Stepping back from anger isn’t easy.
When people who you love are taken from life too soon or when life doesn’t go as planned, you can feel hurt and angry
You can slip over the edge into anger over “little” things, too, such as if someone leaves dirty breakfast dishes in the sink or if a friend forgets to call.
I know that I can feel anger rise over something as seemingly insignificant as a loved one leaving the house in the morning and forgetting to say goodbye.
I used to become angry about all of these “big” and “little” hurts, these things that I perceived as injuries, personal insults, challenges to my ability—my power?—to shape the world and my own life.
But then I started practicing yoga and learned to let go of my anger.
Each pose helped me learn to stop holding onto unrealistic expectations, taught me to discern false expectations—expectations of my own creation, really—and to see how such expectations made me feel angry and created a spiral of anger that fed on itself.
Yoga helped me break the spiral. The poses helped me see the world as it is, not as I might want or expect it to be. Instead of becoming angry whenever others didn’t live up to my expectations, I had to learn how to shift my expectations, letting go of those that were unrealistic, and become better acquainted with reality.
It was in my first yoga class that I began to let go of my anger. With eyes closed, arms limp at my sides, legs loosely spread, I lay in Savasana listening to my yoga teacher’s calming voice as she encouraged us to let go of tension in our bodies.
She guided us from one part of the body to another—ankles, calves, hips, shoulders, neck, jaw, tongue—so that we could check our bodies for tension. Each time she mentioned another part of the body, I felt myself release the day’s frustration, disappointment, and anger. I felt my muscles loosen. I felt the tension melt into the earth.
In each pose I looked past unrealistic expectations, self-doubts, and fears. The movement of my body in Downward Dog or Triangle demanded my full attention. It was impossible to keep thoughts of anger in my head and do the poses at the same time. I had to learn how to step back from anger and let it go.
With each step back, I gained a new perspective, a brief second in which to pause and notice my response to life. In that moment, I realized, I didn’t have to respond immediately with criticism or anger. I could recognize my momentary anger as it surfaced, the same way that I could notice the way I entered a challenging pose.
By the end of each class, I noticed how my anger had seeped away. I began to understand that life wasn’t about holding onto anger, a misconception that I’d held onto for years. It was about letting go of anger. And the thought that I didn’t have to hold onto my anger anymore—that I could be myself without being angry all the time—was liberating and energizing.
Since that first yoga class, I’ve learned to accept that life is not what I might want it to be but what it is—raw, messy, unpredictable, always changing.
Life, like yoga, often fails to go as planned. People die whether I love them or not, just as they get sick or go through divorce or fall out of Tree Pose.
It’s the way life is—a process as natural as breathing—and nothing, certainly not anger or rage, can change the way life works.
Thanks to yoga, I’ve become more aware of my actions and thoughts in each pose. It’s this awareness that lets me see anger as a reflection of my own unrealistic expectations.
My yoga practice has helped me learn to step back from these expectations. As it turns out, stepping back is the first step in learning how to deal with anger.
Practice Journal: One way to step away from anger is to recognize whatever might be making you angry. Try listing the things that arouse your anger. Can you trace the arc of your anger–the way it might escalate from a slight disturbance to an irrational boil? Can you take a moment to pause–just as you might pause in a challenging pose–to notice what’s disturbing you? Who or what might cause you to feel such anger? Can you identify the root of your anger? And can you find a way to move through it without letting it upset your balance? Write: 15 min.