We’ve come a long way since the first wave of yogi’s in the 60’s. If you’re still feeling lost and can’t see the forest from the trees when it comes to investing, maybe the yogic approach is just what’s needed.
By RACHEL LOUISE ENSIGN
When the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a new record this past March, Brent Kessel awoke at 3:30 a.m.
But the financial adviser, who co-founded a firm that manages more than $800 million, wasn’t up early because he was giddy about the market. He was hopping on a motor scooter in Mysore, India, to stand on one leg with the other leg behind his head and chant in Sanskrit at the school where a branch of modern yoga has its origins.
Mr. Kessel, who devoted himself to responding to emails from his clients and colleagues later that day, shrugs off the bull market.
“Everything is impermanent, especially the market’s level,” says Mr. Kessel, whose firm is Abacus Wealth Partners in Santa Monica, Calif.
Spencer Sherman, Abacus’s other founder, teaches his clients a breathing technique called “the Money Breath,” to get through tough financial situations: clients typically inhale for three counts, hold the breath for one count, and exhale for six counts.
Non-clients can buy “the Money and Spirit Workshop” home study course from the duo, available for $66.97 on a website that sells New Age products.
Some clients come to the firm through its advertisements in Yoga Journal, which in its April 2001 issue featured a bare-chested Mr. Kessel on the cover balancing on his hands with his legs tucked behind his arms in a perfectly executed “crow” pose.
“I think the very common reaction, even 15 years ago, would have been, ‘These guys are California quack jobs,'” says Mr. Kessel. “But if you actually came in and were a client, you’d find that we’re much more disciplined than a lot of the firms out there.”
He is one of a breed of financial advisers who are taking yoga and meditation out of the ashram and putting them into Excel spreadsheets. The values and teachings of these Eastern-inspired traditions, proponents say, impart a special kind of financial wisdom that, among other benefits, allows them to stay calm in crises and make holistic financial plans for clients.
George Kinder, a certified financial planner and Buddhist teacher who spends his time in Maui, Hawaii, London and Littleton, Mass., is widely considered the guru of this financial “mindfulness” movement, which has guided financial advisers seeking to add a spiritual element to their practices.
Mr. Kinder’s 1999 book, “The Seven Stages of Money Maturity,” applies ancient Buddhist principles known as the Six Perfections, which include patience and generosity, to contemporary money management, among other things. Mr. Kinder later developed “financial life planner” training, which teaches advisers to focus on the client’s life goals and use empathic listening skills when working with them.
The tradition is older than it might appear. The integration of yoga and money is seen in Eastern history, says Mark Singleton, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Cambridge on the history of modern yoga.
While many ancient yogis renounced material possessions, others used yoga to gain money and influence. “They were the power brokers of medieval India because of these powers you can accumulate by doing yoga,” says Mr. Singleton.
The number of planners who have gone through at least one of Mr. Kinder’s programs, which always include a group meditation, has more than doubled in the past five years to more than 2,000, he says. So far, 307 have obtained the top “Registered Life Planner” designation, up from about 100 five years ago.
“People leave our training exhilarated,” says Mr. Kinder. “That’s very similar to a very deep yoga or meditative retreat. You go so deep inside yourself you’re sparkling.”
Messrs. Kessel and Sherman use a Kinder-influenced financial-planning approach at Abacus, and say they buy stocks and bonds based on research instead of “emotions and hot tips.” They typically prefer passive index funds to actively managed ones, and unlike panicked investors who fled equities during the financial crisis, they say they bought stocks the day the market hit its bottom in 2009, a move the firm attributes to disciplined rebalancing.
Jeff Bogart, like Messrs. Kessel and Sherman a Kinder disciple, launched Yogic Investing, a yoga-inspired branch of his Cleveland-area financial-advisory firm last year. “George Kinder’s stuff is groundbreaking and fascinating. Sometimes it makes me aware if people are stuck in the root chakra with their money issues,” says Mr. Bogart. The root chakra, an energy point located at the base of the spine, is associated with primitive survival needs, he says.
Those interested fill out a brief questionnaire online to “find out if you are a yogic investor!” He presented a workshop on yoga and money at the Finger Lakes Yoga Festival in New York state last summer.
Some financial advisers revel in yoga’s revelations.
While standing on one leg and attempting to lift his other leg perpendicular to the ground, Rick Salmeron, a certified financial planner who is president of Salmeron Financial in Dallas and who practices Bikram yoga, a type of yoga traditionally practiced in 105-degree heat, says, “I’m thinking of my clients who can’t help but be attracted to Apple at $600 a share or oil at $140 a barrel.”
Mr. Salmeron recently considered holding a Bikram class for his clients, though only a fraction of them are regular yoga practitioners. “Investing is very emotional. Yoga keeps it all balanced,” he says.
He recommends Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana, a pose in which he stands with legs spread wide and grabs his feet in an effort to pull his head to the floor. “It gives my brain a tourniquet effect. It clears out a lot of the dead brain cells,” Mr. Salmeron says.
Other advisers try to be discreet about the New Age influence on their work. Nicholas Lee of Worcester, England, who trained with Mr. Kinder, meditates and faithfully uses a notepad with “Breathe in” printed on top of the pages and “Breathe out” at the bottom.
Still, he says, “you can’t put a sign outside your office that says, ‘Hello, I’m a financial life planner. I do yoga and meditation.’ I’m always a little bit cautious talking about it. You can very quickly appear flaky.”
A version of this article appeared June 10, 2013, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Investing the Downward Dog Way? Adviser Suggests Deep Breaths.