Forgiveness blog post header


There’s many things in our lives that have the potential to be a drain on our joy, but one that comes up time and time again – in classes, in DM conversations, in the studio, on teacher trainings is forgiveness.

Before we explore the topic of forgiveness, just pause for a second and have a think, take a moment to ask yourself:

What does forgiveness mean to you?

Is there someone that you need to forgive?

Here’s where we’re going in this blog post:

  • What is forgiveness (seems obvious, but let’s break it down anyway)
  • Ideas and concepts from yoga philosophy to help you understand how to forgive

What is forgiveness?

If a child asked you what is forgiveness, what would you say?

Before we break down what forgiveness is, let’s look at what it isn’t:

Forgiveness isn’t condoning the actions. It’s not accepting the actions.  It’s not saying that what happened is right. Or that you’re ok with what happened.

Forgiveness is very personal, it’s actually only about YOU, and if there’s only one thing that you take from this blog post, let it be this: that forgiveness is about YOU. It’s not about the person or people who wronged you, it’s about you.

Oh and take one other thing too actually; that forgiveness is not acceptance, it’s freedom.

What happened, happened. That’s fact, and – possibly unfortunately – it can’t be changed. But what can be changed, affected, influenced, is the future, your future. A future with less pain.

Let’s keep going with this:

Forgiveness is not acceptance of the act. Forgiveness is freedom. It’s ONLY about YOU.

Here’s a bit of background about why this topic is so important to me (Holly, hi by the way!). On an intensive yoga teacher training I was on a while back, something kept coming up for me that had happened probably about four or five years beforehand. Something that I hadn’t consciously thought about in a long time, something I thought I had dealt with. But because it kept popping up; while I was practicing yoga, while we were meditating, while I was chatting with friends, I realised – Ah this is troubling me and it’s probably something I need to sort out.

That very day I had that realisation, the philosophy teacher, Rishi Sudhir, asked if there was any suggestions for the topic to cover in that evening’s Satsang – a yoga discussion – if you will.

I didn’t hesitate, I asked if we could cover forgiveness. So, that evening, about 50 of us sat together, and Rishi Sudhir said “Holly, you suggested forgiveness, would you be able to explain to the group why?” So I launched in to me “Well she said this, then this happened, and you’ll never guess what!” There was audible gasps, people couldn’t believe how I’d been wronged, and how unfair the situation was… and then they started to give advice in that very human way that we do: “Holly this happened years ago, you really need to let it go.” “It’s toxic holding on to something like this, just put it behind you, move on!”

Then, eventually, everyone stopped talking and turned back to Rishi Sudhir, who was smiling. Actually he always smiled, but his smile was even slightly bigger than normal. and he just said: “How does she let it go?”

No one knew. No one said a single thing. We were all stumped!

Forgiveness Yoga Hero

The reason that I think it’s important to give this background is because in that room of about 50 people, everyone had issues with forgiveness. Everyone.  Not one person knew how to forgive! Well, apart Rishi Sudhir. That hit me quite hard to be honest, and it’s something I’ve thought about A LOT since;

How many people are overly guarded because of being hurt in the past.

How many people hold resentment, sadness and frustration that they could, in theory, let go of?

How much of our lives is affected by hurt caused by someone else?

From experience I’d say that everyone, or at least most people, have a situation that they haven’t fully dealt with. Something that rears its ugly head. I’d also say most people fully understand what forgiveness is in principle – but how do you go about it? And why bother forgiving someone?

There’s two important things that need to be understood at this point:

Reliving an experience causes stress

To give a very brief overview – if a lion were to walk in to the room that you’re in right now, you would want your body to help you survive, which is exactly what happens. The priorities in your body shift to focus on your immediate survival; blood is rerouted to your muscles, to help you fight, or run away. Your plans in the immediate future take priority to help you plan your exit. You breathe quicker and your heart rate increases to get the extra oxygen in to your blood stream and then in to muscles. Cortisol – the stress hormone – and adrenalin are released to keep you awake and focused. So if a lion were to walk in to the room you’re in right now, all of this is perfect, it gives you the best chance of survival.

But the thing is, our brain doesn’t know the difference between an actual lion walking in to the room, the thought of a lion walking in to the room, or a memory of a lion walking in to the room, or indeed any situation that caused you pain… In all of these physical and imagined or remembered circumstances, the body reacts in the same way.

So if someone wrongs you, that’s the same as a lion approaching you! It’s a threat to our wellbeing, our survival, our happiness, so the nervous system deals with it in the same way.

Because all the oxygen, blood and calories are sent to our muscles to fight, or flight, there’s none sent to things like long-term decision making or considering the consequences of our actions, compassion or long term memory, and as a result we’re not in the right frame of mind to be able to make decisions, (and of course, there’s an impact on our physical health too).

The second thing I’d like to explain, which seems so relevant to forgiveness, is the concept of Samskaras.


If you were to pour a jug of water on to pile of sand, the water would flow down the pile of sand and start to create rivets, which get deeper and deeper with the water that follows. This isn’t dissimilar to how we form habits and pre-conceptions, have you ever heard the phrase ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’?

If you find yourself reacting in the same way, or a similar way, to situations, this could be because of the samskara which is getting used more and more, and therefore getting deeper and deeper, and therefore getting used even more!

However, we know that we can ‘rewire’ think patterns and habits, with conscious effort. We do have to do the work, and boy is it hard! The first bit of the work is to be aware… to ask yourself:

What are my patterns, what are my habits?

What are my preconceptions?

How do I react, and why?

Maybe there’s something you can think of at this moment, where someone did something or said something, and you reacted. With the gift of hindsight, you see your reaction was disproportionate to the situation that preceded the reaction, maybe you feel a bit silly now or embarrassed.

This is exactly what we’re talking about.

Is there something that people can mention that really gets a reaction from you? Maybe something about your appearance, your job, your parenting style; where you become vulnerable and defensive at all once?

What I’m trying to say, is that the situation that is preceding the forgiveness – and of course if it’s preceding forgiveness, there’s some emotion in there – maybe, maybe some of the emotion that’s wrapped up in this situation is actually tied to, or comes from, a different, previous, similar situation…

Now that we understand a little about what yoga has to say about forgiveness, let’s keep looking at forgiveness as a behaviour, an action, a decision.

Forgiveness as a behaviour, an action and a decision

Remember, forgiveness is not acceptance. It’s not saying that what the other person did is right.

Let’s use a random example of a group of buddies not inviting you to a night out. Nobody is saying that that’s right, or moral, or fair, but – is there a lesson for you in there? Maybe you could ask yourself ‘why do I feel the need to be so involved in every social gathering?’

Maybe it gives you reason to keep your distance from one or two people in the group who just aren’t for you. Maybe there’s completely different learnings there. It’s not all sweetness and light and ‘Oh, no, darling, don’t worry. It’s absolutely fine, I’m not bothered at all‘ It’s not pushing feelings down, (which is actually putting them in a pressure cooker – which would mean it’s only a matter of time before they explode). When they explode, they’ve gathered so much momentum that the explosion is disproportionate usually to what happened – which is when you start regretting it or you’re embarrassed. Remember the samskaras, if we can be open and honest about our own and work on them, the explosion may not happen, or if it does, it might not be so disproportionate.

There’s something to clarify here, which is by saying that there’s potentially learnings from this situation – that’s not saying that it was your fault. That’s a common misconception. In fact fault, or blame, is one of the things that makes forgiveness so hard. “The other person is at fault, and they should pay!”

Remember, we’re talking about you, about how if you can put down resentment, sadness, fear, anger and move forwards without those heavy emotions, that affects your life. (And to an extent we just have to hope that the other person or people do their own work on self-improvement and learning lessons!)

We’re not condoning actions.

We’re not saying that we’re accepting actions.

What we’re saying is that you – and only you – have an option to decrease the pain that you’re experiencing that’s related to a certain situation.

And you, and only you, have an opportunity to look inwards and learn accordingly.

Even if the other person comes crawling over on their hands and knees, begging begging begging for forgiveness, saying they’ll never do it again, they’re so so sorry, they never meant to hurt you – forgiveness is still up to you, or down to you. It’s much harder if the person isn’t apologetic, granted. But either way, forgiveness sits with you.

We have a simple lead meditation to help you bring forgiveness in to your life, which is completely free.

This can be done as often as you need, whenever you need. It might from someone nicking your bag of crisps out of your drawer at work, through to someone who completely affected every area of your life. So don’t hang about. Forgiveness is freedom, let’s start today.