Although I’ve practised yoga for many years, and have even spent three years training to be a yoga teacher, I still have an on-off relationship with it.
I turn to it when I’m in the most need of help, whether that’s to help me feel healthier and stronger during my first years working or calming the anxieties of being pregnant with my first child. Since having my two children I’ve de-prioritised my practice and missed out on all of its benefits.
As I hurtle towards forty, realising I may have started my FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) journey about 20 years too late, I’m turning once again to yoga. It’s been helping me in so many ways that I’m kicking myself for not making it a non-negotiable part of my day. For the last two weeks I’ve been practising every day for 30 minutes and I’ve realised that it’s going to be a wonderful tool in my FIRE journey.
Here are some of the reasons I feel this way. I hope it inspires both those new to yoga, and those who have been on a long yoga holiday, to pick it up again.
Yoga can be a free, or very cheap, way to exercise.
If you are starting out, you can take free classes on You Tube. You can also learn simple, short, repeatable sequences that will give you a complete body workout, like sun salutations. For people who are really passionate about optimising their time, saving money and being more self-sufficient (like the FIRE community) it’s a perfect exercise, either by itself or combined with running.
However, it is also possible to hurt yourself badly when practising yoga. This can happen in a in-person class, or when you are practising alone at home. A good teacher will keep you safe by making sure you move at the right pace and taking any injuries into account. If you are new to yoga, money spent with a good teacher is a great investment. If you do start on your own, then it’s even more important to choose an approach that is very gentle and accessible. Move carefully, focus on your breath and come straight out of a position if there is any discomfort at all.
A dynamic style of yoga, like ashtanga, may not be a good one to start without close supervision. Look for “beginner’s yoga” or “yin yoga”, which is a very relaxing style, would be sensible while you get to know your body.
I’d recommend building up a “toolkit” of exercises you can safely do alone. For example, if you can get a teacher or qualified friend to teach you how to do sun salutations properly, that sequence in itself is a whole body workout. If you only have 5 minutes, you can do three. If you have longer you can do more.
Practising yoga trains you to be more mindful.
It’s so easy – while on a FIRE journey – to be very pre-occupied with the future and distracted by thoughts of how to get there quicker. Yoga brings you back to the present moment: your breath, how your body feels…It takes you away from your mind, numbers, and puts you back in your body, the life you are living now.
A common regret of people who have reached financial independence is that they wished they had moved at a slower pace and enjoyed the journey more. Well, a practise like yoga is a way of doing that. The more time you spend in a mindful state while doing yoga, the easier it is to bring that off the mat.
When I’m being more mindful, I get so much more out of experiences. A walk on the beach with my family when I’m in the moment or a coffee break is a very different experience to the same activity when my head is elsewhere. And if you get more out of an experience you are more likely to make sure your days are full of these moments that make it all worth it – along the way. Also, if you are really appreciating what you are doing, simpler (and less expensive) things provide more pleasure, which helps when you are trying to maximise your savings.
Yoga exercise also prepares the body well for meditation, which is a great way of improving productivity and calming anxiety.
Yoga is restorative, in a very efficient way.
A short calming yoga practise, if it includes a meditation, can be more restorative than a much longer period of sleep. For people who are hustling like crazy to maximise the income producing potential of their free time, a yoga practise can compensate for some of the sleep deprivation that can come with this.
It’s all about balance.
Balance is an essential principle in yoga, whether that’s through balancing postures or combining opposite types of movement. Calm, steading breathing is the key to balancing and opposite movements feel good.
You can also, with a yoga sequence, counteract what you are doing off the mat. If you’ve been running around frantically all day, you can focus on very slow, calming postures. If you’ve been rigidly cooped up in a sitting position at your desk, you can stretch out the muscles that have been contracting for prolonged periods.
Sometimes people are very focussed on FIRE because they are not happy in their current life. I know there’s an element of that for me. If that’s the case, yoga can help too. Feeling better in the moment may make FIRE feel less urgent, or at least soften the path. When I’ve spent some time doing yoga, I feel calmer and more grounded. This means I’m less likely to over-react to situations or make rash decisions that aren’t helpful in the longer term. This calmer, more grounded attitude is so helpful when setting a direction for your life and staying the course.
Of course, yoga is not the only hobby that can bring wellbeing benefits, support a FIRE journey and just bring general pleasure. You could write a similar blog post about running, dancing, meditation, gardening, crafts, the list goes on. Although I also enjoy all of those things, yoga is the main tool I come back to over and over again, and the benefits are even greater when it’s part of a daily routine. By doing yoga every day, I feel I’m regularly coming back to a better version of myself. I also feel satisfaction from doing something day in, day out. Some discipline and success in one area spills out onto other areas.
If you are new to yoga, then I urge you to try it. You don’t need to “be good at it”. It’s there to help you, bring you benefits, fit into your life. If you’re doing yoga that feels inaccessible or uncomfortable then find another teacher or style of yoga. If you listen to your body and accept where you are right now, a supportive yoga practise could become your secret weapon in your financial independence journey.
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