Four Questions to Help You Shop Like a Yogi

by Valerie Reiss

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.

Valerie Reiss is a writer, editor, speaker, consultant, and Kripalu Yoga instructor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Women's Health, Natural Health, Yoga Journal, Beliefnet, Vegetarian Times, and more.

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