All emotions we feel are different colors and flavors of our life force energy. Each one, with its own unique quality, feel and texture, is part of the beautiful and complex tapestry of our rich human emotional experience. I have noticed over the years as a yoga teacher and healer that often the darker emotions such as anger, sadness and shame can be judged as “negative” feelings to be avoided or meditated away because they are “not spiritual.” I can understand why! Anger can be one of the most challenging emotions to experience. It can feel like wildfire ripping through us, distorting our inner world and causing us to feel overwhelmed and out of control. White-hot rage can feel unbearable, yet when we internalize these feelings they can turn into crippling depression and even physical illness.
These suppressed, powerful emotions can only be pushed aside for so long before they implode and erupt, wreaking havoc on our lives physically and energetically. We must accept that whatever feeling arises is natural, and is part of what makes us beautiful, raw and human. When we can see anger as very powerful creative energy moving through us, we have the possibility to integrate this energy and alchemize it into a more usable form. Energy cannot be destroyed, but it can be transformed. The medicine exists within the wound, and so we must go into the darkness to mine the psychic gold that anger can teach us.
The Science of Anger
Have you ever felt like a different person when you get angry? Sometimes big feelings such as anger can be so overwhelming that we lose sight of the bigger picture or our more rational minds. We can feel engulfed in the emotion like a dark cloud, seemingly without end.
(Here's also a yogic way for How to Deal With Feeling Overwhelmed.)
Neuroscience research shows us that this is completely normal. When an unexpected trigger is introduced into our experience, we often go into our fight-or-flight response, even though in reality we probably are physically safe. When this happens, our sympathetic nervous system gets activated, and our adrenals release hormones such as adrenaline. When this flush of hormones is released into the body, we either tense and armor up to face the perceived danger (fight), or feel the need to run to safety (flight). During fight-or-flight, our breathing, blood pressure and heart rate are all in overdrive. The rational part of our brain goes offline during the stress response, so it makes sense that we can’t think clearly when we feel stressful emotions.
The Control Subject: You
While we can’t control our lives, including our environment and the actions of other people, what we can control is how we respond to life’s circumstances. From a yogic perspective, anger arises as a result of attachment to unfulfilled desires. This can be true. We get attached to the outcome of how we want our lives to be, how we want a certain external situation to go, or how we want this or that person to interact with us. When life doesn’t exactly align with our desires and we don’t get what we want, anger can arise.
It also must be said that circumstances in our lives that happen beyond our control where there is abuse and injustice, certainly warrant anger. Anger, and any emotion, regardless of where it comes from, is always valid. By cultivating our inner witness through conscious practice, we create a sense of healthy detachment from our emotions. When we witness our experience rather than allowing it to overtake us, we realize that we are not our feelings, and are more equipped to navigate our inner storms.
Yogic Method for an Alternative to Anger
When experiencing a trigger, it can be helpful to take some space to get clear on what’s happening, how we’re feeling, and what needs to happen next in order for us to feel more grounded and at home in our present moment. There is no use suppressing the anger, or trying to pressure or guilt ourselves into feeling differently. The anger will just get driven even deeper into the body and manifest later on, bigger and badder, either as physical illness or unconscious projected outbursts onto others. Time and time again we learn that what we resist persists. Luckily, there are practices we can call upon to help us alchemize our emotions.
Here’s how can we work with our anger in a healthy way and learn how to make friends with our inner monster:
Breathe Through It
First, allow yourself to feel your anger. Start by taking some deep breaths. Notice where the anger is living in your body. Observe the sensations that you feel, staying with your breath, without judgment, noticing what’s happening in your physical body.
Release the Energy
The next step is to move and let the energy out. Some ways to discharge anger can be to shake, dance, scream into a pillow or run to the top of a mountain and just let it all out! For some, writing can be helpful as well. Find some way to move the energy out of your body.
Then, after releasing the emotional energy, slow down and be in this new spaciousness you’ve just cleared within yourself. Go inward and reflect: Where is this anger coming from? What’s lurking underneath the surface? Usually anger is the bodyguard of fear. See if you can investigate where this fear originated and check in with the present moment situation. Is there any validity to this fear now? Listen and be present with whatever insights arise.
Forgive Yourself and Others
Lastly, offer yourself compassion and forgiveness. You can try putting your hand on your heart and breathing in unconditional love, or perhaps practice the Metta Prayer of Loving Kindness: “May all beings everywhere, whether known to me or unknown, be happy. May they be healthy. May they be at peace. May they be free.”
(You could also try Breathing Love: Meditation in Action (Excerpt + Guided Meditation of Love).)
In some way, be present and tender with yourself, creating the space to welcome and love ALL of yourself and all of your feelings. And notice how sending that love and forgiveness out into the space around you helps to lift your spirits as well. Practicing these mindful steps can help to transmute toxic emotional energy into creativity and healing.
Staying Centered in the Eye of the Storm
When we learn how to remain fully and truly conscious in the moment, no matter what turbulence or chaos may be going on around or inside us, we discover our vast inner freedom. By being present in the now, even if the now is temporarily uncomfortable, we align ourselves with the universal river of creative energy, and are more available to move and flow with life.
(To help, read on for 6 Techniques to Staying Present.)