As most seasoned practitioners know, yoga can stir up a lot of emotional “stuff.” In fact, the holistic system of asana (yoga postures) and pranayama (breath work) is intended to facilitate a deeper integration of emotions. This is what makes practice so beautiful and beneficial on so many different levels and allows us to release past hurts we may have been holding onto.
I’m no stranger to feeling and releasing emotions in life and in yoga class.
In my 12 years of practice, I’ve sometimes been “that person” crying silently in child’s pose. I’ve also had tension-relieving outbreaks of hysterical laughter in yin classes, and have been known to smile joyfully through transitions.
But anger is foreign to me. I’ve always been a little scared of it in others, and not sure how to deal with it in myself, preferring tears of frustration, sadness or feigning cheer to telling another person how pissed off I was or finding constructive outlets.
I had almost made it through a 40-day yoga challenge when some seriously angry feelings began.
One of the first days I felt it, I mentioned offhand to a friend that I felt somewhat irate through my practice that day.
“Oh yeah, I’ve felt the yoga rage,” he responded. “It’s a real thing.”
Huh. This was new to me, and unexpected, which of course made it even more perplexing.
The strong feelings of anger, disdain—disgust, even—continued in each class I went to for about five days. I found myself mentally swearing at the teacher, myself, co-workers, drivers, the weather and whatever else came to mind while I was feeling this intense anger, laboring mentally and emotionally through classes.
One day, I actually imagined myself turning into a robot and stomping around the room, throwing an android-tantrum. I did not want to be there.
As I continued to resist the anger, I turned to the internet to learn more about my new experience. A quick Google search turned up interesting results.
It seems that “Rage Yoga” is a thing.
In this new style of class, students are encouraged to let out their feelings of anger through noisemaking, stomping, swearing and other primordial movements and actions. I certainly could have done so on those days.
Without any Rage Yoga classes in my area, I took an approach that has worked for me in the past when I have been working with lots of emotion and made it my intention to cultivate a beginner’s mind during my asana practice.
By taking our yoga practice back to the basics—focusing on being present to our thoughts and movements, and slowing down while developing breath awareness—we can often allow for a graceful release of these emotions being held in our bodies.
Simply giving ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling can help release any tension. As time went on and the anger persisted in my classes, I practiced telling myself in my mind, “I’m feeling angry. It’s okay.”
Give yourself a free pass to be sad, angry, lonely or whatever it is you’re feeling.
As I gave myself these mental reminders, I also made it my intention to slow down my physical movements. In these times of mental struggle, be sure to take your time and move intentionally. Be loving toward yourself, despite the strong emotions, and give your body what it needs. If going through a vinyansa feels too challenging while you’re experiencing this anger, ask yourself how you can modify it, or choose an asana that feels more supportive.
Breathing deeply can also help us integrate our emotional experiences. By imagining the breath flowing to the places where you’re feeling the emotion in your physical body, you can help to release the tension held in your tissues.
It became clear as I practiced these techniques, with the intention to give myself the space to process this rage, that there were some people and situations in my life that I should rightfully be angry about. My practice was, as usual, simply reflecting reality back to me.
By allowing ourselves to feel whatever it is we’re feeling, slowing down to give ourselves the space to absorb our present-moment realities and breathing deeply, we can cultivate a renewed curiosity about our practice and how we react to events in our lives.
In this way, we’re able to gain insight into the person we are each day and work with what we have in each moment.
Yoga constantly gives us hints about how to evolve and be more authentic, while reminding us how human we are. For me, the rage was simply a nudge toward positive change and growth. Coming back to our practice through these difficult feelings invites us to take a look at how we live and process our experiences‑–even when all we really want to do is tell our yoga teacher to f*ck off.
Author: Chantal Houde
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Zak Cannon/Flickr