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READER'S CHOICE: Understanding and Dealing with Anger

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Beth

READER'S CHOICE: Understanding and Dealing with Anger

Untitled by Atsuko Tanaka*

Seeing red, seething mad, fit to be tied, and hot under the collar are just a few phrases that describe the feeling of anger, one of the core human emotions. There are many shades, or aspects, of anger. I found over sixty synonyms ranging from mild irritation to full-blown rage. Understanding them can help us identify which we may be experiencing. This is helpful because being annoyed at a situation will most likely result in a different response than facing that same situation while experiencing rage. Here are a few shades of anger:
  • Annoyance: Experiencing something as irritating, bothersome, or displeasing.
  • Frustration: A feeling of being blocked or prevented from achieving a desired outcome.
  • Anger: A strong feeling of displeasure or hostility, often resulting from mistreatment or opposition. 
  • Indignant: Feeling scornful at what one feels is unjust, mean, or ungrateful action, righteous anger. 
  • Enraged: Furious uncontrolled anger, expressing violent anger in action or speech. 
I have an intimate relationship with several shades of anger. Fortunately rage is not one of them—yet. I learned one factor of the “why” when I went to the Himalayan Institute for a weekend of Panchakarma, an Ayurvedic purification and detoxification treatment. As part of the process I met with Carrie Demers, M.D, Medical Director of the Wellness Center, who blends modern medicine with traditional approaches to health. She diagnosed my prakruti, my basic energetic constitution from the Ayurvedic perspective. Turns out it is pitta (or fire). I’d always felt that but having her diagnosis meant that it was real and not just “in my head.” The relationship of being pitta to anger is that when my fire energy is unbalanced (a state I call being "Pitta Provoked"), it can result in feelings of impatience, irritation, frustration, anger, and being critical of myself and others. 
What makes me angry? On a personal level it’s being kept waiting, being ignored, disrespected, interrupted or being lied to. Here’s an example I wrote about in a previous post (Witnessing the Self).  
"I refer to this as “The Volcano Incident.” Prior to this moment I’d experienced anger in my mind as roiling thoughts or upsetting emotion but this was the first time I experienced anger in my body. Many years ago, my then 9-year old stepson was enrolled in a summer enrichment camp at the university where I worked. One afternoon at 3:45 p.m. he bounded into my office to wait for his father who was scheduled to pick him up at 4:00 p.m. At 3:50 p.m. his father called to say he was delayed at work and wouldn’t be able to come. I called his mother. She wasn’t able to pick him up either. 
"I was scheduled to manage a professional meeting at an off-campus location at 4:30 p.m. I was stuck, and feeling my frustration deepen into anger. At 4:15 p.m. I drove to the meeting location with my stepson. I kept a careful lid on my anger. I did not want him to know what I was feeling. Getting him upset would not help the situation. 
"I pulled up to a stop sign and waited to make a left hand turn. Then, in a nano-second flash, my anger went system wide. Physically, it felt like a volcano spewing boiling red lava in my belly. I noticed my breath. It was shallow and stuck in my chest. Energetically I felt heavy, tight and constricted. Mentally, of course, I was seething mad."
What was curious is that suddenly I was aware of all of this from an altered perspective. It was amazing. Body, breath, energy, and mind were all experiencing the same emotion with different effects but all at the same time. The act of witnessing my emotional state was like being in the eye of a hurricane. It calmed me and enabled me to be patient enough to watch my anger settle on its own. At the meeting site, I occupied my stepson with a book and successfully managed my meeting. 
So that’s personal anger. There is also indignant or righteous anger that many of us on the transformational path of yoga feel about racism, sexism, war, injustice, and science denial. 
Anger, both personal and righteous, is often viewed, written and talked about as a negative emotion that is not helpful to the process of spiritual growth. Is this true? We need to ask the logical question:
Q: Is it OK to be angry? 
A: Yes. Bija Bennett in her book Emotional Yoga states: “Emotions are not disruptions of an otherwise calm and reasonable experience. They are at the heart of our experience, determining our focus, influencing our interests, giving meaning to our world.
“Emotions provide us with our most basic communication network within, helping us connect the incidents, the relationships, and the experiences that make up our lives.

“When emotions are acknowledged, understood and expressed, they are as valuable as any healing intervention.” 
If we subscribe to this view, we understand that having and feeling emotion, including anger, is a natural part of living a five-senses material existence and that anger itself is neither positive or negative. It just is. It’s how we acknowledge, understand and express our personal or righteous anger that makes it either healing or harmful. The next logical question becomes: 
Q: How do we handle personal and righteous anger?” 
A: Mark Epstein is a psychiatrist and the author of Thoughts Without a Thinker and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart. He says that people tend to respond to anger in one of two ways: 
“People have one of two problems with anger, as they do with any emotion. Either they’re indulgent in the expression of it, or they’re afraid of it; either they’re spilling the emotion or its there and affecting them but it’s being pushed away.” 
If we indulge, spill, or push our anger away, we are reacting to feelings of anger. However, if we acknowledge, understand, and consciously express our anger in appropriate ways, we are responding to it. And this can be true in how we deal with both personal and righteous anger. Yoga has many tools to help us do that.  
Yoga First Aid for Anger 
When you are experiencing anger in real time and you can feel it rising in your body/mind try a calming pranayama such as relaxation breath (see Building Bridges) or Adhi mudra, which is grounding (see About Mudras for Healthy Aging). 
For cooling and calming asana to add to your regular yoga practice, try restorative yoga poses such as Child’s pose or Legs Up The Chair pose (see My Magic Four for Back and Spine). These poses can provide a sense of grounding and safety to calm the shade of anger that may be disrupting your equanimity. Another helpful idea is to take time to understand exactly how you cope with strong emotions. Nina’s recent post Coping Mechanisms for Grief and Loss discusses this and includes several healthy yoga based coping mechanisms that will work well for dealing with anger. However, if your anger is chronic and interfering with your daily activities you may need professional help in addition to practicing yoga. 
Here’s a quote to keep in mind the next time you need to acknowledge, understand, and find a helpful way to express your personal or righteous anger in any of its shades: 
“A moment of patience in a moment of anger saves you a hundred moments of regret.” —Anonymous 

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