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!
Image credit: Nicole Wise