Dealing With Anger Like a Yogi

dealing with anger like a yogi

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met a lot of angry yogis. I don’t mean yogis who get angry. I mean yogis who are angry at their core. It’s not that anger is not a characteristic of yogis (in fact, a lot of us turn to yoga to deal with anger among other emotions), but because dealing with anger like a yoga means learning to work with it, not against it.

Think of an encounter you’ve had with someone who is angry because he or she has been treated badly. Or maybe the anger is directed at God or the universe because a non-compliant higher power is perceived as the source of the person’s suffering.

How do you react to such a person?

Anger Gets Counterproductive Quickly

My guess is you don’t like to be around anyone who is angry for very long. If you’re a sensitive, empathetic person, you may feel for the angry woman or man, especially if you witness the slight or mistreatment that triggered the anger. Maybe you even try to help, which is great, as long as you’re not fueling the flames. Hopefully you help the person let go of that troubling emotion.

But then something else happens. The person experiences more misfortune (as everyone does), and you see the same wrath again and again. And if you continue your connection, the anger may eventually be directed at you. What gives?

Why do we get angry?

Like all emotions, anger serves a purpose. It’s a warning of sorts. But also like all emotions, we can become too dependent on it. But here’s the truth: Anger does not solve problems; in fact it usually makes the problems we have worse. The angrier we are, the worse our problems get.

Think about it. Your colleague steals your idea. You are incensed. While you are seething, are you productive? No. So hopefully you don’t seethe for long.

But what if you didn’t seethe at all? Well, then it’s possible you’d just let the colleague steal your idea and perhaps you’d become someone who is continually taken advantage of. So dealing with anger well means understanding that it serves a purpose (in this case, it says, “don’t share your ideas with this person”). But—here’s the kicker—anger will only work for you if you let it go, and let it go quickly.

I promise you that every moment you spend angry is a moment you are stealing from your own life. Human beings are not attracted to anger. And as humans, we are social beings who depend on each other to thrive. We can all find reasons to be angry all the time, but if we don’t learn how to work with that anger and take responsibility for our actions at the same time, we are doomed.

Anger does not just hurt you socially and professionally. It also causes physical harm. It raises your blood pressure, weakens your hurt, and pumps your system with cortisol (which leads to a host of other problems). When it gets out of control, anger basically renders you unable to function, unable to move forward, unable to thrive.

Angry Yogis

As yogis, we often think that we can’t be angry. We may try to push the feeling of anger away before we even feel it fully, but this is as unhelpful as holding on to anger for too long. Problems occur when we get used to being angry, and in particular blaming people, circumstances and systems around us for our own suffering. When we do this, we’re missing something key.

If no one or nothing in the universe ever gave you a reason to be angry, you’d still be responsible for your own happiness.

You cannot be happy, successful, or content if you think you’re not because of all the things that make you angry. And further, many of the things that make you angry may incense you not because you are being victimized, but because you’ve made a habit of getting angry.

No matter how many terrible things happen in your life, anger alone will not solve your problems. You will also need to be a person that attracts the attention, support, and “good karma” that leads to happiness. Dealing with anger is not easy, especially if you’ve had a lot of setbacks, but there’s really no way around it. Good fortune is not just about luck (though luck does help).

Dealing with Anger

No one’s life is perfect all the time. In order to make any situation you face better, you need to be part of the solution. And that means taking responsibility for your actions, whether you have reasons to be angry or not.

So, yes, be angry when you need to be, but first be sure that you need to be. Then be careful where you direct that anger, who you blame, and how fiercely you hold on to your role as victim. All of those things only hurt you. Use anger as fuel for action, and burn that fuel quickly.

Perhaps one of the best guidelines for dealing with anger (as well as hurt, disappointment, and other misfortunes) is in the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the power to change the things I can, and the wisdom the know the difference. 

There are lots of things to be angry about, but in the end, anger is not a requirement; it is an option. Choose wisely.

When is Anger Helpful?

When I was in graduate school studying psychology, I learned that depression is anger turned inward. That seems right to me. So does that mean that the way out of depression is to get angry? Yes.

angerAnd no.

Anger is an important emotion. It’s a reaction to being mistreated or to seeing others mistreated. (I’m angered by the way people abuse animals, for example.) But if I want to change the mistreatment, I need to do more than get angry. Sure I can rant and rave or complain about the injustices of factory farming, but I’ve noticed that when I do that, the only people willing to listen to me are the ones who already agree with me. And even they will recognize that at some point (relatively quickly) I need to stop being angry and start doing something about the source of my anger. That is, if there actually is something that I can do about it. As much I hate this fact, I do not have control over everything. And being angry over things I can’t control only hurts me.

Serenity Prayer

Serenity Prayer

So in the particular case of animal abuse, my action is to not eat these beings and to speak about why I don’t when I can. And again, like I said, most people don’t listen unless they already agree with me. So I do what I can and accept what I can’t do (and pray for the wisdom to know the difference).

Constructive Anger

It’s natural to get angry when we experience mistreatment or disappointment, though how often and to what extent we feel anger varies from person to person. Some of us get extremely angry. Often. About many things. Others are more moderate in terms of experiencing and expressing the emotion. The problem is that the chronic express of anger can be unhealthy and self-destructive. Not only does it cause physical reactions like rapid heartbeat, constriction of blood vessels and the release of hormones that, over time, can ruin our health, but we’re not likely to get very far in terms of getting what we want while immersed in the heat of anger. Why? First, because it’s very difficult to make clear-headed decisions while we’re angry, and second, because most people are put off by chronically angry people; so we won’t get the support that we need either.

Sure, this is easy for me to say. I happen to be more of the internalizing type; my natural constitution is not one that expresses anger easily. Others are more prone to feeling and expressing anger (you know who you are). Neither is necessarily healthy or unhealthy; they both present unique benefits and challenges.

Why are you angry?

Let’s say you’re angry because you didn’t win the lottery. Other people win the lottery, so why shouldn’t you? It’s not fair.

Is this kind of anger okay? Sure; why not? Is it useful? Probably not, unless it’s the only thing that motivates you to keep buying lottery tickets. (You’ll probably have a better experience in the meantime if you can keep buying those tickets with a clear and level head.)

Unfortunately, no amount of anger will cause you to pick a winning lottery ticket. Does this mean that you should believe that some higher force in the universe has decided who gets to win the lottery and who doesn’t and you just have to accept that? I don’t think so. None of us fully understands how or why some people have great success and attract everything they want and need and other people don’t.

Now before all of “The Secret” and “Law of Attraction” people jump all over this with that mantra of blaming the unfortunate for their own problems, we should all stop for a moment and come a little bit back to the center. If you have what you want, it’s probably because you have worked for it and you have believed in your ability to achieve or attract it…and you have been lucky. I’m sorry if that rattles any feathers, but it’s the truth. I – and I’m sure many others – are tired of being told that we’re coming up short on our dreams, however big or small those dreams may be, because we’re not trying hard enough. In many case, it’s simply not true. There is a thing called luck, and like control, it’s not always available when we’d like it to be.

It’s not all in your mind. But some of it is.

If you do enough soul-searching, you just may find out that the “law of attraction” philosophies are largely based on the fear of the reality that we don’t all have as much control over all of our circumstances as we’d like to have.

No, I am not a fatalist.  I do believe that have control over many things, possibly more things than we’re willing or able to admit. And it’s easy to get so lost in our negative emotions that we sabotage any chance we have for happiness or success of any kind. I do believe that attitude plays a role (in fact, a huge role) in what we attract into our lives. But attitude alone won’t bring about positive change any more than anger alone will.

What is your anger telling you do to?

You can be angry as hell or aligned with the universe (in other words, on either end of the spectrum), but it won’t do you any good unless you know what you want and how to get it. That becomes increasingly difficult after a series of disappointments. And let me also say that I don’t believe that everyone who is successful defined what they wanted and went for it. Sometimes people get lucky and are put in the path of things that are not hard to accept and be happy about!

Defining what you want and going for it is always a good idea, but getting attached to success (and either angry or down on yourself when things don’t work out) won’t help for more than fifteen minutes. Okay; take a whole day if you need to. Then take a deep breath and try again. And recognize that whether you fall again or not, you deserve to be happy.

 And it’s just too darned hard to be happy while you’re angry!

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