The Angry Yogi

Awareness Compassion Living Yoga Yoga

“If I am deeply connected with what I am feeling, there is a greater likelihood that I will be present, and when I am present, there is a greater chance that compassion will arise.” – Judith Lasater


When you think of a yogi, what images and characteristics come to mind?

I think of someone sitting in meditation. I think of a light and peaceful person – with kind loving words for everyone. I don’t tend to think of a person so angry that she is ready to hulk-smash the next person who cuts in front of her in traffic.

Anger doesn’t fit with the image most of us have of a yogi, so it can often feel like yogis don’t – or shouldn’t – get angry. While the idea of not getting angry is lovely (and perhaps, desirable to some), anyone actively practicing yoga is a human being, and anger is a normal human emotion. We all get angry – even the yogis.

Unfortunately, in some spiritual communities, people feel like they need to ignore, supress or deny their anger. The message that anger is not appropriate or okay, whether overt or subtle, can lead to a lot of confusion. Most spiritual teachings also ask us to be present with what is, but sometimes “what is” is a lot of anger.

So, what is a rage-filled yogi to do?

Acknowledge Anger

There is a saying in the yoga world that eloquently highlights the importance of acknowledgement: “What you resist will persist.” Unacknowledged feelings and experiences have power because the things we push away have a way of running our life. We can’t deal with something that we aren’t willing to look at. Anger will not dissipate when it is ignored or denied.

The first step in acknowledging anger is simply to admit to yourself, “I feel angry right now.” A second step may be to notice how anger plays out in your body. Physical reactions may include an increased heart rate and the tightening of muscles, and you may notice the increased energy that accompanies the release of adrenaline.

Question Anger

Anger is referred to as a secondary emotion because it is usually a response to feeling hurt or scared. Anger can be a reaction to a perceived threat to ourselves, our self-image, some part of our identity, our loved ones, or our property. The cognitive experience of anger impacts how we perceive and think about what is making us angry, and it is normal to focus on how what happened to us is wrong, unfair, and undeserved.

You can challenge your experience and perception of anger with questions like these ones:

  • Why am I really feeling angry?
  • What should have happened?
  • Did I feel something before this anger?
  • What do I want from this anger?

By better understanding what is motivating you, you empower yourself to have more control over your behaviour. Unacknowledged and unexplored emotions will persist in influencing your behaviour whether you want them to or not.

Re-Frame Anger

Anger is often associated with a reactive expression of outward aggression, which is unfortunate because reactive aggression is only one way to express the emotion. In looking at anger, it is important to separate the feeling from the reaction. What we feel and how we act are two distinct things. The feeling is where the certainty lies – we all get angry – but there is an incredible amount of space around the reaction. If we are able to look at anger (acknowledge) and get curious about it (question), we have already begun the process of creating space around what it means to be angry (re-frame).

Empower Anger

In creating space around how we react to anger, anger becomes a possible force for good in the world. Anger can motivate us to stand up for ourselves and correct injustices, and the practice of yoga asks us to be in the world and to take care of the world – not to stand idly by.

Well-known yoga teacher Judith Lasater asserts that anger is a response to thoughts about what should have been. She uses the example that we might feel frustrated about arriving late because of heavy traffic, and suggest that a simple interpretation of our frustration is that there shouldn’t have been traffic.

In the case of heavy traffic, your questioning might lead you to the realization that you were worried about disappointing someone by being late or that you were scared of the consequences of being late – not that there shouldn’t have been traffic.

But sometimes it is appropriate to believe that things should have been different. For example, I believe that a government should protect the food supply of its citizens – not the profits of suppliers.

This should be different.

Our desire for quick and convenient things has created a disposable culture that is creating an unmanageable amount of waste.

This should be different.

Animals are raised in cruel and abhorrent conditions so that we can kill enough to allow us to eat meat whenever we want.

This should be different.

Don’t fail to see that hugging a tree is also standing in front of it. Anger is an intense human emotion that we should learn to work with. Reactive aggression isn’t the answer, but neither is denial. In being able to identify and acknowledge our own anger, we can start to use its energy in intentional and powerful ways. Anger gives us the fuel to fight against the things that we think should be different.

Yoga and other spiritual practices should not endeavor to erase or eliminate anger; rather, they should teach us how to hold the intensity of the emotion and develop our ability to respond intentionally.


“You should do yoga”

Living Yoga Svadhyaya

sarah jamieson yoga

Yoga is awesome. I love it. It would be hard to capture all of the positive ways that yoga has impacted my life. Come to think of it, it would be hard to find an aspect of my life that isn’t better as a result of practicing yoga. And, the benefits of my practice continue to unfold. Yoga just seems to get more awesome with time.

And there is science to back that up: I recently read a paper written by my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Lindsay Reoch, in which she mentions a study that “compared experienced yoga practitioners (5 years or more experience) with beginner practitioners (1-5 years experience). [The researchers] found that the experienced practitioners scored significantly higher on mindfulness levels and significantly lower on stress levels than the beginner practitioners, suggesting that the longer one practices yoga, the more benefits will be received.”

A life-changing practice that gets better with time. What to do I do with that?

Hmmm. How about tell everyone I know, “You should do yoga!”

Yoga and your family

It can be frustrating for devoted yoga practitioners when our loved ones are not interested in practicing yoga. We want to share the wealth of the practice; we want our loved ones to feel the ways the practice has helped us to feel. But it often doesn’t go well when we try to convince other people to do yoga. In a course I took with Judith Lasater, she counselled everyone in the room: “Avoid at all costs looking at your loved ones and seeing a lack of yoga.”

But that is not always easy to do when the lack of yoga is so obvious: the back pain, the inflexibility, the anxiety, the stress levels, the chronic pain, the self-criticism, the muscular imbalance, the patterns of compensation, the shallow chest breathing, the catastrophic thinking, the insomnia, and the low levels of body awareness.

How can I see the people I love struggling in these ways without trying to share with them the tools that have helped me?

Be the change

The wisdom of Gandhi does not need rephrasing: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

There is no evangelical component to the practice of yoga. Nowhere in the teachings (that I am aware of, at least) does it say, “Encourage other people to do yoga.” Yoga is about your relationship with yourself, and about how you conduct yourself in the world around you. Classically, yoga was only taught to people who sought to learn it.

I experienced this style of teaching when I was in India studying with Yogi Vishvketu. There were times where he would only speak if people asked him questions. He would not prepare what to teach us in advance or proceed to lecture for a predefined amount of time. He simply spoke about things when people asked about them. If no one asked any questions – if no one asked to learn – he would not teach.

If your loved ones don’t want to do yoga, it is an opportunity for you to do yoga. Ask yourself: what is going on for you when you want other people to do yoga? For me, it is often a combination of love, fear, and frustration.

Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” I think it would also be fair to say that most of us spend a fair bit of time thinking about how other people should change and less time exploring the possibility of changing ourselves. Instead of pushing someone else to do yoga, my yoga practice is about honouring and attending to the emotions that are inspiring me to push.

I should do yoga

I get excited about yoga. I believe the practice has the ability to bring profound levels of peace and well-being to the world. But I also recognize that there is an absence of yoga in needing other people to do yoga.

So, instead of trying to sell people on the benefits of yoga, I turn to the words of Gandhi. I turn inward, and I do my own work. I try not to ramble with excitement when people ask me about yoga. I try to listen, to ask them questions, and to understand what they are seeking. I remind myself that everyone needs to find their own way, and that by practicing yoga myself, I learn to give them the space to do so.

In addition to this work, I do one more important thing for myself: I make sure I have some good friends who love yoga, because every so often I need to gush about how wonderful it is.

Sarah Jamieson

Photo Credit: Chris Yakimov


A Yogis’ Guide to Giving

Compassion Living Yoga

Sarah Jamieson Yoga

Yoga is a practice of awareness. It is about noticing, observing, and exploring. It is a commitment to being curious about yourself and the people and world around you. And, then using the awareness you cultivate to make intentional choices about how you move through this world.

Yoga is not about things being wrong or right, good or bad or doing things because someone told to do them. Yoga is about learning to act in the service of well-being – our own well-being and the well-being of other people and our planet.

In the midst of the commercialism and extravagance of the coming holiday season, it might be tempting for us yogis to judge some of the things others are doing to celebrate the holiday season as wrong or bad – or even “un-yogic”.

Imagine, for example, that you have an Aunt who loves the Christmas holidays and seems to get an incredible amount of joy from having lavishly wrapped presents under her Christmas tree and from engaging in an extravagant gift exchange with her family and close friends.

In your infinite spiritual wisdom, you may find yourself judging this Aunt for using wrapping paper without concern for the environment and for buying into the “mindless trap of consumerism” during the holiday season. Maybe you even make the judgement that the sense of joy she seems to find in fancy gifts is superficial and based in disillusionment.

Maybe there is some truth to your judgements. But, maybe cultivating a deeper understanding of your own tendency to judge is in greater service of your well-being than endeavouring to change the behaviour of your Aunt. My teacher Judith Lasater once told us to avoid, at all costs, looking at our loved ones and seeing a lack of yoga. She put it simply: “When we have the belief that someone else should do something, we are lost.”

As we look out into the world around us, it is easy to focus on how things could be better if other people changed. If everyone else refused to eat factory farmed meat, the impact on the well-being of animals would be incredible. If everyone was more mindful about their consumption of plastics, the impact on the health of our planet and the people and animals living on it would be staggering. If everyone practiced yoga and meditation, the world would be a more peaceful place. And, if no one used wrapping paper, a significant number of trees would not have to be cut down.

Practicing yoga is a source of profound joy for many people. And, it makes sense that as yogis we look at the amount of suffering in the world and we want everyone to do yoga. We want everyone to deepen their level of self-awareness and begin intentionally making choices that support our collective well-being. But again, because it is worth repeating, “when we have the belief that someone else should do something, we are lost.”

Gandhi famously said: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” This teaching is an important one to reconnect with when you find yourself judging others for unnecessary (and perhaps harmful) extravagance, and when you feel like you so clearly see that absence of yoga in another person. Remind yourself that Gandhi does not ask us to change other people; he asks us to be the change.

At the heart of the practice of yoga – and Gandhi’s quote, is the wisdom that change comes from within. I don’t change the world by pushing out into it. I change the world by changing what other people see when they look at it.

This holiday season let your greatest gift be your spirit. Remember that you are what other people see when they look at the world, and choose to radiate love, acceptance and an empathetic understanding of being human.

Best wishes this holiday season.