Byline: Helen Kirwan-Taylor
ECONOMIC downturns throw things up into the air.
Financial crises tend to provoke spiritual ones. Richard E Zimmerman, a former banker who runs a packed-out course on spiritual wealth, knows this only too well. He runs his course at the Alchemy Centre in Camden, the first spiritually focused yoga centre in Britain, which he co-founded last year with City trader Simon Andriesz, his wife Ewa and Nicole Hambro, ex-wife of banking heir Charles.
"Transformation happens in times of most uncertainty," he says. "It's the only time we can really learn about ourselves."
Zimmerman was plodding along in his well-paid job with JP Morgan on Wall Street when he strolled into a book store. He picked up a copy of Diet for a New America by John Robbins, which changed his life. "It sent me on a journey of learning about significant global issues, which became my book, What Can I Do to Make a Difference?" Of course spiritual gurus don't send unsolicited manuscripts: the universe meets them halfway. "I met an agent at a cocktail party and she took me to the publisher the next day," he says. Once in the light, Zimmerman started wrestling with his conscience: should he don sandals and give away all his wealth -- as modern gurus are meant to -- or be spiritual and rich? He chose the latter. "It's not an either or," he says. "We can be spiritual beings and open-hearted and we can have prosperity."
As the current spiritual movement takes hold, the mindless pursuit of wealth doesn't cut it any more. We need to feel good about greed. "People either feel they shouldn't care about money at all or they care too much," says Zimmerman. "My message is you can have it all."
I heard about Zimmerman a while back and came to the Alchemy Centre in Camden expecting to be met by a bearded man in flowing robes. Instead I was greeted by a thin and elegant man in a pair of jeans with cowboys boots and spectacles. He looked more Manhattan than mantra. Even more normal was his partner Simon Andriesz, who changed from white yoga kit to a double-breasted suit with shiny cufflinks when I was there. As far as preaching the gospel of mixing dosh with Om, these two men are good advertisements.
Zimmerman's idea for a course on spiritual money-making came about by accident. After 20 years of selfinduced study (which led him to meet both the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra), he was already teaching a course called Journey of the Self, when the money issues kept rearing their ugly heads. Many of his students are anxious City types. "People have big questions," says Zimmerman. "They're scared, anxious, uncertain about their futures. They're asking: why am I here, what am I supposed to be doing? What is the point of my life? Why did I fail? I decided to put my teachings to use. …