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What does your body have to tell you about money?
Two conversations with Cristy de la Cruz about tapping our somatic wisdom in our relationship with money
I’ve written here before about conscious spending, the practice of listening to your inner voice to guide how you use money. This is also an important piece of the book I’m working on.
As I write more about the topic, I’m aware the biggest challenge you’ll face with practicing conscious spending is, well, consciousness. How do you tap that so-called inner voice and interpret what on earth it’s trying to tell you?
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Without realizing it, most of my work on my relationship with money (and everything) has been about learning to know what my gut is telling me. And that’s not just a metaphor — “listening to your gut” is a way of describing tapping into the wisdom in your body to know the next right move for you. This, what’s called somatic practice or somatic therapy, gets almost no attention in most personal finance spaces.
So I’ve been looking away from personal finance experts and seeking others who can help me learn more about practices that will encourage conscious spending. I was delighted to meet, a somatic educator, coach, author, speaker and writer of the newsletter — one of the very special people who’s willing to talk about money in a space that usually avoids it and willing to share her wisdom so I can bring it back to the personal finance space.
Tapping into somatic wisdom
Cristy and I had a conversation on her podcast, Somatic Wisdom, about budget culture and the ways money feels in your body, and we just scratched the surface. So I asked Cristy to join me for a Q&A here so we can continue the conversation.
Dana: We all live in our bodies every second of every day. Noticing what’s going on with them seems like it should come naturally. Why is it so difficult for so many of us that we need special practices to raise our awareness?
Cristy: I love this question. It does seem like somatic or body awareness should come more naturally. It probably did when we were less than 5 years old for most of us. We move naturally and playfully as our bodies are designed to do. It’s actually harder for us not to do this when we are young.
Over time, our families and our social settings begin exerting their influence over our behavior. We realize that, in school, we aren’t allowed to get up to go to the bathroom unless we ask permission. We’re asked to learn certain things at very specific times (convenient for the adults) and then shepherded through a school schedule.
My own experience was in public school in a small town in Southern Wisconsin. Teachers had 20 to 25 students per classroom. It probably would have been chaotic if they weren’t able to direct the students and keep some order through conformity. Our educational system and our current economy often values work we do with our minds. It often asks us to override our bodies’ natural impulses.
We begin shutting off the impulses of free movement and the needs and desires of our physical bodies that once were natural responses to our sensations and emotions. We are likely to be reprimanded when we’re young for not being compliant. It’s almost a survival instinct to “turn down the signal” of our sensorimotor system to avoid punishment.
What is the purpose of adding somatic awareness to our money practices (like a money date)?
The somatic awareness practice I like most for my money dates is the body check-in. It takes only about one to two minutes. This is something I learned from financial therapist Bari Tessler’ The Art of Money Workbook, and it works well for me.
We start by observing the physical sensations in our bodies: Notice our body on the chair, feet on the ground, etc. Then we gently observe any emotions or sensations moving through us.
We might also notice our thoughts, images, memories or self-talk. As we do this scan, we ask if there’s anything we want to remove at this moment. This could be tension in the jaw or maybe tightness in the shoulders.
We can wiggle these feelings loose and help ourselves feel more ease in the body before beginning.
Somatic awareness is about noticing the places in our bodies where the feelings arise while working with money. While some people believe we should name the feelings, I prefer to describe the sensations instead. One reason is that naming an emotion usually has judgment attached to it.
For example, if I open my bank statement and realize I’ve overdrafted an account, one response might be shame. If I name that emotion, it’s altogether too easy to pile on a story about how bad I am with money.
If I instead notice what’s happening in my body, a flush of my face, perhaps, and tightness in my chest or my jaw, I can access different resources to calm myself. I may be able to consciously breathe more deeply or let my jaw relax. My mantra might be: “This is just a feeling, and all feelings pass.” I might repeat that mantra a couple of times to bring myself back to the present.
The initial discomfort of a tough emotion will last for 60 to 90 seconds. If we can give ourselves just one to two minutes to watch the sensations and breathe with them, we begin to see that they dissolve eventually if we don’t keep feeding them with stories. Emotions will not harm us. They’re here to give us information, not to tell us to stop.
Another reason to use these body check-ins is to help with self-regulation and knowing how to support ourselves. We might need more comfort during these practices, so it’s good to make them part of a nourishing ritual. A favorite cup of hot beverage can help us find comfort when we know a task might be challenging.
Money can bring up emotions that are difficult. When we realize emotions will not harm us, and we can move through them by watching and breathing, it frees up our energy to make better decisions for the long-term. It also brings our frontal cortex back online so we’re less likely to make hasty decisions out of fear.
What benefits have you gotten out of adding somatic practices to your regular financial check ins?
These practices help take the charge out of difficult emotions that come up for me. They help me care for myself well, and keep me present while we make decisions. I typically feel a huge relief after my money dates. This is especially true when I’ve been avoiding some “money dragons” that become bigger when I neglect my weekly money dates.
Typically these are difficult stories or habits of self-blame when it comes to money. Knowing these stories aren’t always mine but rather cultural and familial beliefs that were intended to keep me safe, I can question them. And as I let those feelings move through me, they don’t keep me stuck.
Also it’s not always difficult! Sometimes there are positive things that arise that we might want to celebrate! Maybe we hit a new milestone in our savings account or our business did well this month. I pour myself sparkling water and toast my success, or share it with a friend. Celebrating my small wins is what adds up to the bigger ones later.
Many of us manage money with a partner or a family, as you do with your husband. What are the challenges we might run into following our gut around financial decisions when there are other people involved?
Great point! It can often be more difficult when we’re not only managing our personal finances but also shared resources. I think it’s helpful to work on your own money stories for a couple of weeks or months before bringing others into the mix. (I’m the bill payer and finance lead in our relationship so I sometimes carry more of the money stress.)
When involving a spouse or partner, it’s helpful to remember that you are on the same team. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that if you disagree about a money decision. If you feel intense emotions come up for you, it might be helpful to voice them out loud and let your partner know how you’re feeling, or what’s getting activated in you.
Or if it’s hard to communicate these through talking, you might prepare for your financial dates in advance by writing out your questions or ideas you have and then sharing them. Your partner likely has different experiences than you do. Some of their ideas might even surprise you.
By learning how to calm your nervous system and resource yourself well in somatic ways, through movement and not just mental activity, you can be more open to your partner’s perspectives. It’s possible you will come up with even better solutions to challenges if you remember you’re on the same team.
What are the benefits to somatic awareness in this situation?
Learning to feel safe with your own somatic experiences helps your partner feel safe too. I tend to be a verbal processor, and my husband is more kinesthetic in his approach. I may need to reassure him by putting a hand on his arm or his knee while we talk about money. This can convey warmth and connection he may need when we’re working through a challenge.
His favorite approach tends to be humor when there’s tension. And while that might seem far-fetched for a financial conversation, it can be helpful not to take ourselves too seriously.
Sometimes if things feel difficult I’ll verbalize this, stand up and shake my body out. I’ve learned that when I do this, my husband has permission to do it as well. We can even take breaks when we do this money work. It’s very helpful to understand that we might have different levels of tolerance with these conversations at first.
Maybe 15 to 20 minutes is what we can handle before we feel things heating up, and we want a break. Our tolerance will ramp up over time and with practice. Knowing it’s OK to take breaks when our bodies feel too activated is helpful. We might make an agreement to come back after taking a walk or dancing it out to a song to release any stuckness.
These practices have helped me create greater trust and intimacy with my husband through the big money challenges. Knowing we can resource ourselves well, and that we can build these skills means we can apply somatic strategies to other areas in our lives also.
Somatic practices you can try
In a follow-up episode after her interview with me, Cristy guided the audience through specific practices to help you sense what’s in your body when you think about money. Try them out before your next check-in or decision around money, and let us know how it goes!
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