How Aviva Romm, MD, Used Yoga, Visualization & EMDR To Overcome Financial Anxiety — For Good

Aviva Romm for mbg Well Spent

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With an estimated 67 percent of Americans at least a little anxious about paying the bills, and 58 percent worried they won't have enough money for retirement, it's becoming increasingly clear that being financially well is an integral part of overall wellness. Of course, money management isn't one-size-fits-all, so we're talking to people from all walks of life to find out how they achieved a healthy relationship with their finances. We hope it empowers you to live a life Well Spent.

Aviva Romm, M.D., is a Yale-trained doctor and herbalist who constantly inspires us with her holistic approach to health and vitality. Here, the mindbodygreen Collective member talks candidly about how money can be used to fuel a more meaningful life, mining her own financial experiences for lessons along the way.

For Romm, few surprising techniques (think EMDR, visualization, and yoga) were what ultimately helped her overcome financial fear. If you, too, are approaching money from a scarcity mindset, you'll want to read her advice.

What does financial well-being mean to you?

To me, there are a few levels to it: There's sort of a core well-being that means the basic, Maslow's hierarchy of needs are met, like "I have food. I have shelter. I have medical care." I don't take that for granted. One, because I didn't always have that, and two, because most people in the world don't have that.

The second tier is living a life where I can make choices that allow for personal self-expression. For example, I have a very strong commitment to spending money in an environmentally sustainable way. But, as we all know, it's not necessarily less expensive to buy the organic mattress or the beautiful, organic clothing.

And I would say the third thing—and this is really important to me personally—is financial well-being, which also means that I'm not strapped so that I can also think about generosity. In my business, for example, we do zero markup on labs. That ability to have that kind of financial freedom where we can look out for the needs of others, that's well-being to me.

What has your financial journey looked like to get where you are today?

When I was born, my mom and dad were living in a housing project in New York City. They divorced when I was 4, and my mom became a single mom. My family is all very working-class. My grandfather on one side was a security guard. My grandfather on the other side worked retail in a pharmacy/drugstore. I'm the first woman in my family to finish college. I grew up with it not being uncommon to hear my mom on the phone with a girlfriend saying, "I don't know how I'm going to put food on the table."

I started my first entrepreneurial venture when I was in third grade. I never gave it a name. I made macramé bags, plant hangers, and jewelry and actually sold them on consignment in some local scores. I was always really good at saving money. By the time I was 14, I was applying to college because doing really well in school was my ticket out. By 15, I went to college. By then I was financially emancipated, so I had to pay for everything on my own, including school.

Between 15 and 18, I was studying herbal medicine and studying to be a midwife. I picked my handwork back up and had a little stand in Harvard Square in Cambridge selling beadwork. Then, I became a midwife and an herbalist and gradually started to develop a new relationship with money. I think my primal relationship with it was very fearful and very risk-averse since I knew what it was like to not have and didn't want to experience that. I had this very deep-seated belief that I was somehow genetically hardwired to not be able to be financially successful.

Over the past five years, I've done self-awareness work on it and tried to be mindful of that fear when it came up. I did EMDR that focused on not setting small upper limits, not assuming that just because you haven't experienced something that you're somehow hardwired not to have it.

Fear isn’t truth. And it’s not intuition either. It’s just plain old fear.

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When you were trying to bust through those limiting beliefs about money, what practices did you find helpful?

To start, I learned to recognize those thoughts as thoughts, not as truth. Our fears and anxieties often arise from some experience we had in our life. Recognize and honor that, and know that they are part of your story for a reason. Fear isn't truth. And it's not intuition either. It's just plain old fear. Then it becomes learning how to thank that fear, because chasing it away doesn't usually work.

Then I started allowing myself to be open to experiencing what fearlessness felt like in my body. I was doing an online yoga practice that asked me to imagine how it would feel physically if all of my fears were gone and I was already there, in that place where I felt ease and comfort. Then it became about being able to shift my breathing and posture and getting comfortable taking up space.

The third thing was taking ownership. Even though I'm a feminist, even though I'm a Yale-trained M.D., even though I created my own business and medical practice—somehow I used to be waiting for my partner to show up and do something or somebody else to show up and do something. Once I stopped waiting and realized that it was actually in me, that I had in me what I needed to show up and make money, I stopped expending unnecessary energy on the waiting, resentment, and the mindset of, "I need someone else." This was a game-changer for my relationship because I was no longer putting that pressure on my partner either.

It’s listening to my body over listening to what the culture is dictating for my body.

Is there a financial mantra that you now live by?

I have two: My mantra to myself is, "I trust myself as my highest authority." Then another one I believe is based on a mantra from India, which translates to, "It is completely safe, easy, and natural for me to be happy, prosperous, and successful." The second part of it is, "I experience peace, prosperity, and wealth as an integral part of my life." That one is sitting on my desk. There's Tupac also, who says, "Dreaming of riches in a position to make a difference," which I also really like!

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How do those mantras manifest in your life? What do you think about when you're deciding whether to make a purchase, investment, or big financial move?

If it's not a hell yes, it's a no. If I'm not getting that clear, clear, clear yes on something, then I wait. When I find, I oftentimes find that I didn't need something in the first place, and maybe it was a little bit of a shiny, gold object or a distraction.

I don't make purchases if I'm hungry or tired. I don't make purchases or decisions right before my period starts—not because women can't make great decisions during that time, but for me, it's more of an inward time.

Which wellness trends do you think are worth splurging on, and which ones aren't?

It depends. I live in a beautiful home that I built and designed. I will invest, for example, in a great sofa within reason if it's made from organic, high-quality materials. But I'm not someone who invests in passing trends, gadgets, or paraphernalia. When my babies were born, I didn't have every little gadget, baby monitors, strollers, this thing and that thing. I had literally like four things!

Same with my self-care and beauty routine. I've got a body lotion and a face lotion. I have a soap, two different shampoos that I alternate between, a few cosmetics, and a few colors of nontoxic nail polish. I'm not against having wonderful and beautiful things, but I don't buy in unless I feel like my body really needs them.

Where I do invest, and have always invested, is in good food. All of our meats are organic, grass-fed, or free-range. Our vegetables are pretty much all organic. I can honestly tell you that, at 52, it's paid off.

What are some self-care practices that you love that aren't expensive?

Making sure I get really good sleep every night; I try to get at least seven hours. I pay attention to my body and my mind. When I'm reaching my point of work saturation and I feel like I've been sitting at the computer for too long, I'll honor that, get up, and switch gears. It's become about listening to my body over listening to what culture is dictating for my body. That has profoundly kept me well.

Also, I make sure to carve out time to spend with people I love. I love to have dance parties, even if it's just with myself. When I really need a break or need to unwind, especially if the weather outside isn't great, I watch standup comedy. I consider that part of my self-care. I was watching Trevor Noah's Tacos with my husband recently, and he had to get up from the table because he was laughing so hard. I love the Carpool Karaoke with Adele. And then reading great novels, things that just take me away from my work. And time in nature, of course.

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What was the best money you ever spent?

One was a vacation that my husband and I took all four of our kids on. This was before money was as easy-flowing as it is now. The older two were teens, and the others were getting into their tween years. I said to my husband, "Pretty soon, one will go off to college, someone's going to get a boyfriend or girlfriend, and it's going to be too hard to do a family vacation." So we took two weeks in Costa Rica, and I said to him, "I don't care if we put this on the credit card and we pay it off for 10 years. We need to do this." I remember this moment when it was raining and my husband and I went in for this siesta time, and I could hear all four kids in the swimming pool outside of our window just giggling uproariously, and I said to my husband, "This was worth every penny." The other thing is my education, and my kids' educations. It's expensive, but for me, especially my M.D., has been so worth it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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