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How to Experience Anger in a Healthy Way

I am writing this post at the start of spring, when energy is rising, like the sap in the trees. In traditional Chinese medicine, the internal organs associated with this season are the liver and the gallbladder. If the liver is out of balance, it can manifest as the emotion anger, so I am going to explore anger in this post. It is certainly an emotion that I have experienced strongly throughout my life, but over the years I have learned (and am still learning) to use it in a positive way instead of being consumed by the negative aspects of it. And of course, anger can manifest at the personal level, for example being cut up in traffic, and at the global level, for example with military aggression, lack of action on climate change or countless societal injustices.

Being Aware of Anger

In his book A Monk’s Guide to Happiness, Gelong Thubten explains that “Anger and fear can make us deeply unhappy: we become consumed by negativity, which even undermines our immune system. Carrying that resentment is like carrying a hot coal; the more we hold onto it, the more it burns us. Wouldn’t we rather put it down?” To let go of the hot coal of anger we first need to become aware of it. Many people are disconnected from their true feelings, so it is important to be able to recognise the emotion anger and all the forms that it can take. It can be helpful to know that irritation and frustration are forms of anger, as is hate. Scepticism and sarcasm are also indicators of underlying anger.

Anger as a Messenger

“Like all our feelings, anger is a form of communication, it brings us a message,” (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler in Life Lessons). That message could be that we are being hurt, psychologically or physically, or that our needs are not being met or heard. Or it could be that something is not in alignment with our values and beliefs. Anger is a natural response to certain situations, it is only problematic if:

  • we are not even aware of it
  • we try to suppress it
  • it is out of proportion to the stimulus
  • or we get stuck in the emotion.

Forgiveness as an Antidote to Anger

Very often our response to a situation hurts us more and for longer than the initial insult. Our reaction is the real enemy, not the person who offended us. We can control our own actions, but not theirs. We can use forgiveness as an antidote to anger, by realising that the insult was most likely not intentional or, if it was, that it came from a place of deep negativity and a lack of self control. Very often we do not really know what someone else is going through or what place their negative actions have come from, but we do know that we all struggle to control our emotions at times and so we can forgive that. Forgiveness does not condone the anger-inducing behaviour, instead it frees us from further suffering.

Breaking the Cycle of Anger

Meditation and mindfulness practices are one way that we can gain more control over our own emotions and so avoid inducing anger in others, helping to break the cycle. As Eckhart Tolle observes in The Power of Now “people who carry a lot of anger inside without being aware of it and without expressing it are more likely to be attacked, verbally or or even physically, by other angry people, and often for no apparent reason. They have a strong emanation of anger that certain people pick up subliminally and that triggers their own latent anger.”

Anger as a Motivating Force

Eckhart Tolle’s explanation of emotions and anger struck me when I first read it “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind - or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger.” That is how I try to look at anger now, as a form of energy, which I can transmute into something positive, into healthy action. If I feel anger, I look for the most appropriate, considered action to take in response. Instead of reacting, I respond. A recent article in Positive News resonated with me recently Chris Packham on why he’s angry, yet hopeful in which he explains “I was a very angry young man and I’m a very angry old man. But I’ve always done everything within my power to turn that anger into something positive.” And in her book How to End Injustice Everywhere, I was interested to see Melanie Joy describe anger as a motivating emotion. She also says that “Anger is an appropriate and legitimate emotional reaction to injustice.” Anger very much is a rising energy.

Exploring Anger through Journalling

Journalling can be a healthy way to explore any feelings of anger that you may have, starting with acknowledging the emotion. My recent post on journalling may help you with that. You could ask yourself these questions:

  • What effect is this anger having on me?

  • What message is this anger sending me?

  • Where is the other person coming from?

  • What is or was driving their behaviour?

  • Why should I forgive?

  • How can I forgive?

  • What positive, considered action can I take to help me move forward using the motivating energy of my anger?

I hope that you have found something here to help you use anger in a healthy way, as a force for good, both within and without, personally and in the wider world.

The Story of Two Wolves

Years ago now I heard an old Cherokee story that has stuck with me. When I find myself thinking negatively, I remind myself of it. I came across it again recently and thought it would follow on nicely from my previous two posts on self compassion and meditation.

The story goes that a grandfather is talking with his grandson. “I have a fight going on within me,” the old man says. “It is taking place between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

The grandfather looks at the grandson and goes on. “The other embodies positive emotions. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. Both wolves are fighting to the death. The same fight is going on inside you and every other person, too.”

The grandson takes a moment to reflect on this. Eventually, he looks up at his grandfather and asks, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee replies simply “The one you feed.”

If you find yourself thinking negatively, then acknowledge the thoughts (without judgement) and your awareness of them before letting them go. Avoid getting caught up in them, analysing, ruminating. Don’t feed them. Equally, nurture positive thoughts and feelings. Dwell on those, give them more of your attention, feed them. Learn what generates those positive thoughts and feelings in you and do more of that, whether it is sleep, meditation, music, exercise, a creative activity, getting out in nature, being with people you find uplifting, whatever works for you. By uplifting yourself, you will uplift those around you too.

Overcoming the Barriers to Meditation

A regular meditation practice can have many benefits to health and wellbeing, but it can be challenging to achieve, which is what has prompted me to write this post. I will outline the benefits of meditation to help motivate you and then cover the barriers to establishing a regular meditation practice, before providing some simple techniques to try in order to help you find one that works for you and is sustainable.


Regular meditation can help counter negative emotions, such as stress, anxiety and unhappiness. As well as boosting your mood, meditation can enhance your mental function too: improving concentration and memory, and making space for your creativity to come through, including problem solving. Meditation can also alleviate physical and mental fatigue.

Meditation isn’t about never feeling negative emotions. Even monks experience stress, anger, sadness and fear. It is about experiencing the full range of emotions without getting stuck in unhelpful ones. What a regular meditation practice can do is to help you recalibrate more quickly if something throws you off balance. Meditation facilitates the smooth transition back to a calm state, to neutral. It can also facilitate positive feelings: love, joy, contentment, peace.


Trying to Empty the Mind

Probably the biggest barrier is believing that meditation is about emptying the mind of all thoughts, which is frustratingly difficult to do and like trying to run before you can walk. The key principle of meditation is non doing. It is time out for the body and the brain, however you want to do that. It can be about sitting with your thoughts, observing them and then letting them go like clouds passing across the sky. Or it can be focusing on the breath or sounds, then noticing when your mind has wandered to thoughts and bringing it back to what you were focusing on. The more you practise, the quieter your mind may become, but don’t give up if it doesn’t. It will be easier some days than others; accept that, don’t fight it. You may get to a point where you can calm your mind for a few moments or maybe more, in which case enjoy the experience, but it is not the be all and end all of meditation.


One of the main barriers to regular practice is time. To help you overcome that hurdle, what is the minimum amount of time that you could commit to meditating each day? That you couldn’t say ‘I haven’t got time for’? One minute? Five? Ten? Start small. You can always do more if you want to, but don’t build a huge wall in front of the start line!


What existing daily habit could you hook that short meditation time onto? Is it after cleaning your teeth in the morning or at bedtime? Is it immediately after or before lunch? When would work best for you? No matter what happens, persevere. If you miss a day or two, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just resume the next day.

A daily practice is ideal, more often is even better if you can. I have realised that meditation is like any skill, it requires regular practice, building up bit by bit and finding what works best for you along the way, like training for a marathon. I certainly stopped and started for years before finally settling into a daily practice. My next goal is to make it twice daily…

How to Meditate

There are so many ways to meditate that it can be daunting and confusing to know where to start, let alone how to continue. Here I offer a handful of different techniques that you could try to see which you prefer. None of these involve emptying the mind of all thoughts. Meditation is about focused attention and calming the mind.

Tuning in to the Senses

One way to meditate is to become aware by tuning in to your senses, one at a time. The mindful cup of tea meditation is a good example of that, which you can practise with any hot drink:

  • Notice the colour of the liquid and any shapes on the surface, such as froth or swirls, and how those move and change. Gaze at those for as long as feels good. Then take in the colour, shape and pattern of the cup or mug.

  • Next notice any sounds around you and how they change, or appreciate peace and quiet.

  • Moving onto the sense of smell now, take in the aroma of your drink, taking time to take it in and register it.

  • Only now take a sip to savour the taste of the tea or other beverage. Linger over it, don’t rush.

  • And how does it feel in your mouth and throat? How far down do you feel it as you swallow? Really pay attention with each sip.

  • Finish drinking your tea slowly and mindfully, tuning into one sense at a time.

The mindful cup of tea can be a good way to introduce a regular meditation practice, because it is a daily activity. Try to make at least one cuppa each day a mindful one and notice any difference in how you feel immediately after and over the longer term.

Using the Breath as a Meditation Tool

Meditating on the breath is another way to focus on something that we do all the time in order to move away from our thoughts and into physical sensations. There are so many ways to meditate on the breath, but this is one of the simplest to start with. Try to spend a few minutes once or twice a day quietly concentrating on your breathing. Find a quiet, comfortable environment for this, ideally sitting with both feet flat on the floor and your hands loose in your lap or resting gently on your thighs:

  • Just breathe normally

  • Be aware of your inbreath and outbreath and any pause between

  • If your mind wanders, don’t berate yourself, just acknowledge it and come back to your breathing

  • Notice how the experience changes from day to day, depending on how you are feeling.

Body Scanning

Another way to meditate is to tune in to your body by scanning through it one part at a time. You can guide yourself through the practice or, better still, listen to a guided body scan on one of the apps that I mention below. I talk you through a body scan in my previous blog post Mindfulness: re-engaging with your body. You can also try tensing and releasing one part of your body at a time, tensing with the in breath and releasing with the outbreath.

Meditation Apps

There are many meditation apps out there, which can help you get started with meditation or maintain a regular practice. Calm, Headspace and Waking Up are some of the best known subscription services. I enjoy working with the free Plumb Village app: “A free app with guided meditations, deep relaxations and other practices offered by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and his monastic community.”  Another free app is Insight Timer.

Meditation in Movement

Moving mindfully is another way to meditate. Qigong is an excellent example of that, with the slow repetitive movements inducing a meditative state as we focus on how the movement feels. Walking is another good way to meditate if you use your senses to tune in to your environment. I talk more about that in a previous blog post Walking Mindfully.

Music for Meditation

You can even use music to enter a meditative state. Apparently, listening to music that gives you goosebumps has the same effect as other meditation techniques, so it couldn’t get easier than that! Try putting together a playlist of music that has that tingle factor for you and set aside a few minutes each day to listen to it.

To Conclude

With meditation, if at first you don’t succeed, persevere with a different way of meditating. If you are very agitated, sitting quietly may not work for you, so you could try walking mindfully instead. Or perhaps listening to tingle-factor music works better for you than focusing on your breath or a cup of tea. Play with it, explore. Eventually you may develop a repertoire of techniques to pick and choose from depending on how you are feeling. I use an alternate nostril breathing meditation if I wake in the night feeling physically restless or a sleep meditation if my mind is busy. If I feel fairly calm, I like to still my mind further and if I feel agitated I find humming a helpful way to meditate and soothe myself. 

I sincerely hope that you have found something here to inspire you to meditate and support your regular practice. To learn more about meditation, I can recommend listening to this interview with Buddhist monk Gelong Thubten on the Feel Better Live More podcast.

Three Steps to Self Compassion

Compassion translates as 'to suffer with'. The Collins Dictionary defines compassion as "a feeling of pity, sympathy and understanding for someone who is suffering." We are taught and encouraged from a young age to be compassionate to others, but not necessarily to ourselves. In fact, British culture encourages us to be self deprecating! We will say negative things to ourselves or judge ourselves harshly in ways that we would not treat a friend or family member. This can lead to a negative feedback loop in which self criticism makes us feel worse about our own self and our circumstances, which can lead to discontent and depression. Studies have shown that people who are more self compassionate are happier. So you can see that self compassion is an important aspect of health and wellbeing. 

How to learn the skill of self compassion?

Step1 Be Kind

The first step is to be aware when you are being harsh on yourself and instead respond kindly. Try talking to yourself with your inner voice as you would to a friend or family member and as they would speak to you. When I need self compassion, a voice in my head says "It’s okay sweetheart" as if it were one of my parents. It is important because it acknowledges the suffering and offers comfort. Other times I tell myself "It doesn't matter" and I look for the silver lining of whatever has upset my equilibrium. And just as a friend or family member would give you a hug, you can hug yourself or at least touch your arm or hand to add the physical reassurance to the emotional.

Step 2 Feel Connected

The second step is to acknowledge that suffering is universal, that life is not perfect and no person is perfect. We have a deep need for connection and by feeling that we are not alone in our suffering, not other, can be soothing. As well as extending the circle of compassion to others, you can extend it to yourself. Fearne Cotton talks more about that in this bitesize episode of the ‘Feel Better Live More’ podcast: Self Compassion Matters.

Step 3 Be Mindful

Thirdly, mindfulness can play an important role in self compassion. Instead of trying to eliminate or ignore the negative aspects of life or yourself, acknowledge them whilst nurturing the positives. As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross explains in Life Lessons: "we all have a negative side, or a potential for negativity: denying it is the most dangerous thing we can do… To admit we have the capacity for negativity is essential. After admitting it, we can work on and release it." 

Mindfulness is awareness of awareness. Being mindful involves pausing to notice your thoughts and feelings so that you can observe them objectively and choose how to respond to them. As Kristin Neff so beautifully describes in her book Self Compassion "We don’t need to lambaste ourselves for thinking those nasty thoughts or feeling those destructive emotions. We can simply let them go. As long as we don’t get lost in a story line that justifies and reinforces them, they will tend to dissipate on their own. A weed that is not given water will eventually wither and fade away. At the same time, when a wholesome thought or feeling arises, we can hold it in loving awareness and allow it to fully blossom."

To Conclude

If you would like to explore the subject further, I can highly recommend Kristin Neff’s work. The best way to access it is via her website Self Compassion, which has a variety of resources, including exercises and meditations.

Finally, I will leave you with the Buddhist meditation on self compassion, which I love and recite to myself almost daily. I hope that you will find it a helpful reminder too.

May I be peaceful, happy and light in body, mind and spirit.

May I be safe and free from harm.

May I be free from fear.

May I know how to look at myself with the eyes of love and understanding.

May I be able to recognise and touch the seeds of happiness and joy in myself.

May I learn how to nourish the seeds of happiness and joy in myself every day.

May I be able to live fresh, solid and free.

Ten Tips for Foot Health

We don’t really think about the health of our feet unless they are causing us pain or discomfort, but foot health can have a knock-on effect on the rest of the body, so it is definitely worth paying attention to. Here are ten tips for optimising your foot health and so your overall wellbeing:

  1. Choose ‘barefoot’ footwear
  2. Go barefoot at home
  3. Go barefoot outdoors every day
  4. Walk barefoot over a variety of textures
  5. Walk over uneven surfaces
  6. Try toe stretchers
  7. Give your feet a work out
  8. File away rough skin
  9. Moisturise and nourish your feet
  10. See a podiatrist regularly.

The toes should be the widest part of the foot, and the foot naturally splays on impact with the ground when walking or running, but the narrow nature of modern footwear often impedes that natural shape and movement. Added to that, the human foot is widening with the generations, possibly because we are getting heavier. The good news is that a growing number of companies, such as Vivobarefoot and Xero Shoes, are producing healthier, more natural shaped footwear.

To really allow your feet to be their natural shape and to move naturally, avoid wearing footwear at home. Go barefoot or wear slip-proof socks about the house instead. It will help to maintain the strength and function of your feet.

As well as going barefoot indoors, schedule some barefoot time outdoors every day to ground yourself and to support your health & wellbeing. The Earthing Movie: the remarkable science of grounding is a fascinating exploration of this.

Try walking barefoot on a variety of textures, such as grass, pebbles or sand, and on uneven surfaces to stimulate your nervous system and promote good balance. You can make it a mindful practice by really tuning in to the sensations under your feet.

Toe stretchers, also known as yoga toes, separate the toes to promote the natural shape of the foot and stretch out the soft tissues, which can prevent and treat various forms of foot pain. I would recommend using the softer gel stretchers, which are more comfortable to wear. You don’t need to walk around in them all day, just a few minutes every day can make a difference. They certainly helped me to get my feet back to a healthier, more natural shape.

Exercising the feet is as important as exercising the rest of the body. If our feet are not strong, it can cause imbalances and pain further up the musculoskeletal system. Foot strength can also help with balance. For that reason, we do a lot of exercises for the feet and toes in qigong. Standing up with your feet flat on the floor (ideally barefoot), try lifting one toe at a time from the ground starting with the big toe and moving out to the little toe, then lower them one at a time starting from the little toe and working back to the big toe. Then try stretching out all your toes at once before scrunching them up, repeat several times, imagining that you are trying to gather in a sheet under your feet using your toes. Finally, feel the contact of the base of the big toe, the base of the little toe and the centre of your heel in contact with the ground, like a tripod, and keeping those three points of contact, draw up through the centre of your foot, feeling your arch lift. Release and repeat a few times.

Regularly filing away rough, dead skin from your feet will help prevent the build up of calluses, which can cause pain and discomfort. Try making it a weekly self-care ritual.

To keep the skin on your feet soft and supple, apply a good quality foot cream daily (ideally after a bath at bedtime to optimise absorption). I like the Swedish brand CCS. Their Foot Care Cream makes my feet feel so alive and good!

Last, but not least, see a podiatrist regularly, like you do the dentist. It is important to have your foot health checked by a professional to prevent and treat any problems.

I do hope that this post has inspired you to give your feet the TLC that they deserve for all that they do for you. If you look after your feet, they will look after you...