Anger is really an umbrella term for a multi-layered and complicated emotion. Sadness and shame can be at the root of anger. And if unattended or suppressed, anger can morph into a raging dragon that scorches everything in its path, ultimately leading to guilt, suffering and pain.
Anger properly harnessed and transformed, however, can act as a catalyst for necessary destruction, making way for rebirth and renewal.
In Ayurveda, the emotional imbalance caused by anger arises from a lack of proper communication between the head and heart. Some people are born with (or taught) the graceful art of processing emotions faster and better than others. Yet, many of us are quick to leap into ‘beast mode’ at the slightest provocation.
Anger is associated with the Pitta Dosha that deals with the fire element. Through various lifestyle changes and diligent practice, it is possible to tame this fiery beast and direct this passionate energy in a more useful, productive way.
The concept in Ayurveda called agni typically refers to your digestive fire that processes food and creates a healthy internal environment. For those with a weak agni, even the most nutritious foods can become amma (toxins) in the body. Because without a strong internal ‘flame’ to break down or ‘cook’ food sufficiently, the nutrients aren't absorbed, digested or eliminated properly.
The concept of agni isn’t limited to digestion – there is agni for every metabolic process and cell in the body.
Sadhaka Pitta (a subdosha of Pitta) deals with the heart and mind and the processing of emotions and for this we have Sadhaka Agni. Not for processing food, but for processing emotions.
People with a strong Sadhaka Agni have a quick response time, but not in the ferocious, reactive sense. The speedy response time comes from a clear and aligned heart-to-head connection that makes it easier to distinguish truth and reality from the convoluted information conveyed by the senses.
There is an Ayurvedic saying, “The seat of consciousness is in the heart.” Recent studies validate this ancient wisdom by showing that the heart sends information to our brain on how to process an experience emotionally.
But just as junk foods can weaken our digestive fire, poor lifestyle choices and stressors can also weaken our Sadhaka Agni and disrupt the connection between heart and mind.
People with weak Sadhaka agni are also more prone to holding onto grudges and traumatic experiences from the past. Since the experience and emotions were never processed effectively, the anger still lives and breathes within. This causes great harm to the body – chemically releasing poison-like toxins into the physiology.
On the other hand, a person with an overactive Sadhaka Agni will be more likely to react irrationally, recklessly and even violently.
The goal is balance.
We all have Pitta within us and Ayurveda provides practical advice on how to balance that beautiful, necessary, but potentially volatile inner fire. Here’s how:
- Take care of your anger. The sooner we come to terms with the inescapable fact that ‘bottling up’ or ignoring our anger is harmful to our health, the better. Acknowledge any feelings that come up and address them as they arise. You can do this by stopping before reacting and asking yourself these questions:
- How am I feeling right now and why?
- Is this situation or person worth spreading the poison of anger through my body?
- How can I deal with this in the most evolved and loving way?
- What in my past has led this to become a personal ‘trigger’?
- Breathe Cool. There are three pranayama techniques that help with anger in particular:
- Deep diaphragmatic breathing. Mentally say, “Breathing in, I am aware of my anger.” “Breathing out, I let it go.” With each inhalation feel the anger. With each exhalation feel the emotion leaving your body. By paying attention to your anger, you are allowing it to dissolve and pass away.
- Sheetali Pranayama (Cooling Breath). This breathing technique calms the fight-or-flight and stress response. It cools the bodymind and also helps with Pitta disorders such as acid reflux, heartburn and ulcers. With your tongue, make a tube-like shape by rolling the left and right sides of the tongue together. Slowly breathe in cool air via your tongue “straw” for 4-5 seconds as you draw your chin upward. Breathe out through the nose for 6-8 seconds as you bring your chin back down. Repeat for 7-12 breaths – until you feel like you’ve taken a chill pill.
- Sitkari Pranayama. Let your teeth show a bit. Draw your tongue back behind your teeth slightly and breathe in through the space between your upper and bottom teeth. As you breathe in, slowly lift your chin up to a comfortable reach. Then, exhale through the nose while bringing your chin back down to neutral. Repeat for 7-12 breaths.
- Practice the So Hum Mantra. Meditation is one of the most vital tools for dealing with anger. It helps you to realize that anger is not your true Self. Going inward leads you past the ego and beyond the physical and emotional body to the place of stillness, peace, wisdom and divinity. The So Hum mantra is believed to heal wounds of the heart through the realization that all we see is ourselves - not the ‘other’ causing our distress. Silently and continuously repeat the words “So Hum”. As you inhale, breathe in to “Sooo”. As you exhale hear the word “Huuumm”. Repeat for 10-30 minutes.
- Slow Movement. Typically those with an inflamed Pitta Dosha enjoy more vigorous and intense exercise practices. However, it’s exactly the opposite they need to balance out. Finding a slow hatha yoga or tai chi practice with an emphasis on the breath and mindfulness is a Pitta’s magic potion. These types of conscious movements can cultivate control and turn a brush fire into a calm, healthy glowing flame. Try these yoga asanas:
- Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Twist Pose). This pose can be likened to wringing anger out of the body. The Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine is associated with anger. When we twist, we directly affect the organs and specifically the liver, to detox the body of hurt, grudges and resentment. Lengthen the spine on the inhale and as you exhale gently twist or spiral your belly, rib cage, chest and head to the right and back. Visualize releasing any stored up emotions as you gently twist and exhale. Repeat on the other side.
- Shavasana (Corpse Pose). If there’s one pose that forces one to let it all go, it’s Shavasana. Lie down on your back with your arms down by your sides, palms facing skyward. Let your feet fall out comfortably, close your eyes and travel inward. See if you can practice staying completely still for this asana. The only movement is the breath moving through the entire body – locating stored emotions with the in-breath, and releasing them with the out-breath.
- Use Pitta pacifying herbs and oils.
- Coconut Oil - Great for Pittas to lubricate and cool internally. Placing it on the body from head-to-toe for a self-abhy (self-massage) is good before and after a bath.
- Rose Oil - Connects us to compassion and love in the heart. Very balancing for Pittas and improves the head-heart connection.
- Chamomile Oil and Tea - Chamomile, in all its many forms, is great to use on a daily basis to calm the Pitta Dosha.
- Brahmi (Gotu Kola) oil or herb - Can be applied topically or taken internally in capsule form.
- Amla and Shatavari - Highly recommended.
- Peppermint oil and iced or lukewarm peppermint are cooling and soothing.
- Turmeric - Great for inflammation (a Pitta tendency).
- Eat cooling, naturally sweet, bitter and astringent foods.
- Coconuts - Ample amounts of coconut water, coconut milk, coconut meat and coconut oil should be ingested.
- Cucumbers - A great cooling food.
- Fruits & berries - Naturally sweet goodness for the Pitta Dosha.
- Dark leafy greens - Kale, collard greens and dandelion greens are bitter and pacify the Pitta Dosha.
- Chickpeas, artichoke, parsley, cauliflower and lettuce are all astringent foods (great for the Pitta Dosha).
- Avoid Pitta aggravating foods:
- Salty, pungent and sour foods should be avoided.
- Avoid all meat (especially red meat).
- Alcohol is a big no-no for those with a pitta inflammation. Think about what happens when you put alcohol on fire...kaboom!
Positively impact excess Pitta with these lifestyle changes:
- Avoid overworking. There’s a big difference between an effective leader and a scary boss. Practice moderation, kindness and compassion.
- Keep supportive, loving and nurturing people around you.
- Spend copious amounts of time in nature (bodies of water in particular).
- Stop the blame game. Looking inward is the only answer. Anger is about you and no one else.
- Especially important for the Pitta’s of the world: Be gentle with yourself and know that it’s a journey… so cool it, Boss!