Conscious Living Series: Our Purchasing Habits

What do we really need to be happy?  Are we unconsciously trying to buy happiness? Are we extra vulnerable in the holiday season to suggestion that purchases can solve our insecurities? What if our purchases could help nurture the world we want to create instead? Let’s take a look at how we might apply a yogic mindset to how we spend our money.

With the lovely warmer weather, the Australian summer also brings a season of high-shopping.

We’re reminded that gift-giving season is soon upon us, and big sales might tempt us to acquire some items for ourselves too.  

The Australian summer is a season characterised by consumerism, and it’s easy to get swept along in the current.

Giving gifts to others can bring us untold joy, and we will all need to replace items in our household from time to time too.   To part with our money for things is neither good nor bad by definition. In fact, as yogis we try not to categorise things in such fashion, but we are most certainly trying to understand the real motivations of our actions and to stay awake to the notion of cause and effect.  

Yoga does not tell us what to think or believe, or how to live our lives.   That is for each person to discover for themselves (the only person who can assign meaning to concepts or things in your life, is you).  But yoga helps us be more awake to our choices by learning how to think with greater clarity, so we can make decisions that feel aligned with our true selves.   

With Black Friday sales opening the door to the season of shopping, this period can help remind us to look at how present we are with the way we behave as consumers.

Letting Go of Attachment To ‘Stuff’

Usually beginning with the Black Friday sales, we are bombarded with information designed to make us feel a sense of lack and to desire the things we see advertised. Our unconscious mind starts to draw a connection between our current feelings and our potential future feelings, “If I have that item, I’ll feel better”. And for a short while this may well be true as our reward hormone – dopamine – floods our body.

But as any of us well know from past purchases, the giddy thrill and satisfaction of our ‘new shiny thing’ wears off and we find ourselves in a cycle. This is because humans are so adaptive, we adjust to the ‘new normal’ and can feel the sense of lack and craving all over again.

Letting go of our attachment to ‘things’ invites freedom, a sense of lightness and unburdening.   In yoga, we call this non-attachment ‘aparigraha’.  Aparigraha is one of Patanjali’s yamas in the 8 Limbs of Yoga, contained within Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras literature (a literary guidance on how to evolve our thinking and live with greater ease, freedom and peace).

If we are overly-focussed on acquiring material things, we lurch from one hit of the reward hormone dopamine, to the next, confusing temporary pleasure for happiness. We also miss out on the healing power of gratitude that comes from appreciating what we already have. 

Sometimes the desire to purchase something can pass the way that an unscratched itch will eventually pass, if we pause and simply notice where our mindset is at.  

Being Mindful of Consequences

There is power in our purchasing decisions, we are supporting certain business practices, and nudging others to evolve to a higher standard.   

Exploring the domino effect of your purchasing decisions can be a rabbit-hole, so a sound suggestion is to start with one area that feels most important for you, arm yourself with new knowledge, and then add more layers to your decision-making process later on. For example, you may choose to start with homewares and fashion and begin to educate yourself on the impact of where and how things were produced, such as the environmental impact of a certain fabric production, whether items are recyclable or will become landfill, or a manufacturer’s transparency on how employees are treated and paid. Or, you may choose to begin with food, such as do the ingredients give you or rob you of vitality, have growers and producers been fairly paid, what sort of environmental impact does this foodstuff cause. Perhaps you begin with your financial accounts: does my institution lend to unethical or unsustainable businesses, is my money being invested in ways I feel uncomfortable with, is my institution giving back to the community and society in some way….)

As you explore, you will find many website and apps to assist you. Resist the slide into perfectionist thinking and and all-or-nothing mindset. Change is a direction, not a destination, congratulate yourself on small changes and doing your best.

Checking ourselves

It can be useful if we train our minds to be as conscious as possible of what we are purchasing and why.  To do this, we can borrow from the mindsets of minimalists and eco-warriors for example, to probe our true motivation and assess our comfort level with the domino effect we’re creating.

Start with the why:

o Is this an impulse purchase?

o Am I shopping to try and feel better about something or distract myself from something?

o Would I buy this if it wasn’t on sale?

o Is there another way to show someone I care?

Then consider the consequences of this purchase:

o Was it produced in a sustainable and responsible manner?

o Was anyone or anything exploited (or wasted) in the production of this item or experience?

o Will this be landfill in a few years and how long will it take the break down?

o How does the business I’m giving my money to treat things like the environment, people, community?

You may have identified something you want or need to buy, and are feeling satisfied with how it has been produced. Those times when sales are on can indeed be an opportune time to get the item you’ve been meaning to buy for some time. The key is simply to practice conscious choices, rather than shopping from habitual societal conditioning, or as servants to our reward hormone.

We can practice playing ‘harder to get’ in a society that wants to keep you separate from your hard-earnt savings.

Caught yourself? Have a giggle and congratulate yourself for reclaiming some free will!

Food For Thought

  • You may like to explore business models like, a collective of responsible businesses trying to increase awareness of ‘conscious consumption’.
  • Or simply mull over a comparison of future emotions: how it might feel to acquire the new thing, compared to how it might feel to give that same amount away to a person or cause in need.

The Role of Yoga

Yoga encourages each of us to examine how we think, so we can truly think for ourselves, instead of being an unconscious product of our past-conditioning. Yoga does not tell us what to think, that is for you to figure out.

Yoga teaches us how to think more clearly, for ourselves.

With continued study of the teachings of yoga, many people come to recognise the inter-connectedness of all things, so it is not a coincidence that many yogis come to be mindful of how things how food, fashion and homewares are produced; they may become curious about which businesses tread lightly on the earth; and they may want to know how workers and other people get treated. But each journey is unique and only you can decide what is important to you at any point in time. Where you place your mental energy is up to you to choose.

Letting our minds wander over the kind of questions listed above can, however, help us decide if we really want to purchase something. It can also help us feel good about which businesses we support, and which we choose not to. We may not see all the results, but we can feel satisfied our efforts are playing a role in creating the kind of world we’d like to live in.  

As with your practice on the mat, conscious living doesn’t mean we strive for perfection:  just stay present, stay curious, and practice kindness to yourself when you notice past choices don’t match current values.  This is a sign you’re becoming more aware of your choices   🧡

Written by Nicole Small, The Yoga Institute

How Can We Help You?

Explore Teacher Training

Subscribe to our newsletters

Contact Us

conscious consumer, sustainability yogic philosophy

The Yoga Institute acknowledges the Cammeraygal people of the Eora nation as the Traditional Custodians of the land on which our centre is based.

Copyright The Yoga Institute 2024

Built by IRONIC3D in Sydney