Fitness Magazine

Three Steps for Working with Anger

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Charissa Loftis

Three Steps for Working with Anger

From the Plains I by Georgia O'Keeffe

I am very familiar with anger as I experience it on a regular basis when interacting with my family (please tell me that I am not alone and that there are others out there who experience the same!). I grew up in a home marked by PTSD, alcohol abuse, and depression. These issues heavily influenced our interactions with one another, and over the decades, those interactions shaped our habits and familial roles within the family. We recognize that we have emotional/relationship work to do, but we never get around to the work. That’s not to say that we don’t love each other or don’t have any good times together—we do, but it’s just hard sometimes. 
At times that anger feels like a rolling boil in me. My face, jaw, abdomen, and chest tighten up. I feel like pushing the person away from me (figuratively, not physically). I feel so turbulent inside that it usually comes out as a string of angry words. I ruminate on all the wrongs that the target of my anger has caused me over the years. I don’t enjoy feeling like that or acting in that way. Who would? But even though I don’t like feeling anger, it still rears its ugly head. 
For a long time I followed the old advice of “walking it off” and other vigorous physical activities (Sun Salutations, throwing things, hitting a pillow, etc.) but found that they did not work to quell the anger. Vigorous activities like walking and dynamic styles of yoga only fueled the fire of anger in me. My yoga practice helped, but it wasn’t until I read Tara Brach’s books Radical Acceptance and True Refuge that I started to develop a step-by-step method for working with this powerful and uncomfortable emotion. Through these books and my yoga practice, I began to accept that I get angry and started working with it separately from the incident or person that made me angry. I found using the RAIN (Recognize, Accept, Investigate, and Non-attachment) method that Brach spells out in her books especially helpful. 
Here is the basic program that I have developed for myself.  
Step 1: Breaking the Cycle of Rumination 
Before I can even get to the steps of RAIN, I have to stop the cycle of rumination (this is the hardest thing for me to overcome). Once I recognize that I’m ruminating I use one of two methods to direct my thoughts somewhere else long enough to stop ruminating. I like to use cross-patterning yoga movements (for example, circle one arm forward while circling the other arm backwards at the same time). The cross-patterning requires enough thought that I can’t think about anything else and work with the movement. But there are times when I am unable to use this method, for example, when I’m driving a car or in a meeting. So the other method that I use to stop ruminating is to list five things that I really like. The list can be very simple: I am wearing my favorite socks, the tea I’m drinking is delicious, I am having lunch with a dear friend today, the couch I’m sitting on is very comfortable, there’s a cool breeze moving over me, and so on. 
The amount of time that this step takes can vary. If I’m mildly irritated, it might not take long to break the cycle of rumination. But if I’m very upset it may take more time, and there are times when I have to make multiple lists of things that I like for the cycle to break. I know when I’m ready to move on when the agitation no longer feels so intense or when I can watch my breath for several breaths.
Step 2: Stilling the Waters 
Once I’ve stopped ruminating I can start what I call “stilling the waters.” I do this by becoming still and small in a comfortable seated posture or Child’s pose. While in that smaller posture, I practice breath awareness and belly breathing. I have a tendency to breathe into my chest when I’m upset or angry and directing my breath into my abdomen during my breath awareness practice helps me maintain focus on my breath and aids in smoothing out the waters more than with breath awareness alone. 
The time needed to still the waters depends on how angry I am. If I’m very angry, it can take up to 15-30 minutes to feel like the tension has softened and I feel more settled. There are times when I have to go back to step 1 if the rumination starts up. I know when I’m ready to move onto step 3 when I feel like I can watch my inner dialog as a witness, rather than a participant. 
Stilling the waters allows the rolling boil of anger within me to dissipate enough to work with the RAIN method.  
Step 3: Working with RAIN 
As outlined by Brach, RAIN stands for Recognize, Accept, Investigate, and Non-attachment. While Tara Brach approaches RAIN from the Buddhist perspective, it correlates with the yoga niyama svadhyaya (self-study). The RAIN approach allows for the self-study of reactions, physical sensations, breath, thoughts, and emotions. This practice of just watching what goes on, rather that interacting with it, requires using your witness mind as both Nina and Beth have described in previous posts (see The Power of Svadyaya (Self Study), Part 1 and Working with the Witness). 
After I’ve become still I can move to any other comfortable posture. The posture might be a seated pose or Shavasana, or I might even get into a hot bath! Any posture is acceptable as long as my body is physically comfortable enough to be relatively still and I can examine what has happened. Once comfortable, working with RAIN looks like this:
“Okay, what’s going on here?”  
Recognize: “I’m really angry right now.”  
Accept: “Okay, I’m angry. It happens.”  
Investigate: “What does anger physically feel like?” At this point, I list all the physical sensations that I’m feeling with anger. It may take some time to uncover the subtle nuances of sensations associated with anger or any other feelings that are present. 
Non-attachment: “Ok, can you just sit here with this for a little bit and watch it instead of responding to it?” I may also remind myself that these emotions do not define me and that they will pass. If I find myself ruminating again at this point, I start over again at step 1. 
I do not always follow these steps in an orderly fashion, after I get started I frequently find myself moving back and forth between them. My experience has been that the “Investigate” step takes the longest. Most of the time anger shows up with several other emotions, such as hurt, disappointment, shame, and so on. I can clearly remember a time that it took me about 45 minutes to clearly identify and label each emotion and the physical sensation that it presented. Most of the time it takes less time than that. 
RAIN provides the opportunity for me to develop a non-judgmental, observant mind. And I find using this method allows my anger to run its course faster than letting it fester and build. It also allows me to work with the anger separate from the individual person or incident that has me so worked up. When I finish with the steps I can move on with my day, something that’s not possible if I’m still ruminating. 
Do I still get angry with my family? Yes. I am sure my family would all vigorously nod their heads in agreement right now. But even though I still get angry, having a systematic method to work with it is helping me to feel it fully and let go of it more quickly than I have in the past. And I get angry a little less often, it doesn’t seem to last as long, and I always feel calm after working with the steps. I feel better about the situation and, more importantly, I feel better about myself when I go through the steps. 
Three Steps for Working with Anger
Charissa Loftis has an MA in Library Science and earned her RYT200 in 2015 from the Omaha Yoga and Bodywork Center under the teaching and direction of Susi Amendola. She is grateful to offer those teachings to a wide variety of people in the rural Nebraska community that she lives in. Charissa found yoga as a graduate student and continues to practice and teach because it makes her feel better. 
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