Saturday, 3 January 2009

Dealing With Anger Through Yoga and Meditation

According to Patanjali, the mind (Chitta) is made up of three components - Manas, Buddhi, and Ahamkara. These are the three astral or instinctive-cerebral sheaths or veils of our existence. They make up what is called the manomaya kosha. Anukaratta chitta is the super conscious mind which is free from the lower emotions. It is not ruled by the instinctive-intellectual aspect of ourselves. Patanjali tells us in the yoga sutras that ignorance called avidya, the ego (asmita), passion (raga) and anger or aversion (dvesha) and abhinivesha or clinging to life/the fear of death are all the kleshas or obstacles. These same obstacles appear in Mahayana Buddhism, and we are given similar ways to overcome them. Anger is one of the most powerful and difficult emotions to overcome, as it is fueled by the ego's relentless need to be in charge. Anger can be kept in check, once we are given some insights about its formation and clues to its undoing.

The true mind does not exist as an extension of the emotions alone. Although we may feel that we are our emotions - we can feel so deeply connected to our fear, our anger, and our passions - all of our longings that they become us - this is an illusion. The ego has as much of a modus operandi to keep you in fear and anger as a fortune five hundred company has of keeping its stocks high. It will often lie, steel, cheat and cajole, all to keep us in a place of lesser power. Although anger makes us feel stronger temporarily, we often can feel deflated and frustrated after it has run its course. It leaves an irrevocable trail through the body in a physiological and energetic sense as well, often wrecking havoc on the hormonal system, the digestive system and the mind. If that same fortune five hundred company was Exxon in the 1990s - it would be the same as the dumping of hormonal crud into the bloodstream. It takes a long time to clean up and is quite a mess. Extended bouts of anger even start to rewire synapses in the brain, causing it to be easier for anger to escalate and reason to predominate the thinking in subsequent boughts of emotion. This is one reason why the yogic sutras of Patanjali as well as the writings of Buddha urge us to keep our anger in check.

The first step in lessening the emotional reactions, including and especially anger, is to become aware of it in its earliest stages. Most of us carry small burdens of anger with so little awareness, that when we finally break and scream at a car passing us down the highway too fast or lose our tempers in the presence of those we love, we hardly know where all the emotion came from. Anger begins as small resentments or stress that we hold within the body. If you check your breathing right now, in this very moment while you are reading this article, are you breathing deeply, and fully in a relaxed manner, or are you slightly hunching your shoulders up next to your ears, are you slouched over so that the breath has to work harder to enter and exit the longs and diaphragm? Are you focusing easily on the words in front of you, or are your thoughts rambling towards some small injustice that happened earlier in the day? Did someone forget to refill the coffee pot or take out the trash? Do you feel slighted by the actions of another - even if in some small way? Though we cannot change the behavior of other people, we can take a moment to become aware of our own bodies and breathe. We can take a few moments to become mindful, and release any tension of small grudge which we are holding. Whether you are aware of it or not, that small grudge will soon fester into a seething wound ripe for an explosion if you do not practice mindfulness. Buddha's teachings simply tell us to realize that all things are ephemeral, all are fleeting. There is no guarantee that someone will start taking out the trash or that your boss will finally recognize your sheer brilliance at work, but there is a guarantee, that you can change the way you react to these little injustices.

There may come times in your life, as a parent, a friend, a boss an employee, when you need to express yourself sincerely and forcefully. There comes a time when the message urgently needs to be put across. The difference between communicating in a tirade and convincingly and powerfully urging others to follow your lead is all in the emotions. Surely, Ghandi and Martin Luther Kind felt sorrow, regret, anger and fear in the face of their respective obstacles, and though they each communicated in a powerful manner, neither of them lost themselves in the emotions of anger and fear. This would have watered down the effectiveness of their messages. By communicating with their emotions under control, they were able to speak to the similarities between people, convincing those who were not previously inclined to agree with them, that they indeed had something relevant and important to say. They had to use perseverance and fortitude to continue communicating without anger in the face of their marked challenges, but they did so, again through releasing their anger, and redirecting that power in a more effective way.

Patanjali tells us that with yoga, meditation and breathing we can become more mindful. We can mindfully release tension in the body by bringing our awareness to the fact that it is there in the first place. Those of you have practiced yoga for awhile and then take a short break, come back to it to realize that in even the span of a week, the body has stored away a host of tension and frustration. Daily yoga practice is to the body and the build up of anger what a good dose of clean air and sunshine is the environment. Instead of choking on the pollution of our emotions, we can air them out in breathe more deeply.

David Chapman is a certified yoga teacher and operates

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