Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. As important as it is to be positive we must not deny anger its right to be felt by labelling it as negative and hiding it away in the psyche. Refusing anger space will lead to an outburst or build up in tension that not only burns those around us but also consumes us. Anger can make us feel helpless, out of control and it can make us physically ill.
Anger comes in many forms. Instant and explosive, built up and whole body consuming and niggling in the back of the mind guiltily lurking. Biologically anger is made up of two doses of hormones called catecholamines (one of which is adrenaline) which first give us an instant boost to fight and a second drawn out underlying secretion which makes us feel powerful, dangerous and impulsive. The second dose of catecholamines can last hours, days and even months!
Contrary to how it feels, anger does not depend on the outside circumstances it depends on you – your inner conditions.
In a yoga class you will be reminded to be present, to really feel the body move and to hear and feel the breath filling you with life. What yoga teaches us is to live each moment in the now (not just on the mat). Every moment you will ever experience is in the now and if you accept each moment as it is without putting it into the context of future and past life goes a whole lot smoother.
Anger is resistance in the mind. We absolutely refuse to accept a situation for what it is. We think to ourselves ‘I wish this situation was different’ and obsess over it. Anger feeds off over-thinking and identifying ourselves as angry. What happens if we accept the situation for what it is? Our head gets a little clearer with less emotional turmoil and we find ourselves light enough to stand up and get on with making change happen. We could make changes fuelled my love and compassion instead of fuelled by hate.
Let me be super clear here, acceptance of a situation does not mean that you can’t seek to change it. The political landscape right now is an angry one left right and centre and change is vital. Many people will claim that we need anger to push us into change. With all due respect I disagree. We can become disillusioned to think that our anger is noble and based on moral outrage. No amount of thinking is going to bring about change. What we do brings about change and it is near impossible to bring about positive change if you start in a space of anger.
Before my spiritual ventures, behind closed doors I used to be quite an irrationally angry person. Meditation and yoga helped my anger issues more than anything else. I can honestly say that I have dropped a plate of food on the floor recently and laughed it off. That is a huge transformation for me! I put it down to being in the present and accepting each situation as it is.
A hugely important part in motivating your yoga practice is not just that it makes you feel better. It improves your relationships with close family, friends and even strangers. Anger in any one of its forms can be one of the most damaging emotions in a relationship.
A great way to deal with anger when it arises is to see it for what it is, an emotion not us. We are not our emotions – they come and they go. Labelling is a powerful technique where we can step back from our thoughts and say ‘oh, this is anger – not me’. By stepping back we might also be able to see that our anger is actually a mixture of fear and/or sadness. Noticing this means we have a different avenue for solving the problem.
As valuable as mindfulness is Stephen Cope suggests that asanas (the physical postures) may be in fact the best antidote for anger “because asanas allow you to move the energy.” He cautions against meditation for folks in an explosive state because meditative awareness just feeds the flames once the temperature has reached a certain point.
We all get angry from time to time and sometimes for good reason. Anger is an essential part of the human experience but how we react isn’t preordained. Our animal instinct brings us to anger but being human we have the consciousness to choose compassion and love. It is a skill that will take a lifetime to master and we will slip up every once in a while. As hard as it may be I truly believe that it is vital that we take the time and effort to change our relationship with anger. The future depends on us. We don’t need more anger fuelled acts in the world today.