Ayurveda & Poverty Mentality

According to the Ayurvedic text, Ashtanga Hridayam, the purpose of life is four-fold:

  • Dharma – following the path of righteousness
  • Artha – earning money in a legal way
  • Kama – fulfilling our desire
  • Moksha – achieving Salvation

Ayurveda not only states that an honest living is necessary, but that it’s a part of the purpose of our lives. Some might read this philosophy as fairly common sense, but to me – it was a revelation. I was raised by a fundamentalist Minister and by the daughter and wife of a fundamentalist Minister. Spiritual purpose was the family business. Sure, we wanted to make a living, and I remember my family enjoying some great middle class vacations in the boom times as much as I remember the “milk toast” dinners during the lean times. But for the most part, my family focused on the Moksha and Dharma side of life.

The concept of a spiritual purpose is so prevalent in my psyche that it has permeated all my professions, and even compromised my dealings with money. After listening to tense kitchen conversations about bills throughout my childhood, I falsely concluded that choosing a spiritual profession could lead to money troubles.

This is simply not the case.

When I started teaching yoga, I dove in with all my familial spiritual enthusiasm. It was a job I adored. I’d leave those early classes thinking, “I can’t believe they pay me to do this!” Unfortunately, this is the same enthusiasm that can be exploited, or worse – can lead to a burnout that makes it impossible for the altruistically-minded artist, healer, caregiver, or teacher to be of use to anyone (least of all themselves).

As I negotiated my good fortune at being able to teach, it became clear that financial stability and self-care were necessary should I wish to continue on this path. I was haunted by memories of my Depression-era grandparents working hard in the garden, our family’s fear of bank account shortage, those dinners made of only milk and egg and toast at the paycheck’s end.

But as is always the way with a meditative path, my yoga practice unearthed the truth. Sure, I had inherited some great attributes. I had also inherited poverty mentality.

Poverty mentality is a mindset of scarcity. You scramble to save up; you rarely take a day off. When the day off comes, you’re exhausted and find your personal life in a shambles – or paltry – or nonexistent. At best, you have a phenomenal work ethic. At worst, you don’t enjoy the moment because you’re always preparing for the “lean” day that may or may not come.

Abundance is something else entirely. Abundance means being grateful for what you have, when you have it. It’s giving to others. It’s trusting that more will come and that you have the strength to support yourself. And it’s also asking for and receiving a good living when fulfilling your Dharmic path.

Abundance is a practice, and takes time to become your new mindset. If – like me – you’ve discovered that you have a worldview that might not be serving you, give it time! I see my students and family members evolving every day. Part of living abundantly is acknowledging your personal progress as well.

Here’s a few truths I’ve learned in my transition from a mindset of scarcity to abundance:

  • We’re already rich. We are living in a time and place that is absolutely abundant with opportunity. There are times and places on this earth where people don’t have enough food or a roof over their heads. We are not in one of them.
  • You need very little of what is being sold to you. Take a look at your monthly bills and credit card statements. Are these all necessities? Are you using some funds for your pleasure (another purpose of life), or are you using a pursuit of pleasure to avoid the present? Pleasure is passing and variable.
  • Contentment is free, but must be cultivated through proper thought and discipline. For a quick jolt of contentment, try some time in nature. For me, a swim or a walk in the trees can bring me back to equilibrium.
  • Care for your earnings, and your earnings will care for you. Be sure to always save a little income, and invest when you can. This will give you the security you need to continue giving.
  • Being abundant costs less in the long run. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked away from a group dinner wishing that I wasn’t petty about the check, or walked away from a conversation wishing that I had been more generous in listening and with my compliments. When I am abundant – and still well within my means – I can reserve this mental energy instead of using it to judge or second-guess myself.
  • If you are too busy to volunteer sometimes, you are probably making yourself too busy. Is checking social media absorbing too much time? Do you have a tendency to overbook projects, or to overbook your children in programs? The world needs your skill set and your expertise in service, and service can instantly bring you back to a state of abundance.
  • Ask for what you need, including help. As a woman, I’ve had to learn negotiating skills that protect me from over-giving at work and over-exerting for less income then I may deserve. As a stubborn woman, I’ve had to learn to ask for help!
  • Give from your “froth” and not from your “depth.” This advice comes directly from Nevine Michaan, master teacher of Katona Yoga. To give from my froth, I must first “fill up” with satisfying hobbies and down time, not just fulfilling work.
  • Take time out every day, every week, and every season. “Dharma jobs” often have odd schedules – nurses and doctors can work 14 hour shifts. Yoga teachers can never take a day off. A parent’s work is never done. Be sure to be abundant with time for yourself.
  • And when in doubt, always practice gratefulness. A quick inventory of all you have may reveal that you are already in abundance. If your worry is overwhelming, try one of my favorite mantras:

There is plenty of time
There is plenty of money
There is plenty of space
There is plenty of love.