There are plenty of reasons to be angry, especially right here and right now. Terrorists harm us, politicians aren’t honest with us, our parents let us down, our bosses treat us disrespectfully and our friends don’t always live up to all of our needs. I’m not here to tell you not to be angry, I’m not even sure that is a good way to go about it. What I am offering in this Post is what to do about the effect of anger, it’s residue.
Word on the academic street is that the physiological expression of anger is a burst of adrenaline from the amygdala region of your brain that lasts only 90 seconds. A minute and a half! The rest of that rush you feel when you are angry–you know the rapid breathing, tense muscles and a racing mind–is what’s leftover from the explosion.
For most of us the aftermath lasts much longer than a couple of minutes or even an hour. More likely we keep recycling that initial burst of anger for days, weeks, years, decades…until we feel like the incarnation of anger itself! Recycled angry energy then gets stored in the recesses of our body and mind–this is anger’s residue.
You’ve felt anger’s residue, I’m sure. Each person is unique but often it is experienced as chronic tension in the upper or lower back, tightness in the hips and groin muscles, perpetual shortness of breath and/or a jumpy mind. It’s not pleasant; we deserve to feel better.
As with many other chronic conditions or powerful emotions, yoga and meditation offer a way to clear anger residue from our mind and body. Each part of the practice described here–breathing, moving, sitting still–steadily burns away the unpleasant effects of our past and present anger. Try the following practices alone, in a sequence or as part of your other mind-body work to help you let anger’s residue go.
Calm the Breath. Lengthening the breath is always calming; exhaling double the length of your inhale is even more so. Add some breath retention and you will become both more calm and more alert. Follow these instructions:
- Sit comfortably.
- Breathe in and out of your nostrils a few times, allowing your breath to become gradually deeper and more controlled.
- Begin with an inhale to a count of 4.
- Hold the breath in to a count of 1.
- Exhale to a count of 8.
- Hold the breath out to a count of 1.
- Repeat 10 times or for 3 minutes.
This practice can be used to calm yourself down in the heat of an angry moment if necessary (and if you can remember to practice it at that moment!). Or it can be used as a prelude to deeper mind/body work.
Move the body. By moving the body, we can direct our attention to the physical experience of anger’s residue. The wisdom of yoga contains many poses (asanas) that move stuck energy through the tight spots in the body in a way that allows anger’s residue to dissolve.
If you are experienced in yoga, warm the body with some rounds of sun salutations and then focus your practice on poses that expand the chest and release the pelvic muscle, such as bow, wheel, dancer’s pose, squat and pigeon. Throw in a couple of deep twists too, because the yogic sages say that we store anger deep in our lumbar (lower back) spine. Finish up your practice with a calming shoulder stand and a nice long savasana to allow your body to fill the newly open spaces with a peaceful energy.
If you are new to yoga, be sure to seek out a good teacher to teach you how to practice the correct poses in a class or on your own at home (or for variations you can do at your desk or in your office Inbox a request to me at zara @ yoginizara(dot)com).
Sit with the Mind. Meditation is THE best way to get to the bottom of anger residue. And like magic, the more you know about the anger residing in the remote corners of your mind, the quicker it disappears from your body.
I have suggested many kinds of meditation on Urban Practice, but my personal favorite for dealing with anger is Metta meditation. Another great meditation is Tonglen, from the Tibetan tradition, which can be used to work with any of our strong emotions, not just anger. Try it like this:
- Sit comfortably.
- Inhale and exhale a few times to lengthen the breath.
- Breathe in and think about anger magnified–imagine inhaling all the anger in the world.
- Breathe out and release all of that anger, allowing the place it occupied in your mind to be spacious and peaceful.
- Repeat for at least five minutes.
In Tonglen practice we bring into our mind anger from outside ourselves as well in order to know our own anger more. Still, we need to do more than just know the anger, we need to love it too.
The great mindfulness master Thich Nhat Hanh says that we should regard our anger like we would a vulnerable baby–with great care and tenderness. So when anger comes up in your body and mind during breathing, movement or meditation, welcome it. Observe what it feels like, know where anger’s residue likes to reside. Accept anger with all of your awareness. And that is how you will let it go.
Where does your anger reside? Tell me about it in the Comment section below!
As always, if you are interested in learning more about breathing techniques, mindful movement/asana or meditation, email me at zara @ yoginizara(dot)com.
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