Curiosity about the rhyme or reason for emotional fluctuations of the mind is a common existential question among humans, especially inquisitive yogis interested in practicing core tenets of yoga (e.g. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2: yoga is the cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind).
Yoga philosophy invites a deep exploration of prakrti, loosely translated to nature or innate primal matter consisting of three interdependent gunas, or energies, qualities, or attributes. The gunas are rajas, tamas, and sattva.
Each of the gunas encompasses much more than the translations provided today, but to introduce the concepts:
- rajas encompasses energy, activity, passion, agitation, and movement,
- tamas symbolizes darkness, heaviness, laziness, stability, and materiality, and
- sattva embodies light, balance, harmony, awareness, and wellness.
Anger, As Interpreted in Yogic Theory
According to yoga theory, anger arises because of the predominance of the powerful rajasic energy. Rajasic energy is important, for without it, there would be no action and little accomplished. However, too much rajasic energy can lead to aggressive behavior, criticism, cruelty, hostility, hatred, impatience, rage, resentment, violence, and many other negative and destructive incarnations of anger.
While anger can be beneficial if expressed and addressed appropriately, uncontrolled anger negatively affects not only the mind, but also the physical body and relationships. Anger triggers the fight-or-flight response, which floods the body with stress hormones, and the long-term physical effects of uncontrolled anger include anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, headache, heart attack, and decreased immune response.
Uncontrolled anger directly competes with the yogic principle of Ahimsa, or nonviolence toward all living things, and can lead to trouble at work, arguments, physical fights, and emotionally pushing people away.
Anger is a universal emotion and rajasic energy is innate; therefore, it is important to cultivate healthy ways to manage and deal with anger before it spirals out of control. Try mix and matching these yoga inspired strategies and ways to manage and deal with anger to find what works for you!
1. Svadhyaya – Study Yourself in Situations Where You Feel Angry
The first step in managing and dealing with anger is to practice Svadhyaya, or self-study, to notice when you are feeling angry. First, just be a witness to the emotion and then start to pay attention to the details. Notice what triggered the anger and what can change.
If possible, journal about the experience to keep a record that you can reflect back and notice patterns. Eventually, witnessing and data collecting will help you problem solve and create new solutions.
2. Saucha – Practice Eating Clean to Release Anger and Balance Your Body From the Inside Out
Take time to research your dosha and, if possible, schedule an Ayurvedic consultation with a trained professional. By practicing healthy and clean eating, you practice Saucha, or cleanliness. It is easy to see how food greatly affects our physical body, so it comes as no surprise the significant impact of food on the mental body.
Processed foods filled with preservatives, additives, and pesticides make our body’s work overtime to detoxify and eliminate the unnatural chemicals as well as make us restless and agitated. Additionally, certain foods are rajasic and over stimulate the body.
Foods and stimulants like sharp spices, hot oils, coffee, chocolate, and meat of animals and fish, increase the heat and rajasic energy in the body, which is associated with increased feelings of anger.
3. Isvara Pranidhana – Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself
Anger can be a source of learning and bring awareness to shadow sides of ourselves. The Dalai Lama once said that, “We can see subconscious anger in terms of a lack of awareness, as well as an active misconstruing of reality.”
When anger is approached with mindfulness, loving kindness, and non-attachment, it can act as a springboard to help us explore the depths of our psyche and build a relationship with something bigger than what our mind may twist to construct as “reality.” By practicing Isvara Pranidhana, surrendering to a higher being or contemplation of a higher power, anger becomes less the focus of pain and more a place of growth and learning.
4. Asana – Flip the Situation On Its Head and Think About Anger From a New Angle
Fun fact: the body cannot be relaxed and tense at the same time. Shouting at yourself to relax rarely works to combat the anger. Practicing your favorite, and somewhat challenging, yoga asana is one of the quickest and most fun ways to release anger. It is hard to be angry when you are trying to balance in Bakasana (Crow Pose) or Sirsasana (Headstand).
Practice flipping yourself upside down for a bit (30-sec to 1-minute) and notice have the world starts to look different.
5. Pranayama – Breathing Techniques to Balance the Body and Release Anger Induced Tension
While practicing asana can help in certain situations, there are still times when simply going into handstand won’t do the trick. In these times, you can practice pranayama techniques like Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing) to help calm the nervous system and release anger induced tension.
However, pick your pranayama wisely. For instance, Kapalbhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breathing) encourages more fire and rajasic energy.
These five yoga-inspired ways to manage and deal with anger are springboards for your practice. Creating a regular sleep routine is also a great way to help manage and balance your emotions, as well as practice Asteya by not-stealing time from yourself and your care. Avoiding gossip is another great way to avoid common anger triggers like lies and frustrations, plus it’s also a way to practice Satya, or truthfulness.
If you have helpful ways you manage and deal with anger, share your knowledge with the community below in the comments section!
Ling is a relational therapist, yoga teacher, and overall wellness advocate. She finds joy teaching power vinyasa flows as well as decompressing in soothing yin yoga classes.
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Everyone experiences anger at some point, but when that anger gets out of control and begins to affect relationships — with others and yourself — it requires management.
Suppressing anger isn’t recommended; it’s a real emotion that often has valid roots. Yoga can help you channel the anger in a constructive way. Instead of getting out your aggression by throwing a glass or saying something that you’ll later regret, visit your mat to work on your emotions.
Spending a little time with your breath and your body can help you process why you’re feeling angry and how to address the situation in a way that fosters growth.
Breathe and let go.
An imbalance in one of your energy centers can result in anger. Manipura chakra located governs understanding of your power in the world and your self esteem. When you feel out of control, or that your very individuality is threatened, this chakra may be kicked out of balance and anger ensures.
Yoga twists stimulate Manipura chakra. Examples of twists include:
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose: Sit on your buttocks with your right leg extended. Bend your left knee and plant the left foot on the floor outside your right thigh; your legs will be crossed. Inhale and as you exhale, hug your left knee with your right arm as you look behind you. Hold for several breaths, then switch sides.
Revolved Side Angle: Stand with your legs about 4-feet apart. Ground down your left foot at about a 45-degree angle and bend your right knee to point to the front of the mat. Bring your hands to prayer position at the center of your chest; as you exhale, twist your left elbow outside your right thigh. Hold for several breaths, then switch sides.
Reclined Twist: Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Allow your knees to fall to the left side and your head to the right. Use your left hand to gently press your hips to the left as you reach to the side of the room with the right arm. Hold for several breaths, then switch sides.
Breathe and let go.
This simple pose softens anger with the innocent mindset of a child. You allow your hips to rest over your heels and melt your heart. Child’s pose is also introspective; it gives you time to be reflective and alone. You can process anger without lashing out.
To do child’s pose: Get into all fours and sit your buttocks back on your heels. Reach your arms forward on the mat and lay your forehead down on the floor or a block. Lengthen your spine as you feel yourself relax over your legs. Stay here for several breaths, or even several minutes.
Take a Deep Breath
You may have heard that when you’re angry, you should take a deep breath and count to 10. Yoga has a similar approach. Simply taking a deep breath the moment you feel angry and noticing the way the emotions affect your mind can be a powerful way to diffuse a potentially explosive situation.
More precise yoga breath work, such as alternate nostril breathing or Bhastrika, aka Bellow’s, breath can also clear your mind to ease anger.