"Rage" and "yoga" are not typically seen in the same sentence, but yogi Linsday Istace is challenging traditional yoga practices with her unconventional methods. According to her website, Rage Yoga is "a practice involving stretching, positional exercises, and bad humor, with the goal of attaining good health and to become zen as f*ck. More than just a practice, Rage Yoga is an attitude."
The classes are just as you would imagine: set to loud, rock music with hardcore war cries instead of soothing mantras. You can also expect a few poses that incorporate "fist unicorns" (aka middle fingers up) throughout. But at its core, the practice is about more than holding yoga poses while swearing. "It's about working through what's holding you back and becoming a stronger and more resilient person for it -- both physically and mentally," Istace says.
According to licensed psychologist Gillian Scott-Ward, PhD, the concept of letting out anger as a way to de-stress is nothing new. "Rage is a secondary emotion, meaning underneath the rage there are likely a whole host of other feelings," she says. Keeping these feelings bottled up can worsen anxiety and slow positive judgement.
Staying in a state of anger isn't great for us physically either. Dr. Scott-Ward explains that when we are angry, the stress hormone cortisol is released in our brain, decreasing levels of serotonin, a chemical related to feelings of happiness. Anger also increases blood pressure and heart rate, increases your stroke risk, and is generally bad for the immune system.
That being said, practicing Rage Yoga or similar activities may be a good choice for some people, though Dr. Scott-Ward notes that it's important to do so in a safe, mindful way. "Some people think that acting out their anger, punching things, or yelling and screaming, helps to let out the feelings. Psychologists call this 'Catharsis Theory,'" she says. "Unfortunately, there is a lot of research that says 'acting out' our anger actually makes us more angry, not less." She goes on to explain that acting out can trigger memories of other angering events in our past, increasing the likelihood of aggressive behavior in the future.
But still, we should explore our anger and get to the root cause. If Rage Yoga isn't your thing, there are plenty of other ways to unwind and release tension. Dr. Scott-Ward suggests traditional yoga, meditation, exercise, and self-talk. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how you handle your stress -- as long as you are handling it. "If there are people who feel [Rage Yoga] is a good way for them to center themselves, then go for it!" says Dr. Scott-Ward. "Anger isn’t something that should be suppressed. In some instances accessing this feeling helps us protect ourselves or people we care about."
Rage Yoga classes are currently taught by certified instructors in Houston, TX, as well as in Canada, but online courses are also available.