Shop Like a Yogi—in Four Questions or Less

Posted on June 14th, 2012 by in Yoga

I’m allergic to spiritual texts: One sutra and I’m prone to wild swelling of the nap gland. But as someone who’s practiced yoga for 20 years and is a certified Kripalu Yoga instructor, I’ve managed to cram the 10 yamas and niyamas (yogic do’s and don’ts) into my head. I aim, loosely, to practice them. Mostly, this is not a hardship. For example, ahimsa, or non-violence, means taking a breath when I want to say something cutting and offering compassion instead. Bramacharya, moderation, means eating three, and not 20, double-chocolate organic Newman O’s. Satya, truthfulness, translates as being upfront in my relationships. One that kicks my yogic booty, though, is aparigraha, non-possessiveness. Or as I like to call it: non-shopping.

I’m not sure if this is because I grew up in New York City as a double-Aries only child who wants what she wants NOW, or what, but I do like to shop. I’m not proud of it—you’ll never see me with a “Born to Shop” bumper sticker—but I like pretty stuff. I like looking for it, buying it, and wearing it. Usually, it’s clothing that brings me those temporary bursts of shopper’s delight, but I get a similar rush from buying a notebook, hair tie, or a mug with a spiritual message like, “Trust the Process.” Judging by the compliments I get from my fellow yogis on my sparkly TOMS, Lululemon hoodies, and Sayta lotus earrings, I’m not alone in the paradox of wanting stuff that reminds me to give back and let go.

Partly, I feel OK about shopping. It’s a fun shared activity with girlfriends. Alone after a hard day, it’s soothing to look at colorful things—and it’s a tiny bit faux powerful to be able to slap down $10 for a trinket. But, even though I’m not gorging on Gucci, I’d like to shop less. First, because even Target tank tops add up. Second, and more important, shopping when I’m sad or bored or empty inside usually feels lousy. Sure, there’s that initial brain-boost of shoppers’ delight. But when I put down my credit card or click “add to cart” for something I don’t need, I get all self-judgey for having a weak will, for choosing an easy, non-lasting way to feel good when I know perfectly well that a yoga class or nap or talking to a friend would ultimately serve me much better. And though I’m not at the level of Carrie Bradshaw and her house down-payment’s worth of shoes, I do think about all the better, bigger, more spiritually rewarding and life-perpetuating things I could have done with my Lululemon dollars.

A zillion blogs list questions to ask yourself to curb mindless spending, like, Do I need it? Do I want it? Can I make it? Those are awesome, but I thought I’d create my own shortlist to wiser shopping choices, tailored to the yogic sensibility. So, in the Kripalu Yoga spirit of inquiry:

Before buying anything, stop, take a nice, deep breath, and ask yourself….

1)   How does the idea of buying this feel in my body?

Do you feel lighter and freer? Heavier and tighter? Sweaty? Cold? A sweet, warm flush? When I make an unnecessary purchase I have what I call the “no buy” feeling—a surge of nausea from belly to throat. Every time I ignore it, I regret the purchase, or find myself not really using it. Just notice, without judgment.

2)   What’s happening with my breath?

Are you breathing easy? Breathing at all? Shallowly and from your chest? Deep from your belly? Again, simply observe.

3)   What does my intuition say about this purchase?

Quick, what’s your “blink”? Does your gut say: yes, no, or maybe?

4)   What’s my mind doing?

Is your brain spinning a tale about why this is a good thing even though your breathing is rapid, your palms are sweaty, and you feel queasy? Or are your thoughts calm and quiet? Notice.

When I remember to do these things I feel a whole lot better. Money is energy. Time is precious. When I get out of the store and into my life, everything flows better. I feel more alive, and have more resources—spiritual and monetary—to offer the world. And then when I do drop dollars for something pretty, it feels less like stuff filling a void, and more like a lovely gift to complement a full life.

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About Valerie Reiss

Valerie is a writer, editor, speaker, consultant, and Kripalu Yoga instructor in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Women's Health, Natural Health, Yoga Journal, Beliefnet, Vegetarian Times, and more. She keeps a gratitude blog, wrote Yoga Journal's NYC blog, Samadhi and the City, and has blogged for Lime.com and others. As Holistic Living & Blogs Editor at Beliefnet.com she also co-wrote the popular Fresh Living blog. She was previously Articles Editor at Breathe, a yoga-inspired lifestyle magazine. A native New Yorker, Valerie has an M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. from Beloit College. She's also working on a book about yoga, cancer, and some of life's other humbling hilarities.
  • Carol Horton

    What about informing yourself about the products and companies that your money is supporting? Is the clothing made in a sweatshop or under fair labor conditions? Does the CEO lead responsibly or rapaciously? Are you pouring more money into a huge corporation or supporting a small business? Does this company advertise its products in ways that reinforce or challenge the body image issues that plague so many girls and women today? And so on.

    It is really disappointing that Kripalu would run an article stating that everything important to consider about shopping has to do with me, me, me . . . and nothing at all about our connection to others and the planet. Fail.

  • Valerie Reiss

    Hi Carol. Valerie here. Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with examining all of those things–considering how our dollars effect the environment, labor conditions, and local economies. That’s something a lot of folks write about and out of the scope of what I was covering here, which is how to shop with awareness of our own breath and body. Many times doing what’s best on a deep level for “me” can lead to healing for many. And certainly other aspects of conscious shopping would be great for us to explore here.

  • Rebecca

    I am very disappointed in Kripalu for this article. Shouldn’t we be focusing on being less materialistic? You do not need that $70 sweatshirt from Lululemon. This company has obviously found a market willing to spend money for crappy items beyond their means. Please, let us focus on being happy with who we are and stop trying to achieve happiness through the means of spending money.

    • Valerie Reiss

      One of the main reasons I wanted to write this post is because our
      culture has a heavy load of shame when it comes to money–how much we
      have, don’t have, and how we spend it. People are quick to judge and
      shame others for how they use their money. The yoga world often adds an
      extra dose of this shame by calling anything to do with money
      materialistic. And this isn’t going to change until we can start having
      more open, honest, authentic conversations about money and how to use
      it. So I guess I’m disappointed too. I want (and hope) to have a richer
      conversation — one that goes beyond cash-shaming and explores the roots
      of how we feel about our own spending habits in a capitalist culture. Anyone?

      • Carol Horton

        I agree, but would contend that we’ll never get any meaningful insight into our spending habits in this culture until we widen our focus from our own isolated, individual experience to think into collective, social questions like: Why are spending choices such as what brand of clothing to buy so central to so many people’s sense of personal identity? You have to start to break down the separation between individual choice and social/cultural context. This is very yogic, in my opinion -  yoga teaches us that everything is connected, and that we are all one.

        We need to understand that the reason that a company like Lululemon is so successful is not simply that they make high quality clothes. It’s because they know how to manipulate images and symbols in ways that make people feel that buying and wearing their clothing will imbue them with certain personal characteristics that they value. In other words, Lulu is great at manipulating people’s psyches through really effective advertising and marketing. Business analysts know this – there are some really good business articles out there on the web that explain such strategies quite clearly. But most yoga consumers don’t know or care – and this, to my mind, is very at odds with yoga, which is a way of dismantling our cultural conditioning and our need to hold on to material goods to prop up our sense of self.

        Easier said than done, of course, but questioning consumer culture in our context is, I think, a very helpful conceptual support for this process.

      • Rebecca

        Valerie, I appreciate your reply. I do the agree with the main point your are trying to convey in your article. Please do not take my comment as disappointment in you, just disappointment in this situation. I believe it is because I have struggled with extreme shopping habits in the past and I have a stigma against companies like LuLuLemon. It is unfortunate, as consumers, that we are led to believe that we need these silly items to lead a happy and peaceful lifestyle. Your article does bring up very helpful tips for consumers who are trying to focus on being less materialistic. Thank you.

  • http://ecoyogini.blogspot.com/ EcoYogini

    This was a difficult blog to read for myself, because I, like Carol, don’t agree that those questions would fit what I hope to ask myself when I’m shopping (as a yogi).

    In the bigger, macro, picture of things, consumerism really is one of the more prevalent causes of the ridiculous amount of pollution that our world is facing. Companies pollute in order to make us more____ (stuff, cars, energy, clothing, houses) etc etc.

    For myself Yoga is all about connection. Connection to my spirituality, which leads to connection to all living things on our planet. I’m not perfect, but I try my hardest to live life and consider my actions as how they would affect the Wheel as well as myself.

    It’s about making informed decisions in a world where money=voting. It’s about changing social norms to make it socially unacceptable to blindly purchase and as a result support companies and organizations that are damaging our planet and our health.

    These questions you’ve asked are so easy: I would buy something every single time. I’m conditioned socially to feel that shopping makes me happy, I LOVE shopping so of course the answers would have been all ‘great, great, yes, great’ AND purchase.

    instead of asking the more difficult questions that go against of consumer culture training:

    - Was this product made sustainably? (fabric? sprays?, dyes? chemicals?)
    - Was it made in Canada (for myself) and their workers treated fairly?
    -How far did it travel (re: how much pollution) in order to be used by me for my convenience?
    - How can I minimize my impact on the planet if I purchase this item?

    I see where you’re coming from- and perhaps I’m reacting a bit strongly on this post that perhaps was meant to be a bit more of a discussion about balance and honesty. I apologize if that’s the case ( I am certainly not perfect in my purchases!).

  • KripaluEditor

    Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. 
    Valerie, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts in writing this post. We look forward to further dialogue on issues related to personal responsibility, consumption, and couching the notion of choice from a yogic perspective. One thing we uphold in our practice and teachings here at Kripalu, is the notion that “it begins with me.” Societal awareness stems from self-awareness. Enacting personal responsibility is part of acting for the greater whole. 

    This piece was obviously not about every possible issue surrounding spending. Valerie chose to talk about the internal dialogue she experiences with the temptation of material acquisition.

    It is our mission to hold the space for dialogue. In the spirit of inquiry, we are thrilled to have this new forum for discussion. 

    Kim from Kripalu

  • Eoconnor57

    As someone who is just waking up to the act of  listening to her body as a way of accessing important information (I  lived only in my head for a long time), I appreciate your blog.   Listening to my intuition and my body is an important step in being a conscious consumer, or conscious anything for that matter!  I seem to be always in the question of “what rings true for me” in trying to sort out if my decisions are in alignment with my Higher Self.   Just today I had two items in my cart that, before I left the store, went back on the shelf.  The purchase would have been irresponsible on many levels.  I knew this because of the heaviness in my heart each time I looked at them.  3 years ago, I would have overridden my feeling of heaviness for that fleeting sense of instant gratification that has become so pervasive in our world.   I listen more closely now and make more responsible choices every day, though I am far from perfect.
     Overcoming our conditioned tendencies is a process that moves at an individual pace.  That we model, teach and support each other, no matter where we  (or others ) are on the paths is so important.  So thanks for humorous, authentic and honest blog.  Humor is a much better teacher than shame will ever be!