Last updated on June 30th, 2023.
The ego, defined by psychological theory, is the mediating factor between subconscious desires and conscious reality, and it is responsible for shaping a person’s sense of self-worth. While the study of psychology has encouraged people to cultivate a healthy ego,the study of yoga is based on eliminating the ego and identifying with a higher reality: You are not your body, mind, or possessions, but rather an all-encompassing “Seer”. Awarnessness, itself.
Many people struggle with this concept, especially in our modern world where we work, play, and interact as unique individuals. While it is important to navigate our responsibilities in the roles we manage, our created identities often interfere with our ability to establish joy and abundance. How we see ourselves—our name, possessions, skin color, health—is a construct of the mind. And the stories we tell ourselves about this identity cloud our reality and control the course of life.
Through practicing yoga, you can learn how to drop the obstacles to abundance and happiness:
- Clinging to Life
These mental and emotional obstacles, or klesa-s, work against our ability to grow. It is through these distorted identifications that we focus on lack, hold onto that which hurts us, and unfairly compare ourselves to others on their life paths. In yoga, you can clarify your heart-mind and build a life, even in this modern world, that leads to the flow of abundance.
Having this knowledge for ourselves as yoga practitioners is helpful but especially if you’ve been through Yoga Teacher Training and intend to not only teach the forms but instill the yogic lifestyle amongst your students.
What is Wealth and What Stands in the Way of Abundance?
The ancient wisdom of yoga provides practitioners with a guiding light toward freedom and joy. Freedom is obtained through clarity, removing the obstacles from our path and seeing through all the mud. This freedom leads to profound joy. One of the ways in which yoga helps us is by accepting what is and by eliminating qualitative labels, such as good or bad. It is in life’s experiences that we flow. It is in the present moment that we live.
According to “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”, ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles that impede anything we need. To survive on this planet, all people need wealth, whether it is in cash, assets, or skills. The reality is that we must “purchase” what we need, and we do so through bartering (trading skill or possession for currency) and money.
Each person will have a different interpretation of what wealth is. Some people may view abundance as having millions (or billions) of dollars, large mansions, expensive cars, and lots of people serving them. Others may see abundance as having enough wealth to keep their loved ones happy and healthy. It is a sliding scale and everyone has their own judgements. Neither is correct nor incorrect. However, it will be impossible to meet your goals if you live with an identity that acts as an obstacle to and not a conductor of wealth.
“Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant, and the non-Self as the Self.”
-The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2.5
Ignorance, or avidya, is a stumbling block to obtaining anything you want or need. If you don’t know how or why to proceed, how will you know how to act? In Sanskrit, avidya is the lack of vidya, which is awareness. What is the antidote to avidya? Becoming aware. In the yoga sutras, Patanjali illuminates the dangers of avidya. In his translation, Sri Swami Satchidananda provides an example where a man sees a snake in the night. The neighbors are roused from their sleep, one shining a light on the animal. But it is not a snake, it is a coiled rope. In our ever-busy, ever-noisy world, we too can make assumptions and misperceptions about reality. It is through the practice of yoga that we can shine a light on the darkness that clouds our judgment.
Avidya can hinder many facets of our lives. Pertaining to wealth and abundance, it can keep us stuck in negative patterns. This lack of awareness can inhibit your ability to make decisions that help you accumulate wealth:
- Losing money to hidden fees or high interest rates
- Neglecting investment opportunities
- Not knowing about savings plans that offer a higher yield
- Not using consolidation and other tools to eliminate debt
Ignorance of financial tools and alternative methods (than what you currently use) can make you lose money and opportunities to grow your assets. Fear of change and lack of motivation prevent people from researching and implementing strategies for financial health. Even if you don’t think you have choices (living paycheck to paycheck, having significant debt, or lacking time), you do. Plenty of tools exist online and in books (go to the library!). This information is free. Even if you save a dollar a week, transfer credit card debt to an interest free account, or put your savings in a high-interest account, you are taking action. You are shining a light on your snake in the dark.
“Egoism is the identification, as it were, of the power of the Seer (Purusa) with that of the instrument of seeing [body-mind].”
-The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2.6
In Sanskrit, asmita means “I am-ness”. In the practice of yoga, identifying with the “I” and all its earthly aspects leads one to a distorted sense of self. Our view of ourselves becomes distorted when we identify our being with that of the physical body, our emotional states, the thoughts of the mind, our role in society (occupation and socio-economic class), and our possessions. Through the practice of yoga, the practitioner begins to understand that we are not these things. They are but an outer experience. Our true being resides inside. We are Awareness itself. We are the Seer.
Yoga sutra 1.3 explains this concept a bit further: “Then the Seer (Self) abides in Its own nature.” The ego is of this world, and it is always changing; the Seer/Self is never-changing and is the true essence. Imagine that your face is this Seer. If you look in a dirty, cracked, or colored mirror, your face changes. If you look in a clean, clear, and pure mirror, you can see your face for what it is. Yoga clears our vision. It removes the filter of the worlds’ obstacles. When you begin to see yourself as a part of all the universe—no better, no worse than any other being—you see yourself as you are. You are not your car, your house, your job, your health, your emotions, or your thoughts. You are the pure light of Awareness.
The ego is concerned with these things. It is concerned with comparisons. It can create havoc in your life, which can affect your financial security:
- Nothing is good enough, and so you are ungrateful and wasteful.
- You will do anything to be right or win, even to your detriment.
- You feel insecure and anxious, which makes you either frozen in your approaches to finances or erratic in your decision making.
- You are too serious and overly-concerned with titles and how other people see you, which can make you perform according to the ego’s will.
- Being condescending or treating others with derision closes you off to opportunities and relationships that can improve your circumstances.
When the ego grows, it controls the life. It can make people corrupt from power. It can make individuals look down on others. It can cause people to try and harm others to “win” at all costs. Deep down, asmita, is rooted in fear and insecurity. It is holding tight to power, success, and material wealth, not for the good of others but for others to see. Humility, contentment, and gratitude are the ways out of ego-driven choices. When we work to remove our blemishes and improve ourselves—in a sincere and heart-centered manner—then we can make decisions that support authentic growth.
Attachment (Raga) and Aversion (Dvesa)
Attachment is that which follows identification with pleasurable experiences.”
-The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2.7
When we experience something good, like a raise or bonus, we experience temporary pleasure. While these events are nice, attachment to the feeling they give can sour your future experiences. Here, you can let your emotions and desires affect your work or the benefits you receive. This same principle applies to investments and other financial decisions. Sometimes, we can become emotionally attached to a particular company, stock, or bank. But I’ve always banked with….or I believe in what this company stands for…are examples of how we can let our emotional attachments determine our financial health.
(Disclaimer: We recommend talking with a licensed financial advisor when considering investing in securities. You can also check out or follow trades on Social Trading Platforms but this still carries a certain amount of risk.)
While loyalty and investment in benign companies (and divesting from malign ones) is important, it is harmful to continue to invest in a company, bank, or other institution that no longer serves your needs. Companies change and so do their benefits. By not reviewing, re-evaluating, and changing in accordance with your present needs, you are harming your financial health.
Aversion is that which follows identification with painful experiences.”
-The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2.8
In the same way, aversion, or dvesa, can cloud your judgment. Just as we strive for pleasurable experiences, we avoid painful ones. These painful experiences, and the emotions we attach to them, determine our path. When we experience a financial defeat through unemployment, demotion, or investment loss, we can allow that defeat to deter abundance.
Below are examples of how attachment and aversion can influence your financial health:
- You continue to lose savings because of high bank fees, because you are scared to change banks.
- You don’t apply for the job you want, because you are afraid of failure due to past experiences with employment.
- You stay in the same job, even though it is detrimental to your mental, physical, or financial health.
- You remove money from investments for fear of loss, before they have time to mature. The key to investment wealth is longevity.
- You have lost wealth in the past due to investments, and so you refuse to take part in sound and beneficial financial decisions.
- You become addicted to gambling or gaining wealth through risky behavior, which causes you to lose financial stability and the motivation to earn income through more reliable resources.
Attachments and aversions to circumstances alter behavior. Yoga requires that we let go of this “coloring” (the meaning of raga) and view life’s circumstances through a clear heart-mind. By removing these emotional triggers, we can be rational and judicious with how we approach financial decisions.
Clinging to Life (Abhinivesa)
“Clinging to life, flowing by its own potency [due to past experiences], exists even in the wise.”
-The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2.9
Clinging to life is fearing death. Death changes life (and life changes death). Fear is a natural instinct that humans have. This fear inhibits people from living authentically and inhibits them from taking necessary risks. This concept is akin to dvesa (aversion) in that the fear of loss prevents us from acting in ways that attract what we need.
Abhinivesa is an obstacle to attracting abundance, because it makes people choose from a place of alarm and hysteria. For example, think about all the things you can insure: your health, house, car, animals, property, business and employment, and in some cases, a part of your body involved in your profession. You can even insure your life. While it is important to make sure that the loss of anything (including your life) will be recuperated, these decisions must not be made in haste. With proper research (removing avidya) and rational decision making (removing asmita, raga, and dvesa), you will learn to make investments for the long-term that are not rooted in fear.
This clinging can make us blind to the beliefs we adopt. We will participate in social norms that may not make sense for our individual and familial needs. For example, a fear of death can easily make a person buy unnecessary products that promise longevity, when in fact, low stress, proper diet, and consistent exercise are the keys to health (try yoga!). In the same way, it may be more prudent for you and your family to purchase less life insurance and invest in other methods that will bring you more wealth. In the end, you must not get caught up in quick fixes and work toward creating abundance in a real and lasting way.
The Authentic You and Abundance
The most important takeaway of understanding the klesa-s (obstacles) described by Patanjali is that everything—except for the ever-present, constant Awareness—changes. Knowledge and information change. Your body, mind, emotions, and material possessions change. Circumstances that bring you pleasure and pain change. Death of this body comes to us all, and so life changes. It is important to remove any ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to this life. These are not who you are. To practice yoga is to move toward union. When we forge our identity as a Being that is a part of the whole, when we align our Being with the Being of all, we achieve union.
To accomplish these purities, one must participate in a consistent yoga practice. Self-inquiry and examination are a part of becoming the Seer. In “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”, Sri Swami Satchidananda describes practice as a habit:
When we do something several times, it forms a habit. Continue with that habit for a long time, and it becomes our character. Continue with that character and eventually, perhaps in another life, it comes up as instinct. (87)