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On Yoga for Anger

This week I had an angry few days. My daughter has a chronic condition that makes things challenging for her sometimes. This is an issue we have been contending with for six years. Some days are better than others. We have had a few rough days of late. This is particularly stressful because it means she has missed school. Given that we are just getting started with the year, it concerns me greatly for her to miss any time out of the gates. She was remote schooled since the beginning of the pandemic and really needed to be back in person. Her grades and work ethic were both suffering greatly at home by the end of the last school year. So I really, really wanted her to be in school, safely and without incident.

Of course, things didn't go as planned. Barely into the first week, she had to come home. And then at the start of the next week, we had issues right away and she was home again. I was angry. I did not handle it well. I became very frustrated and in my frustration lashed out at others in my family. The anger and frustration seemed to build and extend outside of that issue too…. I was angry at all the laundry I had to do, at a truck I was driving behind that was putting out a lot of black exhaust, at the mess in Afghanistan, and at this awful pandemic we are still in the middle of. I was angry at a bunch of small stuff and a bunch of big stuff that is completely out of my control. Then I was frustrated and angry at myself because I was getting so angry! Sigh. So I had to take a step back and tried to remember the tools I have at my disposal to help manage anger. I tried to remember that I teach people these things and need to put them into practice myself.

Now anger is of course an emotional response we will all get from time to time that is completely normal. Sometimes though, anger and other feelings like aggression, frustration, hate, envy, greed, etc can become more overwhelming and present than what is healthy. This can cause a lot of disruption to our systems that can in turn cause disease states. The mind/body connection cannot be underestimated.

Fortunately there are tools we can tap into, to help rebalance our systems and improve emotional states overall. In the case of excess anger, what becomes important is to sensitize oneself. To feel the heat that might build in the body when we are angry, to acknowledge and allow that feeling to be present without fighting it, so we can ultimately let it go (or at least manage it better).

So what did I do this week when I was feeling an excess of anger?

First I just allowed myself to be angry for a little bit. I like to push off uncomfortable emotions like anyone. Sometimes I don't want to feel them because it feels bad. As is to be expected, if I push the feelings down they only come back with a vengeance and it just ends up more complicated. So I decided to have one day where I just felt angry. I then turned to my yoga practices.

Fortunately there are plenty of practices that can be utilized in the case of excessive difficult emotions like anger. The aim of the practices in this case should be to sensitize the body to the feeling. We can easily become desensitized to the feelings in our bodies. We just plow ahead, pushing uncomfortable feelings aside without even noticing sometimes. This coping mechanism exacerbates the problem. It is really important in this case to bring ourselves back into our bodies and feel the sensations anger and other emotions can cause. It is then that we can begin to let them go.

When choosing physical postures, what can help (which might seem counter intuitive) is to work on heat building practices. What we really want to accomplish is to build the heat just enough to feel it (before it moves upward toward the neck and head) and then slowly allow it to dissipate. We can also choose a breathing practice that does the same thing such as gentle kapalabhati (also called skull shining breath or breath of fire). This is a breath that builds warmth in the belly area. Once we do these warming practices, we can choose calming movements or practices that help to settle the body down. Chanting and mediations can also be indicated. Again, practices that improve sensitization in the body can help. The caveat always is that everyone is different. We have unique bodies, experiences and reactions to things, including these practices. This is why it helps to work with a Yoga Therapist who can customize practices to each unique situation!

HERE is a video of a short practice that you can use when dealing with anger. See how it feels for you.

Dealing with tough emotions like anger can be challenging and scary sometimes. There will never be an occasion, no matter how practiced we are at the above tools, where we won’t feel anger from time to time. It is part of the human experience, and if we let it, anger can be a fantastic teacher. Difficult emotions allow us to get to know ourselves better. When we accept our anger and acknowledge it, we can get better at handling difficult situations that come our way. We know that we have these wonderful tools yoga has to offer to help us along the path, and that we can take action to help ourselves do and feel better.

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