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How to Breathe Through Your Anger

Health | Stress

You’ve been standing in line at your morning coffee spot for what feels like a lifetime. You’ve already received two text messages from your cubicle neighbors who are ushering you into the office as early as possible in order to prepare for your 9 a.m. presentation to half of the production department.

You know your morning won’t go well without caffeine so you grind your teeth, tap your feet, and wait impatiently behind the woman who is rattling off an order over the phone for what seems like the entire group of carpool moms.

The cashier finally gives you the nod to step up next when a frazzled gentleman hurries in front of you to say he didn’t receive a star on his rewards card for his purchase. The cashier appears confused and leaves the front register to get his supervisor. You start to say, “pardon me” when the frazzled gentleman exclaims, “Wait your turn!”</p

The Rush

There is a strange but familiar warmth starting in your toes and rushing to your extremities. You can feel your cheeks getting flushed and a little sweat forms on your brows. Your breathing changes from unnoticeable to short and shallow. Suddenly you can hear your heartbeat in your ears.

Anger is a normal human emotion. A primal instinct, even. Anger varies in intensity from irritation to rage. When you feel any form of the variation, the amygdala is the part of your brain that sounds the alarm. Next comes the adrenaline rushing through your body.

Because the physical effects of anger are so good at clouding your brain, it is likely you will react in a way that is not typical of your behavior when compared to your rational, thinking self.

But what if there was magic way to stop anger before you said all those ugly things you really didn’t mean? What if there was a magic spell you could cast on your brain so the little monster living up there never crept out and convinced you to smash your fist into something? What if you could recognize the warning signals and stop the damaging effects of anger from emitting from the vessel you so carefully try to calm in your Downward Dog?

The Solution Within

It doesn’t take magic at all. The answer already lies within you, or specifically, in your breath. Taking a couple deep breaths can decrease your rapid heart rate and and all those other symptoms that are reminiscent of steam blowing out of your ears.

I know what you’re thinking: She’s writing an article about breathing when you’re angry? Sounds pointless, right? Wrong. When was the last time you took a deep breath? You might be surprised at your answer. Between your morning commute, afternoon mad dash to the cafe, and phone calls from your Aunt Ira planning a visit, maybe you haven’t taken one single deep breath today.

What to Practice

Close your eyes and inhale deeply through your nose, feeling your abdomen expand and your chest rise. As you begin to exhale, part your lips and empty your breath slowly and with control. Feel your chest lower and your stomach shrink. Do this 2 or 3 more times.

In a matter of minutes, it is likely you will be as calm and relaxed as you are in your Savasana at the end of class. What is happening is you are lending oxygen to your brain and to all of your vital organs. Your diaphragm is massaging your stomach, small intestine, liver, and pancreas with every breath. Your muscles are lengthening and releasing from their once constricted and pinched states. You might even let out a sigh because it just feels so darn good.

Compare these breaths to the breaths you take before you fall asleep, when you are in your calmest, most relaxed state of being. What if the next time you felt your physical body reacting to anger, you took a moment to close your eyes and feed every cell in your body the goodness of oxygen and proper circulation?

When you open your eyes, you might feel more patient, more alert, and hopefully, less likely to throw a temper tantrum. If you make this a daily practice, you might find yourself more able to pull out your deep breathing technique the next time anger looms.

So, take a breath or two and hang on. You’ll be sipping that extra foamed cappuccino and running circles around that production team even sooner than it would take the cops to question witnesses of your would-be outburst.

Featured in New York Magazine, The Guardian, and The Washington Post
Featured in the Huffington Post, USA Today, and VOGUE

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