By Raquel Jex Forsgren, Yoga Therapist, C-IAYT
Most everyone will tell you that if you can reach the point of forgiveness toward another person or yourself that a “weight will lift from your shoulders.” With the holidays upon us, the topic of forgiveness is front and center, as we may be interacting with people for whom forgiveness seems impossible to imagine.
Forgiveness, although freeing, can be deeply rooted in one event to a mounting of events or things that have happened in one’s life. Some people feel that if they forgive, they “have to” forget and that may mean that whatever they are forgiving the person or themselves for is okay. For others, they feel that by forgiving simply means that they no longer carry that burden with them. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
We all have experienced feeling like we can’t let something go. That something could be a wrong-doing from someone or behavior of our own. This same feeling of not being able to let go is often accompanied by emotions such as shame, anger, hurt or even guilt.
Let’s start with the basics, what causes us to feel like we “have to” forgive? Is it society, our parents, friends or spouses? Is it to relax our minds, heal our bodies, mend relationships, or simply, just to move on?
So, where do we start? We must want to forgive. We must ask ourselves how much time we spend ruminating over something someone said or did to us. We must be able to identify in our minds and our bodies how we feel about the person, or if it is within ourselves, what that brings up for us?
Most of the time, forgiveness is accomplished in baby steps. Sometimes forgiveness can take years. The main reason for this is that it may be too difficult for the forgiver to think about the incident or the person. Or, the forgiver may not be self-aware enough to pinpoint the emotions they have.
Anger triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. The adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. When we are not able to let go and forgive, this biological response is triggered whenever we think of that person or event. Our minds are taken over by ruminating thoughts that cause hurt, deepening and expanding the story. We may begin to carry over these feelings and emotions about something or someone else into new experiences and relationships, creating unwanted emotional baggage.
How can yoga help us begin to forgive? It increases our self-awareness. It helps us notice emotions and thoughts that arise at the moment and encourages us to be curious about them. We learn to ask ourselves, how am I hurt or what am I angry about? Where do I feel it in my body? What do I feel and where do I feel it when I think of that person who betrayed or hurt me?
Sit with these feelings, feel them, write them down, say them out loud. Identify them. Then make a choice. Do you want to continue feeling this way, or are you ready to heal and let go for yourself?
Forgiveness is about feeling strong, self-confident and loving ourselves. This is a process, too. The essential ingredient toward forgiving is gratitude. Below are a few simple suggestions that have worked for me:
1. Be grateful: Find an aspect of your life for which to be grateful.
2. See the soul: Each of us is born pure. Try picturing the person who hurt you or yourself as a baby.
3. Be grateful: Find some small quality of the other person for which to be grateful.
4. Practice: Do heart opening yoga postures.
5. Practice Loving Kindness: Find a guided meditation about loving kindness and practice it at least once per week. (You can find one on YouTube.)
6. Be grateful: Find something about the experience that shaped your life for the better.
7. Be mindful: As you move toward forgiveness, you may feel called to engage or disengage with the person. Listen to your intuition.
8. Repeat 1-6: Own your life, your decisions and your choices.
Raquel Jex Forsgren is a Certified Yoga Therapist, C-IAYT, a graduate from Soul Institute and certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology and has 25 years of experience in pharmaceuticals. Raquel has been living yoga for over a decade. She lives in Chicago. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her @yogawithraquel on Instagram and visit www.livingyoga-therapy.com for more.
Sources: Beloved Patients, 2018; Flossie Park, Teacher and Mentor at Soul of Yoga, 2017