Research Shows Forgiveness is Good for Your Health

Last weekend was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. While it is usually a day of fasting and deep reflection for me when I am seeking forgiveness, this year what came up was my need to forgive some important people in my life who really hurt me, and that my health and wellbeing was dependent on it.

As I meditated on bringing forgiveness into my heart I started to ask what exactly does forgiveness mean? How does it feel? I was looking for a big energetic exorcism, followed by that feeling of exaltation floating in cosmic consciousness devoid of time and space. But this was not at all the experience. I began to wonder, was forgiveness more like a journey?

Then a Linked-in post showed up about “The New Science of Forgiveness.”  Written in 2004, wasn’t sure why it was coming up now, but it was perfect timing for me. The author, Everett L. Worthington Jr. cites research studies “finding connections between forgiveness and physical, mental, and spiritual health and evidence that it plays a key role in the health of families, communities, and nations”.

As for waiting for the bliss fireworks, Worthington states, “It’s important to stress again that forgiveness usually takes time. In fact, in a meta-analysis of all research that measured the impact of forgiveness interventions, Nathaniel Wade and I found that a factor as simple as the amount of time someone spent trying to forgive was highly related to the actual degree of forgiveness experienced.”

Yoga provides practices that help the process.  Yoga therapy is effective for so many different health issues because the practices focus on returning one to balance regardless of how the imbalance(s) manifest in body, mind and/or spirit.  When the mind and emotions are agitated with anger, resentment, the result is dis-ease in the body and the mind.  A daily Yoga Therapy practice s designed to replace old samskaras (habits) that no longer serve and may be causing harm, with new habits and practices that restore balance and return ease. The therapeutic benefits accrue over time as positive lifestyle practices become the new habit.

So here is the yoga therapy practice I prescribed for myself. Every time any negative or angry thought arises about this person, or every time the mind creates a hurtful situation involving this person that actually never happened, I immediately stop and witness, consciously stop that train of thought in its tracks, take a long slow breath, and bring the word ‘forgive” into my heart center. I envision it as planting the seed of forgiveness. Then I take a few long slow breaths, focusing on the heart center, “watering the seed” of forgiveness, letting it grow and expand.  I’m a very busy person and this really isn’t time consuming. Just a few long slow breaths when needed.  It’s definitely doable.  That is key for a successful Yoga Therapy practice. It needs to be easy to do, and it needs to deliver immediate results so you will want to keep doing it.

Maybe the bliss fireworks will come in time. But for now, it’s daily work, witnessing the thought waves of the mind, consciously choosing to keep only good thoughts in my mind and heart, and let go of all which does not serve this relationship.  The heart is already feeling lighter.  So while the process may be long, the results are immediate. Already, the need to stop and breathe is decreasing. Research is on my side – forgiveness can be powerful therapy. Yoga provides the daily practice to make it so.

Swamiji key to spirituality

Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji


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