The Practices of Forgiveness and Yoga by Vanessa Soriano

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.  Yoga and forgiveness illuminate the body-mind connection.

All world religions and spiritual traditions emphasize the practice of forgiveness.  Sages, prophets, rishis, shamans, medicine women—figures who have helped shape religion and spirituality—understood that resentment and anger depress the body and mind, which hinders our connection to the soul and Divine.

Being angry diminishes the quality of life and can incite violence against our self and others.  Forgiveness helps us function at fuller capacity from a healthy internal state.

Just as 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 we are 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 yoga enhance our dance with forgiveness?

Before we answer 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.  It also entails reaching a place of empathy and understanding towards the offender, primarily recognizing that he/she is wounded and is acting out from that wound.

If you believe that it is hard to forgive (and it is), research the stories of Immaculée Ilibagiza and Scarlett Lewis.  Immaculée survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide and forgave the man who murdered her family with the help of her Catholic faith, particularly her connection with Mother Mary.  Scarlett’s son was killed in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.  She affirms forgiveness of the gunman is central to her resilience.  If these women can forgive those atrocities, we certainly stand a chance in our own lives.

As the American Psychological Association asserts, “Forgiveness is not the same as justice, nor does it require reconciliation.  A former victim of abuse shouldn’t reconcile with an abuser who remains potentially dangerous, but the victim can still come to a place of empathy and understanding.”  One psychologist noted, “Whether I forgive or don’t forgive isn’t going to affect whether justice is done; forgiveness happens inside my skin.”

Research from John Hopkins Medical School indicates that forgiveness is a choice.  There are multiple paths to make that choice.  Invoking spiritual/religious beliefs can help you with that process.

For self-forgiveness, the Western religions 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.

The Eastern traditions 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.”

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.

Women’s Spirituality encourages acknowledgment of the transgression and pursuit of diverse actions that restore balance, justice, awareness, and harmony in the interconnected web of Life.

Like many women, I use forgiveness as part of my recovery from trauma in patriarchal culture.  The wounds that women endure need sacred space for healing.  For me, yoga is that space.  Within it is my relationship with the Goddess through my body.  To feel and release anger in poses, I call on the fierce aspect of Her.  For softness and compassion, I call on Her as nurturer.  My yoga practice is embodied spirituality that leads me into deeper, sweeter layers of healing, forgiveness, and empowerment.

Where does yoga fit into all of this?

Yoga ultimately triggers a deep state of physiological relaxation.  This state calms the sympathetic nervous system (stress & emergency response) and boosts the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest response).  Yoga 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, we are delivered to more serene and affirmative states within.  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.  We can pray for help during yoga; after practice, we may feel impelled to contact someone and make amends, or schedule an appointment with a therapist; we can perform a ritual of self-forgiveness.

We can use asanas as a method to release the charge of emotional memories.  Use Warrior Two as a stance to send metta to yourself and others.  Use backbends to ask God/dess to the release the samskaras (karmic emotional imprints) from your heart.  Cry in shavasana.  Don’t suppress.  Suppression leads to depression.  Use your yoga as an entrance into forgiveness and healing.


Vanessa Soriano, Ph.D., is a yoga teacher (with an 8-5 job) who completed her Ph.D. in Religion and Philosophy with an emphasis in Women’s Spirituality at the California Institute of Integral Studies.  After enduring some traumatic events, she was inspired to study religion and spirituality from every angle possible.  Somewhere along that journey, she encountered the feminine face of the Divine and fell madly in love with the Goddess.  When the Divine became a woman for Vanessa, she could feel empowerment and healing in a way that was not accessible when the Divine was portrayed in strictly male terms.  Ultimately, Vanessa thinks the true nature of the Divine transcends gendered terms like “Divine Feminine” and “Divine Masculine,” and Its’ core is a presence of unconditional, infinite Love.   Yet, she feels this presence of unconditional, infinite Love takes on innumerable forms to be understood and recognized by the diverse peoples of the world.  Studying the various forms of the Divine is Vanessa’s passion.  She believes the images and narratives of the Divine can be used to oppress or liberate people, and she seeks information that uplifts, inspires, and honors all walks of Life.

Categories: Belief, Body, Embodiment, Feminism and Religion, Goddess, Goddess feminism, Goddess Spirituality, Spirituality, yoga

Tags: , , , , , ,

22 replies

  1. Welcome Vanessa.

    I have found therapies that engage the body to be much more effective than those that don’t because we hold so many feelings in our bodies.

    What I like about yoga is that it keeps the body energies flowing. This encourages letting go of what is holding us back. Also an energized body is a happier body and a happier body is a happier body-self.


    • Hi Carol!

      Thanks for the warm welcome. I completely agree that body practices help us heal and move through whatever is stuck inside. I have found that ecstatic dancing works just as well as yoga ;)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting. I’ve tried yoga only once, and that was many years ago. I’ve never considered any connection between yoga and forgiveness, but what you say makes sense. The world certainly needs to practice a lot more forgiveness, and if yoga is a way to get there, I guess the world also needs more yoga. Thanks for stimulating some new thoughts.


    • Thank you, Barbara :) Maybe try a yoga video at home to get back into a yoga groove and begin incorporating some forgiveness practices from there. Yogaglo is a great website to find some practices :)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “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. It also entails reaching a place of empathy and understanding towards the offender, primarily recognizing that he/she is wounded and is acting out from that wound..”

    Such a powerful essay. I was particularly struck by the above words because of the truths they hold. Forgiveness has little to do with the offender and everything to do with us and you nail that point!

    Still a challenge for me is remembering that any offending person is working out of his or her wounding… initially at least I have to go through a period of feeling my anger.



    • They probably are working out their own wounding + relying on a sense of (white) (male) (or other) entitlement. That they were wounded is a reason for compassion, but it should not lead us to condone the offense. There are other people who are wounded who do not wound, or at least do not abuse others, such as for example, you and me.


      • Yes! Thank you for articulating that. I believe we cannot use our wounds against people.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh Carol – I do so agree and just yesterday an experience of female betrayal blindside me – her excuse ” she has some psychological wound she can’t explain” WHAT? This woman is 71 years old – this is surely no excuse… Your response keeps me on track. It took me so many years to hold people accountable but today I do… and I don’t take on this stuff as my own. I know that I have integrity and I use it. What would I do without this site of yours? Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Mahalo, Sara :) I am with you that it is hard to remember that the offending person is a wounded one acting out of their wound/anger/pain. One of my favorite spiritual teachers says, “Wounded people hurt people. Healed people heal people.” So, when we take the time, effort, and energy to heal ourselves, I feel that has a beautiful and healing impact on the world around us because we treat people (and ourselves) differently.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is true! Just last night I had a shocking betrayal occur with a women with whom I have had a friendship for a number of years… This woman ended the friendship after weeks of the silent treatment with no explanation beyond the fact that I had angered her for months… yea gods…betrayal begets betrayal and of course, this behavior will be reverse itself and return to her but it was ever so helpful that I had just read your essay because I didn’t waste any time ruminating over what I could possibly have done wrong. This is her crap – not mine.

        Still with that much said I am deeply disturbed that women and men often seem to choose the easy way out instead of working through whatever differences might exist.

        We all have psychological wounds – it is our responsibility to deal with them but few actually do. Instead – more broken – ness. No wonder this culture is in breakdown mode.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Vanessa. I need all the “tools’ I can get these days to relax and thrive.


  5. Here is a poem I wrote in response to a woman’s betrayal yesterday:

    A moon full of grief

    spills pale blue light

    blinding stars

    erasing Shadows

    cast over the night –

    Exposure to betrayal

    is an experience

    without parallel.

    I weep even as high desert skies

    shiver under reflected light

    and second sight.

    Yet, Venus shines on.

    Her silvery orb a

    sharpened steel point

    an inspiration for some.

    We do have a choice.

    Betrayal speaks to the severing

    of ties – psychological wounds

    are no excuse for ending a friendship –

    expose lack of integrity and weakness.

    Keeping red hearts open

    creates space for a rainbow

    spectrum of feelings.

    Experiencing each honestly

    allows love to re – enter,

    shattering separateness,

    the most sinister human delusion.

    Postscript: I used the image of this morning’s sunrise to highlight the colors of betrayal as I experience them. This poem was inspired by a woman’s betrayal that blindsided me yesterday. The bare trees against the sky remind me so much of this woman and myself, because she loves one tree in particular although my life is permeated with love for all trees. Women and trees simply go together as sisters in mythology as well as in day life. This women, by betraying me chopped down her own tree.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a beautiful post showing the relation between forgiveness and yoga. Very insightful too. Thank you


  7. Thank you for this great post, I’m currently trying to use yoga more as a tool to work toward getting to a point where I can forgive.


  8. Thank you for the immense kindness and patience required to enter western constructs in order to explain Yoga, since for most it ends at body-mind relaxation. For most readers it would be unlikely to admit that Yoga and its many branches are the first Systems Thinking and Systems science that informed empirical-experiential subjective research… And now we speak of Systems as an academic model without citing primary sources… that, as you know come from Anonymous or women writers in India, as well as Patanjali and what he learned of his mother before leaving us the Yoga Sutras.

    But, so much of western philosophy in the Frankfurt School comes from Indian Yogic phenomenology that it is not funny… what is quite serious is the ongoing intellectual appropriation, or an ethos to invade/colonize, that is inherent in those of us raised and schooled in the US… It has taken me painstaking reflections over seven decades or more, to recognize how spontaneous is this sense of entitlement that comes from US schooling… though some of it has been foundationally good, most of it has been useful in only in terms if serving the “master’s house” in ways that preserve it. Here I remember Audre Lorde’s words of wisdom, “The master´s tools will not dismantle the master´s house.”


  9. Sorry, clicked and the post flew away before it was supposed to… but perhaps it was good to end it there since the topic requires that we enter in detailed sources, omitted references by famous scholars, and the contributions of more references from those of us embedded in the Yogic multicultural and transsystemic training and experiences, whether embodied or not.
    By now, it has been the topic of several books, but more is needed to undo the false premises of supremacy that come to us from modern science dependent on technology vs the science enjoyed by yogis in ancient times which was based on mental control and psychic powers. Since we cannot believe what we cannot even imagine, the child’s imagination has been one of the first faculties attacked in modern schooling. For anyone informed on the deeper and higher Yogic multisystems, it is common to encounter much resistance from a majority that has been subjected to the literature and imagination of mostly anglophone writers.

    I am so glad to read your works here.
    Goddess bless!



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