Our society celebrates more being better; more money, more possessions, more social media followers. Driven by consumerism, the message is always about having more and never having enough. We've all heard the proverb "less is more", but can less ever really mean more?
Before I became a yoga teacher I worked in business development for big media companies. I had a great salary, a fancy job title, a lovely flat filled to the brim with lots of stuff. A night out would prompt me to buy another new outfit. A new iPhone launch would make me want to trade in my old one for a better model. A salary increase would make me more driven to aim for an even bigger pay packet.
Although I had a lot on the outside, I felt empty on the inside. At that time I was deeply unhappy and unfulfilled by my work. Most of all I felt lost because I'd spent my adult life striving to achieve more, only to feel trapped on the hamster wheel of needing more to afford having more. I realised that more did not mean better if it did not give my life meaning or purpose.
Since that time, I trained to be a yoga teacher, quit my corporate job, and years later moved into full time teaching. As a yoga teacher starting a business my income is unsurprisingly significantly lower than my previous corporate career. I earn less but feel more fulfilled by the work I do.
Saying that, I still notice my conditioning to still believing more means better. A few weeks ago I was planning how I can increase my income, I want more. While discussing this with a friend she asked me "have you considered reducing your outgoings"? Oh, I thought, how obvious but actually I hadn't explored spending less. So I started to really look at where my money was going and realised there was an awful lot of surplus spending.
Another friend is currently backpacking around the world and texting us jealousy inducing updates. In his last message he told a story about his Tuk Tuk driver who after picking him up said he could now finish working for the day as he had enough money for food; why work more if you have what you need? Imagine that. Only working until you have enough to provide what you need to survive.
Another London friend recently bought a small bit of land on a Greek island and described their plan to quit their corporate city career, move to their simple island home, and work in a local bar. I found their dream refreshing. All too often dreams include having more, when their dream was about having less (albeit in paradise).
In yoga, having "more" becomes obsolete. Yoga teaches us the five causes of suffering (the Kleshas) one of which is ego (called Asmita in Sanskrit). Ego happens when you identify with the parts of yourself that change— your job title, your bank balance, your accolades, your property, your relationship status, your social media following etc... If you identify too closely with the changeable elements of yourself, you set yourself up for suffering and disappointment. This is because change is inevitable. So not only does less mean more, but yoga suggests having less is freedom from suffering.
On a physical level, one of the reasons I love yoga asana is that when I practiced I can shed the tension and energetic "stuff" accumulated from the day. Perhaps you come to the mat feeling tense and you finish feeling a little bit lighter.
Much like "more means better" the notion "faster means stronger" is also common. Every time I practice yoga asana, however, I am reminded that slower means stronger. You only need to slow motion your Chaturanga Dandasana (image below) and feel your muscles shake to know that the slower you go the stronger it is. And that is because the slower you go the more you feel. On flip side, if we rush around believing 'faster means stronger' then we are not being present, we miss things, we don't make the time feel life fully. (Blog continued under the photo)
So is less really more? I am very much a work in progress and know that I am still programmed to strive for wanting more. But imagine not wanting to own more than you already have. Imagine not comparing your stuff to others. Imagine finding contentment in the things that you own, feeling abundance with all that is with you right now.
Having less makes more room for being present, for generosity, and for pursing towards things that matter. Perhaps we can all learn a little something from that Tuk Tuk driver.