October 16, 2009

Bared Teeth, Clenched Fists & Yoga. ~ via Abby Thompson

Most of us begin a yoga practice hoping to look something like the cover of a yoga magazine, and not just aesthetically. We’re after a certain lightness of being and serenity, and are ready to bend and breathe until we get there. So when stronger emotions like anger arise, many of us don’t know what to do. “This isn’t right,” we think, and attempt to scrub out or bury the emotion so we can get back to our peacefully enlightened selves. But practice isn’t about striving toward some imaginary ideal; it’s about being present with what is actually there, fully embracing all aspects of the present moment.

As we learn, moment by moment, to love what’s going on, we are also practicing a full embrace of all aspects of ourselves. Perceived flaws, like a quick temper or maybe some old resentment, are part of what make us complete, juicy, unique human beings rather than placid automatons. There’s some great energy in anger: it’s usually expressed in bared teeth, clenched fists, maybe some steam coming out your ears or red laser beam eyes. We can use our practice not to banish the anger but to harness its energy toward a fuller expression of who we are.


To begin working with your anger, consider that it may be an internal alarm that some kind of boundary has been crossed. We all tend to draw tons of lines in the sand around ourselves and those we love. Breathe deeply, and consider what that boundary might be: what is it that you don’t want happening here?

 The biggest challenge here is to calmly determine what that anger is telling you. We all have a right, of course, to our bodies, our opinions, and yes, within reasons, our preferences.

We also deserve our rightful growth and self-realization. Just like in asana practice, we have a responsibility to learn the difference between sensation and pain. So when someone or something else sticks a toe or possibly an entire leg over that line we’ve drawn, the most important thing is to tune in to a deeper, bodily intelligence and decide whether that boundary is hindering or helping us in our task to grow toward happiness.

 There is no blanket, no right or wrong answer here, but you’re doing something incredible by stepping back and giving yourself a chance to observe your own emotions. You’re stepping into a deeper part of yourself, one that is not defined by emotions like anger or fear all while fully embracing their reality in the moment. The deeper you breathe and feel, the more you can sit with the anger rather than being controlled by it.

 It is only then- when we’ve had the opportunity to see beyond the Seether and realize how whole we truly are- that we are ready to act. If you don’t know what to do yet, there is no rush. As with most things, when in doubt, practice (try the flow at the bottom of this article). Ancient yoga texts recommend, among other things, non-harming, and an economical use of emotional energy. It can be something as simple as leaving for work five minutes earlier to avoid the overcrowded subway train, or as involved as a difficult conversation with a significant other.

 You could also choose to not act, and instead actively embrace another outlook on the situation. It is important not to label the anger as “unreasonable” or “unnecessary” and dismiss it; all emotions are reasonable with enough examination. Your reactions can show you what is most important to you right now- do you need order and predictability? Quiet? Respect? To be right? When you are conscious of what you need, you can start to provide it for yourself rather than looking for it from others.


No matter your path, you will always be confronted with uncomfortable emotions. We are working towards self-acceptance and greater peace when we acknowledge our own capacity to feel, even when we don’t want to. By taking time to breathe and reflect, we move out of the fight-or-flight cycle so that we can start acting from a centered place. This is a journey that anyone can take, moment by moment, breath by breath.

 Experiencing Emotion in Warrior Poses

 Begin in child’s pose. Lengthen out the breath, but even as you do that, allow yourself to breathe more freely into the belly, ribs, and chest. When our nervous system is amped up, there is a tendency to somehow breathe both deeply and aggressively and avoid truly letting go. Choose gentleness over extremeness as much as you can in the moment. Here in child’s pose, imagine yourself as a seed- the imprint of all the poses to come, protected in a small package. Here, you have the capacity to flow into anything your body can express- anger, elation, or contentment.

Uncurl yourself on the exhale into downward facing dog, and immediately step one foot through , lower the back heel, and lift the torso and arms up into Warrior I. In Hindu mythology, Virabhadra was created by a very pissed-off Shiva as the external embodiment of his rage- yup, that Virabhadra of Virabhadrasana, the pose you’re in right now. If ancient texts aren’t your thing, Veruca Salt wrote a song about anger in 1994- call it Seether Pose if you prefer.

Allow your body to be expressive of that fifteen- or thousands-of-years-old anger as you ground down through the legs and fix the hipbones like two headlights, straight forward. Spend several breaths here, and, with a free and deep breath, take note of any personal feelings you might have had. Many of us do this pose every day, but you’re coming into it from a new perspective, and your experience might be totally different.

Shift the weight forward and lift the back leg to launch yourself into Warrior III. Try to level out the body to form a T, with lifted leg, torso, and arms parallel to the floor. Choose an unmoving point on the horizon to gaze at. Notice that even as a being of pure anger, you have to ground through the standing leg and pull into the core- finding some groundedness and centeredness- in order to maintain the pose. Again, stay here for several breaths and notice what it it feels like to stay grounded and centered in the face of intensity.

 Abby Thompson, a certified vinyasa yoga instructor, holds a degree from New York University in the creative process, focusing on the body as a medium for experience and creativity. Abby’s vigorous style combines the transformative power of vinyasa yoga and the healing power of the creative arts therapies in a playful experience of movement and breath. Abby offers public classes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. For more information, you can check out her class schedule and blog at http://www.lifebloomyoga.com.



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