A friend recently asked me to shed light on the idea of moving or releasing negative energy or anger in ones yoga practice. As a teacher and a student, ultimately I am intrigued by the idea that yoga can be used as a healing modality for both physical and mental ailments. This got me thinking about the bigger picture, not just the idea that certain asanas may release anger.
Anger is both a physiological and physical obtrusion in the body. This indicates that anger can have a huge negative impact on your mental and physical state. Those with stored up anger have the risk of causing high blood pressure, heart disease and are often more susceptible to depression along with a myriad of other ramifications.
One of the most powerful parts of yoga as a medicine, are its implications to actually coax the body into a state of ease and particularly in this case a sense of calm. Physiologically speaking this comes from the idea that we can help to regulate our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) through the act of awareness, mindfulness and our exhalation.
The PNS is part of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) comprised of our Parasympathetic and our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). The PNS functions as the part of our nervous systems that helps to stimulate the rest and digest response. The SNS works as an arousal factor and is heavily used in the notion of anger. The SNS floods the system with stress hormones, particularly adrenaline (hence flight or fight reaction). PNS acting as a counter to SNS releases a hormone called acetylcholine which helps to calm the body down.
The PNS’s main squeeze is the Vagus Nerve. Think of the Vagus Nerve or the the 10th cranial nerve acting as commander in chief, who helps to regulate functioning of his employees (i.e. PNS). It helps the PNS to send out signals to most of our internal organs allowing them to perform functions or not. The movement, specifically exhalation, helps to stimulate the PNS response. The natural cadence of your inhalation and exhalation and its relation to heart rate is also directly related to your ability to respond to situations. Hence, yoga.
In yoga, we typically stress the importance of maintaining your breath and this isn’t just some cultish thing we all want you to be a part of. This is actual science working with you. In order stimulate the vagus nerve practice pranayama that emphasizes your exhalation. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to coax the vagus nerve and poses like sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and halasana (plow) should be added in a practice to stimulate the vagus nerve. Because the vagus nerve runs through the neck it is directly stimulated by shoulder-stand, just make sure you are not compressing or tensing the neck. Do a more restorative version with 2 - 3 blankets at the edge of your shoulder. Chanting is also a great way to stimulate the vagus nerve through vibration.
Take this practice into your daily life, when you feel rapid succession of breathing or feel yourself tensing take 3-10 deep breaths, emphasizing the exhalation.