By Shameem Akthar
Science now points out how anger has outlived its evolutionary use and today it is a double-edged knife, hurting the source more than the victim
According to a Buddhist saying, anger is like a piece of burning coal that we use to hit out against someone else. The hurled piece of live coal may hit the person, even injuring him as we intend at that moment. But the most injured, the most seared, is the one who hurls the coal, the one who held it in the first place.
Today when religion is misused as a focus of anger, it is spirituality which will rescue the day. All religions warn against anger as a provocation, a hurdle in the path towards self-realisation. Yet, we keep lapsing into it, conditioned by our animalistic past where anger was a self-preservative tool. Today, it is no longer so since we are ‘civilised’, priding ourselves on being more than a step ahead of other animals in the evolutionary ladder. And science increasingly points out how anger has outlived its evolutionary use and today it is a double-edged knife, hurting us most, erupting as diseases—blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, skin diseases, weakened immune system, and the sapping but very real chronic fatigue.
Yet we invest anger with controlling power, see those who throw tantrums as powerful. But science is categorical that anger is a symptom of a complete loss of control. It is a desperate bid to salvage one’s loss of control. While the sceptics may see this as psycho-babble, it is a scientific fact. The symptoms of anger are, for most part, similar to fear! The iris widens, the heart pumps blood faster, the pressure on the circulatory system is heightened. The hair follicles on the body stand up, even the blood chemistry changes. The fight-or-flight hormones, in fact, for anger and fear are the same: adrenaline and noradrenaline. In effect the entire sympathetic mechanism is on a chronic alert, bombarding the system to ‘prepare’ itself, just as fear does. The first flash of anger may be ‘useful’, but the next one, and the next, keep circulating in the blood chemicals which have outlived their moment, keeping us in a state of heightened sympathetic system arousal which is a diseased state, leading to chronic ailments.
Anger disrupts even the simple mechanism of digestion, since the blood is busy running around to ‘help’ you hit out at the enemy. Other life-sustaining systems in the body too are in the go-slow mode in the person who is chronically angry. Over time this causes adrenal gland exhaustion, causing the new age disease called hypoadrenia, which leads to a variety of chronic diseases, including fatigue, migraine and blood pressure. Doctors may shut up these symptoms with pills, but long-term cure lies in erasing anger out of the system.
This is easier preached than followed! Most other negative emotions—even fear and depression—may be tackled effectively, but anger is sly, leaping upon us like a slinking animal, when least expected. While the physical aspects of yoga—asanas and mudras (hand gestures)—help in curbing it to a large extent and the best weapon against anger is meditation. It helps you to be less harsh with yourself when you fail, teaching you thus to be as less harsh towards the outer world which, yoga says, is only an extension of yourself.
In fact, Lord Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in the Gita—which has several chapters on the yoga of the mind—exhorts him to follow the dharmic path as a Khastriya—to kill relatives and masters, but with a mind completely divested of hate and anger. (Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 17: ‘‘He who is free of the ego-sense, and whose intellect is not tainted by the sense of doer-ship, such a sage, even if he were to kill all beings, yet he does not kill, nor is he bound by such actions’’). In yoga, even a violent thought is contrary to the admonition of the yogic rules of conduct or yamas. Ahimsa, lack of violence, has to be inner and outer directed for complete purification of not just the mind, but also the body. Yoga was the earliest science which saw this delicate web linking mind and body.
shashankasana or hare pose
This posture is one of surrender. A stiff spine indicates how the self has knotted itself with the ego, disallowing the complete forward bend. Such a psychic interpretation may seem rather harsh. But as the ego gets erased to allow the Self (by which yoga means the higher self or Brahman) to be interpreted in your daily living, the distance between forehead and floor starts shrinking. All forward bending poses, particularly those involving touching the floor with the forehead, are therapeutic in anger.
Sit in vajrasana or thunderbolt position (explained in column three, on yoga and food). This involves sitting on haunches, with feet flayed out and buttocks resting on heels, somewhat akin to the pose in which Muslims sit for namaz. Beginners may find this difficult initially, but regular practice will get you there. (Diabetics need to ensure there is
no numbness. Avoid vajrasana if extremely painful, instead trying the same moves, as yoga mudra, in the simple cross-legged posture.) Inhale and raise both hands. Exhale, bend down reaching to touch floor, first the hands, then the forehead. Initially, the buttocks may rise up since the spine may be stiff. But if the hips remain on the heels the spine and back are better stretched. Also, the pressure point on the buttocks is what reduces blood pressure and temper. Breathe normally in the final pose, holding the position as long as is comfortable, returning with hands upraised, inhaling.
Contraindicated in back and blood pressure problems, but those used to yoga may learn this in a phased manner. Shashankasana is also a great anti-ageing asana, provides a glow to the skin because of increased circulation in the head region. A cooling pose, it speeds up the meditative mood.
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