Until Rage Yoga hit the scene in Canada earlier this year, we didn’t often talk about anger in the yoga community. Rage as an emotion can sound scary and extreme. Sometimes it is, and in such cases, quieting extreme rage takes persistence and practice. Most of us regularly experience minor frustrations that can build up to anger, and many of us experience rage in more subtle ways.
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Rage can manifest as self-destructive thoughts and behavior, or it can accumulate from recurring stress and frustration. Yoga offers the opportunity to transform feelings of stress, anger, and rage into calm and inner peace. While overcoming anger is not easy, I’ve discovered five yogic tools that allow me to feel more centered and at ease.
Some people like to sweat it out. Vigorous physical exercise that increases your heart rate, like vinyasa or power yoga, can be beneficial for dealing with feelings of anger. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which trigger positive feelings and increase mood. An energetic and dynamic practice is likely to make you feel good about yourself while also diffusing intense emotions.
Alternate nostril breathing (nadi sodhana pranayama) is great for dealing with anger because it calms the nervous system and focuses the mind. By becoming aware of the breath, we can steer our thoughts away from the object of our anger and toward the rhythm of deep inhalations and exhalations. Breathing exercises slow down the heart rate and help bring focus and awareness to our feelings.
Laughter truly is good medicine. Laughing yoga practitioners claim that laughing, coupled with yogic breathing exercises, reduces stress and has a positive effect on mood. Laughter releases tension and diffuses anger and frustration. Even if there’s nothing funny to laugh at, deep breathing and voluntarily laughing almost always leads to real laughter, especially if you can find someone else to join you. Laughter invites in joy and lightheartedness.
While power yoga can help you feel more positive and calm, restorative yoga offers a place to surrender. In a restorative practice, tension is released in the body through slow and focused movements that loosen the spine, open the hips, and deepen the breath. The nervous system enters a relaxed state and your blood pressure and heart rate decrease, inviting you to surrender to the present moment. Feelings of anger and rage begin to dissipate as you become more aware of their grip on your mind and body.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33 points toward compassion as a powerful means of healing feelings of anger, frustration, and rage. Compassion toward oneself and others, even in the most difficult times, reminds us that we are all suffering together. Anger and rage can feel isolating. Compassion teaches us that we are not alone. The more we turn our attention toward others and treat one another with kindness, the more we release our own false sense of isolation and move toward true happiness.
Anger and rage are complex emotions that we all encounter at some point in our lives. The more we practice these yoga strategies to overcome anger and rage, the easier it becomes to diffuse these intense emotions when they begin to arise. Yoga enables us to see our own situation more clearly, take responsibility for our feelings and actions, and move toward living a more full, compassionate, and happy life.