In my toddler’s Sing and Sign classes we learnt a version of the “if you’re happy and you know it” song which addresses all the big emotions: if you’re angry and you know it stamp your feet; if you’re sad and you know it have a cry; if you’re tired and you know it go to sleep, and so on. I love it, because it’s a great way to teach children about emotions and also how to express them – a lesson we adults could do with reminding ourselves of.
Often as adults we avoid feeling our strong emotions, choosing instead to push them down, distract ourselves, or let them spill out all over the place so others have to deal with them. Anger is an especially difficult one, because it’s not really seen as an acceptable emotion to express. This is even more true for women, and has been throughout history.
One of the wonderful things about yoga is that it connects us more consciously to our bodies and what they are trying to tell us, and it is a practice that teaches us to be with discomfort, noticing our experiences with curiosity rather than judgement. So I thought I’d share a few of the ideas I have picked up over the years about how we can use our yoga practice, movement, breath and meditation, to experience and move through anger.
So here goes – if you’re angry and you know it…
- Stamp your feet
The song has great advice! When we’re angry it can feel like there’s too much energy to cope with in your body. Stamping your feet gives that energy somewhere to go, while also bringing the energy down from your head into your feet, helping you feel more grounded.
2. Walk it out
Go for a really brisk walk. Walking is such a fundamental movement pattern for our bodies. There’s something about that movement with all the natural spirals and subtle twists that helps energy to work itself through. Ideally leave any bags and phones behind, let your arms swing, and let your body do its thing.
3. Pinch yourself
One day when I started my yoga practice feeling angry, my hands came to my hips and I suddenly realised how surprisingly solid I was. It was as if my anger had made me dissociate to the point where I felt like my hands would just glide through the mass of my body as if it was ice cream. So see how it feels to give yourself a pat / pinch / massage all over – reminding yourself you are here, you are solid, you are more than your anger.
4. Push a wall
Pushing really hard against something immovable like a wall can be a very satisfying way of releasing angry energy from your body. Try it and notice how you feel afterwards – it may cause you to smile, or cry, but either way it can shift the energy and leave you feeling clearer.
5. Send it down
Imagine sending the energy down into the earth. This isn’t about directing your anger at the earth (because let’s face it she could certainly do with more compassion these days), but more about sending the energy into the ground to be absorbed and turned into something new. Try visualising this as you go for your brisk walk, or practice your warrior poses, or lie in savasana.
6. Be a warrior
Warrior poses are strong and steady. Press strongly down into the ground with your legs and feet, reach with determination through the fingertips of both hands, and draw your torso back slightly like an arrow waiting to be released from a bow. And breathe through any emotions or sensations that arise.
7. Have a roar
Another one that my toddler gets me to practice a lot! If you have a child in your life, make the most of the opportunity to roar at each other. If not, do it anyway! Lion breath (Simhasana) is also a great one to practice – take a strong inhale, then eyes wide, mouth open, tongue reaching towards your chin with the strongest exhale you can muster. Try that a few times and notice how you feel afterwards.
8. Feel those feelings
Sit quietly for a few minutes. Perhaps set a timer for however long feels manageable, whether that’s two minutes or twenty. And simply notice how anger feels in your body. Notice where you feel it in your body. See what happens – does it move or change in any way or does it stay the same? Does it make you want to move or stay still? Be curious.
9. Write it down
Journaling can help us process our thoughts and feelings, getting them out of our systems so that we can see things more clearly. No-one else need ever read it, so let your words flow without edits or judgement, knowing the purpose is simply to get them out so that you can move forward.
10. Talk it out
Finally, if you’re feeling angry, there may well be good reason. Yet we all know that it is often not the best idea to try to discuss things when you are in the height of your emotions. When you have processed your anger and let it move through your body, take some time to figure out what you need to express to others – what needs have not been met, and how might you communicate them?
There you have it, a few ideas to help you work through anger with yoga and other practices. Let me know how you get on.
And of course, if anger is a feeling that you struggle with often, please do seek help from your GP, therapist, or other support.
P.S. This post was inspired and informed by: