How yoga can help when we feel angry

Young couple is arguing to loud alongside their child

Anger happens. It is a natural feeling that can be useful in some situations, but one that we have to control and use constructively. It is generally not effective to talk when we feel very angry, as we end up saying things we don’t mean, and by doing so we hurt other people.

In Plum village, the home of the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and a beautiful place to go if you want to learn and practise mindfulness, one is advised to do mindful walking when angry, and only talk when the angry feelings have left. Sometimes, the teenage visitors to Plum village confess, it has to be mindful running.

Our emotional states have a huge effect on our bodies: certain muscles tighten when we are angry, sad, stressed, grieving. If we can be aware of and deal with our emotions, they may not have such a grip on our lives, and it will benefit our body as well.

Yoga can do wonders in this way: as we stretch our muscles and focus on the body and the breath, our circling, tediously repetitive thoughts stop for a while … and anger, sadness and stress may loosen their grip.

One morning I was walking in the park when a runner purposely bumped against me because I was meant to “look where you are going!” I must admit I got furious — after all it was 7am and the path was wide with no one else around. So I shouted this fact to him and finished my walk blowing the air out like a steam train. And yes, the walking helped too.

Releasing breaths
There is a breathing practice that I find very helpful when I am upset, angry or anxious. The exhalations themselves allow you to “let off steam,” and making the effort to do this systematically has an added calming effect.

1. Breathe out 6-8 times with a sigh. Allow the sigh to be as long or short as it wants. Take some normal breaths through the nose and then:
2. Blow the air out 6-8 times. Relax the face and jaw a little more with every blowing exhalation.
Then breathe normally, observe the breath and other sensations.
3. Make an sssssss-sound as you exhale, again 6-8 times. Make sure you let all the exhalation out before breathing in.
4. Breathe normally and keep the attention on your breath.

I often include this exercise in my yoga sessions, either at the beginning or the end, because we tend to carry all sorts of tensions around, and the breath has the extraordinary power to release them both in the mind and the body. Moreover, this breathing exercise benefits our whole breathing mechanism, as it naturally extends the exhalation, relaxes the respiratory muscles and allows you to breathe in more freely.

So next time you feel too upset to work, talk or sleep, do try this exercise. If it is too hard to focus on the different exhalations, then just blow the air out until you feel calmer, as I did in the park. If you are in a social situation, for example at work with colleagues around you, where you really cannot start blowing and hissing, try focusing on your breath: just breathe in and out with attention until you feel calmer.
Best of luck!

If you have other tips for anger management, do let us know in the comments below…


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