THE YOGA RESPONSE TO ANGER
‘Krodha or anger is one of the gates of hell (along with desire and greed). According to the Bhagavad Gita, anger comes from desire and causes confusion of memories and a loss of wisdom. However, when we assume the position of wisdom and watch ourselves experience intense emotions, our true nature can be revealed.’ (The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga)
In yoga we consider the mind to have three predominant states, these are sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva is a mind state that is calm, peaceful and alert. It is the state of mind to which all yogis are aspiring. Tamas is when the mind is dull and lethargic. Rajas is when the mind is restless and overactive which may manifest as aggressiveness, hot-headedness, temper, intolerance and impatience. These qualities may cause this person to experience anger frequently.
Rajasic behaviour can be modified by yoga practices, which include a sattvic vegetarian diet, slow deep stretching in the yoga asanas (exercises), specifically adapted pranayama (breathing practices) and meditation.
A diet that increases the rajasic temperament consists of animal flesh, chillies, spices, onions, garlic, caffeine food/drinks, alcohol, smoking, refined sugars and carbohydrates, and fast foods. A sattvic diet, which would help to pacify the rajas, consists of pure, wholesome and naturally delicious foods without preservatives or artificial flavouring. Fresh organic vegetables and fruit, herbal teas, fruit juices, nuts, seeds, grains, milk and butter would be on the menu. Eating these foods slowly and quietly calms the angry temperament.
Yoga asanas and pranayama
The emphasis for this practice is calming and cooling. I include more floor asanas, with slow, deep stretches and many forward bends. In the postures the person is encouraged to focus on their breath flowing in and out, the flow of the asana sequence thus becoming quite meditative and relaxing. Competitiveness is discouraged and hence one-on-one yoga lessons are advised. Pranayama should focus on cooling breathing practices and on lengthening the exhalations for stress release.
Awareness of breath flowing in and out could become a meditation practice. Meditations in the beginning would be guided, perhaps starting with visualisations on calm, peaceful outside environments or on flowing water with the intention of ‘going with the flow’ (in all daily activities).
Later on the meditations would shift to more inner work – like connecting with the inner Self; bringing joy and happiness into the heart; forgiveness of self and others; connecting with others with a loving kindness; meditation and the Tonglen meditation mentioned below.
Referring to the old texts
Looking at the second chapter of the ancient yoga text Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: Satya is one of five ethical guidelines of yoga known as the Yamas. Satya means to be truthful, have integrity, and to be authentic to your inner nature. Another Yama is ahimsa, which requires us to show loving kindness to others and ourselves, and to be compassionate and non-violent. Practising ahimsa involves a deep understanding that underlies every situation – you and your enemy are one, so you would never knowingly hurt anyone. Patanjali’s sutras state: ‘if a yogi would cause harm by the telling of the truth he should be silent instead’.
Mahatma Gandhi, a true yogi and the epitome of this, honoured both satya and ahimsa simultaneously – truth and non-violence, which appear to be mutually exclusive. He harnessed the power of satya to lead a movement that ended British imperialism in India. He never stopped acting on, and speaking about, his perception of the truth, yet he did it all with ahimsa, with the intent to inflict no violence. Ultimately, Gandhi insisted that satya and ahimsa, truth and non-harming, are ‘two ways of looking at the same experiential fact’. How did he do it?
According to his autobiography, Gandhi struggled throughout his life with aggressive feelings. In fact, rage against injustice fuelled his life’s work, but somehow he learned not to act out of anger. He developed the ability to separate the person from the person’s behaviour. ‘Man and his deed are two distinct things. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself.’
Tantric teachings insist that the practice of ahimsa must originate with ‘an acknowledgment of the aggressor in us – the dark, ruthless side’. It is by sitting with our anger, feeling its intensity, its flavours, that we can grow to become truly non-harming and kind. Jack Kornfield (the well-known Buddhist author) writes, ‘Anger shows us precisely where we are stuck, where our limits are, where we cling to beliefs and fears’.
An ancient yogic practice called Tonglen meditation is a technique to awaken the heart. Its essence is that on every in-breath you are willing to feel your own pain and that of everyone else feeling pain like yours. On the out-breath you connect to the joy of life and share that with all sentient beings. The idea of breathing in your anger along with the anger of all sentient beings may seem overwhelming, but when you try it, somehow it seems to make sense and the anger gives way to create spaciousness within. It may take months of this practice, but eventually, the relationship between satya and ahimsa, truth and compassion, starts to find comprehension and we can feel a transformation.
Yoga teaches us that any experience can point us to the inner Self. Instead of being a prisoner of anger, we become its student. Use daily life experiences as ‘opportunities’ to breathe in the upset and anger and awaken your heart.