My first yoga teacher used to tell the class that if you practice your yoga regularly, you will see changes in your life. Regular practice included an array of postures, some of which were to strengthen our core to help us in every pose thereafter, while other poses were to twist our spleens and detox our bodies. I was intrigued. Most days I found myself twisted into a position that was only halfway where an ancient yogi decided was humanly possible, only to learn that this particular pose was in preparation for a future pose. That’s right; not only could I not even complete half of this preparation pose, but when I do finally manage to twist fully into the posture—we’re talking years—then I will be allowed to start from scratch on the actual pose.
I often spent her classes thinking about my spleen and kidneys being wrung out like a washcloth, and wondering if the silence during meditation meant that others were reaching the inner recesses of their minds…or thinking about their grocery lists. But mostly I spent class thinking about these ‘changes’ I was supposed to see. With such names as Spine Twisting pose and Wind Removing pose, I could only imagine the benefits were going to be physical in nature. One day I finally got up the nerve to ask our yoga instructor what changes I would be seeing; after all, what was the point without tangible results? Smiling, she dismissed my need for quick results, and told me that the changes would be subtle, but noticeable.
That was seven years ago. And while I have certainly felt the subtle nuances of years of yoga workouts in my own life—such as the ability to breathe through stress during my day and bring my pulse back to resting pace, or that sweet moment each day when I am now able to live in the present—during my free Bikram Yoga class at 8:00 a.m. on this Saturday morning, I realize that I am still suffering through postures that are merely preparation for future poses. As the heat rises—passing 98 degrees, now 100 degrees, and resting at a sultry 105 degrees—my body melts into some poses and protests against others. As I flow from Downward Dog into Plank, and then shimmy my right knee up to my left elbow and sit down on it for Pigeon Pose (which is prep for One Legged King Pigeon Pose), it dawns on me that these physical poses do have a real implication on something tangible in life: finances.
I have a friend who, without a tangible goal immediately in front of him, will blow all of his money. He will work for years and spend the money, think that he is doing well because he is paying the minimum on his private student loans (his only debt—though they are quite hefty at over $50,000), and fail to put anything away for the future. Guess what? Every time an opportunity arises, he is not financially prepared to take advantage of it. He met the girl of his dreams and proposed to her, but after two years she realized that he still did not have enough saved for a wedding or to move out of his grandmother’s home, so she gave him back his ring and said that she needs a man who can financially provide for her. He was offered a fantastic job in his line of work in another state, but sadly did not have enough savings to make the move, such as the transportation and rent deposits (neither did his family). All of these situations have led him to brand himself as unlucky. But this is not luck at all. It may seem to him that for a $400 a week check, taking $50 of that and putting it in savings is ludicrous. But what he has failed to understand—thus continuing to find himself in this same pattern—is the act of putting away $50 a week into a savings account is preparation for something in the future. It will strengthen his core, thus giving him the ability to jump on an opportunity, and make luck happen.
When I think about his story, I think about how different my own could have been had I not had money set aside for when opportunity struck. During college I knew that I was going to Japan and had saved for this specific goal, but an opportunity arose for me to spend a semester in London as a Hansard Scholar leading up to my planned semester in Japan. The head of my department gave me a $2,500 grant to do so, and because I had the rest of the money needed sitting in the bank, I was able to take advantage of the grant and squeeze in this amazing three months where I interned in Parliament for the Welsh Plaid Cymru party and studied at the London School of Economics. After being laid off from my job in Maryland, I was offered a great market research/marketing position at a firm in Florida, and because I had saved up money during my first job, I took the opportunity and lived in Palm Beach Gardens for two years (an amazing place). When the stock market crashed, a colleague of mine researched a stock and found it to be severely undervalued. Because it was a commodity, we knew that it would be a great deal. I had some money sitting in the bank, so I was able to take advantage of this opportunity and earn (so far) a 54% return on my investment. All of these opportunities could have gone by the wayside if I had not consistently devoted a portion of my paychecks to a savings account, even though at the time that I was contributing to my savings, I did not know any of these chances were going to come to fruition.
One last aside that may help those of you who are like my friend and find it difficult to set money aside and put your financial house in order for when a mysterious possibility might occur on some future date. In yoga, the focal point during each pose is immensely important. Through the eyes we are suppose to gaze ahead of where we are to where we would like to be, such that our gaze will carry or stretch the rest of our bodies towards the target. It does not matter where your eyes settle on—an out of place carpet fiber on the floor, the edge of your mat, or the calf muscle of the person in front of you—it just matters that your eyes are focused on something that is unreachable to you right now while you are suffering through this pose. Make sure you find a focal point to stretch you towards some future point as well, even if you do not know what that future point will be; if your gaze is forward, or off into the horizon, then you are headed anywhere but behind you or in stagnation, and only good things can come from that.
Who knows what opportunities will present themselves to you in the next few years, but don’t you want to be prepared to take advantage of them for when they do?