Archive for June, 2012

The Wrath of the Yoga- getting mad and getting even

Comments Off on The Wrath of the Yoga- getting mad and getting even Written on June 10th, 2012 by
Categories: General

Have you ever worked yourself into a snit in a yoga class, and then wondered, what the heck am I doing? Anger supposedly doesn’t belong in yoga.  We are supposed to “let go”. Anger gets the cold shoulder because it does create tension and stress, wreaking havoc on our health.  It produces the belly fat increasing hormone cortisol, making us fat on top of pissed off.  With seemingly good reason, anger is to be gotten rid of the moment you notice it, like bed bugs. As yogis, we put inner peace on a pedestal, shunting anger off into a back room somewhere to be gotten over on our way to better things. The question is, is anger really always all bad? What is its place in yoga and stress reduction?

Anger has gotten a bad rap. We shouldn’t just shove it off like an unwanted solicitor and pretend we are better than that, because we aren’t.  I would even venture to say that people who claim to never get angry are either in deep denial, or are pretending they are more evolved than they are. When we deny anger, we lose some important benefits and opportunities for growth and discovery.

Yoga is about making the unconscious conscious and discovering our own patterns. Anger does a good job at pointing to those deeply ingrained patterns that might be hurting us. Take a good hard look at what really gets your goat. For me, it’s false accusations or perceived false accusations. If someone even suggests I may have perhaps been a little negligent about something, I find my breath quickening, and my mind obsessing. If I push anger away immediately or go on the defensive, I don’t get a good look at what those patterns are.  Anger also gets us in touch with our own humanity. When we feel our own uncomfortable emotions, we hopefully have more empathy when we see someone else wrestling with their crap. It’s hard to feel yogier than thou, when you’ve just snapped at someone or are grumbling to yourself.

Anger can be empowering. It gives us a voice and the strength to be heard when we might be afraid to do so. It calls us to action. Sometimes, an immediate violent reaction is exactly what is needed. I remember one time I was walking late at night out of a subway station in Queens and some guy reached under my skirt as I was walking up stairs. I spun around grabbed him by the collar threw him up against a wall and screamed every expletive I could think of in his face (lucky that I had the physical strength to do that!).  The guy clearly got freaked out by the sheer velocity of my emotions and tried to squirm away as fast as possible. I was proud of myself for finding my anger at that moment and acting on it. I didn’t really think I had it in me until it happened. Also, injustice in the world doesn’t often end until enough people get really angry about it. Well directed anger has the power to save lives and make the world a better place.

Thankfully, the vast majority of our daily interactions do not call for ninja-anger. We do not want to end up putting someone in a head lock every time we get a little upset. For every day conflicts, we don’t need to act or speak every time we feel angry. In an ideal world, we’d be able to pause, feel our anger, acknowledge it, perhaps make a little joke about it, look into the real reason why we are angry, and then calmly inform the person who made us angry about our feelings and see if the conflict can be resolved. Even that last run-on sentence is exhausting.

And unfortunately, humans are way messier than that. Usually anger causes raw reaction which either then has to be followed up with some damage control or causes an angry counter-reaction which escalates until someone ends up getting shot over a parking place or HR gets involved. Or we just carry it around with us, screaming at the person in our heads or complaining to our close friends and never giving it any other outlet. Somewhere in the middle, we have to forgive ourselves for getting carried away by our anger and realize that anger also has its own cycle and needs to run its course. If it isn’t finished doing its thing, it will likely crop up under another guise much sooner. This doesn’t mean we continue to add fuel to the fire, creating a self-righteous court in our heads lining up all the arguments of why we are right and the other person is wrong. That isn’t it either. If we focus more on the feeling or the pattern rather than the specific circumstance, we can find the distance necessary to realize, “Wow, that thing is still upsetting me, why really am I still carrying that around? What does it remind me of? What about it on a fundamental level is getting to me?” Then maybe after it happens another thousand or so times, you might find yourself not as upset by a certain circumstance.

In many spiritual practices, they speak of breathing anger out, exhaling it away. Pema Chondron, an articulate and experienced Buddhist teacher, however suggests that when we are angry, we breathe anger IN. By fully feeling it, by holding it within us, in a weird way even savoring it, we allow it to be a part of who we are. Like everything in yoga, this practice is much easier said than done. Also, it is important to remind ourselves that just because we get really furious in a yoga class, it does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with us or with the class. I have left countless yoga classes in a cloud of real rage and often tears, but I kept going back. Although it still happens occasionally, I understand so much better what pushes me to that place.  The next time you find yourself cursing, don’t focus so hard on letting the irritation go, try breathing it in and just see what happens. Whatever you do, just remember that you are not a bad yogi, just because you feel like stabbing someone in the eye (just don’t act on it!). Just use it before you lose it.

Repressed yogi anger

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