As a Certified Financial Planner for several decades, Brent Kessel helps individuals, business owners and families manage their assets. Yoga is an important part of his personal path; he has written for Yoga Journal and has been a major presenter at Yoga conferences. So he’s in a unique position to see many of the pitfalls we Yoga folks get into and also the strengths we have from Yoga that can be applied to financial planning. Integral Yoga Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Brent about the eight archetypes he’s discovered and ways to help anyone create a more abundant attitude around money.

Acording to Brent Kessel, one of the most common pitfalls for yogis who own a business is the tendency to avoid looking at the numbers. Given the choice between analyzing money, balancing one’s checkbook, looking at profit and loss statements, Yoga teachers would much rather focus on their Yoga practice or students. Brent explains that there is nothing wrong with that, but it’s helpful to recognize the choices we make and to make sure that we cover our bases by including other people on our teams, professionals who can do those kinds of analyses in order for our businesses to stay strong.

Brent pointed out that one of the strengths common to yogis who are business owners is that we have taught ourselves to breathe at the edge of discomfort. Most people haven’t. If we can’t breathe when things are uncomfortable or anxious, we tend to make really bad financial decisions. For example, if you don’t like to balance your checkbook or dig into a pile of bills, bringing your breath to that moment is a key skill. As Brent explained, “Every time I’ve made a financial decision in my life, my breath has been caught somewhere above my collarbone. Once you recognize that, you have the opportunity to change it and actually bring a deeper breath down into the solar plexus and lower belly so it becomes part of the practice, as you are doing these things.” In speaking with him, it was clear that the work here is about bringing our awareness and attention to something that is unconscious within. This is a strength that we, as yogis, have developed because Yoga practice is really about making the unconscious conscious. “So many people have negative associations with money; that’s why there’s a lot of shame and unwillingness to talk about it. Money’s really a neutral substance. It’s a store of life energy,” Brent explained.

Through his work, Brent discovered that most of our habits and behaviors associated with money were formed decades ago and have gone largely unquestioned. We cling to them as the only way to survive. Whether we believe, “I need to save a lot of money to feel secure,” or “I ought to spend it on things I enjoy because I can’t take it with me anyway”—we tend to cling to our core beliefs are around money. When these beliefs stay unconscious, and especially if we cling hard to them, they tend to lead us astray, into poorer decisions than if we brought our awareness into those unconscious realms.

In his book, It’s Not about the Money, Brent identified eight financial archetypes: the Caretaker, the Empire Builder, the Guardian, the Idealist, the Innocent, the Pleasure Seeker, the Saver and the Star. If you go to his website,, you can take a quick quiz that tells you which of the archetypes is dominant in you. He pointed out, “I don’t like to think of the archetypes as a hierarchy—one being better or worse than another—yet when most people look at them, they tend to have more judgments about some of them and fewer judgments of others.” It seems we tend to judge the ones which we identify ourselves with our spouses or our parents. We tend to respect, or not have much judgment about, the ones we have embodied. There’s no inherent good or bad in these, however, says Brent. He encourages his clients to just let any judgmental thoughts that may arise simply float away, to not entertain or energize them. They are apt to be old stories that we tell ourselves about how we or other people are with money.

The archetypes help us to identify tendencies in ourselves and then learn what we need to awaken the positive attributes of the most dormant of them in order to feel safe, balanced and good about ourselves. Brent teaches that each of us has several of these archetypes and dominance changes at different times in our lives. Each archetype can be expressed in healthy, high functioning ways—what he calls a gift—or in unhealthy, low functioning ways—what he calls a pitfall. So, we learn that, like with Yoga, the key to having a healthy relationship with money—one that is free, spacious and sufficient—is to create a balance among all eight archetypes. Brent gave this analogy: “When you have a body with great flexibility but no strength, that creates injury, because the system lacks integrity—there’s nothing keeping it integrated and whole. It’s the same with money.”

So, how does his system work? If we have a really well developed pleasure seeker archetype, or innocent archetype, we would have a lot of faith and optimism that things are going to work out and therefore spend more on pleasurable things, like getting a facial or taking a vacation. If we didn’t have a well-developed Guardian or a Saver archetype, it’s like the Yoga practitioner who has a lot of flexibility but no strength. Or vice-versa: If someone has a well-developed guardian or saver, they will tend to be frugal, perhaps even very tight, and will not use money to derive pleasure or to express generosity. In order to create more integrity and balance, these people need to develop some of the other archetypes.

The Archetypes

The Caretaker gives and lends money to express compassion and generosity. This is someone very giving—someone who works for a non-profit or who might be a schoolteacher or in the healing arts. Many Yoga teachers have a strong, caretaking element. It’s key that Caretakers take care of themselves as well as they do of others. Each of the archetypes has a payoff. The reason it becomes dominant for you is because it serves you in some way. It helps you feel good or avoid feeling bad. One payoff for Caretakers is that they get to feel loved or needed by another being. It’s helpful to recognize what compensation is in it for you because, if you are going to reduce your reliance on any of these archetypal behaviors, you have to replace the payoff with a different one—to get that need met in another way. You can’t just withdraw the nourishment that this archetypal behavior has been giving the young, vulnerable part of yourself and replace it with nothing.

The Innocent avoids putting significant attention on money and believes or hopes life will work out for the best. The gift is there is a great faith and optimism that things will be okay—the universe will always provide because it always has. The Innocent may feel, “I don’t like to focus on money. It’s negative, heavy and filled with responsibility. I’d rather teach Yoga, hang out with friends, play music and focus on things that bring me joy.” Brent counsels that as long as that works, fine. As long as there’s someone in your family system that is putting attention on money, fine. The pitfall for the Innocent is that they can tend to get themselves in trouble, like spending beyond their means or getting into a business partnership they didn’t check out carefully enough. It’s good to have optimism and faith as a foundation, but we also need to be prudent and pragmatic—hallmarks of the Guardian archetype.

The Empire Builder thrives on power and innovation to create something of enduring value—frequently a business. Most Yoga teachers aren’t Empire Builders if they are primarily working independently or are teaching in a studio. Brent gave the following example: The Empire Builders would be the Exhales, the Yoga Works of the industry, where one is really trying to build a chain or brand. Some are motivated to create other legacies through writing books or creating a non-profit foundation. The gift of the Empire Builder is the yearning to have an impact on a fairly grand scale. The pitfall side comes when, because of that vision, we become greedy or domineering and don’t pay attention to others’ needs as we march toward our imagined goals.

The Pleasure Seeker prioritizes pleasure and enjoyment in the here and now. Key for this archetype is sensory pleasure. Pleasure Seekers will buy a piece of art, not so much to impress someone or to help the artist, but for their own sensory enjoyment. They know how to get great joy out of money. They can make a dollar go further than others. The pitfall is when they get overly hedonistic or impulsive and pleasures are used to fill a void—like overeating, buying things to fill up a sense of emptiness and other addictions. In Brent’s workshops, he deals a lot with what the Buddhists call “the wanting mind”—that part of us that is always craving more. He explained, “In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there’s a quote that I’ll paraphrase: When an object brings happiness, it creates a desire for more of that object and the hope that it will bring everlasting happiness. What we often fail to recognize is that it’s not the object or experience that created our happiness.” Brent pointed out that a huge part of why we are feeling fulfilled and having a dopamine rush in the brain is that our craving has stopped—we are not outside of the present moment and wanting something different. That realization can be very liberating. We can get to that lack of craving through Yoga practice, meditation and the practice of santosha, contentment that doesn’t require money or our outside environment to change.

The Guardian is always alert, careful and prudent. The Guardians know their numbers, they know how much they have and what they spend. They are focused on living within their means. Lower-functioning, higher-suffering Guardians have a lot of worry, anxiety and inability to take action to change their situations. Higher functioning ones use these tendencies to inform their actions. They have just enough worry or concern to take prudent steps in order to make adjustments. Every businessperson should have a Guardian. Have an accountant, bookkeeper or a spouse who is one, if you are not. The Guardian will bring a skeptical eye to everything. Brent suggests that if you are an Innocent or Empire Builder, if you are dreaming of how great your studio is going to be or how many private classes you’ll be teaching because you are a great Yoga teacher, your outlook can tend to be a little pie in the sky. The Guardian will say, “Wait, let’s take a look at Yoga teachers who graduated a year ago from your same program and let’s see where they are teaching now, how many students they have, how much money they make.” They’ll do the research. They will figure out how many students you need to make ends meet.

The Saver seeks security and abundance by accumulating more financial assets. The gift of this archetype is that they have more flexibility and choice because they have put something aside. If they want to change careers, they can go without income for three months, six months or even a year, whereas other archetypes can’t do that. “The pitfall, Brent shared, “was well represented by me in my early 20s. I was one of the tight people who wouldn’t spend on pleasures. I was very frugal. If I didn’t save every spare nickel, I felt the world would come crashing down. It took me about 10 years to cultivate enough of the Pleasure Seeker and the Caretaker to relax a little and enjoy money spent on me and my family, as well as on philanthropy.”

The Idealist places the greatest value on creativity, compassion, social justice or spiritual growth. Often, this is your starving or successful artist, or someone who works for a nonprofit and is passionate about that. Idealists are happiest when they are effective and putting their ideals and values into action. Brent described the trip up for Idealists, which is in the area of philosophy and belief:  “A cynical and skeptical worldview can develop where they feel the world is corrupt and it’s not worth even playing a part in it. They just want to complain about it and be victimized by it. If the complaining leads to taking action to do something, to put one’s beliefs and ideals into action to help make positive change, that’s one thing. But low-functioning Idealists can have an aversive relationship with money that sabotages their freedom and ability to enjoy their creativity, compassion or spiritual practice because they are dependent upon the government, nonprofits or those who fund their work.”

Brent explained that the Star spends, invests or gives money away to be recognized, feel hip or classy and increase self-esteem—even if it’s living a greener lifestyle, driving a Prius, only shopping at Whole Foods or being the first to buy a compostable Yoga mat when it comes out. They may like having the image of being the green guy or being on the cutting edge of some kind of trend, so that influences how they spend their money. Brent reported that, “Every person I’ve talked to can think of a few examples of when wanting to be recognized influenced their financial decisions: I was going to buy the entry level model of this car but I wanted people to think I make a little more money than I do. Or the opposite: I come from inherited wealth and have always been told to keep it secret, and it’s caused problems when I haven’t—so I wear these tattered clothes and drive a 15-year old car.”

Our financial decisions are often impacted by what others think about what we do with our money. The gift of the Star is when your leadership is worthy of emulation. You are doing something with your life and business that’s really working in a fuller, deeper way. Maybe you are living a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, and that is an example that inspires others. You feel more spacious, more abundant and have more time to be with family and friends than those caught up in the rat race, those just trying to get ahead. If that’s where you are, it’s great to have some Star quality and take it out into the world. Brent mentioned that Seane Corn is a good example of this: “She has a lot of Star energy—she’s charismatic and magnetic around people, and she’s used that to launch “Off the Mat into the World,” which is an amazing charity.”

In every one of these archetypes, the gifts are so valuable. Brent recommended that, if you are someone so stuck in your Guardian and Saver that you don’t have a sense of faith or hope in relation to money, you need more of the Innocent. Often people attract a romantic partner that balances them. He noted that, “The funny part is we butt heads with our partners. We want them, and then we can’t see with our conscious minds how their worldviews make any sense. We judge and blame each other. And really, there’s a higher intelligence at work, which chose that person for you to partner with. If you are the Innocent or the Pleasure Seeker, you chose someone to help balance it out so you wouldn’t go off the rails. Yet, it’s rare that we are willing to do the hard work of cultivating the strong sides, the gift sides of the archetypes in ourselves.”

According to Brent Kessel, if we want to change something about our relationship to money, that change must originate from the inside out and not from the outside in. We must become students interested in what motivates us to act the way we do with money before we can have any hope of transformation. It’s not just learning about our archetypes, but also learning ways to focus our attention, to actually liberate ourselves and create more balance in order to have more freedom and joy in our lives and in relation to money. In order to not be caught by our unconscious conditioning, we must learn to create an open dialogue between our unconscious, wanting mind and our higher wisdom. If we are hoarding, gripping tightly to our money, we are essentially reinforcing the belief, “I don’t have enough.” Compassion and generosity are the cornerstones of a healthy, fulfilling relationship to money.  When we are in a generous state of mind, we are reinforcing “I do have enough.” This, according to Brent, helps us experience true freedom.

About the Author:

Brent Kessel is the President and co-founder of Abacus Wealth Partners, named one of the “top 250 wealth management firms in the US” by Bloomberg Wealth Manager. He has been a financial planner by day and a yogi by dawn for the past 15 years. Since 1989, he has dedicated himself to Yoga and has progressed through the fourth series of Ashtanga under the guidance of his teachers, Chuck Miller and Pattabhi Jois. A leader in his field, Brent Kessel uniquely bridges the disparate worlds of finance and spirituality. Material for this article is excerpted, with permission, from a module Brent teaches as part of a specialized coaching program for Yoga teachers called, “The Yoga Business Builder.” Brent’s book, It’s Not About the Money is widely available. For more information, please visit:






Source: Integral Yoga Magazine, Winter 2011