A mind that is lively and inquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry.
– MARY OLIVER –
In 2017 I was rushed to the ER where I was hooked up to a morphine drip for five days. Once the swelling in my abdomen lessened, I had a laparoscopic cholecystectomy to have my gallbladder removed. Prior to surgery, I’d undergone a significant upheaval in my career, moved twice in 10-months, and broke-up with my significant other. Instead of acknowledging how I felt or asking for help, I put up my defences and suppressed how I felt. My body was telling me to slow down, but I didn’t want to accept or reflect on the obvious turn-of-events in my life. It all came to a head when my lower abdomen literally ruptured with pain so acute I blacked out. Post-surgery, I spent two weeks at home to heal. Cut-off from all the spaces and activities that soothed and distracted, I was forced to sit with my feelings. I was angry at how my life was evolving and my lack of control over events. In my refusal to acknowledge how I felt, I didn’t give myself a chance to let the anger move through me to see what was underneath my vexation.
Our bodies provide us with all sorts of signals through our emotions to assist in our mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. If we’re willing to observe our sensations, every emotion- be it anger, sadness, shame, envy, or guilt- is valuable. Ancient Eastern Civilizations understand the interrelatedness of the emotional and physical body in expressing our thoughts and mental fluxuations. Western science is beginning to accept the relevance of our emotions as guiding our physical nature and communicating possible symptoms. will be expressed in other areas of our life. This is why it’s integral to accept, express and release emotions as this process keeps the mind and body healthy.
Anger is an expression of our inner vulnerability. It’s a defense mechanism that constructs a wall between you and all the other emotions you may not want to feel, such as sadness, fear, anxiety, loneliness, and/or grief. When our defences go up, it can block the emotion from being expressed. This cuts us off from truly feeling the emotion and generally, it remains stifled and unresolved.
Anger, Ego, and Akrodha
Sometimes we put up walls that we believe will keep us safe, but those walls only end up blocking us. Seek out those walls, and gently tear them down so that your vulnerability can shine through. – RUMI
The ego may build walls of defense to protect us from feeling negative emotions and expressing and/or feeling our vulnerability. It may feel easier to bury our emotions and live in a state of denial, or it may feel easier to stay angry- in a state of self-righteousness where we feel we have more control over ourselves and others. Anger is defensive and tends to indicate that there may be a whole lot more to address underneath. Releasing anger may allow the deeper emotions of sadness and fear to well up, which would reveal a state of vulnerability. Releasing anger may look many different ways. If it involves another person, it might require a conversation to express how you feel. Stating why you’re angry or how the person hurt and/or offended you may help shift how you feel .
Exercise and/or meditation are ways to burn off the excess energy your body may be holding onto when you’re angry and induce a calmer state. Any sort of physical movement is a wonderful way to purge the excess and calm yourself before approaching the person or situation that you have anger towards. Venting anger and releasing anger are very different things. Venting does nothing in resolving how you feel. So with exercise and meditation, in purging the tension from your body, we still have to talk about how we feel to move through the angry emotions. If you can’t talk to the person who’s offended you or resolve the situation on your own, journaling about it or discussing it with someone you trust may help you move through your anger and release it so you can move forwards.
According to Iyengar, there are two types of anger that a person experiences: self righteous anger, fuelled by the ego that is destructive if it lingers in the body’s system, and righteous anger. Righteous anger is constructive and used skillfully to help rather than hurt others. Iyengar demonstrated righteous anger in his classes to ‘break the inertia’ in students to teach them proper methods of yoga and put an end to any delusion or fantasy.
All cruel words should be endured. None should be treated with disrespect. No anger should be directed in turn towards one who is angry. Only soft words should be spoken, even when violently pulled by another. — Narada Parivrajaka Upanishad
In Indian philosophy, the concept of Arkodha is impressed throughout many texts, including The Mahabharata, The Upanishads, and The Bhagavad Gita. Akrodha literally translates to ‘one who is free from anger’. Living with Akrodha is one of the highest virtues of humankind and among the twenty six virtues described in The Mahabharata. Akrodha is demonstrated through a calm and even demeanor especially when provoked. In the Upanishads, one who remains free from turmoil and temper and seeks knowledge through kaivalya yoga, is one who possesses Akrodha and is on the path to liberation.
Anger as Medicine to Refine Our Attitude
Don’t use your anger to conceal
A radiance that should not be hidden – RUMI
Anger, the heat and intensity felt in the body, is an indication that something must be done. Anger is a force presented to us that we must act in some way. When we accept our anger, we may use it constructively to develop skills in communicating how we feel. When we repress one emotion, we repress them all. We cannot hide from our emotions, they represent energies in motion and are meant to flow through us to transcend suffering.
Conflict is a necessary step in growth and personal development. It takes practice and patience to identify our anger and then take the necessary steps to reconcile this emotion so we may move on. We may not be taught how to identify or acknowledge our anger, which is where one may discover suppression or denial. Anger is a natural and necessary emotion. It may provide tension and cause an energetic rupture that makes space for you to grow and move forward in your relationships. Anger may give the impetus to act where one was wronged or a situation was unjust.
We may use our anger as a medicine to refine our attitude and discover an inner luminosity through a capacity to evolve in relationships.
The body is sending a very clear and bold signal through anger. We may listen to it, sit with it, and decide the best course of action, or give in to our more base and possibly immature emotions. To move through anger, we may have to alter our perception, broach a difficult conversation, let go when we are not ready, or accept that we may be wrong.
The Roots of Resolution with the Yamas of Yoga
Bring anger and pride under your feet,
turn them into a ladder and climb higher. – RUMI
Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga provide an ethical guide for the yogi to attain peace and harmony. The Yamas are one of the Eight Limbs, and comprised of five moral principles to assist one in living ethically in the world. Yama translates to ‘restraint’ and is the root of the foundation for moral discipline in yoga. When taken into practice, the Yamas may help to absolve unnecessary anger and help one let go of that which doesn’t serve to create a more harmonious state of being.
The Yamas of Yoga:
Ahimsa – nonviolence in thought, word, or deed
Satya – truthfulness
Asteya – freedom from avarice
Brahmacharya – control of sensual pleasure
Aparigraha – freedom from covetousness and possession beyond one’s needs
If we observe the Yamas in our daily life, we act with more integrity in all aspects of our life. If we approach the Yamas with an open mind and willingness to work on ourselves, we create more awareness in ourselves.
Our thoughts and emotions are interrelated. If we think negative thoughts, this will feed our emotions and therefore affect our physical state. If you’d like to change the way you handle your emotions, it’s vital to become more aware of your thought patterns. You’ll become more conscious of how you think, speak, and act. When we are ignorant of what our emotions are trying to tell us, we may act out-hurting ourselves or others. When we make friends with our strong emotions (anger, jealousy, rage) and they arise–we know we must pay attention and listen to their messages.
Applying the Yamas and dedicating oneself to yoga, through asana (postures) and pranayama (breathwork) may assist the yogi in gaining awareness of how one perceives reality. The yoga practice can help one feel how all things change overtime, nothing lasts forever. When work through challenging postures, such as arm balancing, and stay with it and breathe, we may feel the heat and the prickly sensations that arise. Building tolerance and training the body through physical postures may introduce one to an understanding of how physical sensations don’t last forever. In this way, we might come to an understanding of how our emotions, like the physical sensations in yoga, move through us and dissipate. Negative feelings will pass and we may become stronger and more resilient in the process.
Living With an Open Mind and Curious Heart
The garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind. – RUMI
Allowing the full spectrum of sensation to move through us is an essential step in honouring our emotions. Our sadness, joy, and anger are all indicators of how we feel in any given situation, adding context to our experience and providing a rich foundation to learn. Receiving each experience and exchange, without holding onto our ego, ideas, and impressions, may create space for connection with others. We may become more compassionate individuals as we work within the framework of the Yamas.
When we dedicate ourselves to yoga, we act in accordance with a higher discipline through body, mind, senses, and consciousness. All sensations of the body and impressions of the mind are little pokes to turn inwards and acknowledge each experience with an open mind and curious heart. Yoga provides us with an entry point to observe, and a way to release tension and rinse strong emotions from the body so we can sit with ourselves and get a little bit more clarity on how we feel.
A practice to flow with an open heart:
Heart Wide Open.
*A note on learning to work with strong emotions: Mindful practices such as yoga and meditation may unearth emotions or past traumas. If you are new to working with these emotions or experiences, we highly recommend seeking professional help such as a therapist, counsellor or social worker to help you gain tools for working with these emotions or past traumas.*