During Monday’s practice, I felt myself slowly sliding into anger. Every pose, every touch, every sound was pissing me off. I wanted to quit. I did quit. I stopped well before my last pose. And on that pose, my fellow teacher came over and said, “Do you hear how shallow your breaths are?” I shook my head “yes” and something clicked. I immediately started breathing deeper. With each breath, the anger started to let go of my heart. For whatever reason, I had completely lost control of my breath. My breathing had to have been crazy because, the next day, when I focused on my breath, I didn’t even get close to the last pose I completed the day before and I had arrived around the same time.
This is not the first time I have witnessed the correlation between anger and breath. I am sure you have too. When we get angry, our breath speeds up, our shoulders pull up around our ears, we close down our chest, flare out our nostrils and squint our eyes. We don’t want to hear anything anyone has to say. All of that happened in my practice.
I have also seen this same phenomenon in really fast yoga classes where students don’t take full breaths. The students are quick to anger. Getting super upset when a teacher messes up or when conditions are not perfect. Like my practice on the day I had shallow breaths, their practices are fast and aggressive.
Luckily, I head a teacher who noticed it, spoke to it and helped me stop a cycle of anger that could have progressed throughout the day. Not everyone has that. I have witnessed over the years, some of my yoga buddies becoming more aggressive, quick to anger, more condescending and short tempered than they were when I first met them. I often wonder if it has something to do with shallow breathing. I have seen these same people soften when they pick up slower practices and go back to aggression when they pick up quicker practices. It can totally be a coincidence. It could be because something in their life has changed and it draws them to the different types of practices. So who knows what came first, the chicken or the egg?
On Tuesday, I focused on slow breaths and my practice felt so good. For the rest of the day, I felt calm and relaxed. It was even there on Wednesday when I decided to spend 20 minutes after practice chanting. It was a huge difference.
When I saw the Krishna Das quote above, it rang true for me. When my practice was not working, I grew aggressive and angry. I viewed the acts of kindness from the teacher as an attack. I did not want help even though I totally needed it. The activity in the room was an affront to me. It wasn’t until I focused on the breath, that the spell of anger was broken. It wasn’t until I focused on the breath that kindness could come in.
How often in our lives are we so wound up that we are blocking kindness? How often are we so busy putting out fires and getting things done that we forget to take full deep breaths? How often are we letting anger and aggression build up inside of us and overflow onto other people? How often are we keeping anger deep inside for so long that it changes the fabric of who we are?
Question of the day: Have you noticed a correlation between quick breathing and anger?
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail email@example.com.