By Raquel Jex Forsgren, Yoga Therapist, C-IAYT
Anger. A powerful emotion. Everyone feels anger at some point. We all feel it uniquely. Yet, our bodies experience it nearly identically. Feeling angry is an example of how we create our own suffering because of what we perceive, how we perceive it, and the way we react to it. I’d be remiss saying that ALL feelings of anger are unhealthy. Feeling short episodes of anger periodically are normal and part of being human!
Anger can create a sense of urgency to get something done—to make an important or big life change, such as modifying our lifestyle to manage a disease, losing weight, or leaving an unhealthy relationship or job. The essential ingredient to overall health and wellness is our ability to be self-aware about WHAT we get angry about and HOW we manage that anger.
WHY DO WE GET ANGRY?
We feel we’ve been wronged. Someone does or says something to us and we take it personally. It might be personal, yet most times, it’s not. It’s about what that person is going through. Someone cuts us off in traffic—we wave our hands at them thinking that they planned to slam on their brakes or cut us off. In reality, they likely had a fight with someone, or maybe they just lost their job or a loved one.
We are upset with ourselves. We beat ourselves up for what we just did or said. How often have you been angry at yourself for being short with your spouse or child? We chastise ourselves for not being nice enough or for accidentally cutting the person off on the expressway while we were thinking about that fight with our mother earlier that morning. What about a diagnosis with a disease that we have or a family member has? Anger often arises when we can’t control what has happened.
WHAT DOES ANGER DO TO OUR BODIES?
Anger triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. The adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. The brain shunts blood away from our gut, towards the muscles, in preparation for physical exertion. Heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase, body temperature rises, and we perspire. The mind sharpens and focuses.
Over time our health can begin to suffer in different ways. The constant flood of stress chemicals and associated metabolic changes can devastate our bodily systems. Some of the health problems linked to anger left unmanaged include headache, digestion issues, insomnia, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke.
HOW CAN WE USE YOGA TO HELP US MANAGE OUR ANGER IN A HEALTHY WAY?
Yoga increases our self-awareness. It helps us notice emotions and thoughts that arise at that moment, encouraging us to be curious about them. We learn to ask ourselves, what am I angry about? Where do I feel it in my body?
Literally, sit with anger. Let it be uncomfortable. Let your heart pound. Let your hands shake. What is the worst thing that is going to happen? Allow the anger to be witnessed.
In fact, try the technique below when your mind and body feel flooded with anger. Then notice and ask yourself, “where in my body do I feel anger now?” By the time you’ve asked yourself all of these questions, you may be surprised to see that it may not be there anymore or may have shifted to another place. Not only have you “leaned into” your anger, but you also created a relaxation response to balance your nervous system all on your own!
Close your eyes. Notice HOW and WHERE you are breathing. Notice WHERE you are feeling the strongest sensations in your body. Take 10 full rounds of breaths, exhaling just a little longer than inhaling. Then notice the overarching emotion that you are feeling, notice after the rounds of breathing, where you feel it in your body, and say the words to yourself “I am leaning INTO this emotion.”
Mindfulness will help you change your behavior. Try this simple technique the next time someone cuts you off—either driving, in a meeting or otherwise. Before you tell yourself that “they did that on purpose,” try saying to yourself, “I wonder what they must be going through right now to act like that or do that.”
As you keep practicing this, you will break the habit of responding and reacting in the way you have been. Your commute will be better, you’ll lower your anxiety about going into meetings, and over time, you will feel different each day because your stress hormones begin to stay lower longer.
Remember, if we can control our mind, breath, and our own reactions to things, we can and will heal our own suffering because we can manage our anger.
Raquel Jex Forsgren is a Certified Yoga Therapist, C-IAYT, a graduate of the Soul Institute, certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists, holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology and has 25 years of experience in pharmaceuticals. Raquel has been living Yoga for over a decade. She currently lives in Chicago. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her @yogawithraquel on Instagram and visit www.livingyoga-therapy.com.