Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is pay-what-you-can yoga the way forward?

According to this story in the New York Times, the latest and greatest in yoga is pay-what-you-can. I haven’t heard of any donation-based yoga classes here in Australia (feel free to correct me in the comments), but having read this piece I’m not entirely convinced I’d want to try it. I like the idea of each student paying for a class according to what their budget can allow but do we risk devaluing the time, money and dedication that yoga teachers have put into their training?

And what if one yoga studio adopts this payment method, while the studio down the road, which may have fewer teachers or a smaller space and can’t afford to go down this path, is forced out of business as a result?

“There’s a brewing resistance to the expense, the cult of personality, the membership fees,” the NYTimes writes of yoga, and I agree that it’s good to pull back on the showiness and expense associated with some yoga schools. But is this the way?

I must confess, that some of my attitude is coloured by the revelation that these New York classes pack many, many students into the one studio. “Yoga isn’t about a pristine environment — yogis can work downward dog to downward dog, no matter where they are, even if in a crowded, unadorned studio,” Gumucio explains.

His reasoning can’t be faulted but as a very visual person I like to see lovely, calming or inspiring things around me, it’s one of the reasons I go to a class in summer that practices on the beach – you can’t get a more wonderful environment than that! Would I want to swap it for a cramped studio? I’m not so sure. But perhaps I’m just allowing the class/teacher to influence my experience instead of being in charge of it myself.

It seems, then, that I’m sitting on the fence with this idea. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts and opinions on the matter. Maybe I could be convinced to pick a side!

Friday, April 23, 2010

"Money management isn’t about the numbers; it’s about goals and dreams."

The area of finance has always been a little intimidating for me. I didn’t particularly pay much attention in maths class so when I have to deal with numbers I get a little toey. I was fortunate, though, that my mum taught me how to create a basic budget and a savings plan when I was young, so those skills have served me well as an adult. I’m actually quite proud of myself in that area and when I was reflecting on it earlier this year I realised that the reason I don’t get anxious around budgets and savings plans is because I feel confident. Anything beyond that (in the world of finance), however, is a different matter. So this year is about taking the fear out of money issues by arming myself with knowledge.

Part of my research and reading has lead me to JD Roth, author of Get Rich Slowly. I read this interview with him recently and loved what he had to say about finances and lifestyle:

“Q: I think the problem for some people is they feel stuck – at a job they hate, or in a lifestyle of a certain type (with spouse and kids expecting certain things, perhaps). How do you change from this, so that you’re not sacrificing your happiness for money?

A: That’s a great question, and I think it gets at the heart of personal finance. Money management isn’t about the numbers; it’s about goals and dreams. That sounds a little new-agey, but it’s true.

If you feel stuck, the first step is to figure out why you feel stuck. You can’t solve the problem if you don’t identify it. One way to help achieve some clarity is to take some time to actually set some financial goals. From my own experience, I know that if you don’t create a map for yourself, it’s easy to get lost; and when you get lost, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

Also, I think that when many people feel trapped, they just sort of freeze. They don’t do anything. That’s how I was for a long time. When this happens, the best thing you can do is take small steps toward what you really want. If you’re stuck at a job you hate, then maybe take night classes in something that interests you. Start moving slowly in the direction of your dreams. Even a little bit of change can help you relieve some of the pressure.”

Such a lovely, considered response. Take a step and then another step until you find yourself where you want to be. It may not be sexy, headline-catching advice, but it’s sensible and it works.

I also like that Roth doesn’t offer us get rich quick schemes or “be debt free in five days” advice. I generally don’t trust anything that panders to our Must Have it Now! mentality. I think the key to conquering most fears or difficulties is to research, get to know your topic and see what works best for you. No single answer is going to work for everyone.

I think I’m currently at the second of five stages that Roth believes we all go through in our financial maturity. Read the rest of the article and enjoy his insight, especially if money has been on your mind lately.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Alone (and loving it!)

I love this post on solitude. As an only child I've always found it easy to spend time by myself and as an adult I sometimes have to remind myself to maintain balance and also spend time with friends, interacting and enjoying the exchange of thoughts, stories and ideas instead of quietly thinking by myself.

I realised in my early twenties how much I enjoyed having time to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling or gazing through the window, thinking about nothing in particular but enjoying the thoughts that popped up. I'd follow them to see where they led, let them go and see what came up next. I could spend a long time doing this and usually felt more able to cope with the stresses of uni life (and the abject poverty that came with it!) after some "alone time".*

I gradually became aware, though, that this was not a pasttime that many of my friends indulged in and I began to feel a little odd, to say the least. I briefly considered forcing myself to become more social, to always be around friends or speaking with friends on the phone, but I knew it wouldn't stick. I generally tend to feel mentally exhausted after spending long periods of time being stimulated by too many conversations, too much noise or too much activity (give me a quiet, intimate dinner party over a loud house party any day!). So I decided to just embrace my love of alone time and accept that it's part of what makes me, me. No need to apologise or explain, it's just what I do.

I can understand why solitude may not be considered a desirable state of being - certainly, carving out alone time may be the toughest part - but I can't encourage people enough to seek it out and enjoy it. In his post (linked above), Leo Babauta writes:

Just a few of the benefits I’ve found from solitude:

  • time for thought
  • in being alone, we get to know ourselves
  • we face our demons, and deal with them
  • space to create
  • space to unwind, and find peace
  • time to reflect on what we’ve done, and learn from it
  • isolation from the influences of other helps us to find our own voice
  • quiet helps us to appreciate the smaller things that get lost in the roar
I absolutely agree with his assessment. For me, the greatest benefit was getting to know myself during the wierdness that was my early-20s (I'm not the only one who had a hard time of it, right?). My alone time gave me grounding and allowed me to figure out why I did or didn't do things, assess if that was OK or needed to be changed and, most importantly, to dream big dreams. Huge dreams. Some of which I've completely forgotten about, some of which have come to pass and some that need to be reassessed.

Your alone time will give you something completely different, something you absolutely need, so try to make time to spend time alone. Leo also has tips on how to find solitude in an extremely busy life, so head on over and read what he has to say. You'll benefit from it!

*As I type this I'm beginning to wonder if staring at the wall or ceiling may be my form of meditation. It's possible, right?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Marriage or career for lasting happiness?

Which would you choose? This op-ed piece in the New York Times starts out with the example of Sandra Bullock who in the space of a week or so went from the high of winning a best actress Oscar, to the depths of despair upon finding out that her husband had had a number of affairs. The piece then goes on to ask, which would you choose - and let's hope none of us have to make this decision - a happy marriage or a successful career?

The columnist, David Brooks, then goes on to outline recent research that highlights the life choices that can bring us lasting happiness, namely that nurturing close relationships is the key to finding fufillment. "Worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through," he writes.

"According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year."

All of which is wonderful to hear and a great impetus to go home after work tonight and give your loved ones an extra big squeeze (or a surprise phone call if they live away from you)!