This month we were going to talk about yoga and how it can help us deal with strong emotion. Let’s start off with anger, since it’s a biggie! Anger, and its companions frustration and annoyance, come up often in daily life. Maybe there’s someone at work that you always seem to clash with; maybe you had a fight with your partner, or your child accidentally broke a keepsake you treasured; maybe there’s a lot of traffic on the highway or you got pulled over for speeding. There are so many little moments in our lives that can lead to anger! And as we all know, when you’re angry, the person who suffers the most from that anger is you. When we carry anger around with us all day, it can have effects both physical (tight shoulders, tense neck, upset stomach) and behavioral (inability to concentrate, likeliness of lashing out at others, decreased enjoyment of activities). When we feel angry, it upsets the calmness we’re trying to cultivate in the mind by practicing yoga. So how can we deal with our anger in a healthy way?
First, don’t pretend you’re not angry. In order to deal with the strong emotion, you first have to acknowledge that you’re experiencing it. Then, keep yourself from responding instantly. When we’re angry, we want to act right away, maybe yell at the other person for what they’ve done wrong, but yelling isn’t going to do anything to correct the problem – it’ll probably just make things worse, upsetting the other person and only prolonging the anger in you, working you up further! So start trying to rein in that impulse to take action right away. If you can do this, that will give you a chance to decide if the instinctive action is the best one.
A little breathing can do wonders to calm the mind. When you feel yourself getting angry, try taking a long deep breath, then another one. Maybe try some pranayama: diaphragmatic or three-part breathing can be incredibly calming. When your mind gets angry, that signals your body to produce adrenaline, getting your whole system worked up. Slow deep breaths have the opposite effect, calming the body, which in turn soothes the mind.
Now that we feel a little calmer, how do we deal with the anger that’s still lingering? As Patanjali says, when negative thoughts arise, positive ones should be thought of instead. So what’s the opposite of anger? Kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. When you feel angry, direct your thoughts towards an image that always makes you feel tender and loving – maybe it’s a flower, your mother, or your baby. Refocus your angry thought on something positive.
Combat the anger by developing compassion. Remember that, while you are suffering in this situation, the other person is suffering too. Try to see the situation from his perspective or imagine what she might be feeling. Compassion reminds us that we’re all alike, every single person: all seeking a way to be happy and safe. If you can look at the problem from the other person’s point of view, you may be able to respond not out of a place of anger, but from a place of compassion. That will help everyone to have a better experience and a happier day!