress can lead to health issues. And it can aggravate some lifestyle issues, like drinking too much and not sleeping enough or as well.

Earlier this week I started preaching to my students about the value of stress management workouts such as yoga and meditation where students can find some inner peace and leave their problems momentarily behind by taking a yoga class or by taking a quiet half-hour to meditate. Your best workout friend or foe is you. You are the only one who has the power to manage your own life and your own bank account, not to mention your own health.

Financial stress can unravel the best workout regime since stress zaps your sleep and therefore your energy. And exercise will always make you feel better (unless you are injured or overtraining), even about your bank account.

Financial insecurity can be one of the biggest areas of stress in our lives.

You need to learn how to pay yourself first. You do that by working your cardiovascular system and by calming your thoughts with mindful exercises like yoga or tai chi. Also uncover the key to investing in mutual fun! By that I mean, keep your sense of humor, especially with your family and friends. Opt to laugh instead of complain. Shrug your shoulders and let it go.

Urgent vs. important: Some things are urgent but not important, like returning email responses. Other things are important but not urgent, like connecting with your family every day or walking your dog.

Urgent refers to things that have to be done right now but don't matter deeply to you. Important refers to things that matter deeply to you but aren't pressing to be done this red-hot minute. We often spend our day checking off urgent matters while the important stuff gets shuffled off to the side.

Through yoga, you start to become more tuned in to the important stuff and less worried about the urgent stuff. Try only checking your email less. Notice how quickly these "urgent" tasks downgrade to not so urgent after all. You'll also notice more time for the important stuff like walking your dog or sitting with your kids at the kitchen table for an end-of-the-schoolday chat.

Do you want to be less stressed about finances? Take 20 minutes to meditate. Do yoga. Yoga helps keep us from hanging out in the bad neighborhood of our minds and brings us into the home base of our heart. It teaches us that by becoming aware of our next breath, we create a tiny bit of space, a bit of wiggle room, where we can notice that we have a choice. We can obsess -- or we can notice that we are obsessing.

By noticing that we are obsessing, we have a choice. We can either continue to stress or we can choose not to. By creating this bit of mental space, we create choices. It's the difference between obsessing and knowing we are obsessing. When we are obsessing, we are locked in and cannot change it. When we know we are obsessing, we have a choice to continue or to stop obsessing. When we have choices in our lives, we have the freedom to determine how we want to live.

This reduces our stress levels and anxiety. And then when we have our emotions under control, we are able to make smarter decisions about our money situation, as well as better decisions about other parts of our lives.

Once I get emotional on any subject, I make mistakes. I've learned this from experience. As I've gone from my yoga class or my 20-minute meditation to business meetings, I can't help but notice that conventional business wisdom doesn't work for most people in their day-to-day lives.

Our cultural norms tell us that it's money that matters -- that the more we have, the happier we will be. We are told to make a budget, to spend less, to save even more and to find the highest-paying career. We set financial goals, create budgets, put the right 401(K) in place, save for our kids' college, get life insurance, and invest smartly. These actions are important, but they aren't enough to bring happiness because they look at money from the outside inward, instead of
from the inside outward.

There is an unspoken conclusion that something's got to give in order to be happier inside. Instead of telling us we have to change our external actions, yoga and meditation help us comprehend what's going on in our head. It helps us gain a better perception of who we really are and why we behave the way we do when we are under strain.

Research has shown that yoga can reduce physical discomfort like back pain, joint pain or arthritis, insomnia, side effects of cancer treatment and immunodeficient diseases like chronic fatigue or fibromylagia. This same sentience can benefit us wonderfully when we utilize it in our relationship to our financial situation.

Here are some yoga-related tips to help get you out of energetic debt.

First, cultivate equanimity. Are you a hoarder? A spender? A giver? Think about how you deal with your money. Then think about balance in your life and how you could be more even-keeled when you balance your checkbook. Balancing the different ways we deal with money is similar to the balance it takes between our strength and flexibility in a yoga pose. If you are too strong and always try to muscle your way into poses, you won't have the flexibility to receive the pose. And in real life if you always muscle your way through your work week and never take a vacation, life will pass you by.

Yoga teaches you to become aware of various parts of the body that we previously ignored -- perhaps an awareness of some knots of tension we're holding in our shoulders or hips. With our wallet habits, when we examine the areas we've been avoiding, like our tight financial spots, we can see the shadow motives for our spending, investing or giving. The we have to opportunity to change our bad habits into behaviors that serve our best interests.

Next, breathe. Do six rounds of six-second breathing. (That's six seconds inhaling and six seconds exhaling.) Each time you exhale, let your shoulders completely relax. Now how do you feel? It's practically impossible to be anxious about your finances when you are practicing deep, slow breathing. Plus, it gives your mind something to focus on.

If you use yoga to create mental space and therefore relief during feelings of financial strain, you can make better decisions, like bailing on a financial deal that is really secure.

Lastly, focus. In yoga, we develop a relationship with the present moment, what is happening right now. Concentrate on one thing at a time. Give whatever you are doing your full attention and resist the urge to follow every panicky thought that flits through your mind about the mortgage payment.

What does yoga have to offer you?

When I was a young kid, I remember being on family road trip and I never wanted to fall asleep while my dad drove along, because it felt vaguely unsafe to me, as if my dad needed me awake to stay on the road. But when I did drift off, it always felt as if the car were pulling me along through the black road ahead and I felt safe and relaxed, as if my unconscious mind knew it didn't have to stay alert in order for me to be safe. And that's what yoga can do for you, if you let it. Lean back, close your eyes and glide forward through the darkness, trusting that you will arrive safe and refreshed.

Through yoga and living in the moment your life will be enhanced in ways that money cannot buy.

For more by Penny Love Hoff, click here.

For more on yoga, click here.

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