Yoga for Traders

I have a suspicion that Patañjali was a derivatives trader. Yoga seems to have been created specifically for traders. There is much in Yoga that can aid a trader to become better at what he or she does.

Yoga and Trading

For those who are not familiar with who these traders are: they are a sub species of modern humans, who buy and sell financial contracts, subsist on P&L, and for whom every interaction is a deal in which money cannot be left “on the table”. There are great many varieties of them – from the garden variety stock pickers and bond traders to the exotic variety, whose subsistence may be a function of the rate of change in the rate of change of stock prices.

Traders:

  1. are surrounded by stimuli that affect mind and body
  2. process information from multiple sources
  3. take risks; make rational decisions all the time
  4. deal with annoying non-trader humans that make them doubt the theory of evolution

Decision making under correct information, without influence of personal biases, conditioning or emotions is the key to survival as a trader. The financial market cemetery is full of tombstones of people who got cocky and/or emotional.

Yoga:

  1. brings about stability of body and mind
  2. develops self awareness
  3. develops the ability to concentrate at will on an object of choice
  4. reduces and destroys common sources of anxiety and suffering (known as the Kleśa)- ego, attachment, aversion and fear

Yogic Concentration helps the trader perceive and evaluate market situations and information accurately without biases and conditioning. Self-awareness helps in understanding his or her own mental state and drivers behind the thought processes so that important decisions are made from the best possible position.

Kleśa and Trading

Kleśa influence the traders in a fundamental way. For example, attachment to trading positions, ideas, principles and short term PnL colour perception and evaluation of information and lead to bad trading decisions. So do aversion to taking short-term loss, changing opinions, accepting data that refute hypothesis and being an outlier or contrarian to people around.

Attachment and aversion are essentially two sides of the same coin. These are products of a life time of conditioning and learning. Incorrect knowledge (avidya) is at the root of these and sustains them.

Fear of losing one’s job, reputation, image, etc can also play into everyday decision making  with unpleasant consequences.

Kleśa are sometimes subtle and at other times overt. Some of them can be dormant and arise when suitable triggers are present.

(People familiar with behavioural finance can relate to how Kleśa directly correlate with some of the systematic behavioural biases that Kahneman and Tversky reported from experiments on graduate students. Kahneman went on to receive Nobel Prize. Yoga Sūtras say that Kleśa are present in everyone and influence thoughts and actions. Only the adept Yogis can suppress them at will.)

The practices of Yoga (i.e. Kriya Yoga) are aid in becoming aware of and reduction and (eventual) destruction of these Kleśa.

Asana

Āsanas (i.e. the postures that have come to be synonymous with Yoga) build the foundation by bringing health and stability to the body. Regular practice also brings stability to the mind as body is a window to the mind.

Āsana practice puts a lot of emphasis on spinal mobility and hip flexibility. This is essential to help the Yogi sit for long hours in meditation. You need to be “fit” to sit for long hours. Otherwise, it can destroy your back (google disc degeneration). Traders sit for long hours. Many cannot get off their desks when the markets are open.

Many traders work out in gyms or go for a run. However, the “work out” rarely addresses the sitting issue.Training to look like a lumberjack or a model with 5% body fat and then getting back to the desk and sitting for 8 hours working on an excel sheet is likely to result in conflicts and needless suffering. That there is no free lunch is well known in this community!

Most workouts aggravate the imbalances that come from prolonged sitting. For example, running shortens the hip flexors. So do many “core exercises”. Even Yoga routines that have a lot of forward bends (e.g. Ashtanga Primary series) can end up taxing hip flexors disproportionately. Prolonged sitting over the years leaves a trader with shortened hip flexors, creating postural imbalances that could result in lower back pain. Exercises that further stress the hip flexors accentuate the imbalance. Therefore, Āsana routine must be designed to address this issue.

In short, an Āsana practice for a trader, must prepare his body for long hours of sitting without causing injury and restore his body from the effects of long hours of sitting. It must create health and stability that is in harmony with his work. 

Pranayama

Breath is synonymous with life. It is autonomous with some degree of conscious control. It can also be felt. Therefore, it serves us a very useful object for meditation.

Simply watching and following one’s breath is an useful exercise to develop concentration and self awareness. Here is an easy to do 10 minute exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime. Sit comfortably (chair, couch, bench or cross legged floor). If necessary support your back with a cushion. Take 5 slow, controlled and deep breaths. Feel the breath as it enters the nostrils, flows down the throat and fills up the lungs. Similarly on exhalation, feel as it retraces the pathway. At the end of the 5th exhalation, use your right ring finger to block the left nostril (apply gentle pressure with the tip of the finger, right below the bony part) and inhale slowly through the right nostril to comfortable fulness of lungs. Pause for a moment after inhalation. Unblock the left nostril and use your right thumb to block the right nostril and exhale with control through the left nostril. Pause for a moment. Then, keeping the right nostril blocked, inhale slowly through the left nostril. Now, use your right ring finger to block the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. This completes one round. Perform as many rounds as comfort and time permits. If you are feeling short of breath, then it could mean that you are slowing down the breath beyond your current capacity. Calibrate it such that it is comfortable for the duration of the exercise. As you perform this exercise, it is important to feel the breath. Keep your eyes closed. Set an alarm so that you do not need to worry about counting the breaths.

Interestingly, controlling and restraining exhalation stabilises the mind. This article has some simple exercises a trader can do anytime, anywhere.

Prānāyāma or breath control is an important part of Kriya Yoga. It has many health benefits including stress reduction. For example, longer (i.e. slower) and deeper breathing activates para-sympathetic nervous system and aids in rest and recovery. It also quietens the mind and aids in concentration. This leads to development of self-awareness, which is a key element in getting rid of the Kleśa that come in the way of optimal trading decisions.

It is a very useful for traders and I highly recommend it as a daily practice.

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Establishing a Personal Practice

Modern Yoga landscape can be confusing with innumerable labels and styles. Ultimately, these are just tools to develop stability, self-awareness and concentration.

The key to success are simplicity, repetition and smart design. Smart design needs expert input. Practice needs to be customized to the individual. Find a good teacher (like myself!).

Āsana and Prānāyāma practice should be such that it can be done everyday and does not take a lot of time. It should have elements that can be modified for progressive difficulty so that improvement is continuous.

Since we are trying to establish new patterns of behaviour, doing frequently in smaller chunks is more effective than doing more, but less frequently. For example, training 2 or 3 times a day, 15-20 minutes each time is better than training 2 hours every other day.

Some simple standing or sitting Āsanas can be done through out the day, in your work clothes and at your desk. Same goes with the breathing practices.

Remember, your training ought to be in harmony with what you do in your life, fitting it like lululemon 4-way stretch yoga pants.

Practice and All is Coming

Yoga Sūtras say that there are two kinds of people. There are those, who are gifted and born with the ability to achieve Yogic concentration (Samādhi) without much effort. And there are the ordinary folks like us. The Yoga Sūtras say that, with informed, sustained and intense practice, we can achieve higher stages of concentration. And the Sūtras outline all the useful tools and techniques for this.

I am sure, one day, Yoga classes will qualify for CPT hours!

P.S.

Clearly, much of the above is applicable to the officer worker in the knowledge economy. Invocation of trader is just a clickbait. Forgive me!

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