The first time I saw a yoga teacher get mad, I was shocked. It was like seeing a clown smoking; it just didn’t seem right somehow. I thought yoga teachers were supposed to be sending out vibes of love no matter what they encountered, or, at the very least, that they were so blissed out they were impervious to anger. Then I became the smoking clown.
Oh, I tried the “all love, all the time” thing. People would be rude and I’d send silent blessings to them. I’d see or hear about mean behavior and think of the perpetrator as a child, possibly one who’d had a rough time of it. I channeled my inner duck so that insults, rejections, slights, and outright rudeness would roll off my back. That worked for a time, until I started to explode.
When you bottle up your true feelings for too long, the lava eventually finds its way out. People who know how to manage anger correctly let some of it flow out, and then stop. Others who aren’t as skillful explode all the time, but after a while, nobody pays attention; it’s just noxious gas. Then there are people like me, who are in denial about their anger, until one day…boom.
I thought anger wasn’t part of yoga, but that would mean being human isn’t part of yoga, and that doesn’t make any sense. When I became a yoga teacher, I learned that I’m a human, not an unemotional Vulcan, and that my human emotions could find a comfortable midpoint between Vulcan and volcano. The spiritual path of Yoga gave me the tools I needed to learn how to manage my own anger and deal with people who are difficult.
First, I learned about Ahimsa, the Yoga principle of non-harming. Technically, a difficult person, like the boss who yells at you in a meeting, is not practicing Ahimsa. That’s their karmic issue. What it means for you is not using a tactic from the Game of Thrones playbook when someone does you wrong. Yelling back may feel good for five seconds, but then we suffer the repercussions, like getting fired. Worse, we know we only gave as good as we got.
To experience the spiritual benefits of Ahimsa, we have to give better. Take the mean boss example, and imagine it’s happening to three of your other colleagues. One shouts back and is now on the outs with the boss. One shrinks and says nothing, and will be the target of this bully boss from now on. The third calmly says, “Excuse me; there’s no need to yell. I think we can find a good resolution to the problem.” Assertive. Smooth. Not taking crap, but not slinging any either. Which of the three would you rather be?
Next came the theory of Samskaras, or repeating patterns of behavior. Not other people’s behavior—my own. When I looked at the difficult people in my life, I saw a history of trying to be a cheerleader to people with a less than cheery attitude. It’s one thing to try to help someone and another to try to change them entirely. Once I saw this Samskara, I respected people’s individual personalities, and I hung up my pom-poms. I had to end a few relationships, but it’s possible to break away and still wish people well. From a distance.
Satya, or truth and honesty, was a vital anger-management tool for me. All the times I tried not to be angry in the face of bad behavior, I was lying to myself and others. I didn’t want to exacerbate the situation, but it’s almost inappropriate not to feel angry when injustices are committed. In that sense, anger can be transformed from a negative emotion to fuel for positive change—when we handle it wisely, by taking appropriate action.
Practicing Satya and being honest when I was angry kept me from developing poisonous resentments that led to explosions. Truth let me react in a more authentic way, and problems were solved. Spiritual score!
And finally, the most important tool for dealing with difficult people is an adaptation of Savasana, when we pause and see how we feel. We live in a very immediate time, when we’re supposed to answer emails and texts two seconds after getting them. We don’t have to. If someone emails or texts you something that makes you want to explode, pause. Walk away from the keyboard or device. Breathe. Let some time go by before you respond. When you give a more carefully thought out answer, you may very well impress the heck out of yourself.
We all have to deal with difficult people, and occasionally we’re the ones who are being difficult. These spiritual tools help us deal with the former and wake up to the latter so we can do better. And the sure-fire way to deal with any kind of anger, whether yours or someone else’s, is to conjure peace with the bliss of a deep breath. With that, you can remain calm and centered, no matter what.
Suzan Colón is the author of Yoga Mind:Beyond the Physical: 30 Days to Enrich Your Practice and Revolutionize Your Life From the Inside Out