Forgiveness and yoga require consistent practice. As we engage in each, healing unfolds in the body, mind, and soul. Forgiveness and yoga exist in a symbiotic relationship: forgiveness allows us to release emotional blockages that affect the body/mind, and yoga delivers us to more empowered and peaceful states within the body/mind that encourage the release. Both yoga and forgiveness illuminate the body-mind connection.
All major world religions and spiritual traditions emphasize the practice of forgiveness. Sages, prophets, rishis, teachers, shamans, medicine women—figures who have helped shape religion and spirituality—understood that resentment and anger depress the spirit, body, and mind, which hinders our connection to our soul and the Divine.
Being angry diminishes the quality of life and can incite violence against our self and others. Forgiveness is the medicine that helps us function at fuller capacity from a healthy internal state. It raises our vibration. It lifts our spirits. It heals our bodies.
In the same way that forgiveness promotes healing in the body/mind, yoga accomplishes the same effect. Scientific studies from Harvard show that yoga increases body awareness, relieves stress, improves mood and behavior, and calms and centers the nervous system. Since yoga decreases the stress response in the body, it creates space in the psyche to journey into the practice of forgiveness.
Once our body/mind is no longer in fight-or-flight mode, we can begin to embrace healing practices because we feel safe enough to do so.
How does one forgive? What are the guidelines to help us let go of resentments towards self and others? How can we use yoga to enhance our dance with forgiveness?
Before we journey into these questions, it is imperative to note that forgiveness is not condoning the behavior of the offender. It is the willingness—and process—of letting go of resentments for your own benefit, as resentments, anger, and constant rumination about whatever transpired only harms YOU.
Research from John Hopkins Medical School indicates that forgiveness is a choice. There are multiple paths to make that choice. Whether you invoke spiritual and/or religious beliefs to forgive, or take a purely secular route, the roads to forgiveness are ever-present for either yourself or others.
For self-forgiveness, the Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) will require desisting from the action that is harmful in your Life. Calling on Yahweh/God/Allah through prayer and humbling yourself before Yahweh/God/Allah will help you with abstaining and redirecting your behaviors.
For forgiveness of others, the Western faiths emphasize empathy and prayer for the offenders. The central idea here is: just as God forgives us for our trespasses, let us forgive those who trespass against us. (Bear in mind that any radical/extremist group of any religion is not going to adhere to these concepts because they are more concerned with being right as opposed to building bridges within diverse belief systems. Think of extremism as a wounded ego on crack: it’s insane and cannot think clearly, so it certainly cannot be credible or accurate in its’ justifications, actions, or thought processes.)
The Eastern traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism) highlight the Law of Karma when it comes to matters of forgiveness. Karma is the notion that “as you sow, so shall you reap.” While Karma oversees the balancing act of transgressions, the Mahabharata states, “Forgiveness is Brahma [God]; Forgiveness is truth; and by Forgiveness the universe is held together.”
Yes, Karma will teach you what she has to, but the very fabric of the Universe is held together by Forgiveness (which ultimately entails complete unconditional Love by God/dess).
The Buddha claimed that anger is poisonous to the body and psyche. To soften anger, the Buddha proposed sending metta, which means “loving-kindness,” to those with whom you are annoyed. No, this is not easy, but as scientific data reveals, unforgiveness can produce chronic stress, mental instability, and depression.
If none of these spiritual paths to forgiveness are your jam, you still have options. You can talk to a licensed therapist who specializes in trauma. Try the Emotional Freedom Technique (aka tapping, which is backed by scientific data). Research the effects of affirmations on the subconscious to help you develop a new script about past traumas (self-inflicted or caused by others). Go to support groups that specialize in your issue. Write down everything you did (or what they did) and physically burn the paper as a symbolic act of letting go and then move on, one breath (and choice) at a time.
So, where does yoga fit into all of this?
Yoga ultimately triggers a deep state of physiological relaxation. Yoga generates a calm and relaxation that takes place on a neurobiological level. This physical/mental state lowers the volume on the sympathetic nervous system (stress & emergency response) and increases the volume on the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest response). Yoga also amplifies the level of GABA, a chemical in the brain that aids regulation of nerve activity, which helps to control fear and anxiety when neurons become overexcited.
Given that yoga decreases stress, fear, depression, and anxiety in the body/mind, we are delivered to more serene and affirmative states within ourselves. We have accessed a relaxed—therefore, much Wiser—energy inside.
If we allow it, yoga can be the doorway into the practice of forgiveness. We can use the positive mental state yoga engenders and incorporate any number of forgiveness practices that suit us. Perhaps we can pray for help after yoga (or during yoga); after practice, we may feel impelled to contact someone and make amends, or schedule an appointment with a therapist; we can do a ritual of self-forgiveness.
We can also use asanas as a method to release the charge of emotional memories (because you’ve got to actually feel your emotions to let them go; we can’t run or hide from what lives inside). Use Warrior Two as a stance to send metta to yourself and others. Use back bends to ask God/dess (or whatever you call it) to release the samskaras (karmic emotional imprints) from your heart. Cry your freaking eyes out in shavasana. Don’t suppress. Suppression leads to depression.
Use your yoga as an entrance into forgiveness and healing…then, get off the mat and walk into the world and offer that newfound Light, Love, Forgiveness, and Peace to all you meet, including the beautiful one looking back at you in the mirror.
P.S. Listen to Trevor Hall’s songs “Forgive” and “You Can’t Rush Your Healing.”