Weekly Practice Nov. 22-28: Freeing Your Own Heart with Forgiveness
Approaching Thanksgiving, it was tempting to put together a Gratitude practice. However, I felt really conflicted about it. It's not that I don't think that giving thanks is a priority, because I do! It's just that I think before we give thanks we might need to give forgiveness. For me, it is essential that we honor where we truly are in our personal relationships and as a global community. I believe if we are able to forgive ourselves, our peers and those throughout the world that we hold resentment towards we can free ourselves to actually appreciate what we have to its fullest extent. However, if we are still burdened with forms of hate, anger and betrayal how can we truly experience happiness and really appreciate our lives and all its blessings.
It brings to mind the times in my life when I tried to pretend to be happy about situations, people and things before actually dealing with my true feelings. This happiness was at times fraudulent and inauthentic. I did not and do not want to spread advice that insinuates that we should put a bandage over our wounds and never clean out the cuts. Gratitude and appreciation do make for a better life, however, sometimes we have some work to do first. Rather than pretending our way to happiness, how about we free ourselves toward it instead? How do we do that though? Honestly?
How to Initiate the Process of Forgiveness
I have found that the process to becoming authentically happy is one of developing a compassionate, impersonal and almost unified way of thinking. It does not help us to simply pretend that we do not feel a certain way, or to pretend nothing ever happened. This instead develops passive aggressive behavior, explosive arguments and all kinds of other difficulties in our relationships. So the first step to forgiveness is to acknowledge what you feel. Tuning with your heart can be scary and maybe even emotional, this weeks asana practice should help ease this process.
Once you've acknowledge your true feelings the forgiveness process can begin. The second step in our process is to think of a time in your life that you in some way hurt another person. Try and think of what was actually going on behind your actions and in your heart. What led to that misfortune? Then if you can, try to sit and understand what caused you to act in that way. From there send yourself compassion and forgiveness.
Next, in this process try identify the people or moments in your life that you are still struggling with and holding resentment or anger towards. Then if you are ready, see if you can try and open your perspective to the possibilities of what that person might have been experiencing. If maybe it is possible that they were acting out of habit, learned behaviors, jealousy, passion, love... their own resentments or their own story. Then see if you can relate in some way. If so, and you were able to send yourself compassion & forgiveness, see if you can expand the same for the person in question.
It might not feel real yet, and that's okay. We are going to work on releasing some of what is left behind with our breath and asana practice. However, I think it is very important to acknowledged that in the process of forgiveness, we are the prisoner if we are holding grudges, anger or resentment against ourselves or others. This process doesn't need to rely so much on the story of what happened but more so on the release of its hold on your present experience.
This is a process of freeing ourselves from the grip of resentment & blame. I have developed this sequence with the aim of freeing the heart, cleansing anger, and bringing balance to our emotions. You can energetically offer this practice to a personal experience or to releasing resentment and fostering forgiveness on a global scale. My hope is that through gaining more freedom within, we not only develop more gratitude, but also reflect and see more of it in our world.
10 Yogic Practices to Assist on the Road to Forgiveness
Start with Heart Center Meditation:
Sit tall on a block, pillow, folded blanket or meditation cushion. Place one palm flat over the center of your chest, place your other palm flat over that. Close your eyes and bring all of your focus onto the your chest, your palms and your breath. Watch your breath, feel your heart space, feel your palms. Be here for 5-20 long breaths in and out from the nose.
1. Seated Cat/Cow Breath Exercise with Wide Arm/Hug Variation
5/10 Breath Cycles while switching which arm is on top.
Breathe in as you reach your arms wide and arch your back. Breathe out as you round your back and give yourself a hug. Feel your chest center open as you bring an energizing calm throughout the body with your breath.
2. Thread The Needle
This is a great stretch and can really help in the areas of the body that we hold resentment, betrayal and anger. However, I recommend taking a few breaths in plank and/or a few rounds of cat/cow on your hands and knees first. I would really love it if you would also on your hands and knees create big circular movements with your body, as if you were trying to draw a circle with your navel on the floor. This will warm your joints and body a bit before the twist. Once in the twist, do your best to avoid putting all of your weight on your neck. If it feels like you are doing that make sure to push a little more firmly on the palm of your upper arm. Try focusing on stacking your shoulders. If you feel safe and sturdy, try bringing the upper arm up and resting the back of your hand on your back or grab your thigh.
3. Puppy's Pose
In addition to Downward Dog and Child's pose, I find that puppy's pose is a wonderful release of chest and shoulder tension. Depending on how you do it it can be easier than downward dog, or incredibly challenging. So please listen to your body. For an easy variation, you will keep your knees on the earth with you hips to the sky, allowing your arms to come forward and your forehead will either hover over the floor or touch it gently. If you want the deeper variation, you will allow your chest, throat and chin to rest on the floor. Soothe your body with your breath.
4. Sphinx, Half Danurasana & Half Frog Pose.
3 breaths in each position, each side.
This can be a lot of fun! Start on your belly with your elbows under your shoulders and wrists in line with them. Press the tops of your feet down and do your best to keep your lower back long. Stay in sphinx for a few breaths, you can take lion breaths if you like! Then move your left wrist over towards your right and reach back to grab your right foot with your right hand (you can always use a strap or belt). Kick into your hand while keeping your tummy tight and lower back long. After a few breaths you can push your foot down into your glut for a nice quad release! Yum!
5. Chair Twist
3 to 5 breaths on each side
I know, you read forgiveness and thought GREAT restorative yoga! Well, actually we need to release some stuff before we restore! So stay with me! Stand tall with your feet together. Then bend your knees as if you were going to sit back into an imaginary chair. Lift your arms and keep your lower back long. Bring your hands to prayer, breathe in and then twist to the Right. Try to keep both your knees in one line. You can keep your hands in the prayer or spread your arms. In class this week we are flowing from this pose into a low lung twist and then a Warrior 2 series. So play around if you like, but be kind with your movements. (repeat on left side)
6. Warrior 2
5 to 10 breaths on both sides
Who doesn't love holding Warrior II for 5 or even 10 breaths? Yeah, it's hard. However, if your really are present with yourself you may feel the energy of your body charging up from your legs and out through your arms and crown of your head. It's one of my favorite poses to really experience the subtleties of the yoga asana practice. This pose requires you to be strong, open and focused! Do your best to really find a sturdy foundation. I find I am most comfortable and sturdy when my back foot is slightly turned in and my front heal is lined up with my back foot's arch. Do your best to keep your front knee stacked over your ankle (this protects your knee). Also, if you can, widen your front thigh so that your knee appears to be tracking over your second toe. Relax your shoulders while reaching long through your arms. Focus your eyes over your front middle finger, welcoming in a meditative state as your breath comforts your body.
7. Pigeon Series
Play with the different variations of pigeon. 5-15 breaths in each pose.
If you are new to pigeon pose or yoga, I recommend sticking with the first variation. It is most comfortable to take this pose with a good deal of padding under the bent knee's hip. If you have really tight hips or bad knees try "Ankle to Knee Pose" or "Z-sit" instead! If you are working in the deeper variation of the pose be gentle and try to engage through your pelvic floor to keep yourself from collapsing in your hamstrings and hips. When done right, King Pigeon will leave an incredible sense of liberation throughout the body. Try taking it with both hands or use a strap to get a hold of your back leg!
8. Forward Folds: Malasana*, Tarasana & Paschimottanasana
5 breaths in each (*malasana optional)
With all of our twisting and back bending we have really brought to the surface that which we need to acknowledge, honor and let go. With our forward bending we allow for the body to release. This can be difficult physically and emotionally. Please be kind when forward folding. There is no need to yank or over do it. Use blankets under your seat if you need. Bend your knees in Paschimottanasana if you like. Use something to rest your head on in any of the poses if that seems inviting. If you have lower back issues or sciatica, please take legs up the wall as an alternative to these poses.
9.Supine Twist with block or pillow under knees
5-10 breaths on both sides
Honestly, I am kind of obsessed with supine twists. Twists help cleanse the liver and blood. According to Chinese Medicine, our liver is where we store anger. Think about that a bit, it might make sense for you. Especially if you've ever noticed an angry drunk. When in this twist, allow the body to relax and release. Breath deeply and imagine your breath cleansing your body of all past anger, resentment and hurt feelings. With each inhale welcome in new perspectives and understandings, with each exhale unconditional love.
10. Closing Series: Bridge, Plow, Shoulderstand, Fish pose, Savasana
Yeah, I know, I am asking a lot this week. But bare with me. Shoulderstand has an incredibly calming effect on the nervous system. It might just be what you need to add to your daily practice if you are working on the process of forgiveness. I find that bridge pose is really helpful in preparing my back for Plow pose, which helps for shoulderstand (which is why I've included both). They on their own will also help in your process of opening your heart to unconditional love and releasing the past. Fish pose is helpful for releasing the tension in the neck that we might acquire through our practice. Fish is also helpful for releasing anxiety, improving posture and even improving your immune system. After this closing series, I recommend taking some time to release your lower back. I usually take my knees to the sky and make circles using my hands on my knees. This massages the rim of the pelvis and just feels awesome on the lower back. You might rest for a few moments in Happy Baby or Goddess Pose. Once you feel somewhat settled take some time in Corpse pose to absorb your practice.
Once you've completed your practice come back to your upright seated position with your palms flat over the center of your chest. Come back to your Heart Center Meditation from the start of practice. Breathe here. Then imagine yourself sitting in front of you. Say to yourself out-loud or silently, "I love you. I want you to be happy. I want you to be safe. I want you to be free." Stop here, or if it feels authentic, keep going! Think of both people you love and people you wish to free yourself of any old hurts around. You can do this daily.
Additional Practices to Aid in the Process of Forgiveness
1. Daily Meditation
Connecting with your Higher Mind can be one of the best ways to expand your perspective and get past personal conflicts and old hurts. You don't need to spend tons of money to do it. You can listen to a guided meditation on YouTube for free! Many people swear by: DharmaPunx, Transcendental Mediation, Vipasana & many other formal programs. Investigate and see what works for you. For now, try and just sit for a few minutes daily and focus on one thing. It can be your breath, the flame of a candle or a landscape. Walking meditation is also super helpful. Walk slowly and really focus on your feet as if they were the most interesting thing in the whole universe.
Sometimes we just need to acknowledge how we feel to let it go. I find it very helpful to use a journal to get out everything I am feeling and thinking. You can write letters to people (that you never send), make lists and just let your imagination release frequently. Many times this process alone can help us work things out and find compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and our peers.
3. Rose Quartz
I associate forgiveness with Rose Quartz. This stone assists with opening and healing the Heart Chakra. When our heart is closed to someone or something we might not be allowing the new truth of that person or thing in. Use Rose Quartz to assist in your healing process. You can carry it in your pocket, sleep with it under your pillow, or rest with it on your chest.
I would recommend using a Ganesha Mantra to help remove the obstacles associated with grudges, anger and resentment. You can also use the Bija Mantra for the Heart Chakra which is: YAM.
5. Essential Oils
I've found the Helichrysum or Rose Oil on the chest bone has been incredibly helpful in the process of forgiveness and heart chakra healing. Very soothing. I recommend sourcing your oils from www.snowlotus.com
6. Talk Therapy
Talking to someone can really help you put things into perspective. Sliding scale programs do exist and are worth looking into.
7. Take a Philosophy Course
Weird, I know. However, sometimes we need to think a little more out of the box in order to get out of our personal skipping mixed-tape of drama. I really recommend trying to wrap your mind around ideas like unity, beauty and TRUTH. You might find that the things you thought were problems are now opportunities to expand your perspective and connect to your inner wisdom. The School of Practical Philosophy offers $10 introductory courses around the world. I cannot recommend it more highly! www.philosophyworks.org
8. Read Quotes on Forgiveness
Seriously, Google Forgiveness quotes. It will inspire you! Here are my favorites:
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post! I believe that if we are able to truely find forgiveness in ourselves, we will notice it more in the world. This work that we do on own will impact the people in your life, and that will ripple into the world. Who knows what beauty that might bring? And for that possibility, I am grateful!
With unconditional love and an even changing perspective,
Nicole Lynne Hooley
Yoga, Reiki & Intuitive Healing
Brooklyn based Yoga Instructor & Reiki Healer, Nicole specializes in teaching Personal Empowerment & Self Healing inspired Yoga Classes, Workshops & Reiki Trainings throughout Brooklyn. Her Reiki & Intuitive Healing sessions have been called "an hour of unconditional love". Nicole has been highlighted by Huffington Post and YogaCityNYC.
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